Sunday, July 06, 2008

Technology unconscious


What can make a process go down from days to minutes?
Given that hardware and software remain the same, the answer is obvious: database indexes!

As an ex-project manager and consultant for NASBA (National Association of State Boards of Accountancy) I received a call when they were trying to process a big fat invoice from Prometric (leading provider of testing and assessment services) and instead of taking the usual few minutes it was getting stuck forever. Stuck forever after some monitoring ended up being amazingly slow processing due to non-existing indexes that were re-creating themselves temporarily again and again.

This situation made me think of the existence of a growing number of things that goes into the "technology unconscious", by definition: the mind operating well below the perception of the conscious mind. They're there, in the background, making things run smooth, we all use them, but most of the time we don't even remember that they're there or know the details of how they operate, and only realize about them when something fails. Other pieces of the technology unconscious are operative systems, the internet tcp/ip layer, even electricity itself (I get embarrassed when my daughter asks me questions about how things work all the time, thanks google for existing).

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