Why Scalability Is Big Business

Russian_Dolls

Join 16,500 others and follow Sean Hull on twitter @hullsean.

1. Complexity Is Growing

Despite automation & the mass migration to the cloud, or perhaps because of it, complexity continues to grow. Back in the dot com era a typical infrastructure included a load balancer, a couple web servers, one oracle database, and that was pretty much it.

Now that has multiplied. Pile on top of that three to five more webservers, a search server, a page cache, an object cache, one or more slave databases and more. You may have a utility server with jenkins for continuous automation, monitoring applications like nagios and cacti, your source code repository and perhaps configuration management like Puppet or Chef.

That’s not only more moving parts, it’s a wider swath of skills and technologies to understand. That’s one reason Generalists Are Better At Scaling The Web.

Also: Are SQL Databases Dead?

2. Developer Mandate: Features

The pressure to build features that can directly be monetized is obvious. Startups especially have the pressure to grow fast and grow now. So security, technical debt, and scalability often take a back seat. What’s more in small scrappy and lean startups, ops sometimes falls on the shoulders of one competent but overworked developer.

Related: Why Oracle Won’t Kill MySQL

3. Startups Growing Pains

With hyper growth, startups can go from 100 customers to millions overnight. That kind of popularity is a good problem to have. But if your app hits a wall and suddenly falls over, everyone is scrambling. The pressure builds, as fear of losing that traction mounts, and heads are put on the chopping block.

Read: AirBNB Didn’t Have To Fail

4. Missing Browse-only Mode & Feature Flags

Ever been browsing for airline tickets, then go to order and get an error? Try again later? If so you’re familiar with a browse-only mode. This is a very powerful addition to any web application but is very often left out. Some mistakenly believe it won’t work for their application, as users will always be changing data.

Ever visited a website that has star ratings, only to find them missing? Or temporarily unable to edit your rating for a piece of content? This amounts to what’s called a feature flag. These powerful switches give operations teams the ability to disable heavy features, while the side is under tremendous load. They can take a huge burden off the shoulders of your servers when you hit that scalability cliff.

Check this: Why I Don’t Work With Recruiters

5. Operations as an afterthought

I outlined some of the top reasons Why Startups Desperately Need Techops. It is a repeating refrain. Priorities of a growing startup often involve taking on technical debt. But if that isn’t managed carefully you’ll run into some of the problems that Ward Cunningham Warns Us About.

Also: 5 Things Are Toxic To Scalability

Get more. Grab our exclusive monthly Scalable Startups. We share tips and special content. Our latest Why I don’t work with recruiters

When a client takes a swing at you

MUHAMMAD ALI ROCKS GEORGE FOREMAN ON THE JAW

Join 16,000 others and follow Sean Hull on twitter @hullsean.

1. A changing of the guard

Back in the dot-com era, circa 1999 I worked for a startup in some transition. Upon meeting the team, I met the new CTO Harvey, who joined just a month before. Also on the team was the IT director Bill, who had been with the firm for five years.

After spending time in initial meetings & discovery, I put together an outline and my plan to migrate them to Oracle. The project kicked off shortly thereafter.

Also: Why Oracle Won’t Kill MySQL

2. Team lead sucker punches you

I spent the first week onsite so I could work closely with the team, specifically at Bill’s request. We worked almost side-by-side for a few days, and as I worked through some of the challenges of their application, and how it might interact with Oracle. At that time I was still working on some test boxes, as the new Oracle server was not yet setup.

First thing Monday while working remote I email Bill and CC Harvey to ask how things are going setting up the new server to house Oracle. A fairly harmless email, after what seemed like a successful previous week.

The response from Bill the director of IT was sharp and quick. He emailed back:

“The server is already setup, and I’ve installed Oracle on it. I have much of the data moved over. I’m not sure what you’ve been working on or how you will be able to help us on this project. Please advise.”

This came as a big surprise, as we had been working so closely together. We had also exchanged various emails to get details & configuration steps as well. It also seemed strange that he’d go ahead and complete the work that he had asked me to work on.

Related: Are SQL Databases Dead?

3. Proceed with caution

I quickly reached out to him, discussed status over IM and next steps. I also suggested that I come into the office again, to help with communication.

The following day I returned to the office, and met with him privately. I gently asked about his concerns, and if he had reviewed my task list and consulting agreement. It seemed that some of the terms & details had been overlooked. What’s more he and the CTO weren’t seeing eye-to-eye.

I then explained in a nice way, and to express that I had no plans to step on any toes, but that

“I’m glad to work with you Bill, in any way you see best, and on whatever tasks you decide I can help with.”

This seemed to put him at ease, and we moved forward.

Read this: AirBNB Didn’t Have to Fail

4. Green Shoots

As the engagement progressed it came to light that Harvey had hired me against Bill’s wishes. So Bill’s move seemed more motivated by feeling threatened than anything else.

Over the years I’ve learned time and again not to jump to conclusions. Especially at the start of a consulting assignment, there are likely a complex mix of personalities, and human dynamics that come into play. Sometimes when someone lashes out, it isn’t even directed at you per se, but because of a difficult transition period.

Patience, understanding and renewed efforts to communicate often win the day.

Check this: Why Are Devops & DBAs in Short Supply?

Get more. Grab our exclusive monthly Scalable Startups. We share tips and special content. Our latest Why I don’t work with recruiters

When fat fingers take down your business

apple sad mac fail

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Github goes nuclear

I was flipping through reddit last night, and hit this crazy story. strange pushes on GitHub. For those who don’t know, github houses source code. It’s version control for the software world. Lots of projects use it, to keep track of change management.

Jenkins is a continuous integration platform. Someone working on the project accidentally did a force push up to the server. They overwrote not only their own work, but the work of hundreds of other plugins unrelated to his own project.

This is like doing a demolition to put up a new building, and taking down all the buildings on your block and the next. Not very neighborly, to say the list. They’re still at the time of this writing, doing cleanup, and digging through the rubble.

Read: Why DynamoDB can increase availability

How to kill a database

I worked a startup a few years back that had an interesting business model. Users would sit and watch videos, and get paid for their time. Watch the video, note the code, enter the code, earn cash. Somehow the advertisers had found a way to make this work.

The whole infrastructure ran on Amazon EC2 servers, and was managed by Rightscale. Well it was actually managed by an west coast outsourcing shop, whose specialty was managing deployments on Righscale.

The site kept it’s information in a MySQL database. They had various scripts to spinup slaves, remaster, switch roles and so forth. Of course MySQL can be finicky and is prone to throwing surprises your way from time to time.

One time this automation failed in a big way, switching over production customers to a database that took way way way too long to rebuild. As their automation didn’t perform checksums to bulletproof the setup it couldn’t know that all the data wasn’t finished moving!

Customers sure did notice though when the site fell over. Yes this was a failure of automation. But not of the Rightscale platform, but of the outsourcing firm managing the process, checking the pieces and components and ensuring the computer systems did their thing to completion. Huge fail!

Read: Why devops talent is in short supply

Your website will fail

Sites big and small fail. Hopefully these stories illustrate that fact. I’ve said over and over why perfect availability is a pipe dream.

At the end of the day, the difference between the successful sites and the sloppy ones isn’t failure and perfection. It’s *how* they fail, and how they get back up on their feet. What type of planning did they do for disaster recovery like many firms in NYC did before and after Sandy.

Also: Why startups need both devs and ops for scalability

Reducing failure

So instead of thinking about eliminating failure, let’s think about *reducing* it from happening, and when it does, reducing the fallout. One thing you can do is signup for scalable startups where we share tips once a month on the topic. Meanwhile try to put these best practices into play.

1. Test your DR plan by running real life fire drills
2. Use more than one hosting provider, data center or cloud provider
3. Give each op or end user the least privileges they need to do their job
4. Embrace a culture of caution in operations
5. Check, double check and triple check those fat fingers!

Read this: Why a four letter word divides dev and ops

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Round up of recent scalability, startup & social media posts

strawberries

If you’re checking back in, we’ve written a lot of new content recently. Here are some highlights for digging a little deeper.

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1. Why you should evaluate carefully before hiring a consultant

You’re a startup, and you’re grappling with some particularly thorny problems. You’ve gotten pocked and scratched, and are still struggling with big issues. So you’ve decided to hire a consultant, now what?

Evaluating consultants is a key step to ensure you find someone you can work with. But how is the process different from interviewing a candidate for a fulltime role? Here’s our thoughts on it.

2. Why a killer title can make or break your content efforts

For devops & techops bloggers out there, I’ve put together this quick howto guide. Titles really make the difference as to whether your content gets noticed, or ends up dying on the vine.

Don’t let it happen. Practice some creative title writing and other tips and you’ll be zooming your way to the top!

3. Why real world high availability is so hard to deliver

Five nines, goes the saying, is the gold standard for availability. But if it is really a standard, then why the heck isn’t anybody really achieving it?

4. Why a four letter word divides dev and ops

The on-going battle between developers and operations teams rages, devops be damned. Here’s our take on the age-old turf war!

5. Why Amazon RDS doesn’t support Percona or MariaDB

Should I use Amazon RDS or build my own MySQL box on EC2? It’s a question I hear constantly from clients and prospects. The answer of course is it depends!

In this short article, I hit on some of the typical use cases, and discuss which solution is best. If you’re interested in Percona & MariaDB, you’ll want to take a look.

6. Why techops talent is in short supply

Database administrators? Systems administrators? Ops teams? They don’t carry the sexy allure that rock star developers do, but once code is deployed, and out in the wild, these are the swat teams, and national guardsmen that you’ll rely on everyday. They’ll monitor your systems, and when necessary wake at 3am to repair things that have fallen over.

Despite their crucial role in web application deployments in the cloud, they remain in short supply.

7. 5 more things deadly to scalability

Scalability is the goal every fast growth startup struggles with. Here are some key best practices to keep reliability and capacity in the crosshairs.

8. Why the Twitter IPO makes a shocking admission about scalability

Flip through a tech company IPO filing, and you’ll find some rather vulnerable admissions about data centers and fragile architectures. How can this even be possible, for a major internet firm that’s dealt with the fail whale many times before?

9. Why reaching journalists with email fails where social media & twitter succeed

After reading Adrienne Erin’s 7 deadly sins of pitching I felt discouraged. Everything she said in there I had done. Pitching is a game neither writers or journalists enjoy. I’d long since given up on it.

Then I thought about it some more. Actually I’d had some good success reaching journalists on social media. I just didn’t really think of it as pitching per se. That’s because it was more like getting into the conversation. It was almost like the networking and hob nobbing we do naturally at conferences and meetups. So I wrote about what worked for me. Read more

10. 25 Rumsfelds Rules for startups & managers with tweetible links

Donald Rumsfeld, what can be said? What can’t be said? Well for all controversy and bad press you have to give him credit for some great one liners.

I picked up his new book, and couldn’t put it down. There’s inspiration on every page!

So I selected out my twenty five favorite quotes, and included them here for your twitter enjoyment!

Get more. Grab our exclusive monthly Scalable Startups. We share tips and special content. Our latest Why I don’t work with recruiters

Why the Twitter IPO mentions scalability

ShannaBanan-o-rama

Join 12,000 others and follow Sean Hull on twitter @hullsean.

1. High availability is hard

After seven years in the business you might think Twitter has operations and scalability nailed. I wouldn’t blame you for hoping, but here’s one thing they said in their IPO filing:

“we are not currently serving traffic equally through our co-located data centers”

What does this mean exactly? Let’s think of your drive to work everyday. Remember that one intersection that’s always congested? Could the city designers have envisioned that 50 or 100 years ago? Probably not. In the present day, with all the buildings & roads, can we redesign around it? Not easily. So we adapt, and evolve and deal with the day-to-day realities of an evolving city.

James Urquhart says these are complex systems. The internet, the cloud and your startup infrastructure are by nature brittle.

Also: Why generalists are better at scaling the web.

2. Fail whale is part of the DNA

The graphic above is a whimsical remake of Twitter’s own by Shanna Banan. Consider though, someone at twitter was tasked with designing a graphic for when the site fails. The devops team then built a page for failure, and have itat the ready, for when there’s an outage, not if. It’s symbolic of the many other things your operations team does behind the scenes in expectation of that fateful day.

As Eric Ries argues, design for failure. Then manage it.

Related: 5 reasons why scalability is a process.

3. Investors, wall street: we’re working on it

What Twitter is really saying is, hey investors, we understand that five nines is extremely difficult, we’re vulnerable in certain ways and want to disclose that.

ReadWrite argues Twitter has not banished the fail whale and is “surprisingly vulnerable”. Readwrite, I ask you… who has? Google? Nope. Facebook? Nope. Not AirBNB or Reddit either.

These are world class firms. They’ve got the deep pockets to do it right, and the engineering talent to match. They still have failures.

Read this: How to hire a developer that doesn’t suck.

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5 Superb blogs this week

Why wait for the new year to start something new? I come across a lot of great new blogs, while digging through the interwebs. So I thought I’d start a regular column to feature the best ones. We’ll including gems from web 2.0 industry, startups, business & management, and of course some technical devops & cloud computing ones.

Join 11,000 others and follow Sean Hull on twitter @hullsean.

1. Todd Hoff’s High Scalability

Todd Hoff’s High Scalability has been around for years, and offers up a cup of espresso for your infrastructure daily. From important topics like why you should avoid ORMs (Object Relational Modelers see post on technical debt) to regular scalability around the web posts to keep you on track.

He also features great articles under the title “real life architectures” from heavyweights such as facebook, twitter & youtube. These are the gold nuggets that are indispensable to devops and startups.

Read This: 5 Reasons Devops Should Blog

2. Albert Wenger’s Continuations

I was tipped off to Continuations using the Disqus commenting system’s discovery features. Click through to the community tab on say Fred Wilson’s AVC blog and you can find top commenters and where they blog at.

Wenger’s posts include such gems as Anatomy of a URL, giving a lay audience a little insight into the ubiquitous web paths and Computing Building Blocks which dissects the internet stack for everyone. As a partner at Union Square Ventures he’s obviously looped in with the big boys, but his writing style is so great he offers a model for technical bloggers everywhere.

Check out: A CTO Must Never Do This

3. Andrew Chen

Let’s face it Andrew Chen is the rock star I want to be! He’s got tons of organic followers on twitter, and reading his blog & newsletter it’s no surprise. He’s bright, and always provides Nate Silver style insights & new perspectives.

What is a minimal homepage, and how will it help me increase signups? Why can’t I seem to find a technical co-founder? What’s a minimum desirable product? You’ll see why Dave MacClure & Mitch Kapor work with him.

Read: AirBNB Didn’t Have to Fail – AWS Outage Postmortem

4. John Paul Aguiar

John’s website may appear a bit busy at first, but that’s just because it is so chock full of useful content. He offers very hands on, down in the trenches advice for bloggers & entrepreneurs. 150k followers on twitter, and articles that get retweeted hundreds of times, means he’s done the A/B testing, and learned to write clearly, and has great insights to share.

One thing he does is a weekly piece on entrepreneurs & users to follow on twitter. That great feature inspired this very post, not least because it offers a steady stream of things to write about, but because I was also featured there recently. I feel like I’ve hit the big time, thanks John!

Related: How to Hire a Developer That Doesn’t Suck

5. Krebs on Security

Brian Krebs is a bad boy. According to Bruce Schneier he apparently pissed someone off so bad, they had illegal substances sent to him through the mail in attempt to frame him.

Clearly his security research and writing is not appreciated by everyone. That said take a look at his website. You’d be shocked to learn what an ATM skimmer is, or what is the value of a hacked PC. Phishing, bots, email spam, gaming & reputation hijacking are just a few of the criminal activities that go on.

Also: The Myth of Five Nines

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NYC Tech Firms Are Hiring – Map

Made In NY - Startups Hiring

If you haven’t noticed how much the NYC tech scene has grown recently, I’m afraid you’ve been hiding under a rock. It’s simply incredible.

Take a look at Mapped In NY a google maps mashup of the growing list popularized by the NY Tech Meetup called Made In New York.

Join 5000 others and follow Sean Hull on twitter @hullsean.

[mytweetlinks]

Having been around during the first dot-com boom back in the late 1990’s this is even more exciting to see. Despite the recession, New York’s economy is truly thriving!

[quote]
New York’s Startup scene is truly thriving with a whopping 1263 firms, many of which are hiring.
[/quote]

Why is database administration talent in short supply? They are the Mythical MySQL DBAs

Also take a look at: Why Generalists are Better at Scaling the Web

Get more. Grab our exclusive monthly Scalable Startups. We share tips and special content. Here’s a sample

A Pagerank of 5 Is Possible – Here's How

Join 4500 others and follow Sean Hull on twitter @hullsean.

A highly trafficked website is a valuable asset indeed. For a services business it helps you build reputation and reach prospects.

Here’s how to get there.

1. Longevity

We’ve been around for a while, as you can see from a quick whois search below. I’ve owned the web property (aka domain name) iheavy.com and used it for the same purpose, since July 1999! Google notices this and ranks accordingly.

Until 2011 I wasn’t blogging much. I had a pagerank of 3 though. That’s attributable to two factors:

o 12 years owning the domain at that time

o Writing a book for O’Reilly which got a strong backlink

[code]
$ whois iheavy.com

Registered through: GoDaddy.com, LLC (http://www.godaddy.com)
Domain Name: IHEAVY.COM
Created on: 14-Jul-99
Expires on: 14-Jul-15
Last Updated on: 18-Feb-13

Registrant:
iHeavy, Inc.
Box 5352
New York, New York 10185
United States

Administrative Contact:
Hull, Sean [email protected]
iHeavy, Inc.
Box 5352
New York, New York 10185
United States
+1.2125336828
[/code]

2. Authored a Technical Book (pagerank 3)

I authored a book for O’Reilly in 2001 called Oracle and Open Source. This bumped up our ranking from a flat 1 because we got backlinks from O’Reilly’s author blog, a strong authoritative signal to Google.

Why is database administration talent in short supply? They are the Mythical MySQL DBA

Here’s Why I Wrote the Book on Oracle & Open Source.

[quote]
Consistent ownership and use of a domain name, along with backlinks from other authorities in your area of expertise weigh strongly in your favor.
[/quote]

3. Started blogging weekly

In Spring of 2011 I started blogging regularly. This was an effort to build out my services business, solidify my voice, and bring prospects and customers to my site.

[mytweetlinks]

4. Installed Google Analytics & Feedburner

It might seem crazy but to that point I didn’t track much. Without metrics you don’t know which pages users are visiting, how long they’re staying, or where they’re converting.

Also take a look at: Why Generalists are Better at Scaling the Web

A conversion – for those out of the analytics loop – is when a user does something you want them to do. For an e-commerce site, they buy or start the process of buying. For a services website it could be visiting your about page, downloading a pdf or e-book, or signing up for a newsletter.

5. WordPress SEO plugin

WordPress is a great publishing platform. Among the many plugins to choose from, Yoast SEO is a very important one to include. It exposes all the hidden SEO fields and functions in a powerful way. Edit your short description, keywords & categories, and a lot more.

Check out: A CTO Must Never Do This

It also helps you frame and think about how your content is seen both by search engines, and searchers alike.

6. Keyword research

A little keyword research goes a long way. You might be a subject matter expert in a given field, but if you don’t know how your customers search, you can’t help them find you. Remember they don’t know what you do, so likely don’t know jargony terms or the vernacular your expertise uses within.

SEO Moz has some great tools to help you, along with Wordtracker and Google has a keyword research tool for adwords.

[quote]
Strong titles should make you click to open the post. A dash of keyword research and regularly watching your analytics should be revealing. Give your readers what they want!
[/quote]

See also: My Blog Traffic is Growing Using these 5 Killer Tactics

7. Watch your analytics (pagerank 4)

After about six months of regular blogging, and a few viral hits, our pagerank went up to 4. What was I doing? All of the above, plus watching analytics closely. I asked myself questions about visitors:

o Which pages do they like and why?
o What causes them to stick around?
o What causes bounce rate to go down?
o What causes them to convert?

I found that adding links to relevant content right in the text helped reduce bounce rate right away. This was a real discovery that I could apply everyday.

Hiring a Cloud Engineer? Get our 8 Questions to Ask an AWS Expert for Recruiters, Managers & candidates alike

I also noticed that good content helped, but directly imploring readers to signup to the newsletter got regular conversions daily. Huh, that was a surprise since all along I had the signup form along the right column. Go figure.

8. Guest posting

Guest posting is great. It allows you to work with real publications who have paid editors. These folks with provide you with a more professional view, and that is great for your own writing and understanding your audience. The hardest thing to learn is how to write to a broad audience.

You’ll also of course get a backlink which is a major authority signal to the search engines. You might get paid a bit too, but your mileage may very.

I managed to do some regular writing for INFOWORLD and Database Journal. I wrote one piece for ChangeThis.com called Get Out of the Technology Hex.

From there I signed a syndication deal with Developer Zone. Since I have embedded links to content, that brings me regular traffic, even besides my profile, and the authoritative backlink.

Lately I’m working on some stuff for Gigaom and ACM’s Queue. Steady as she goes!

9. Get on the aggregators

Most likely your industry has some sort of aggregator site which will carry your RSS syndication feed. Get on those. That will drive regular traffic and RSS feedburner subscribers. We’re on Planet MySQL and it’s been great!

10. Patience, rinse and repeat

Easier said than done, I know. If you want this to happen overnight, you had better get onto the real world celebrity track. Otherwise work on your content, work on your voice, write clicky titles and keep your audience interested with solid content. And watch your traffic grow!

Get more. Grab our exclusive monthly Scalable Startups. We share tips and special content. Here’s a sample

Why your cloud is speeding for a scalability cliff

Join 14,000 and follow Sean Hull on twitter.

Don’t believe me that you’re headed for the cliff?

A startup scales up to no avail

Towards the end of 2012 I worked with an internet startup in the online education space. Their web application was not unusual, built in PHP and using Linux, Apache & Mysql all running on Amazon web services. They had three webservers in the mix and were seeing 1000 simultaneous users during peak traffic.

All this sounds normal except they were hitting major stalls, and app slowdowns. Before I was brought in they had scaled their MySQL server from a large to extra large instance, but were still seeing slow downs. What can we do, they asked?

I dug in and took at look at the server variables. They seemed to have substantial memory allocated to the server and Innodb. I then dug into the slow query log. This is a great facility in MySQL which sifts through activity happening against your database, and logs those which take a long time. In this case we had it set to ½ second and found tons of activity.

What was happening? Turns out there were lots of missing indexes, and badly written SQL queries.

A related popular piece AirBNB didn’t have to fail despite Amazon’s outage.

Also: Why generalists are better at scaling the web

How can we resolve these problems?

The customer asked me to explain the situation. I asked them to imagine finding a friend’s apartment in NYC without an address. Not easy right? You have to visit all of it’s 8 million residents until you locate your friend’s home.

Also check out: Real Disaster Recovery Lessons from Sandy.

This is what you’re asking the database to do without indexes. It’s very serious. It’s even compounded when you have hundreds or thousands of other users hitting different pages all with the same problems. Your whole dataset can fit in memory you tell me? So-called logical I/Os still cost, and can indeed cost dearly. What’s more sorting, joining, and grouping all compound the amount of memory your dataset can require.

Related: Why you can’t find a MySQL DBA

Why didn’t a bigger server help?

Modern computers are fast and EC2 extra large instances have a lot of memory. But with thousands or tens of thousands of users hitting pages simultaneously, you can take down even the largest servers.

[quote]Throwing hardware at the problem is like kicking the can down the road. Ultimately you have to pay your debt and optimize your code.[/quote]

Read: Why Twitter made a shocking admission about their data centers in the IPO

High performance code isn’t automatic

We have automation, we have agile processes, we can scale web, cache and search servers with ease. The danger is in thinking that deploying in the cloud will magically deliver scalability. Another danger is thinking that ORMs like ActiveRecord in Ruby or Hibernate in Java will solve these problems. Yes they are great tools to speed up prototyping, but we become dependent on them, and they are difficult to rip out later.

Want more, check out our 5 Things Toxic To Scalability.

Also: Why startups are trying to do without techops and failing

Fred Wilson says Speed is an essential Feature

Fred Wilson recently gave a talk on his top 10 golden principals to successful web applications. He says speed is the most important feature. Enough said!

The 10 Golden Principles of Successful Web Apps from Carsonified on Vimeo.

Hiring a MySQL DBA? Check out our DBA Hiring Guide with advice and hints for candidates and CTOs as well!

Read this: Why a four letter word still divides dev and ops

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A master isn't born but made

A review of Mastery by Robert Greene.

Also find Sean Hull’s ramblings on twitter @hullsean.

Robert Greene’s 48 Laws of Power was a great read, offering endless lessons for business and personal dealings. When I saw he just published a new book, I was quick to grab a copy.

What I like about his writing is that he’s replete with counterintuitive bits of wisdom, that really offer new perspectives on old topics.

[quote]
Many people might find the notion of an apprenticeship and skill acquisition as quaint relics of bygone eras when work meant making things. After all, we have entered the information and computer age, in which technology makes it so we can di without the kinds of menial tasks that require practice and repetition; so many things have become virtual in our lives making the craftsman model obsolete. Or so the argument goes.
[/quote]

You might also enjoy our 3 part consulting 101 guide and our very popular DBA hiring guide.

He goes on to elaborate on this idea…

[quote]
In truth, however, this idea of the nature of the times we are living in is completely incorrect, even dangerous. The era we have entered is not one in which technology will make everything easier, but rather a time of increased complexity that affects every field. In business, competition has become globalized and more intense. A business person must have a command of a much larger picture than in the past, which means more knowledge and skills. The future in science does not lie in specialization but rather in combining and cross-fertilization of knowledge in various fields. In the arts, tastes and styles are changing at an accelerated rate. An artist must be on top of this and capable of creating new forms, always remaining ahead of the curve. This often requires having more than just a specialized knowledge of that particular art form — it requires knowing other arts, even the sciences, and what is happening in the world.
[/quote]

I couldn’t agree more. We wrote a piece a while back called Why generalists are better at scaling the web and that aligns nicely with what Greene is getting at here.

He begins with insight on finding ones life task, then apprenticeship & mentoring then working through the social challenges that are always present and finally ways to stimulate the creative-active impulses.

I really like that he emphasizes it as a process and one of life-long hard work. This resonates a lot for me, as that’s how I’ve found success doing independent consulting over the years. There have been a lot of ups and downs, wrong turns, and missteps, but tenacity wins out in the end. He even dispells the myth of the naturally gifted, such as Mozart or Einstein, arguing that in fact they did put in the requisite 10,000 hours of study and were not born with mastery as such.

Greene’s lastest book is a pleasure to read, and full of insight for startups, programmers, designers and business people alike. I highly recommend it.

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