Sunday, November 25, 2012

The technology of divorce

This morning a fascinating article showed up in my RSS feed on how technology is changing divorce. I encourage you to go read it over at the NY Times, but the quick summary is that things like texting and email have made face-to-face conversations less required in a divorce situation. That can end up being beneficial in situations with kids, since the chance of having a big argument in front of the children during an exchange or in a phone call become more rare.

As someone who is divorced with joint custody of my kids, I can say with first hand experience that it works. Firing off a quick text to coordinate scheduling or letting the other parent know about an upcoming event, are fast and easy. As talked about in the article, having the children have their own cell phones is also a great idea, since the parents can talk to their kids with quick calls and messages without having to deal with the ex-spouse.

However, there are certain areas where technology hasn't quite caught up to the reality of modern divorced families. Particularly with things like school parent portals, and church databases. When I signed up for a user account for my kids on-line portal they informed me that my username would include part of the child's home phone number. I immediately thought... "Which one? Between my ex-wife and I, and the kids cell phones, we have 4 phone numbers." Plus, they only gave us one account, so my ex and I have to share the same username and password to access the kids records.

Our church's database software ins't much better it seems since it doesn't seem to understand the notion that my kids might have two addresses that they live at, and that sending me mail with my ex-wife's name on it next to mine (even with her maiden name on it), isn't the best idea. I'm sure it's just a simple mail merge database, but it does go to show that often times software developers don't take in to account some of the more common family situations that occur in our society.

Hmm, maybe I can start a consulting business to educate these shops....

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Who's the boss?

I recently sent an email at work, that talked a lot about some of the more academic sides of "infrastructure". Particularly the notion of where infrastructure gets it's direction and workload from. So I thought I'd share a few of those thoughts here.

Infrastructure is a bit of a weird beast. It's a foundational piece of any technology deployment, but in most cases it isn't the "focus" of the deployment. Infrastructure is both independent-yet-dependent. It stands at a crossroads between two distinct worlds.

First, infrastructure is independent, in the sense that it is agnostic. It can be built in a similar fashion if you're deploying a bookstore, financial application, music player, or blog. There are general concepts, principles and tactics (see The HiSSS of Infrastructure series...) that are universal to whatever application you are building and deploying. So by that standard, infrastructure is a thing unto itself.

But yet, infrastructure is nothing by itself. It's the foundation upon which cool things are built. Without an application or service being deployed upon it, it's pointless. So therefore infrastructure is dependent upon being "used" by something greater than itself. It's purpose is fulfilled by being used.

So there are three main areas in which infrastructure takes it's direction.

  1. Internal - There are things that infrastructure needs to do, to maintain itself and keep functioning. Things like security updates, hardware maintenance and general design updates, all come from initiatives internal to itself. There is a cadre of work that is built on these internal pressures. 
  2. Future-forward - The second area usually comes from a development team, and revolves around planning for the future. Investing in new technologies and their foundational pieces is a key part of infrastructure's work. People always have a million good ideas, and they need a solid foundation to make them reality.
  3. Reactive/Preventative - This stream of work comes from the discovery of issues that need to be addressed in the infrastructure. Service issues, capacity management, and general problem resolution are the third key workstream for a strong base.
These three areas make up the scope of work that an infrastructure team works on, and understanding and working within a fully agreed understanding of the importance of foundation, and building a house on solid ground, always benefits an entire initiative. 

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Hurricane Sandy and Tech as Part of Our Lives

As most of the world is aware, last week was pretty rough for the East Coast of the United States. Hurricane Sandy left a trail of destruction through one of the most populous regions of our country, and even today, people have yet to fully recover from this incredible event.

I have some personal connections to this event, since my boss, and many of my co-workers are stationed in our NYC offices. Over the past week, a lot of meetings have started with questions like, "Are you doing OK? Do you have power yet?" The business of building a software product continued, but at the back of everyone's mind were questions about the safety of those we worked with.

For many of us, technology has become an embedded part of our lives. On any given day, I "chat" with people in two or three different timezones, hundreds of miles apart from me. Both in my personal life, and in my professional work. The internet, and our gadgets and apps, make this a simple proposition. Someone sits down at their computer or smartphone, logs in to an app, and boom, I can chat with them. Suddenly, last week, all that stopped for many people. There was a sense of joy in hearing my bosses voice on a call, despite knowing that I wouldn't see him online in many days. Audio communication suddenly seemed like the height of hubris, as one by one, our co-workers and friends checked in as they could.

As the week went on, things started to return to normal, and people started to get their internet connections back. Things seemed to fall back in to their normal routine. People showed up on my IM clients, more and more emails were sent and received. But I think a lot of us came through this event, with a better understanding of the role that our "always on" tech plays in our lives, and how it would feel if it suddenly all went away...