Overclocked

This post comes after a very long hiatus on my side in relation to this personal blog. During the past years I have been very busy with work and other activities, but in the last months I took a break and started to re-think my life.

One of the consequences of this process, has been the revamping of NTCore and the decision to provide it with new content in the shape of articles and programs. In fact, I wanted to start with a technical article, but then some considerations crept into my mind and I wanted to share them.

One of the reasons I stopped writing about interesting things and to dedicate spare time to my IT hobby, was that too much of my time was being spent on work related IT activities not connected to the development of Cerbero Profiler. Anyone who has ever worked for a company with incompetent managers, can understand this perfectly. There are companies, large or small, which kill the passion for whatever you enjoyed doing before working for them.

One classic example is a company which had luck with its first product, because it was the right product at the right time and then tries to replicate its first success with an endless amount of new projects all doomed to fail. The reason they do it is because they don’t want their company to rely only on one product. The reason they fail is because they were lucky, not clever, with their first product.

Unfortunately, the boost of arrogance caused by the first hit is enough to eclipse all the following failures, which may or not, depending on the success of the first product, bring the company to collapse.

The technical workforce in such a company is divided into two groups. The first group works on the first product, aka the cash cow. This group endures enormous pressure, because the entire faith of the company depends on them. Not only that, but the pressure increases whenever money is wasted on the other useless side-projects. The frustration of this group stems from the fact that they are the only ones being put under pressure and that their work has to finance the, from their side perceived, non-work of the others.

The second groups works on the side-projects which are doomed to fail. The clever technical people in this group already know that these projects will fail, but that doesn’t change anything in the decisions taken by the company. The frustration of this group stems from continuously doing useless things, which nobody cares about and not being appreciated like the people in the first group.

In such an environment, it doesn’t matter to which group you belong to, if you understand the big picture or if you just consider it your day job. You’re screwed regardless. The difference is that the people of the first group tend to last longer, but the toxic environment of the company will consume them as well in the long run. The people of the second group are the ones being consumed faster and there’s a reason for that.

I heard that some large companies take into account the psychological effects on a software developer who worked on a major project, which then got canceled. These companies make sure that the employee is then assigned to the development team of an already established product. This is to avoid the re-occurrence of the same situation for the developer and the psychological strain it would generate for him.

If you currently work for a company of the earlier category, I can give you only one advice: resign and do something else. Cultivate crops, hunt, forge steel or build roads. Anything is better than enduring the bullshit of such a place. You can do it for a time if you need to, but you have to know when to stop.

For years I wasn’t able to live from the profits of my commercial product and needed a day job, then in the last years the situation changed, but I still didn’t stop my other activity for a number of reasons. In the beginning profits were still uncertain and I also figured that more money was even better.

The ironic thing is that even though you may earn more money, you are also more inclined to spend it easily. This is because of the work-caused mental fatigue which forces your brain to look for continuous gratification to alleviate the pain. So you end up in a fancy apartment, with a big TV, a nice car, etc. It requires some effort to break the routine and part from that situation. Effort which isn’t caused by the difficulty to give up a materialistic life-style, but to one’s mental fatigue which makes it hard to start any new endeavor.

That isn’t to say that I dislike money. In fact, one of the reasons I changed my life is that the money wasn’t nearly good enough for the amount of stress I had to face. I am neither a materialistic person nor a hippie. I can live with little money or with tons of it. It doesn’t change who I am.

It’s been only 10 months since I changed things and started to re-organize my life. The initial months were spent mostly on personal matters, logistics and recovering my physical health. Even though I always kept in shape and did a lot of sport, the stress still had effects on my overall well-being.

I spent the following months on relaxing my mind, making projects for the future and even starting a new hobby, knife making.

Of course, I still worked on my commercial product from time to time, but even that required a thinking pause as the new 3.0 version approaches and it’s a good point in time for some interesting and major improvements. I also made new important business deals unrelated to my product, which wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t changed things.

That brings us to now and to my wish to rekindle my passion for IT and to the actual topic of the post.

It’s impossible for someone who grew up playing with SoftICE, like myself, not to notice the differences in approaching the field of IT back then and doing it now. In the past, we spent our time on IRC, which was a lot more fun than Twitter. We had less technologies to focus on. The result was that we were more focused and less distracted.

Not only that. We were small communities in which you could gain appreciation for some days of work writing a small utility or writing an article. Today nobody gives a fuck. Your article or code is just a drop in the ocean or a tweet in the movie “The Birds”.

Nowadays the IT field exploded with many new fields and disciplines, many of which 20 years ago were relegated to academic research, were insignificantly small or weren’t there at all. Distributed computing, machine learning, mobile development, virtualization etc.

At the same time, the amount of people and money in the IT industry also caused the explosion of bullshit. From IT security up until the retarded bullshit of agile development.

Although this may just seem another “things were better before” comment, it’s not really the point of it. There’s a natural process of commercialization from something which is niche to something which becomes common and consumed by the masses, which makes the field for those belonging to the initial niche less appealing. This is normal.

What is interesting is that we lose interest in things today, because we are overclocked. By this technical reference I mean that we are overstimulated. We developed a numbness in regard to technology because we were exposed to too many (mostly useless) innovations in an excessive amount which our brain couldn’t absorb and so it gave up and lost interest.

While, of course, no one can centrally control the amount of innovations which globally come out every day, individual companies can limit the amount of innovations within their own products for our brains to be able to appreciate them.

There’s a reason why nobody cares today when the new Windows is released. Many stopped caring after Windows Vista and most after Windows 7. Remember when the release of a new Windows was a big event? Remember how respected the work of Matt Pietrek and Sven B. Schreiber was? It’s not just because they were pioneers. The reason is that we cared beyond having a resource to help us implement our daily piece of code.

We had the illusion that technology was a progression towards improvement. And now we are disillusioned.

In my old rants against Microsoft, wherein I predict the failure of products like Windows Phone and Silverlight, it is possible to notice the increasing disillusionment. Let me quote an old post from 2011:

Moreover, Windows could be improved to an endless extent without re-inventing the wheel every 2 years. If the decisions were up to me I would work hard on micro-improvements. Introduce new sets of native APIs along Win32. And Iā€™d do it gradually, with care and try to give them a strong coherency. I would try to introduce benefits which could be enjoyed even by applications written 15 years ago. The beauty should lie in the elegance in finding ingenious solutions for extending what is already there, not by doing tabula rasa every time. I would make developers feel at home and that their time and code is highly valued, instead of making them feel like their creations are always obsolete compared to my brand new technology which, by the way, nobody uses.

To be clear, it isn’t just Microsoft. All the big players make the same mistake. During Jobs’ era at Apple we had a controlled amount of improvements which we could appreciate. When Jobs died, Apple became the same as any other company and today nobody cares about Apple products as well.

The gist of my theory is what follows. The majority of people use Windows or the iPhone to do a number of things. While a minority of people may think it’s cool to have yet a slimmer phone without headphone jack or charging it without a wire, these are actually regressions (having to buy new adapters or headphones from Apple, more easily breaking your phone because the back is made out of glass) and they annoy the majority, while also numbing their capacity to absorb improvements.

If you add to your product 50 new things and only 5 of those are actual improvements, even those 5 improvements will become an indistinguishable blur among the other 45 and won’t even be perceived.

And just to hammer my point home, let’s take a Victorinox Swiss Army Knife (yes, I grew up watching MacGyver). It has more than a hundred years of history and it is perfect as it is. Of course, a minority of people may think that adding pizza cutter to it may be essential, but Victorinox doesn’t work for a minority. Yes, every now and then a new model of knife comes out intended for a particular group of people like sailing enthusiasts or IT workers, but the classic models have more or less remained unchanged throughout the decades. What happened is that they went over countless micro-improvements which brought them to the state-of-the-art tools they are today.

An OS, just like any important piece of technology, should give the user the same satisfaction a Victorinox SAK gives to its holder.

These are some of the considerations which crossed my mind while trying to make again my entrance in the IT world. They will reflect on my work and over the next months I will put my money where my mouth is.

6 thoughts on “Overclocked”

  1. WoW Daniel, you wrote a lot this time, lol šŸ˜€

    I’ll try to comment on your points … ehehe. Take the following all as IMHO, of course.
    By the way, forgive me for my terrible english šŸ™‚

    *** Company
    I work for such a company where there are a couple of “major” products and just “the rest”. Managers point on those two apps and even when there’s a “goal” reached with one of the “marginal” applications, it’s something that doesn’t get attention. Working this way is a bit “frustrating” but it pays the bills. Fortunately I still have some time to dedicate to RE – not as much as some years ago, unfortunately – which “awakes” me from my by boring tasks at work.

    Sometimes my mind speculates on leaving but there aren’t a lot of opportunity in IT field here. You suggest to do something completely different to “fresh your own mind” … I’m not at that point yet, I guess šŸ˜›

    *** Flooding (in RE)
    I agree with you. There are tons of news, articles, experts (or supposed to be) on so much different fields and topics that you’re overwhelmed and, if you’re like me, you don’t give yourself the time to “master” or just understand a theme, that you are immediately “distracted” by other interesting stuff … and you end up just wasting time, without any actual learning.

    At the same time, every “discover” or technique or tool – being it nice, useful, great or exceptional – gets really low attention and the reaction by poeple is often just a couple of likes when you’re lucky: no particular/useful comments or questions on your work, apart from some specific persons (thanks they still exist!) … and so, your efforts or discoveries are not properly perceived and the work you do somewhat doesn’t pay off the endeavor.

    I must admit I’m one of those BAD guys : I often take, leave a like, and pass to the next tool or idea or post. Forgive me for that! And, to be honest, rarely is a matter of time (i.e. “oh, I don’t have enough time to properly analyze and comment your work, sorry”) … it’s just I have no REAL understanding of this or that, just something I “heard of”, if you know what I mean.

    *** Flooding (in industry)
    Yeah, nowadays, with IoT there are A LOT of feature enrichments instead of new features (hope you understand what I mean). Cameras are more precise, video effects are smarter, integration with facebook/twitter/instagram ecc. is better, but very few innovations.

    I agree that “replicating” a “killing” feature in your product will help sales but, out of 50 “improvements” we would expect at least half of them are “real” šŸ™‚

    There’s the need to focus on research and not only on marketing! At least to keep the right people motivated to explore new fields, perform new discoveries, fail miserably and then present something innovative!

    *** Daniel MacGyver
    Good luck with your new knife production … but, remember: “Non si va con un coltello ad una sparatoria”, eheheheh šŸ™‚

    Joking apart. I’m glad you’re rediscovering yourself … can’t wait to learn from you again šŸ˜‰

    Best Regards,
    Tony

    P.S. It seems I’ll have to “spread” the news you’re back … at least based on the number of comments to your new posts ;). However, I guess you already took into account the possibility it would have taken some time to have people “reach” you and your blog again šŸ™‚

  2. Forgot to write …

    Your post reminds me of a thread on ARTeam, if I’m not mistaken, where – already some time ago – someone underlined that we lost our sense of “WoW”.

    Cheers,
    Tony

  3. Hey Tony,

    thanks for the comment. šŸ™‚

    In reality I’ve got a lot of visitors on the web-page every day, because of the tools, but most of them are probably not reading the blog. I had at least 1000 views of this specific post. But to be honest, I also didn’t write anything controversial, so most people would probably just agree without commenting.

    Unfortunately, I haven’t logged into ARTeam for a long time. Should do it sooner or later. šŸ™‚

    *** Company
    It also depends on the success of the first product. If the sales of the first product drop or the expenses increase, the toxicity in the company increases as well.

    *** Daniel MacGyver
    You should read the story behind the Bowie knife. XD

  4. Hi Daniel,
    glad your site is still rocking šŸ˜‰

    Re-reading my own post I can for sure say that my english is HORRIBLE eheheh šŸ˜‰

    Best Regards,
    Tony

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