Theory vs. Practice

Diagnosis is not the end, but the beginning of practice. Martin H. Fischer

› The Future of the Internet

Here, a Salt Lake City media (Salem-News has 98 Writers in 22 countries) is sharing views about the costs associated with the distribution of information.

The U.S. state of Oregon, located on the Pacific Northwest coast, hosts large datacenters (Google, Amazon, Facebook, etc.) to take advantage of cheap power (hydroelectric dams) and a climate conducive to reducing cooling costs.

Having received an invitation to provide insights about how software can contribute to making this industry sustainable on the long term despite the explosion of Internet clients, we have tried to extract from our experience a point of view rarely mentioned in purely factual studies.

While finance and equipment surely help, we explain why we believe that the human factor can play a decisive role in this picture.

(This is an excerpt of the whole article which can be read here)

The problem of hitting a cliff in increasing processor performance.

Instead of planning a task as 1,2,3... we all will have to do the 3 steps at the same time.

Add concurrency (servers work for many clients while a client works for himself only) to this and very few products are able to resolve the problem in an efficient way.

G-WAN has been designed to address those challenges in a transparent way: people will just re-use their legacy knowledge and source code as usual - and G-WAN will make it fly.

What led you to pursue the creation of G-Wan?

I reached the point where I could no longer ignore the Web as a development platform and I did not find any development tool able to take the load for the type of applications I had in mind.

For an engineer, the conclusion was easy: build your own system.

For an entrepreneur, such a big gap on a so strategic market sounds like a big opportunity.

Having spent decades in both roles, the choice was easy.

What has made it possible for you as an individual to create a piece of software that is so far superior to such a wide range of commercial and open source competition?

When a problem is already solved, why bother to waste more time on it?

People tend to add yet another layer on existing systems rather than restart from scratch.

The same goes for development: Nginx is relatively recent, and its design is modern (as compared to the venerable Apache for example) but Igor, its author, did not question whether or not it was worth developing new data structures and new tools for Nginx. He just re-used familiar academic tools he used for other projects, or the tools he had learned at school.

Engineers are often not looking at the ultimate ends of what they are creating. In the Internet and software world especially there is a lot of focus on "numbers" (sales, downloads, etc) but very little attention paid to real things, like value being created, efficiency, social function, etc. (one can speculate as to why these things are not focused on)

Right. We all have heard someone yelling "Time to market! Hurry!".

Short-term profit and engineering do not mix very well. This is also why people re-use tools without wondering if it still makes sense.

There are other satisfactions than immediate profit, like looking at your work and seeing that no other tool ever allowed people to do so much work with so little efforts.

I like the mix of efficiency and minimal design. This is like art, I remember people talking about the wing of a plane like if it was a masterpiece. And for some, it really is.

What do you see as the role for the Internet in society and how does G-Wan play a part in that?

As always, you have what a thing is and what it could be. In a world controled by powerful vested interests, sadly, the outcomes depend on many things that are not related to you, nor to the quality of your work.

But I believe that the Internet will become ubiquitous and useful for everyone on the planet.

It will just take time.

As G-WAN is making it easier to make difficult things, it will help people build, communicate and advance the state of things.

I also hope that G-WAN will help people to make a decent living - me included!

I would propose, somewhat crudely, that 1000 idiots will never add up to 1 genius.

Hmm... when I was an employee at SPC (the 5th software publisher worldwide, that was 20 years ago) I was frustrated by the management which acted only in its personal interest instead of in the interest of the company. SPC died soon after that.

I guess that today this feeling is shared by many in companies like Microsoft or Nokia.

Engineers may have bright ideas, but they are told what to do by the upper floors. If they do not abound in the official direction then they are fired.

Those who climb the corporate ladder are more skilled in the area of politics than anything else.

This may explain this sorry state of things that you are describing.

If you do not understand a field, how can you find if someone is competent?

When top-management is made of vendors or people from finance, they rely on head-hunters, who themselves rely on 'experts'. But no *real* expert will waste his time in the Human Resource dept. if he feels that he can change the world in his own field of expertise.

The result is mediocrity, with consultants who happily trade skills for nice-looking Armani suits and royal fees.

Corporations isolate themselves from the market by erecting barriers against challengers, by getting (at a price) a preferred treatment from the Press, by lobbying too much to get public contracts, etc.

This is easy to lose contact with what exactly your business is about.

As an individual craftsman, could you share your thoughts on the comparison in practice and discipline in your work, and that in the corporate world, either from experience, or observation.

I have sometimes spent 15 days to write 15 lines of code for G-WAN.

Not because I was taking a pause, but because I wanted the code to fit the task.

This would not be acceptable for a manager relying on micro-managing to evaluate the performance of his staff because he is expecting you to 'deliver'.

But if you check the facts, in less than 2 years G-WAN has outdone all other servers – both on performance and features.

So, it has delivered very unique value in a time that many big corporations would consider more than acceptable.

This is just an example, but it tells a lot about what the corporate machine is wasting.

People's contribution should be measured by their results rather than by the objectives defined by someone who reads management books and plays golf as his sole areas of competence.

The 20th century is all "progress" but in many ways I think that history may more likely regard it as a "dark age" for humanity. The role of technology in society and in the human experience is a tempestuous one. Could you share your thoughts on this topic, especially with respect to education.

Technology makes it increasingly easy to create global disasters with instant effects, whether in the area of climatic or geologic events, or with advances about electromagnetic influence on biology, or even emotional manipulations of the masses.

This is shaping a different kind of society, just like when new "memes" were invented to secure the long-term position of a new ruling-class (instead of serving the common good by spreading information useful to everyone).

People were reformatted so well that they happily traded their actual life for an imaginary one.

We can see the same thing happening now. I wonder how many teachers or journalists are conscious of their responsibility in this global picture.

Could you share your thoughts on the relationship between engineering and other intellectual and social pursuits?

Engineering is the endless pursuit of reality. You can't make something work if you don't understand the what the problem is.

Many other human activities benefit from ignoring or even travesting reality.

This may explain why engineers are sometimes known for being a bit 'squared' or 'rigid' on subjects that others consider as benign.

But respecting reality helps to take relevant decisions - and it pays on the long-term.

How were you trained as an engineer and what led to your developing such a high level of skill?

Practice. We all become what we do.

Tiger Woods did not play golf like a champ at birth. An athletic morphology may help but not all athletes make decent golfers.

The same goes for any human activity. And to really become good at something (as compared to all others) then you have to wish it much stronger than everyone else.

I think that this is was defines success - far before it is revealed publicly.

There's a quote from Mark Twain:

"It's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog."

There is nothing to add to this sentence. Those who feel it inside understand what it means.

This energy is priceless. It must be used. In a sense, constraints cause that we fight to escape them - and the effects of the fight itself are priceless so we end up loving what we fought in the first place.

This is all the dignity of being human: it comes at a price.