The place: London. The time: Around 1890.
Imagine a medium sized room, lined with huge shelves filled with dusty
books. The lights are dim, the air is heavy with cigar smoke. Outside
the last shred of daylight is fading away.
In one corner of the room, you spot two large leather armchairs and a
small table. On top of the table, two half-full glasses of Whiskey. In
each of the armchair an elderly person.
One of them opens the mouth to speak
«If I were in charge down there in South Africa, we’d be so much
better off – running a colony just can’t be so hard as they make it
out to be»
Of course that elderly guy in the little story is wrong. The problems
are way too complex for a bystander to even understand, let alone
solve. More than likely he doesn’t even have a fraction of the
background needed to understand the complexities.
And yet he sits there, in his comfortable chair, in the warmth of his
club in cozy London and yet he explains that he knows so much better
than, you know, the people actually doing the work.
Now think today.
Think about that article you just read that was explaining a problem
the author was solving. Or that other article that was illustrating a
problem the author is having, still in search of a solution.
Didn’t you feel the urge to go to Hacker News
and reply how much you know better and how crazy the original poster
must be not to see the obvious simple solution?
Or those idiots at Amazon who can’t even keep their cloud service
running? Clearly it can’t be that hard!
See a connection? By stating opinion like that, you are not even a
little bit better than the elderly guy in the beginning of this essay.
Until you know all the facts, until you were there, on the ladder
holding a hose trying to extinguish the flames, until then, you don’t
have the right to assume that you’d do better.
The world we live in is incredibly complicated. Even though computer
science might boil down to math, our job is dominated by side-effects
and uncontrollable external factors.
Even if you think that you know the big picture, you probably won’t
know all the details and without knowing the details, it’s
increasingly likely that you don’t understand the big picture either.
Don’t be an armchair scientist.
Be a scientist. Work with people. Encourage them, discuss solutions,
propose ideas, ask what obvious fact you missed or was missing in the
This is 2012, not 1890.