Computers should be easy, right? Well, providing someone behind the scenes is doing the grunt work, they are. Most people are unaware of the level of complexity under the surface. As an embedded engineer I am closer to the metal than most. I’ve made a living out of turning diodes, resistors, capacitors and microcontrollers into something useful. Nothing is terribly useful in isolation, so you invariably want to communicate with it. That needs computer software; I do that too. All of this takes hours. Hours and hours and hours. Then, once it works as intended (a stage I call barely working), it needs to be tested in a way NOT intended. Let’s face it, the first thing somebody is going to do is type in the wrong thing, connect the wrong wire, or connect the power backwards and blow it up. Manuals are only consulted under a cloud of blue-grey smoke (that’s the magic smoke inside the chips, it’s surprisingly expensive to put back in and this upsets most people).
Of course, in the customer’s eyes they can do no wrong. What separates an average engineer from a good one (in my opinion) is the good one tries to break his creation as soon as he’s made it. Reliability is a cornerstone of good engineering, and a device that only works when all the stars and planets align, and people use it as the designer intended, is going to take around 5 minutes on average to fall over.
The problem with consumerism is people want things yesterday, and they want it cheap. They will buy the gadget that has been rushed to market and released barely working and then have an experience like the xkcd comic above. The challenge is to find the happy medium, where barely working becomes good enough and then everybody wins. After good enough you get almost perfect and this is an excellent device that has been well-developed but took its time getting to market. It usually costs more and this is my favourite type of device because it works brilliantly. However, it seems most people shop primarily on price and few are willing to pay a premium for something amazing. This is unfortunate as excellence is what drives us forwards and it is important to seek it out. We didn’t land on the moon by being average.
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