Monday, October 29, 2007

The nature of systems engineering

I was reading an interesting passage from the Tao Te Ching this morning which, I believe, has great applicability to the nature of systems engineering.

We join spokes in a wheel,
but it is the center hole
that makes the wagon move.

We shape clay into a pot,
but it is the emptiness inside
that holds whatever we want.

We hammer wood for a house,
but it is the inner space
that makes it livable.

We work with being,
but non-being is what we use.

What does this mean to those of us who wield keyboards at the battle of the command line? Probably more things than can be said. To start the pondering I'd like offer two thoughts.

(1) The external perspective: Remember that the business your systems support don't think in terms of IOPS, MB/sec, or LoC. The IT organization does not exist to amaze itself. It exists to enable a business process. As you learn about Perl, Zones, and ZFS, are you also learning the business those technologies support?

(2) The internal perspective: Have you ever met an administrator or engineer whose wall is decorated with certifications, and yet you would not trust them to configure IPMP on a server you were responsible for? Have you met anyone who could write code as fluently as you speak your native language, and yet they could not effectively translate business requirements into functionality without great effort? As you learn the technologies you need to execute your job, are you also learning universal skills such as troubleshooting, and communication?

What other areas of our trade does this parable apply to?