Life continuity

May 21 2009

My first job out of college was at FTD, the flower people.  No, I wasn't doing arrangements, delivery, or working with Merlin Olsen.  I was hired in 1990 to project manage the development of an online B2B e-commerce system for an era of green screen terminals and 1200 baud modems.  It sounded like a good idea, and one way ahead of its time.  But the project was doomed to failure for a whole host of reasons.  For me personally, as unhappy as I was with the environment I was working in, grudgingly I can admit that a few of the lessons learned from that first job stay with me every single day.  If Dan Hennessey is out there reading somewhere, he will probably laugh in his scotch at that.

No, the lessons learned were not about marketing -- the marketing guy I worked with seemed to think "Save time and money!" was all the tagline anyone ever needed.  Instead, what I carry in the back of my mind as a permanent thought synapse is the idea of system continuity.  See, even for a prototype system with maybe a dozen users, I was required to devise and document a full disaster recovery plan.  We had to think about backup hardware, hot site recovery, on-call system admins, vendor escalation and contact trees, even source code archiving.  And now, to this day, I worry about "what if" way more than a chess player calculating their potential moves.

When you stop and think about it, life is a wonderful series of processes that work, or, when they don't, where the "plan B" will.  I am not sure if this ever enters conscious thought for anyone else.  I am sitting at my daughter's gymnastics class while I write this -- and I realize that a whole series of things had to happen, just in the last hour, in order for this event in her weekly schedule to happen.  Her school teachers had to get her on the bus.  The bus driver had to remember to stop at her stop.  I had to be at the bus stop on time, carrying her leotard.  The roads we take to get to the gymnastics class had to be available, and the traffic flow in a timely manner.  Someone had to unlock the gymnastics classroom.  The teachers had to get here on time.  The electric company has to keep generating electricity to keep the lights on during class.

I can't figure out what it is that keeps me wondering at the way things work, and how fault-tolerant the human race is.  We constantly adapt to changing conditions, missed connections, unexpected events.  We become skilled at survival, but it's more than that.  The thing that makes collaboration a wonderfully-spontaneous art form is that every one of us brings different ideas, different perspectives, and different expectations to create an idea or solve a problem.  We may create a dance routine, painting, or a symphony, and that output will be understood by others.  The audience won't know what the preparation was, the challenges along the way, or whether the result matches the original thought.  The result will be there for some to connect with, others to criticize, still others to enjoy at face value, and yet others to seek deeper meaning.  With all of this, the daily cycle of life continues -- whether on the planned and intended path, taken for granted, or as a result of adapting to change.  When you stop to think about it, the continuity of life is truly one of its most amazing aspects.

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