January 27, 2006

The Techie Decalogue

It was with High Hopes and Noble Intentions that one chose to train oneself for the exalted profession of Engineering. One thought it would be mostly about warp drives and lightsabers and telling robots what to do (“A robot must not disturb the One during a game of Minesweeper or, through inaction, allow the One to be disturbed during said game”). It actually seems to involve mundane and extremely unglamorous things like debugging core dumps and writing system specifications, neither of which one has really got the hang of.

See, six years of concerted study have taught one remarkably little except for the fact that a penchant for computer games and science fiction cannot see a chap through. One finds oneself in the unenviable position of being a Techie Who Knows Nothing Of Things Technological (TWKNOTT).

Today one shall spare a thought for fellow TWKNOTTs. A few pointers (no pun intended) will, one hopes, go a long way towards making their lives easier. One delivers, O people, the Ten Commandments of TWKNOTT-dom:

1) When the in-house ubergeek (and there is always an in-house ubergeek – he’s the one who spends his weekends writing device drivers and was probably born hacking away at the Linux kernel) mutters something about how that newfangled filesystem doesn’t work too well with the Allegro library, thou shalt silently nod in agreement.

2) Thou shalt occasionally remark, in reply to aforementioned ubergeek, that thou hast heard rumours that the aforementioned filesystem doesn’t take too kindly to UPnP either. If feeling particularly enthusiastic (or if it is a Friday afternoon), thou shalt add that it is only possible to verify these matters by running simulations using the Parallel Virtual Machine. Over the Secure Shell. With private-key encryption.

3) Thou shalt liberally pepper conversations with the words “robustness” and “scalability”. They’re powerful concepts, those two, and may be used in connection with many different things, like hardware, software, organizational structure, and the secretary’s new lipstick.

4) Whenever a fellow techie describes what he is doing, thou shalt ask him what layer of the OSI model he works at. This question is almost universally applicable, and you’ll sound pretty clever asking it.

5) If someone utters an incomprehensible acronym-with-numeric-suffix, thou shalt retort with acronym-with-larger-numeric-suffix. For example, if talk turns to MPEG-2, thou shalt immediately speak of the more advanced MPEG-4. If someone then dares to move to MPEG-7, you may raise him all the way up to MPEG-21 (which is so advanced it hasn’t even been developed yet). Thereafter thou shalt start with H.263. And then thou mayst go pretty much as far as thy heart desires.

6) Thou shalt refer to “levels of abstraction” at least twice in every conversation (more if it’s an interview). This, again, is a powerful term, so you need not worry much about where you use it.

7) Whenever thou hast no clue how to solve a certain problem, thou shalt reveal to fellow workers (in a suitably low tone) that the problem is so difficult you’re thinking of using a neural network. This shall suitably impress everyone, and you can always tell them later that it didn’t work because the damn thing wasn’t intelligent enough.

8) Thou shalt regularly perpetrate extremely bad techie puns – these are actually well received by other techies. Thou mayst begin with something basic, something along the lines of

Q. How did the operating system know how to execute the shell script?
A. The interpreter mentioned it in parsing.

9) If having tea with desi techies, thou shalt give in to temptation and disseminate substandard Sholay jokes based upon the unsuspecting Samba suite.

10) Thou shalt account for the fact that the person you are talking to might be a TWKNOTT too. If such is indeed the case, the two of you may merrily undertake the task of preparing additional tips for fellow TWKNOTTs.


Brown Magic said...

I especially enjoyed that noble intentions was capitalized. It made me chuckle.
Also, this non-techie, will be using these helpful tips in speaking to her techie friends just to throw them off. so thank you.

csk said...

Putting my hands together for the One's survival instincts and audacious admission of incompetence.That makes two skinny guys in the same boat....

the Monk said...

thank you, thank you...One has indeed nailed the nail on its head. where'd'u do your undergrad from, btw?

Twilight Fairy said...

you forgot that universal rule of carrying a stack of notebooks, printouts et al to appear more geekish :)

BTW in singpura you need to debug core dumps, write sys specs?? I thought work there was mainly application stuff.. seriously speaking I have heard a lot of bad things abt singpura's "sucking up" work culture..

Casablanca said...

The One seems to have mastered 2 arts... that of faking competency at work and another of making us laugh. One can only hope that The One doesnt become a Who-Knows-Nothing in these 2 fields ever :)

One in a Billion said...

BM : Well, about time this blog made someone chuckle. One has been trying for about four months now.

And yes, these tips should do the trick with your techie friends. One awaits the results.

CSK : Thanks. One is always ready to admit incompetence - it's very liberating, somehow.

Monk : Any time, amigo. Undergrad .. well, no IITs or anything. So one is incompetent and an underachiever. Hah.

Twilight : Application stuff. Right. Oh. So that's what it was. No wonder one messed up.

And .. psst .. don't take one's writings too seriously.

Casablanca : Well, thanks for the compliment :). Let us hope.

sinusoidally said...

Something tells me that if I knew how to de-code this post into something more comprehensible for common non techie people I would have found it funny too.

DeepBlueSea said...

Thanks for dropping by my blog.

The post above is so very Dilbertian...! Nicely done.

It is widely assumed that all techies are a subset of the larger community of geeks. There are some un-techie geeks too... former techies who've chosen to give up tech-dom for management, but cannot shed the geekiness. They manage to chuck the acronyms but adopt new words that are equally disquieting... Vision & Synergy, for example.


Camphor said...

One recieves with hidden gratitude the wisdom of the One. :D *silently nods in agreement*

If you don't like me, beat up the Monk. He pointed me this way.

One in a Billion said...

Sines : Look, you’ve really got no right to complain considering how many unpronounceable medicine-names your average post contains! :)

Deepa : Yes, this did come out sounding rather Dilbertian (and hence unoriginal, but what the heck). And those un-techie geeks do seem to be ensuring that every organization worth its salt has the vision / synergy thing nailed these days, in addition to being knowledge-driven, customer-focused, paradigmatically sound and so forth. Scott Adams is of course the man for these matters.

Camphor : Thy silent gratitude is noted .. welcome. And one has yet to make up one’s mind about you. The fate of the Monk hangs by a slender thread.

Anjali said...

This is from a gratified Non Techie Pretending Knowledge About Technical Matters (NTPKATM). A lot of these pointers help the cause of the NTPKATM as well.
By the way, 'robustness' and 'scalability' seem to have cross-industry value. Market researchers throw about the same words extensively.

Nessa said...

Hiya, very nice blog... loved this post :-)

One in a Billion said...

Anjali : Ah yes. The NTPKATM is, in fact, a close cousin of the TWKNOTT and faces many of the same problems in daily life. Glad to help.

Nessa : Thanks, and welcome.

Deepali said...

Most of the techie stuff passed by me. I think I must be a KNOTT^ 1000 then.
*shift uncomfortably*

Dee said...

I meant TWKNOTT - gah! These acronyms only work for me when cramming for physiology I guess :|

One in a Billion said...

Dee : Well, if it's any consolation, one didn't understand much of it either.

anshul said...

came here via casablanca. tips will be really useful :) some more universal phrases i've found through trial and error:

"[insert complex task] can be done by piping sed through awk"

"oh there's a SOAP API for that"

"thats an NP-complete problem"

"can't you use Jacobians to solve it?"

"this can be formulated as a POMDP" (in case someone asks you, thats a Partially Observable Markov Decision Process)

One in a Billion said...

Anshul: Ah, that was brilliant! Some more, perhaps:

“That’s wrong. Let’s recompile the kernel.”

"We should’ve used Emacs instead.”

"No, no .. this is a theorem. That, on the other hand, is an axiom.”

(And .. er, thanks for expanding the POMDP thing.)

Drops Of Jupiter said...

You took my heart away with this one =)

The one I use a lot is "Yeah, that's all well and good but is it wi-fi 801.11b compatible?"