Specialization is for Insects

The other night we had a security issue that came up at 3am. Our combined response toolkit included DNS changes, akamai CDN configuration, adserver updates, javascript, HTML, and lots of good old fashioned interpersonal communication and persuasion. In these days where I’m working with dedicated ‘Javascript’ engineers that don’t read Java and operations people focused on CDN configurations that don’t know the application innards the concept of specialization is a concern.

The individual aspects of a scaled web architecture are each so complex that it is easily a full time job for a person just to keep up in one area. I’m concerned about this because as we spend more time in individual areas we focus less time on the holistic approach. This is my same concern with modern medicine.

A friend and colleage went to a back surgeon and that doctor recommended surgery.  Why?  Because surgeons do surgery.  And they are so steeped in their practice that they elevate it above other options.  Before you generalize on greedy doctors let me tell you about an ops and dev at my shop that discussed for an hour how to handle a redirect.  Ops wanted to handle it at Akamai, and the UI Dev wanted to simply throw a redirect from the template.  When I told this to a middleware engineer he said they are both daft and it should be done in the spring controller.

All of these solutions are equally valid, and we can even model the ROI for each.  One of the invisible aspects was the maintainability, simply put I asked them which area is the least cluttered for with redirect rules. (At this point they all pointed away from each other – but that is the topic of another post 😉

Perhaps this was an hour well spent, perhaps we should have spent 2minutes and moved on to the next ticket for the remaining 58 minutes.  But my point is that I’m seeing more evidence of the warrior giving way to the soldier.  It has been said that American companies excel due to our capacity to place a bureaucracy  to take the reins from early innovators.  I actually mean that as a complement, I’m impressed by the founders of Comcast (where I work).  Three early innovators build a solid foundation and had the forthought to entrust the growth to a different set of people.

This is a fitting concept here in Philadelphia where our founding fathers included such non-specialized geniuses such as Ben Franklin.  Our founding fathers innovated a new government and then handed it to the ultimate bureaucracy – the Federal Government.

In closing let me close this thought with the words of Heinlein, who said what I said – but with the expertise of a dedicated writer:

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.
-Robert A. Heinlein

Credit to http://escapepod.org/2008/10/11/ep179-arties-arent-stupid/ for putting this thought into my head.

One comment

  1. Crystal

    I wholeheartedly agree. More times call for flexibility and broad perspectives to draw appropriate conclusions. To be flexible we need to be able to wear different hats to accomplish what needs to be done. Wearing different hats sometimes steps on the territory of others. I long for the day we we are all just working together on the same problem, regardless of our background, title, and area of focus.