Jay Little - Software Obsessionist
All Hail the Tech Magicians and their Cantrips

09/07/2022 15:33:36

Before I launch into this month's diatribe I want to offer my readers a word of warning: I've been feeling very pessimistic about tech in general as of late and this piece will expose a large portion of that to my audience. If you are already depressed about tech, you might wanna skip this one.

In any event, I have been fond of occasionally awarding various industries / institutions with the label: The new "priesthood" of society. Whereas American society likes to bandy about the veneer of religious morality, the truth is that we moved past religion being an actual difference maker in how we conduct ourselves a very long time ago. For at least 15 years now (probably longer as that timeline really just represents the first time I consciously realized this myself), I have described the Wall Street Banks and their friends at the Federal Reserve as being our new priesthood. This country and its economy are built on idea that encouraging an ever growing amount of greed benefits everybody and those groups represent the standard bearers that drive and ultimately legitimize such a belief system.

While I'm not ready to strip those groups of their priesthood titles, because they are very much still wielding an incredible amount of influence and power over how we think and what we do, I am going to also award the title to myself and my fellow compatriots in Tech. To be clear I am referring to the tech magicians who make things actually work for other people. We live and are employed so that others don't have to waste their precious time trying to understand how any of the tools they rely upon actually work.

But what happens when those tools fail? What happens when a user or client comes to us with a problem that we legitimately cannot solve and this forces we the Magicians to grapple with the possibility that we may not adequately understand how these tools work?

Sometimes these moments arrive because end users and clients have a terrible habit of ignoring good advice, whether it happens to be free or not. Both groups tend to get to convince themselves of the fallacy that their workflows are sacrosanct and any propose change represents a blasphemy of some sort. Therefore both groups inherently resist the idea of change.

But today's tech world is constantly changing. As aging institutions move over to cloud services like Office 365, where even the end user apps themselves are being updated and changing on a daily basis, not to mention the back end services themselves, they are persisting in clinging to the idea that nothing has to change and that they can continue to work in the exact same manner that they always have.

This belief is clearly inconsistent with reality. But the bigger problem here is that the users depend upon on us, the Magicians to keep everything running and to patch up any potholes they might stumble over during the course of their daily activities. This is a problem because at least when it comes to me, I really don't know what the heck is going on with some of these tools and services. Part of this is because these tools are proprietary and not transparent when it comes to how they work.

However another part of it is because I'm simply not an actual user of these tools. For example most of my Office 365 knowledge and usage revolves around Outlook on the web, Teams on the web and performing admin type of tasks in the Admin console or within Azure Active Directory. I don't have a lot of experience with services like One Drive or the actual client Office applications (especially as I use Linux and just don't use these tools there) and how all of these things tie together. I tend to fall back to allowing the users to be the experts when it comes these tools, because I myself do not and have no intention of using these tools as they exist largely outside of my own workflows. Much like how the Admin and Azure Active Directory tools or development tools like VS Code and Git exist outside of theirs.

But this situation results in an expectation in which I'm expected to be able to slide in and contribute meaningfully when a problem arises that our expert users cannot handle on their own. To be frank, these situations tend to leave me feeling just as befuddled as the users themselves because there are circumstances that arise in which it becomes clear that the developers of these tools may or may not have fully considered how all of these things are interacting with one another.

Needless to say, my status as a tech wizard is highly over stated by people I work with, especially when it comes to Networking and End User support related activities. The truth of the matter is that while I'm just barely making ends meet on those fronts and even when it comes to the activities that I primarily work in, the software / web development related ones, I sometimes still find myself feeling overwhelmed when it comes to figuring out why something that should have worked just like it has a million times before chose to fail in the most recent instance.

My fear here is that we have built a world in which nobody understands how anything actually works. That applies to both the economic priests that we have been serving along with the tech priests that we will inevitably end up serving instead. This idea scares me because it means that on the day things really begin to break, nobody will be in a position to fix it. Right now the end users bet on me being able to fix broken things and I'm betting on the proprietary application / cloud service developers (e.g. Microsoft) being able to fix them.

What happens when they can't though? Who do they pass the buck to? I don't know and I'm honestly dreading the day that we are forced to discover the answer to that question because I'm beginning to suspect that the answer may in fact be that things just don't get fixed at all.

That's going to be a real kick in the nads for everybody's sacrosanct workflows when that happens, won't it?

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