Monday, July 20, 2015

Quite Heroes Holding Back the Apocalypse

The end of the world has not happened for a reason.
A common theme in literature is how our modern conveniences separate us from devolving into a barbarous culture which makes the middle ages look like a picnic.  Books like “The Canticle of Leibowitz”, “Lord of the Flies”, and “Ready Player One” are great examples of the genre.  This week I want to talk about something you may not understand.  The only reason technology works is because hard working professionals keep it working.

Technology today has an air of glamour and money associated with it.  It was not always the case.  Engineers who worked in the boiler rooms were covered in grease and coal dust.  The person who ran the data center had paper cuts over his hands from punch cards.  The grumpy guy who maintained the AS/400 couldn’t get clothes that fit because he never slept normal hours or ate right because he kept the business running.  These people were the unsung heroes of the industrial revolution and the first wave of computing.

Today, software rules everything we do from business transactions via EDI to the latest trading algorithms used by stock brokers.  This week I discovered just how deep the rabbit hole goes in my own firm.  Minor changes that seem insignificant can have major consequences, in my case consequences which can total seven figures.  It is a revelation and it is terrifying.

It is up to software engineers, scrum masters, and business people to work together to help keep the world civilized.  It is not easy.  It requires sacrifices from families as parents work late nights getting a release ready for production.  Spouses will have to put up with impotence and sleeplessness as scrum masters grapple with obstacles and how to circumvent them.  Finally, children will have to understand that a ball game will get missed or recital skipped because a server went down and needs to be patched.  Technology workers are well compensated but that compensation comes with accepting some painful trade-offs.

Today, technology people not only in the United States but around the world are struggling to keep the global economy working.  Developers in Northern Ireland are working with engineers in India for merchantmen in Hong Kong.  Project managers in Europe and the United States, are struggling to keep the trains running on time and the projects on track.  This is a very human activity to get machines to try and play nice with other machines.  It is a human struggle that goes on each day and not many people see it.

So the next time you are enjoying air conditioning, clean drinking water, wi-fi or the latest microbrew remember you enjoy these vestiges of civilization because someone sacrificed bringing them to you.  These silent professionals are the ones who make civilization possible.

Until next time.