With an ever-expanding number of tools and technologies, constant changes in existing ones and rapidly evolving development possibilities, choosing the right tech stack is becoming more and more challenging. That said, the closer you can match technologies with your needs and possibilities, the easier it will be to deliver projects on time, under budget and with the desired quality. Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts to choosing the right tech stack since each project is different and should be analyzed and treated with a tailored approach, especially in cases of big, complex projects, which can force you to live with your choices long-term.
However, there are some elements that should always be considered before starting the team building and architecture design to ensure technologies work for you, not the other way around. What are these? Keep reading to find out.
Tech stack 101
Before diving into what you should consider when selecting the technologies for your project, let’s start with a quick explanation of what a tech stack is, to ensure we’re on the same page. A tech stack is a set of tools, languages and frameworks that you use to build software solutions.
All elements should be selected in a way that enables you to effectively reach your goals (more on that below), since they should complement each other and maximize your limited resources. (To learn more about infrastructure, which, while necessary for effective development, can also be extremely costly if not designed properly – check out “5 Steps to a successful software development project”. What’s more, the tech stack will also define what skills will be required from your team members, ultimately making it one of the main pillars of your project that impacts every step of the software delivery life cycle.
Know what you want to build
First and foremost, know what you want to create. Some technologies, like Java, are ideally suited for large projects with complex business logic where only budget and imagination limit the possibilities. While in other scenarios, choosing a language like Python might be the best option (currently the technology of choice for AI development).
Therefore, knowing what problem you want to solve with the right system is the first step in selecting the right technologies for your projects, both for tech stack that supports frontend and backend strategies.
Define the project scope and complexity
The bigger the project, the more tools and technologies you will have to include in your tech stack. With a simple web app, you may be fine without advanced languages and complex infrastructures. In the case of bigger projects, it’s not unusual for the business requirements to force you to combine a number of programming languages and frameworks to meet all your objectives. But what’s important is that even if you plan to start with a minimum viable product (MVP), deliver it as soon as possible to gather feedback, and then decide to utilize some shortcuts like 3rd party integrations, it’s best to consider the full picture, not only in the first phase, when selecting the tech stack to start with. While the final scope of work might change, assuming that the work will be done in an Agile manner, thinking ahead allows you to pick languages and frameworks that augment each other and facilitate further expansion of your product.
Additionally, the project scope and complexity affect the choice of hosting and technologies used for the infrastructure. Given its benefits, cloud is dethroning physical servers and internal data centers. But even when it comes to cloud-based infrastructure you have some options to consider. Google, AWS and Azure are the most popular cloud providers, as each of them have a number of additional services that can help accelerate development and reduce costs. Thus, analyzing each of the offers and comparing them with your project needs is the only way to ensure that you are not forced to change hosting due to growing costs or infrastructure slowing down the work, especially when you will be upscaling your product.
Consider scalability requirements
As pointed out earlier, even if you’re focusing on building a workable MVP, you shouldn’t plan your tech stack with tunnel vision. Such an approach could lead to choosing tools and technologies that may be easy to use and enable a short time to market, but, may no longer be sufficient as your application grows, forcing you to implement costly and time-consuming workarounds, or rewrite the entire system. Thus, a proven approach is to consider long-term goals to achieve peace of mind knowing that your tech stack won’t slow you down when market opportunities occur.
Scalability should be looked at from two angles – providing your software to a growing customer base while handling bigger loads and more requests, and the ability to easily extend your product with new features. Since both are equally important (you can learn what happens if the infrastructure selected for your MVP stops being suitable in the process of upscaling in the ebook linked above), the better you plan at the start, the easier it will be to grow. Therefore, even if relying on extremely flexible programming languages like Java and combining these with cloud-based infrastructure, automated tests and CI/CD may seem like overkill at first, this will pay off when your product reaches a wider market. After all, what you should aim for is to create a solid foundation that lets you build on it, instead of developing a giant with clay feet.
Take costs, trends and developers’ availability into account
Last but not least, the most pragmatic elements – costs, trends and the availability of developers. We’ve combined them into one section because of how they intertwine with each other and collectively impact how much you’ll have to invest in software development.
The usage of different tools and technologies comes at different costs. Niche languages or ones that are hardest to master usually come at a greater expense and are thus used only when it’s necessary to reach your goals. At the same time, relying on open-source tools only, trying to build your system with low-code solutions, or choosing the cheapest hosting is likely to backfire over time. That’s why after establishing what budget you have, you should carefully analyze all the possible ways to reach your goals to be confident that you won’t end with an over/under-engineered project, but rather the ROI you’re after. The best way to optimize your tech stack is to engage an experienced architect at the beginning of a project so that the appropriate tools, technologies and methods are selected.
Moreover, when talking about costs, we can’t omit developers’ availability. With a shortage of software engineers being one of the biggest challenges for technological companies all over the world, choosing less popular or outdated languages will only make it harder to build a development team or expand it when market opportunities occur and you need to quickly scale up, forcing you to spend a fortune on recruitment. What’s more, the costs you should consider are not only related to sourcing specialists, but also to retaining them in your company, which in competitive markets is a challenge that requires a lot of effort. That’s why it’s extremely important to make sure that you’re using your limited resources effectively. A proven way of achieving that is cooperating with an external dedicated development team – such a partnership allows you to rapidly access top-notch experts with wide experience that delivers convenience and flexibility.
Finally, what about tech trends? While blindly following them is a bridge to nowhere, since new does not always equal better, constantly monitoring all the innovations in the rapidly evolving tech world is crucial to running effective software development. New tools can turn a time-consuming challenge into a simple task, or even, combined with developers’ skills, make the impossible, possible. Furthermore, old technologies may stop being supported, like Python2 in 2020, which may sooner or later force all apps that use it to be rewritten due to security or performance reasons. Thus, building your tech stack with old technologies only delays time to market, limits possible functionalities of your product and gives you more innovative competitors a chance to outrun you. That’s why, when creating a tech stack for your project, you should analyze not only what used to work, but also the current standard for what you’re trying to achieve, to make sure that the solution you build will be future proof.
It’s not an overstatement to say that choosing an inadequate tech stack can lead to failure, even if a project is based on the most innovative idea. The presented elements are basic ones that each analysis should start with, but the bigger the project, the more variables to be analyzed.
Therefore, to effectively select a tech stack, it is necessary to have vast experience, preferably gathered in various projects using diverse stacks. Such hands-on experience will allow you to weigh the pros and cons of different solutions by knowing what works when and neutralizing potential risks to boost the chances of successful and efficient software delivery. After all, the more solid your tech stack is, the easier it will be to build on it. And that is exactly what product engineering services can help you with. While there are no shortcuts to gathering expertise, partnering with seasoned software architects is a battle-tested method of balancing ideas with development possibilities to ensure that you won’t try to make bricks without straw. If you want to learn more about this type of cooperation, or simply dive deeper into one of the elements described in this text, use the contact form – our experts are happy to share their knowledge and provide the answers you’re looking for.
About the authorRafał Janik
Rafał Janik is a Software Architect with 12 years of enterprise software design and development experience. Involved in EU funded research projects, as well as comercial fintech and telecommunications areas, Rafał is proficient with a wide range of technologies and excels at working in an international environment. Mainly responsible for integration, architecture planning, implementation, and large-scale semantic data processing, Rafał is excited about the possibilities emerging tools are bring to all stages of software development. When not busy managing software lifecycles, Rafał plays tag with his son and daughter.