The Orangutan Architect

One of my most successful articles was the IT Animal Kingdom piece I wrote a couple of years ago. It was picked up by both BlogCritics and Internet Duct Tape. I wrote the article based on many of my past experiences in the IT world and even though I made fun of the Orangutan Architect, I am starting to understand him that character a little more.

In that article I defined this animal as the ones that…

create the most complex systems for simple solutions. If you have ever had a conversation with someone that talks in circles, never getting to a point, you might have encountered an Orangutan. Like their conversational skills their code is extremely hard to follow and it resembles a bowl of spaghetti. Somehow they are also backed by the predators, I believe because of their uncanny capability to confuse.

If you had to study its DNA, it would have come from two of the great software architects I have worked with in the past. The tone of the article only captured the funny and satirical side of what an architect is, however it did not talk about their brilliance when it came to being able to see systems as a fully integrated machine where they were aware of the skeleton and many other pieces inside of it. Now that I have 10+ years of experience in the world of IT I find myself becoming more and more like they were.

When talking about software development there are many schools of thinking. Some of them are almost like religions and you can encounter people that blindly follow a methodology even it if leads them into dead ends. One of the most dangerous is how configurable and flexible a software has to be. Most architects that I have met love making something so generic that we can use it for any widget. I still think this is the wrong approach for most solutionas and adhere myself to the mentality that it has to solve the problem first and then become generic, not build something generic that also solves the problem. Neither approach is wrong all together; finding the happy medium is what good designers ultimately have to do. It also varies greatly between internal IT shops and people that write software to be packaged. The closer the IT shop is to supporting the software and have ownership of it, the less generic you the software tends to be.

Now we get to the part where I am becoming more like the orangutan, and it has some to do with time management. Every architect I have met does not have time to explain details to others and they want to be trusted fully by everyone in the team. I personally lean more towards the business analysis side where I want to be close to the problem that is at hand and providing the right solution. Some of it can be attributed to the many small environments that I have worked inside where I saw my user all the time. That made me a better analyst, but it also tends to make me more reactive. The right thing to do is to compromise between talking and doing, and I have slowly come to realize that if you talk too much, meet too much, plan too much, you end up not doing a lot.

Navigating the sea of users trying to please them as well as the decision makers is quite a task. I have learned from the architects that being good at it is not just about being able to describe the big picture, but at the same time understand all the details that make it up. That skill develops being involved in various projects and being able to see things coming that others never expect. It is great to know methodologies and know how structures get built on top of solid frameworks, but the architect should plan for the pitfalls that others don’t see. It is not a perfect science, but it is something good architects do well.

After writing the article two years ago I thought about what it really meant. In some ways I was trying to see what traits I did not want fall pray of as my career started to get to the next level. Business Analysis and Software Architecture are both things that I have been doing for some years now, but it is recently that I feel confident that I can play in both of those realms with some authority. The key to all of it is not only experience, but realizing that you truly need a full zoo to really run a successful IT shop.

Normal and Self Esteem

Self esteem is not an easy subject to talk about. Most people have a hard time dealing with what we have come to regard in our society as self esteem “issues.” Is it too much to ask than when we are not happy with who we are that we can be self conscious? Is self esteem really a measure of who you are, a temperature gauge of how effective you are at living life?

I think that plenty is wrong with our society. I have written about individualism and believe that if we don’t care about others we end up pretty unhappy ourselves. However broken I might see some things in our society, it rules a lot of what our life becomes. As much as people like to think that they are not affected by what society dictates, we all fall pray to it in various degrees. I think one of the most dangerous is the sense of what is normal.

It begins at home. The way our family sees the world and life its part of who we are. Even the people that go completely against their family’s world view are being directly affected by it. Some of us think our parents are truly our mentors and that we should live up to them, some of us want to surpass who they are and some just go in the complete opposite direction. However, I think that for most it is hard to completely wipe the slate clean from people that you spend your forming years with.

Everything said up to this point was leading to the point of this post. I am going to attach the term maturity to self esteem and normality and make the following statement. I believe that maturity is achieved the moment we can separate everything we think its normal from what we are or want to become in order to achieve true self esteem. The moment we accept who we are, and that we are not destined to be what society or our parents thought we should be who we want to become I believe we achieve maturity. The moment we know we are our own person and take on the responsibility of life. Read that last sentence again. I think responsibility gets shoved into people when they are not ready for it and then it becomes a burden rather than something we feel proud to have.

There are many examples in my life of things that clearly illustrate this point. I think the easiest to talk about is when people do not see a negative learned behavior that affects others. Like the girl that keeps on dating the guy that beats her because that is what her Dad used to do to her mother. That is an example of a learned behavior that gets put into someone’s psyche as normal and it is very hard for many to get out. I think it is maturity to stand up and say, this is not normal and not right and I need to break the cycle.

Your Money’s Worth

We always have salted crackers in the house. It is the default breakfast food when there is no bread. During a month I say we probably go through a box. For my surgery we bought extra since I could only really eat crackers for the first couple of days. Months ago we got a box of crackers that seemed to be missing a couple of crackers. At first I thought maybe someone had messed up the counter on their cracker filling machine because all four packages seemed to be at the same level.

The following couple of boxes seemed to have even less crackers and it has been consisten since. I calculate that the cracker packages now contain about 5 less crackers than they did six months ago, and unless we have been unlucky enough to get all the packages from a badge with less crackers, we are not getting our moneys worth. I seriously doubt that crackers just suddenly started to get heavier so they had to include less to keep up with thier packaging advertised weight.

What made me start to get really paranoid was our artificial swettener. My wife has diabetes and I really don’t enjoy overly sweet stuff, so artificial sweetener is always available. We used to buy the bag that will let you pull out spoon fulls, but then switched to packets.

It has been consisten in the last two boxes that about 15% of the little packets contain next to nothing inside of them. Most packets do have the correct amount to sweeten a cup of joe, but at times I have to open 2 or 3 packages just to get a good one.

We drink coffee every morning. We don’t go to coffee shops as much as we used to but still enjoy brewing our own at times even at night. Six months ago when I would open a coffee container I had to be careful not to end up wearing it because it was filled pretty much to the seal I was having trouble ripping. Now There is a good distance between the seal and the coffee.

If it was not for the crackers being something I eat so consistently, I probably would have never noticed the changes in content from other products. I don’t have a super precise scale to really compare the weight of the products, but I am seriously considering it. Has anyone else noticed any other examples where we are getting less than our moneys worth?

*Update*
I guess my powers of observation were correct and it was not just paranoia. Thanks Lucas and Meesha.

Of talents and their use

Yesterday Bea and me went to the movies with a couple of our friends. The movie was the cop mall movie, and I would probably not pay for it at the theater but think it might be an ok rental for some. During the previews a new movie about someone reliving their youth is coming out. The guy is down on the dumps, being divorced and having his kids totally ignore him and pass him off as irrelevant. Looks like an excellent comedy with all the jokes of an older guy trying to be hip. The feel good movie part is that the guy realizes that the chance he gets to relive his youth is not about not making the same mistakes as before but rather help his kids navigate through high school as a buddy since he could not do it as a parent.

The preview made me think about a lot of things, some I chose not to discuss because I am currently not a parent. The most interesting one is something I had discussed earlier with someone else about talents. Some people take longer than others to discover what their talents are. Some people think that they don’t have any talents, I disagree with that thought and think that they just simply have not discovered them.

My best friend from high school help me discover my talent. He is way more talented than I am when it comes to music and has had a very successful career back in Colombia. I never really explored my acting even though I had enjoyed it when I did it back in high school and have considered doing local theater, but he also has done theater back there with a pretty cool group. For one of our school assignments we had to record a speech on a tape that lasted more than 2 minutes. We had worked on the assignment together and he had possession of the tape that had both of our speeches.

When the day came to turn the assignment in my friends first words when I saw him in the morning were, I left the tape at home. Our school was a very strict Catholic institution. Some teachers that would have probably let us turn the assignment in late, that was not the case with this teacher. That is when my talent came into play.

I started thinking of what alternatives we had. The class was not until the second hour, so I knew we had an hour to play with. I also saw that some people had actually brought hand held tape recorders. I told him, you get a tape we can record on I will get us a tape recorder. I looked around and spoke with some people and in record time I had a blank tape, a recorder and was ready to redo the assignment. We were walking away from the classroom to skip class, when he pulled the tape from his jacket. He then told me something I would never forget, “I just wanted to see how resourceful you really are.”

Call it a practical joke, but that day it hit me. I do not panic under pressure, I start to think of solutions or alternatives to the issue at hand. I did not get mad at him or made it his responsibility to solve the issue, I made us work together to solve the problem at hand. I have used that talent in some extreme situations also, one of them actually having to do with life or death situations… but I am not sure I want to tell that story just yet.

I use that talent at my job all the time. I believe from that talent comes the ability to troubleshoot and find bugs. I also think that my business analysis and process improvement benefit greatly from that resourcefulness and being able to see other avenues to get to the same place. So can you remember when you first discovered one of your talents? Do you use your talents on what you do every day? If you could be 17 again, would you work to develop one of those talents into a career?

Friend Tiers

I know a lot of people. I love that fact, that I have friends of many backgrounds and can sit right next to someone in a train and strike up a conversation. It is my personality to not just connect with people, but connect people. I love the idea of forming relationships and making friends.

The subject of friendships has been heavy in my head since the beginning of the year. I think this year will be a tough one but one that we can learn a lot from and I want to concentrate on making all the relationships in my life stronger. Which brings me to friendships.

Recently one of the issues I have faced with friendships hit me right on the face. I do not have one single friend from my childhood. Granted, I could find or bump into someone I knew back in grade school or from one of the neighbourhoods I grew up in, but they are not friends. As a matter of fact I did when I was back in Colombia and it felt awkward that someone was calling my name and I had no idea what their name was. It took me a while, but I did remember the girl that was talking to me and even now I have a hard time remembering her name.

One of my friends at work also reminded me of this fact. He has a couple of friends that he did not just grew up around but built his life with. They have been there his whole life, and I cannot help but feel a little jealous of that fact. I would not trade having moved and having met so many over anything because it was my path, but at times it would be nice to have friends that reached that top tier of friendship.

My wife made some very good friends here in KC, and the have quickly become one of our closest group. As immigrants we make quick friends and hang onto anything that we can share from our similar cultures. It is hard to not have those friends from back home here, and we quickly replace each other’s close inner circle but only at the little parties we have when we see each other.

My friend from work also in the same conversation said something that made me think about trust, and letting in people too quickly and too much. His observation is accurate, I am a fast friend and fast to trust, but it does not mean that I don’t have tiers of friends. It is uncomfortable to be placed in any kind of tier and I would never do that to the people that call me a friend. However, the reality is that there are different tiers, there are some people that are closer than others.

Funny thing is that while I don’t have someone that calls me their best friend, at least not yet, there are plenty of people that I am extremely close with and will do pretty much anything for. Some of them read this blog, some of them don’t. Some might know how important they are in my life and some might not even have a clue.

I guess my tiers of closeness really are not that delineated. If you are my friend when we see each other I will feel as happy to see you as if I had shared crayons with you in high school. Now I just have to concentrate on managing my time and being able to spend more time with my friends.

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