2018-03-19 concepts

Crash-only software, seating charts, loneliness, learning to learn

Hey all -

Way too long this time, I know. Got carried away.

+ what I learned or rediscovered recently #

* Crash-only software

There’s some software out there that’s designed with only one way to shut down: it crashes. And then it recovers.

It doesn’t plan its shutdown, doesn’t let other processes know, doesn’t get its things in order and doesn’t slow down. It just crashes.

This is fascinating: the worst-case scenario is the only scenario. There’s no distinction between the best and the worst case. Crash, then recover. That’s it.

If you think about it, this is a crazy mindset. Whatever you throw at this thing, it doesn’t matter. It’s going to crash regardless. It knows it’s going to crash. And then it’s going to recover.

Crash-only software is resilient and adaptable, because the failure is baked in. It’s part of the grand plan. Crash early, crash often.

But most importantly, crash-only software represents the ultimate form of the strength. What can you take from something which has nothing to lose? “It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything.”[1]

For better or for worse (but probably better), people are not crash-only software. However I think there are things to be learned from this. It’s a reconception of how we think about failure.

What would happen if you got laid off? What would happen if your phone died when walking in an unfamiliar area at night? What would you happen if you suffered a serious injury? How do you deal with catastrophe?

For me I think I’ve found my answer: Crash. Then recover.

* Seating charts

This is stolen right from Matt Levine’s amazing Money Stuff newsletter. He writes: “Everything is seating charts.”

We tend to think of corporations as these giant faceless, monolithic entities because that’s what they kind of look like. Less often do we think of them as collections of people working toward a common goal (in theory, maximizing shareholder value; in practice: getting a paycheck).

For a business, it feels like seating charts should be irrelevant - they don’t impact anything to do with business things. That’s people-stuff, and that shouldn’t matter to the monolith.

Yet probably nothing impacts the business things more than the people-stuff. At the end of the day, people do work, not firm monoliths.

So, something as seemingly inconsequential as seating charts can have a profound impact on how people doing the work feel. They care about what the decor looks like or how much natural light gets in or who they sit next to. That’s the important stuff - the people-stuff.

* Loneliness

Loneliness gets a bad rap, and at first glance, justifiably so. By definition, it’s not a good feeling. And so we pity those who are lonely - even those who choose to be that way.

But maybe evaluating something based solely on how it feels isn’t the only way of looking at it. Maybe it can feel bad, but still be good for us.

It’s hard to think this way because we’re taught from a young age that being social is intrinsically good. Having friends, talking and meeting up, laughing and sharing stories - wouldn’t you always want that? It certainly feels good. Why ever be lonely?

Well this essay offers a good rationale for why there may be a silver lining to loneliness. The main point is that while loneliness obviously doesn’t feel good, it allows us be more observant, empathetic and self-aware.

I’ve noticed this with myself. On the one hand, I’m somewhat extroverted so, to some degree, I enjoy socializing. On the other hand, it’s really hard to think for myself when I’m constantly engaged in conversation. How do you pause for independent reflection when you’re focused on what someone’s saying to you, reading their body language, respecting social norms, parsing environmental cues and brainstorming your own responses? It’s a lot to juggle.

The only way I can really self-reflect is when I have time to myself, and being lonely is a fine price to pay for that.

What this tells me is that both are important (as usual). We can’t be lonely for too long, but we also need time to self-reflect and think for ourselves - even if it hurts. Cycling through each of those periodically seems quite normal and healthy.

* Learning to learn

One thing I enjoy about teaching is you really have to focus on how others learn best, from little procedural things - like the order in which you say stuff - to bigger things - like how you emotionally encourage people.

It’s neat because once you spend a lot of time thinking about how others learn best, you can apply that same stuff to yourself. How could I learn even better?

Here’s what I got from this consolidation of the latest research:

I read this research in preparation for a Software Carpentry training, and I cannot recommend the training enough. I learned a ton from the fantastic instructors there (Greg & Danielle), so a huge thanks to them and the Foundation for that. If you are at all interested in the intersection of software and teaching, I highly encourage you to sign up.

Thanks for reading,


[1] And this is why Fight Club is my favorite movie of all time.