Alex Papadimoulis lists three types of developers attacking good software development, the Amateurs, the Career Amateurs and the Complicators.
The Complicators are the focus of the post; I love the description:
They’ve acquired a sort of sixth-sense: the ability to find meta-problems (“a problem with the process of creating a solution for the actual problem”) in virtually any solution.
Anyway, I highly suggest a bounce over to read the post, very amusing. Anyway, Chet thought it would be fun to start up a shame site dedicated to everyone’s favorite “meta-problem” creators. I agree, and I think it would be wildly popular as layoffs put developers out on the street.
Aside from the inherently snarky and mean side, a site dedicated to over-engineered process would be carthartic and fun to read, kinda like watching Office Space, again.
The story of the “hand warming system” reminded me of the energy and fervor that a group of motivated people can put into solving Life’s big problems, like how to keep the kegerator stocked.
Before we jump in the wayback machine, this isn’t a meta-problem example. It’s just an example of how smart people can apply a lot of brainpower to problems that interest them.
Ah yes, let’s go back in time to a time of promise. The year was 2001.
At the time I worked at a startup that provided managed services to monitor all the infrastructure, hardware and software, required to run a website. The company was stocked with rockstar talent in development and operations, really smart people.
As was custom at the time, the kitchen had a kegerator. You know, for beer bashes, late nights, happy hours, or just plain drinking for drinking’s sake. Good times.
Someone felt that a company whose strength was in monitoring the status of “infrastructure” should have a way to monitor the keg’s fullness. Setting alarms based on the keg’s fullness status, the system should send alerts and automagically place a reorder when the fullness dipped below a critical level, which was configurable natch.
A large group of us agreed. Consider the risk of an empty keg (gasp!). So, we applied a lot of effort to the problem. The software side was easy because we already had the engine, monitoring dashboards, alerts, etc.
The hardware was the sticking point because we needed a very specific scale, one with an interface we could hook up to the network, small enough to fit in the kegerator, but with enough capacity to support the weight of a full pony keg, about 85 pounds. You know you were wondering.
At the time, serial port was the way to go. These were rare, but someone (the CTO, I think) tracked one down on eBay. Before we could pull the trigger, someone put an end to all the fun/madness, and we all went back to work.
Or something, this was right as the air was wheezing out of the dot-com Bubble, taking all the joy out of work with it. Oh, and it took the work out too as the company went through several rounds of layoffs before being acquired.
Anyway, this isn’t a story meant to:
- Make any pointed observations about the dot-com days.
- Draw any parallels with the current economic conditions.
- Make light of the exercise, in which I participated heartily.
- Suggest this was meta-problem worthy of the Complicator’s Gloves Hall of Shame.
Nope, it’s just me waxing nostalgicly about this one time at band camp when a bunch of us got together and tried to solve the empty keg problem.
It’s pretty amazing how motivated smart people can apply energy and thought to a problem they’re interested in solving, and it’s equally amazing how frequently the problem clouds the ability to see beyond the details.
Anyway, your thoughts? On the Complicators and their meta-problems, on the “hand-warming system”, on my empty keg story? On something else?
Find a home for these thoughts in comments.