Of Man and Code

I think that hanging out with God may have prepared me for a new level in my career.

One of the things that I’ve always liked about computer programming is that it is possible to understand a program completely, to know every nook and cranny. When you know a program that well, when a problem comes up you can fairly quickly narrow down where to find the cause and what approach to take to fix it.

Not so this week. This week I’ve been grappling with a problem that is only cropping up a tiny fraction of a percent of the time. Unfortunately since the program handles literally billions of transactions per day, even a small fraction of a percent can add up to an unacceptable amount in absolute numbers. Now this is software that I didn’t originally write myself, and that uses tools that realistically I have no direct control over and neither did the original author, all of which makes it harder to know.

So with a touch of whimsy, I’m realizing that dealing with this software is sort of like God dealing with humans. He has granted us free will and has to live with the consequences and unsurety that that produces. In a sense because of the way the program I work on spends its time flitting in and out of the parts that are out of my control, and which are, in fact, the controlling parts of the program, the program manifests an aspect that feels like it has a mind of its own, like it has its own, very limited, free will. Don’t get me wrong, it’s infinitely simpler in its countenance than even the most narrowly focused obsessive compulsive among us, but still, with billions of inputs a day, inputs which, even though narrow in scope, are generated by the web at large and so none-the-less have a large degree of chaos, it manages to do things that I haven’t been able to explain, let alone predict.

So I’m learning to work with it, to accept that I will never know it completely but that I can still guide it and give it the tools it needs to deal with adversity. I just hope that it doesn’t learn to despise me by the time it’s a teenager.

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