The Reinforcing Nature of Toil

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2023-01-25 19:30:04

As usual when I discuss systems theory (e.g. information flow or material flow), this article pretends to be about one thing, but is really about a much more general concept. Let’s talk about reinforcing feedback loops!

I tell non-technical people that the site reliability engineer job is about creating automation to do what a system administrator would otherwise do. The automation does work that, in the words of the sre book11 Site Reliability Engineering: How Google Runs Production Systems; Murphy, Beyer, Jones, & Petoff; O’Reilly Media; 2016. Available online. ,

This type of work, when performed manually, is known as toil. What’s insidious about toil is that it breeds itself. Here’s the basic idea graphically.

Active development can improve the quality of software, whereas the passage of time generally decreases its quality22 Lehman’s laws of software evolution, number 1, 2, and 7. . Hopefully, these two effects are in rough balance, keeping the quality level constant.33 I have been in many organisations where they are not. In those cases, development is usually insufficient to stave off the inevitable quality decline. But this model is missing a critical component, namely the effect of quality on toil.

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