September 30th, 2005
September 28th, 2005
Actually, the magic has been gone for quite some time. I had the opportunity to talk to a relative youngster today about MySQL and, hopefully, impart some wisdom. Well, I talked, anyway. He wanted to get into MySQL and wasn’t sure where to start and thought that it all seemed terribly complex. Rubbish. Things we don’t understand seem complex, sure, but very few things in life.. correction, very few technical things in life are really all that complex, at least if you approach them correctly. From my perspective, it’s all about magic. I reflected on some past demystifications that have shaped my approach to engineering and nonengineering.
The first instance I remember was when I was in 5th grade and I found out how nuclear power plants work. They seemed so magical to me. I had just learned the basics of E=mc^2 and had been told how much energy a gram of matter contained. Way cool. So what do I learn about nuclear power plants? They boil water?! I was devastated. (Yes, I was a strange boy).
Later, in engineering school, I lost some more magic when I studied operational amplifiers. I had used op amps in many circuits that I constructed in previous years (see above regarding strange boy), but didn’t understand what they did in their little black DIP bodies. From my perspective, that little device took a wee signal and made a big signal. Pure magic! In the course of one lecture, all of the magic was gone. Op amps are actually trivial circuits that do their jobs in a simple manner. No magic. Totally understandable. In a sense it was sad, but from another perspective it was totally empowering.
I could tell from the glazed over expression that I should move along to my point. The first time I opened the hood of a database server (Oracle running on a blazing Sun Ultra2) I had the same experience. It just takes text questions and spits out text answers? That’s it? There isn’t any magic there, either. Yeah, I’ve written some SQL statements that have made my eyes bleed, but still no magic. Database servers are amazing at what they do and they do a great job of hiding their complexity from us, but if you are travelling down the path to database guru, put away the trick deck of cards and push your sleeves back down — remember that databases are understandable and, ultimately, simple things.