Industry : Time is an illusion


They say time heals all wounds, they say that patience is a virtue, they say that learning the ancient art of yoga will allow you to travel through space and time.  OK so the last one may be a bit of a fib but has anyone who ever made these ridiculous claims ever worked in the IT industry?

It’s hard to find a single day when you don’t have to wait on a computer to do something.  Whether it’s booting, saving, loading, initialising, saving again, copying, pasting, deleting, undoing, formatting, installing……….you always find yourself sitting there, wishing it could go just that little bit faster.  Do you realise if you added up all the time you sat on your rear end waiting for a PC to “work” in a week, you could have watched an entire season of Jack Bauer saying dammit and throwing a wobbler at terrorists???  OK, I get it, enough with the exaggerating, gee you’re a tough crowd to please, I’m the one out on a limb here, not you.

It’s gotten to the stage that we are so obsessed with making sure we make the most out of every minute on our PC that it affects our ability to multitask.  Why?  Picture this.  You start your installation and hit the go button, it gives you an estimate of 2 hours.  OK, not a great start, but you accept the fact it won’t finish any time soon, and quickly leave the PC to start your next task.  Great usage of time right?  Wrong!  What you don’t know, is that shortly after you left your installation running, it popped up and asked you if you were really really sure you wanted to install TinkleTown’s YouSmell 2007.  So upon returning to your desk you find a) you’ve run out of coffee, b) you’ve just wasted 2 hours of installation time and c) there now no chance of being able to install it before you leave because it’s 5:22 and you have to swing by the pet store on the way home because your pooch has contracted an exotic infection from eating a spark plug you accidentally left in your slipper.

We now have to babysit our longer running tasks because if we don’t it really does hamper our productivity.  It’s not just the fault of grandfather time for making copying 100Gb of data take so long to copy, it’s also the fault of those annoying estimates, which either change more often than a celebrities weight, or are so far off the mark it makes you seriously wonder if these people even managed to learn how to use a clock at all.  The following is total 100% pure fact.  I left a backup running over a 3 day weekend once, I came in on the Tuesday to find it had apparently been running for 126 days.  Say whaaaaaaat?

“We now have to babysit our longer running tasks because if we don’t it really does hamper our productivity„

I digress.  I apologise.  My point of writing this was to discuss whether or not all this waiting makes IT professionals more patient people.  It’s weird, but it’s something I’ve sat and thought about for a while.  I’m the kind of person who orders something online and checks the tracking number at every stage to see if it’s been picked, placed on the lorry, dispatched, sorted, dispatched again….etc.  Sitting here writing this, it’s kind of like expecting to see a real-time progress bar for the dispatch of my order.  I want to know when it’s going to arrive, and if it doesn’t arrive when it’s supposed to, boy do I get mad.

Thinking about this further it’s clear to see that it could be due to the fact that my expectations, on a day to day basis, are constantly being shattered.  In IT, more than anything else I believe, we are told things will be one way, when really they’re another.  Think about it, technical support…..did that even exist before IT came into existence.  Technology requires support, because of it’s fragility.  The thousands of howtos/tutorials/guides fill us with hope that the instructions provided are going to leave us with configurational bliss.  How often that turns out to be false.

Unfortunately we’ve become used to being lied to by IT software and hardware vendors as well.  The new version of SolarEdam is better than ever (false).  It runs twice as fast as the previous version (true if you’ve bought it with a new PC). Has an enhanced intuitive user interface  (we’ve made the buttons bigger).  Is much more stable (sure if you run it in our test environment with no user input).  Has increased security  (we ask you if we’re allowed to do everything because we can’t make intelligent decisions ourselves) And has many more applications available for it (because we’ve monopolised the market even further).

Some of the problem lies in the fact that we are often running such diverse and varied configurations of systems and software, that it makes it almost impossible to cover every eventuality.  The field of IT is so large that you just wouldn’t know that if you install the 4.3.2a version of TurdTacular SE, you can’t run A-dopey Nightmare Creator as they there is a typo in one which overwrites a registry key in another 😉  So are my hopes and dreams for an accurate, truth-telling, fast, IT world fanciful?  Can they ever be realised?

However, even if we know that deep down nothing is what it seems, we’re still filled with some kind of hope that maybe this time will be different.  Maybe it’s about more than just being patient and impatient.  Maybe it’s about the difference between hope and despair.  We as IT professionals have faith in the technology we work with day-in day-out.  Some of us often believe so blindly in our systems that if anyone tells us there is an issue, we try and find any reason for the fault other than, “we made a mistake”.  It’s almost religious, and we know how often that causes problems in the world.  We’ve become addicted to the failure which we experience on a day to day basis.  So much so, that when we do achieve victory in a certain area, more often than not we’re reduced to *meh*.

The IT industry is almost like a macro-culture.  Speaking with some people in the industry recently, I was surprised at how many of them feel the same way I do.  When I started this article I expected it to be met with a 50/50 mix of “Ain’t that the truth” and “Oh you have it soooo utterly wrong.”  What I actually encountered was different.  It felt like getting into a hot bath after a long day staring at millions of tiny squares lighting up.  Just out of interest, spending 8 hours looking at a 1280×1024 res screen, at a refresh rate of 70Hz, means you’re typically going to see 2642411520000 of the little blighters in one day.  If that’s not dedication to a cause I don’t know what is.

“We’ve created this huge industry to make things faster and more efficient, but we require an even greater industry to support it„

I’ve taken a round about look at time, patience, faith, hope, and despair.  A pretty deep set of words to be covered in an article about IT.  But have we come to a conclusion?  I’m not ready to answer that yet.  Call me a tease, but I’d like to entertain some more ideas about patience and time wasting.  You see another part of the discussion goes like this.  “Computers make things faster”  No.  Computers can make some things faster if they are implemented by people familiar with the processes and techniques of computational optimisation.  Put an end user, with no training in computational optimisation, in front of a computer, ask them to take a process and automate it and just sit back and see exactly how slow they can make it.  Sometimes, it doesn’t even extend that far.  Ever seen a user taking data from a spreadsheet, print it out and manually work through 50 pages of it because they don’t know how to perform the process automatically?  I have, by the way, many times.

Now we’re hinging on something big.  The whole concept of computing is flawed.  We’ve created this huge industry to make things faster and more efficient, but we require an even greater industry to support it.  Yet we all understand this, some of us even argue vehemently against it.  We don’t want to believe it.  Has it all been in vain?  Have we ourselves come full circle?  I’ve noticed I started off with a rather lighthearted approach, and descended into attacking the very culture I live in.  Yes I get frustrated.  Sometimes I want to tear my own head off at my minuscule mistakes.  Sometimes I want to slap myself in the face and shout “Do you even know what you’re doing?”  However for all the frustrations, the pitfalls and the perils, to me, IT is fun.  I love talking about it, understanding it, and working with it.  So call me hypocritical, call me stupid, call me whatever the hell you want, but if you’re reading this, chances are you know exactly what I mean.

Take care nut-job!

  1. Sir, you are definitely preaching the word… I have struggled with this myself. My issue is more along the lines of wasted time as in terms of life value, and the ever hard to stop self centered ness and antisocialness that comes as a result of working with computers. Yes IT is about being social and having social skills is a must if you are going to even think about a job in IT but the issue is mainly what your view is of others and keeping your patience when they do something… stupid…

  1. April 17th, 2009

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