Middleware: all you need to know as a software engineer
by Nuno Santos, Enterprise Solutions Manager @ Xpand IT
Have you ever heard of Middleware?
Integration is a very comprehensive concept and is intrinsically present in any software implementation whenever there is a dependency between (at least) two isolated components. Some usual examples of this type of dependence are:
- A front-end call to your application layer services;
- An application that consumes a public web service to get information (e.g. weather);
- An embedded device that publishes events in a channel.
Since the 1980s, integration has played an important role in information systems. Decade after decade, evolution has dictated and confirmed that decentralization is the best way to address the challenges associated with technological heterogeneity. For example, the recent focus on architectural models based on microservices reinforces this idea and is the perfect example of how integration is increasingly playing a key role in digital solutions.
Due to the diversity of scenarios and integration models, there are numerous market solutions that allow a quick and assertive response to these needs. This type of software is called Middleware — the software that is “in-between”.
What makes Middleware tools different?
Middleware tools aim to enable organizations to adapt and respond quickly to business changes. Although some organizations choose to develop a Middleware strategy based on pure programming (e.g., using Spring), Middleware tools offer an alternative with many advantages, such as:
- Accelerate integration development by providing pre-built artefacts that simplify integration with frequently used systems (e.g., a connector to Office365);
- Improve the quality of solutions by reusing functionality and promoting an implementation based on typical integration patterns;
- Abstract the integration design from the implementation details, allowing to focus the team on the real problem at hand;
- Mitigate the need for teams with a strong technical skillset for this implementation by promoting low-code and no-code development.
As integration is a large problem, the Middleware offer can extend over the combination of one or more products in three major categories:
- Enterprise Integration— facilitates the mediation, transformation, and delivery of messages, by using integration patterns;
- API Management— supports the API management cycle, making the implementation easier and promoting the adoption by third parties (e.g. customers and partners);
- Identity Management— centralizes the identity of users, offering authentication and authorization mechanisms that ensure greater security and simplicity of management.
There are other specializations, such as B2B integration (using legacy standards) and Business Process Management, which are focused on specific industries or business processes, but these also share many of the challenges associated with integration.
The options available to choose from a wide range of Middleware solutions are varied and the decision of which one is the most appropriate may be driven by different organizational factors, most notably:
- Own management of the platform on-premises, or the alternative of using a managed service in the cloud;
- Greater flexibility and customization possibilities, or the empowerment of teams with less technical skillset in implementations (the so-called citizen developers).
You may have already heard about some products we work with at Xpand IT: WSO2, MuleSoft e Microsoft Azure (Logic Apps e API Management) are some examples of this type of tools, but there are many other alternatives on the market. They all have advantages and disadvantages and can be more or less applicable depending on the scenario or need. This is where Middleware Developer pops into the picture.
What does a Middleware Developer do?
A Middleware Developer builds solutions that solve specific integration problems in organizations. Although this problem exists in virtually every scenario, a Middleware Developer’s mission is global and does not look only at the need of one or a limited set of systems.
For that reason, it makes more sense to ask, “What doesn’t a Middleware Developer do?”
However, by the nature of his role and the tools he uses, it is very common to be referred to (very reductively, let’s say) as someone who “spends his day connecting little boxes.”
As one is looking at the bigger picture, a Middleware Developer must consider a wide and diverse set of communication protocols, message formats, and communication standards when designing the solution. This variety exists to serve different purposes specific to each area, department, organization, or application ecosystem.
A Middleware Developer is, therefore, someone capable of:
- Understand the organization’s overall problemand the goalsthat are intended to be achieved.
- Enable a scalable and resilient architecture that serves as an amplifier of digital programs throughout the organization.
- Implement and validate the architecture and models defined for the Middleware meta.
- Develop services and integrations that best serve the functional needs of applications and systems.
- Promote and evolve the existing solution, either to address new technological and business challenges, or to accelerate, facilitate, and improve the quality of implementations.
This is a typical engineering challenge, which requires critical analysis and the “why” before the “how”.
Are you a Middleware Developer?
As in many situations in life, there is no golden rule or deciding factor to unequivocally confirm that a Middleware Developer career is right for you.
If you have completed a college degree, a good clue might be a preference for subjects like Distributed Systems or Software Engineering, which share many of these concepts.
You can also ask yourself if you would like to:
- Learn and interact with different pieces of software, communication models, protocols, and message formats.
- Find the norm for an environment where everything is different and distinct from each other.
- Design “simple” architectures to solve complex problems.
- Think more at the process leveland less at the level of the code that implements it (black box concept).
These are the main challenges that drive Middleware Developers on a daily basis.
Can you identify with them? 😊