2023: A Reflection

This year has (almost) passed by the time of this writing. For me personally, it has been a rollercoaster ride - I’ve had my fair share of ups and downs in this single year. I won’t say that I had it better or worse or even attempt to make a comparison towards other people’s experiences - everyone is unique and different. But if I had to describe “how well” it turned out, I’d say I’m pretty grateful for it.

Let me take you on a brief walkthrough. 2022 has just ended. My company laid off a significant portion of people, including teams I had been working closely with for the past year or so. Thankfully, I was spared - even though I must say the experience still leaves a bad taste in my mouth. It’s absolutely terrifying that a company that had just said barely a couple of months ago that they were doing great would take such a drastic decision.

I learned that job security is an utter delusion.

It does not matter how well you personally are doing towards your company. It’s not going to be equally rewarded in a way that you would expect. But nonetheless, you should still strive to be better - not for the faceless company that might abandon you at any moment but for yourself. The only constant is change, and it’s absolutely true in the rapidly changing world we have today.

Fast forward to the middle of 2023, and I have spent 6 months of my time thinking about one question: what exactly do I want to do next? I was afraid to make any decision, running away from reality by indulging myself in a lot of hobbies - only to get haunted at night by an uneasy feeling of you did nothing today. Yet, when I tried to push myself to do something, I was pressed by another uneasy question - what if you made the wrong decision?

The bitter truth is: there's no way of knowing if you are about to make the best or the worst decision of your life. You could calculate how good the decision is at the moment, but there’s no guarantee that the goodness will stay true in the future where you have made the decision. I have seen countless horror stories where fortune flipped into a horrible disaster. Just take my company layoff, for example - a man who was about to join us got his offer rescinded at the very last moment when he had already migrated away from his country along with his whole family for the sake of this job that he would never get in the end.

“Just keep a low profile and stay in your current place” - this is the most common advice I get. I understand their perspective. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with my current job which I still hold - it pays me a decent amount, not only to pay my bills but to enjoy life. Nor am I being treated poorly - I have great coworkers and a good manager.

Yet, I’m bored out of my mind, and at the same time, utterly scared for the future.

But one day, something changed. My junior coworker suddenly told me that she’s about to resign. I was perplexed. Is it such an easy decision? Why am I being scared to do the same? Is this another case of ignorance is bliss? I was really, really confused. I think about it hard for a couple of days non-stop. And at the end of it, I found a good enough answer - which ironically inspired by my own job.

I’m responsible for computer system reliability. In short - I need to ensure that the system is as resilient and available as humanly possible. Under this description, usually, the understanding that would pop up in your mind would be somewhat like a geek firefighter, where the said person would handle situations when things went awry. While this understanding is not wrong, it’s a bit more than just that.

In practice, what makes us different and good at ensuring reliability actually comes from a single understanding: things will break no matter what. You could pet your servers and computers every single day, yet one day they will stop working, and you will need to deal with that. There’s simply no way of getting around this - other than stopping any change from occurring. Yes, that includes time and other laws of physics.

So, what could we do to prevent a system breakdown from happening in the future? We know it will happen, but we don’t know how - nor can we make an exhaustive list of future predictions. It’s simply not feasible to do as it will need a massive amount of resources. Other than making sure sufficient contingency preparation is done, another thing we can do is tip the trend into something positive.

Let’s say you have a computer. Let’s assume that we know the weak point of this system would be the hard drive. So, we bought a spare and set it up such that if the first disk fails, the other would automatically take over and have every single piece of data from the first disk ready to serve. We iterate this a few times; say we use ECC RAM to ensure no single bit corruption, we use UPS systems to ensure our computer will not be affected by short durations of blackout, etc - the list is long. This is the making sure that sufficient contingency preparation is done part. How extensively you want to do it is based on how much is your risk tolerance and overall budget.

Now, to the second point of tipping the trend into something positive. The principle is simple: we know that every action could be inherently good or bad. It’s certainly a bad thing to kick your computer whenever it hangs. It’s a good thing to have periodic backup setups. It’s a good thing to properly shut the computer down every time after use. It’s also a good thing to blow out the dust accumulating inside your computer. The list goes on and on.

With that being said, will these good habits actually prevent the system meltdown from happening? Not really, given a long enough time, the system will be down in the end. But statistically speaking, the system which has a positive cycle of mindful maintenance, backups, etc., will have better availability rather than a system whose maintainer pours a cup of coffee on it every single morning. At the end of the day, it has a better chance of functioning well compared to neglected systems.

There will still be some variance. Those variances might be outside your control. But you can be rest assured - even if you had your dip in life, in the end, it will be better for you compared to just idling in your comfort zone, waiting to be culled or marked as no longer needed. At the very least, you have a chance worth fighting for, and it’s not a lost cause.

Now I’m standing at the end of 2023. I did just those things I mentioned. I covered my bases, made several contingency plans as I see fit, and moved forward with the same principle by being a tiny bit better every day. I’m proud to say that I’ve been living better, and as an added bonus - landed a new job that sounds better on paper. I still don’t know how it will turn out; it could be very well turn into a disaster for me.

But I know I won’t regret it. Fully living in a non-ideal state would be better than just being stuck perpetually in a glorious castle waiting to crumble.

Here’s one towards a better 2024 for all of us, cheers.

#new year #2023 #reflection