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Soul of an Engineer #7

This Issue: The Machine-Tool Mindset, Sh*t User Stories, Daffodils

Amarinder Sidhu
Amarinder Sidhu
2 min read

The Machine-Tool Mindset

I have embraced my inner chef during the pandemic, and have jumped on "from the scratch" dough bandwagon.

After some months of manual labor, I bought a dough mixer finally. A mixer can be classified as a Machine-Tool. The machine component (motor) automates rote task of kneading. The tool (a dough hook) offers flexibility and control, and keeps making dough fun and a skill based activity. Needless to say, I love the mixer.

A bread-maker, on the other hand, is a fully automated Machine.  You add all ingredients, and a couple of hours later you get the finished product. I had one. It felt like a complete black box. If you don’t follow the manual, or make some mistake, you get an unsatisfying loaf of bread at the end. I ended up returning it.  

For enhancing human skills while achieving rote automation, Machine-Tools surpass Machines.

Machine-Tools, like lathes and drills, were not only catalysts of Industrial revolution, they continue to be workhorses of modern day manufacturing.

The software world needs more machine tools. For example, digital health is one area where I believe we would benefit from machine tool mindset. Why not build software machine- tools that frees doctors to spend more quality time with patients instead of software machines to replace doctors?

With ever increasing capabilities of software algorithms, there is a tendency to centralize decision making in software. However just because you can doesn't mean you should. Instead actively evaluate with The Machine Tool Mindset: What should be automated in the algorithms? What do you leave open for human judgement to intervene?

Sh*t User Stories

@ShitUserStory is an anonymous satirical twitter account. It has gained 69k followers within 3 months. I guess it has resonated so much because sh*t user stories are very prevalent in the software world.

But sh*t user stories lead to sh*t software. Because a good user story is a story about the user, not a story about the software.

As a [user], I want to [do something], so that I can [achieve a result].

The template above may seem as innocuous but writing good user stories is hard. You have to talk to real people and understand their constraints.

You have to solve problems of the people who are trying to do and achieve something in the real world. That is never easy, no matter how capable software becomes. Another reason machine tool mindset should be prioritized.  

Afterthought: Daffodils

Newport, Rhode Island

I spent a few days in Newport (Rhode Island) over the past week. It is the Daffodil season in Newport. The town was brimming of field after field of blooming daffodils swaying in the fresh spring breeze.

The flowers reminded me of the poem by William Wordsworth, I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud, where he describes his experience of Daffodils. Back when I studied the poem in school, it didn't register much to be honest. Now after many more years at the university of life, I see his point very clearly.

Cover Art by Vasu mahor on Unsplash