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:: Fear of Mr. Scott

Maybe it’s the end of the year and hearing one too many bad versions of “Auld Lang Syne”. Maybe it’s the fact that i’m on day 6 of COVID. But for some reason i was thinking about Mr. Scott on the Enterprise from Star Trek.

i started thinking about what a massively complex system a 400 person capable interstellar space ship, complete with armaments and transportation systems, fueled by carefully exploding matter and antimatter, which produces pure energy at an unfathomable scale must be. And yet, you’ve got basically one guy who somehow knows and can repair all of it.

i mean to micro-geek me sitting on my bed trying to hold the UHF antenna just right on the black and white so i can watch reruns after-school, sure. And for a bunch of writers on a fairly low-budget TV show focused on telling stories about societal ills dressed up as “Wagon-train in the Stars”, you bet! But for grown up me who’d be about the right age myself? Oh, hell no.

One of the hallmarks of being a Senior Engineer anywhere is having a firm and complete understanding of what you do not know. It should spread out before you like the vast, endless plain that it is. You might recognize features like distant mountains or far off towers, but that’s probably about it. You should also know who to ask or rely on to navigate those particular bits when you need to, and also recognize that unless you’re working with that stuff frequently, you’re not going to instantly become a domain expert.

So, yeah, having one guy who basically is responsible for keeping a multi trillion dollar machine flight and fight ready at all times, as well as will be on call to unplug the Command Head after the replicators finish Taco Tuesday? Yeah, nope.

For work, i do what’s become called “DevOps”. My company defines that as building scale-ready back end services that can be deployed and maintained for extended periods. This differs from our SRE (Systems Reliability Engineers) who’s job it is to make sure that the systems we built are deployed and operational. i’ve sometimes said that they’re the “Check Engine” lights of our org. They’re critical players that monitor and understand our running systems and how they relate far better than anyone else. i could not do their jobs and i’m always exceptionally nice to them. For anything that’s truly broken, their job is to file a ticket or call me and make it my problem to fix.

Same with our Test Engineering folk. Their job is to make sure that the things we build and operate run consistently, validly, and efficiently. They are our highly skilled, trained chaos monkeys who actually help fill out reports. They look to make sure that we’re not just doing “happy path” testing, but introduce appropriate noise and hostile behaviors that we miss because we just want this crap to work (dag-nabbit).

Each group knows their skills and shortcoming. Each group happily works with the others to get a fantastic final result. i would no more dismiss these groups as “useless” than i would dismiss a surgeon because “My G.P. knows how to medicine. How hard could it be?”

i suppose this also gets into the whole myth of the 10x engineer, (Note: a 10x engineer is someone who does a job that is only .1% defined.) but that’s a different discussion.

All i can think is that if Mr. Scott has to do some sort of repair or fix on something, someone else is dead or incapacitated and that a third person may be needed to spend a day or two repairing the “fix”. i mean, yeah, i can deploy a system on a set of servers that could run for some period, and have in the past, but i’m not dumb enough to think that it could handle several times the population of the United States without me personally funding the next trip Jeff takes to the stratosphere. i’m sure that there are whole catalogs of “Scotty Fixes” pictures at Star Bases around the Federation showcasing plasma conduits wrapped in chicken wire and silicon tape.

Mr. Scott was my favorite character on Star Trek for a slew of good reasons, but the further i get in my career, the more i appreciate the unseen folk who made it their jobs to make sure that Mr. Scott barely knew the systems they worked on.

Blogs of note
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