On Systems

On Systems

A Circuit
A Computer Circuit

One of the amazing things about our human mind is that it enables the capacity of abstract thought. As software developers, we are taught to program computer systems. Doing so, we are learning to disembody ourselves from the physical everyday world of our lives and speak the language of bits and bytes, 0s and 1s. We use our capacity for abstract thought to put ourselves into a world where statements are strictly true or false, the boundaries of objects are well-defined.

Tron legacy was in many ways a disappointment. The plot left something to be desired. The one-liners that the main character muttered between the action scenes were awful. The main character was obviously cast for his chiseled-in-stone good looks rather than his acting ability. The “world” that was envisioned was very 1980s science fiction. But, in other ways, the Tron sequel was a compelling follow-up to the original. The special effects were cool. And the imaginative genius of the Tron series is that the writers took some chances with a vision that was not easy to visualize. It was probably non-trivial, to say the least, bringing to fruition that vision on the big screen.

“I tried to picture clusters of information as they move through the computer. What would they look like? Chips, Motorcycles.. With circuits like freeways. I kept dreaming of a world I thouht I’d never see. And then, one day, I got in.” ~Kevin Flynn, Tron Legacy

I think the coolest takeaway from Tron is the imaginative aspect of the series. As a computer scientist who is deeply immersed in scaling a business, I tend to think about things as systems. When I’m approaching a new problem, I tend to ask the heavy, fundamental questions first. What function does the system serve? What are the resources involved? How are the they distributed? How was it built? How is this system maintained on a daily/weekly/monthly/yearly basis? Who are the stakeholders? Who are the benefactors? How does the system protect itself from internal or external threats? What are the changes to the system over time? Are they accelerating or decelerating? How is the performance of the system measured?

A City
A city

At my work at Ignighter, it’s a necessity of my job that I’m in the habit of asking these questions every day. We’re beginning to scale. Things are growing. There are many deltas, some expected, some unexpected. We track everything we are able to. It’s my first project that’s lasted more than 3 months where I’m the “maker”. At a high level, I understand all the moving parts of the system. I’m intimately involved with each of them on a day to day basis. And if I neglect a piece here or there, I’ll have to revisit it. Sometimes you get a text message at 3am telling you that something is broken. Those times are the real “oh shit” moments, but if you are prepared you will handle them quickly and concisely. And you learn from your own mistakes. It’s very “Zen and Motorcycle Maintenance” for the 21st Century. Maybe some day somebody will write a book about being a startup CTO called “Zen and Digital System Maintenance”.

Evolutionary Tree
The Evolutionary Tree

It’s the end of the year. Holiday Season. A lot of folks are reflecting on their lives and making resolutions on how they would like to see them change. Maybe to a hammer, every problem looks like a nail, but this year, I’m thinking about my life as a series of systems. The relationships I’ve built or destroyed, the projects at work that’ve grown or flailed, the daily habits and hobbies that make me who I am. They’re all systems. Some are big. Some are small. Some important, others not. With the gift of hindsight, you see that you neglected some and over-invested in others. Some are changing on daily, weekly, monthly basis. Some, even longer terms.

The Solar System
The Solar System

The coolest thing about being at a growing startup is that you learn to recognize the patterns around you, and you are empowered to act upon that information. And that’s what allows you to make each year better than the prevoius.

2011 is gonna be a hell of a year. I’m stoked.

By the way, Ignighter is hiring. If you want to be in the know when new positions are opening up, keep in touch.

Note: Any information of proprietary value to my employer has been removed or approved, and this post has been approved by my employer.

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