In 1978, I read a book about the Holocaust. The book was in my elementary school library. A school with a large Jewish population. And I was exposed to horrors that profoundly shake your faith in humanity. Read a book that describes the horrors of Nazi Germany at six, and your world will get warped.
In 1988, a Chemistry teacher at Campion School told my classmates and me that we were dead men walking. The human species was ultimately going to destroy the planet, and our civilization was done. We were 14 years old, and we were dead before our lives had even started.
In 1994, a very senior professor of CS walked into a room of CS majors and told us that our jobs were going to go away. That Indian outsourcing was going to eliminate our jobs. Only 13 people graduated in 1996 with a degree in CS because the rest of my peers took his warning seriously.
From about the mid-1990’s, a profound understanding of global warming made me appreciate that our actions killed our current civilization. Either a gentle transition or a massive collapse would happen. And my understanding of the human condition from my reading of the Holocaust, made me bet on the massive collapse.
Now in 2017, with many of the predictions about global climate coming out true, I look at children and wonder what kind of hellscape they will inherit.
And you think to yourself if you can’t do anything and you are fucked, then you might as well drink the coffee, hug the wife, play with the kid and sing gospels or chant Orthodox prayers.
The fact that this kind of despair has permeated my life makes me wonder why I am still alive, what force has propelled me to keep living?
Only one: hopelessness is not interesting.
Working in the tech industry, I have learned that you can not motivate people with hopelessness. If you walk into a meeting and tell a bunch of execs that we are going out of business, then they are not interested in what you have to say. If you say to that unless we do X, or Y or Z we are going out of business, they are still not interested.
Because every company goes out of business.
You are telling your business leaders that the sun will also rise, that the Universe will end and that they will be forgotten. You are giving them no new information.
And the reasons you can go out of business are so broad and varied and complex that this is just one threat in a spectrum of global threats that affect them.
Strategic Software Architects must be about hope. Our job is not to find the millions of reasons we will die; our job is to find the one way we can win.
And what makes the job so very hard is that we have to create the circumstances that allow us to win.
And here’s why I believe that.
In 2006, I was working at NetApp, and I was asked to produce an analysis of data center technology trends and application trends. And I walked into a meeting with my peers and observed that multi-core systems had created a strategic dead end for NetApp. The value of having external storage was to improve the performance of applications. And in particular, to deal with the fact that storage consumed a lot of CPU and Memory. By having external storage, you could improve the overall performance of your system.
Unfortunately utilization was going down on the servers (2-10%), and as a result, it was increasingly obvious that running the storage on the local system made sense. At the time Oracle and Microsoft were pushing hard for clustered file systems and databases that they felt didn’t need external storage arrays.
And I remember, saying in that meeting: We’re fucked, this was a nice company, time for us to look for a job.
A few months later, Tom Georgens asked Dave Kresse and me to study VMware and see what we could do with them. And I came to the same meeting and said: We’re saved! It turns out that VMware has figured out how to make this utilization problem go away.
And then that begat the: how the hell do we sell into EMC accounts NetApp storage?
And I remember sitting in a meeting with every business leader at the company explaining a very me too product strategy. And I remember everyone just staring at their laptops. Ten years later, I would have seen a whole bunch of LinkedIn updates.
And somebody asked me: Hey did you see how this guy saved 90% storage using NetApp dedupe?
And it clicked for us all. We had this feature, called dedup, that allowed us to deduplicate data on primary storage. And VMware had a problem that they needed shared storage to store identical images.
And what was incredible is that dedupe was the feature that we kept trying to kill. Originally imagined as an answer to data domain, or perhaps a generalization of snapshots, for years teams tried to kill it, and somehow it survived. This piece of unwanted technology transformed our company.
We shut down releases, redid roadmaps to take a piece of technology that barely worked and made it the centerpiece of everything we did.
We convinced the world that deduplication on primary storage was the right thing to do. Dedupe was a technology that no one had. Because it was insane. Intentionally introduce fragmentation. Dedupe on primary workloads was a crazy stupid proposition for storage.
And we won and lived for another decade.
The morality play, in my head, was the following that we could have curled up and died, I could have taken that interview at Google or I could have kept looking. And I chose to keep looking.
And because we kept looking, we found something, and we survived and thrived.
If you want to inspire people, don’t tell them they are dead, stare into the abyss and say we will find a portal out of here.
And you know what, you may find a way out of the abyss, and trying to find a way out is always way more interesting.