Operation Bootstrap

Web Operations, Culture, Security & Startups.

Are You a Mechanic or an Engineer?

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When I was growing up, everyone knew how to fix their car. Everyone changed the oil, everyone replaced the spark plugs, everyone rebuilt their carburetor. It was a common skill. 20 years earlier, if you knew how to work on cars you were marketable – you had a skill that could earn you a good living. You were still marketable when I was growing up, but the job was more of a commodity. People needed help with more complex tasks but not the simple ones.

Today nobody works on their car, they can’t. In order for fuel economy to improve & in order for everyone to have the high tech capabilities they expect from cars, the cars had to become more complex. You need special tools, special training, and a facility that most individuals can’t afford.

We’re around 20 years of general awareness that the Internet exists. Nerds knew about it earlier, but it was uncommon. 20 years ago it was becoming more common for people to have computers, but not everyone did. 10 years ago most people had computers & a lot of people knew how to work on them. Today they are being delivered in finely crafted cases that don’t make entry easy – they are designed to be serviced in special facilities because people are demanding smaller packages, higher tech abilities, more power.

The mechanic today has no influence into design. Mechanics don’t design the cars, they just fix them. They shave yaks all day – the same problems over and over. Their skill is taught by institutes & while there is some value to experience, more and more diagnosis is being done by machines. The interesting work of the automobile industry is being done by engineers, the gals making decisions about what next years mechanics have to learn & what new machines the industry gets to sell to all the mechanics.

Similarly the tech today who focuses on fixing hardware & building datacenters is becoming a mechanic. Datacenters are becoming complex and highly efficient systems, finely tuned to save energy, built in remote areas of the country where the environment contributes to their economic success as much as their design. These datacenters are owned and operated by Amazon and Google and other platform providers. They are monitored by machines & repaired by mechanics.

For the Operations Engineer in an organization your job has already changed. Your company may not realize it yet, but they will. You are responsible for automation, for understanding the layer that is not yet fully mechanized and managed by large highly efficient organizations – the part where your software has to interact with the underlying datacenter. Provisioning systems is becoming the easy part. Repairing systems is becoming a lost art. Rebuilding systems, auto-scaling systems, integrating systems, safely rolling changes to thousands of systems, monitoring everything as if it sits in the ICU of a hospital – that is your charter.

If you show your company why this new world is good for them & you lead the charge to move there then you could be a hero – an engineer designing your companies future. You could also think of all the reasons this is bad for you, all those years of hardware experience out the window, now you have to learn how to write code. You don’t have to do any of that, you could just become a mechanic.