Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Erotic Problem Solving

by Michael O'Neill
Posts on oraclenerd, Twitter, Facebook

Writing code well is hard enough. Does it have to be boring too?

Business problems can be boring. This is perpetually true for the professional responsible for authoring the code to solve them who is technical-expertise-first and business-expertise-second. Emotional motivation and individual energy is a tremendous factor in the results of any problem solver.

In my career, I have repeatedly faced boring problems and successfully mucked through them with boring solutions. Sometimes though, I have faced interesting problems and unsuccessfully met them with boring solutions. Failure required a twist in my thoughts and energy to regain the upper hand on achieving a solution. Here is an example:

How do you code an effective solution with an ineffective domain model? Sophisticated social applications require a complex network model. Network models are difficult enough to document and even harder to conceptualize beyond a certain complexity. And when doubt creeps in on a modeling effort, the problem solver's all too frequent retreat is into previously reliable modeling techniques. Even if those techniques are an ill-fit at best. In a recent application, the problem ahead of me was building an intricate and robust human trust, credibility and reputation engine.

I experienced project-crippling difficulty during the initial modeling efforts. My mind was constantly circling the boring drain of popular technical trust models, like public-private keys and centralized certificate authorities. Every model fell apart eventually. My models required hierarchies that meant nothing in the real world of human trust. My models introduced single points of dependency that do not exist in human interactions.

I took a step back. I ended the boring. I turned myself on.

I imagined a small community of nonmonogamous individuals and their social sexual lives. How did they decide to hook up? How did they decide to break up? Did they like another, or like-like another? Were the states of those feelings returned? How did they decide whether to exchange bodily fluids or not? What were the layers, causes and watersheds of lust, love, trust, sacrifice, distrust? How was deceit employed? Did absolute trust exist? How did feelings of love affect everything?

I was able to configure a myriad of practical models, all intertwined based on a community of people I made up with my pencil. Right or wrong about how people work, it didn't matter. Its complexity and the energy I was able to pour into understanding the possibilities was what was valuable. It was adventure that proffered understanding of the solution required for my work. My intricate thoughts expressed in an exciting context was an excellent conversation with everyone I knew, eager every one of them to have themselves chatted up about sex. Each person I included in the discussion introduced a valuable complexity I was able to model. I remembered the what ifs shared over a pint were the reason I do what I do for a living.

I am not advocating having multiple simultaneous sexual partners to get through a modeling effort. Well, alright I am, but that is beside the point. Approaching a complicated business modeling problem required that I stop circling the boring drain and leverage the energy of thinking of all the complexities of people, emotions and how they interact - something in which I already had knowledge, intuition and interest.