The Puzzle of Technology

Posted on Fri, June 27, 2014 in by Alum

Working with technology is similar to working on a puzzle. I know what you’re thinking, Puzzles, fun! I love finding edge pieces, and corners, don’t get me started on corners! What makes technology a bit more complex, however, is that it’s more like a puzzle with no edge pieces.

Technology is an ever-growing medium that adapts and changes at an alarming pace and therefore its pieces are all interior pieces that continue to evolve and expand each day. Additionally, the pieces on the edge, while not edge pieces per se, play an important role. In our puzzle-technology analogy, an edge piece can be thought of as the newest piece of technology. “Cutting edge” or “bleeding edge,” i.e. new technologies, are constantly pushing the limits of what is possible. One can attempt to understand everything about a certain aspect of technology and to become an expert, but new technology will continue to place new pieces on an ever-expanding puzzle.

When working on a puzzle, sometimes you find pieces that match together nicely, and other times you don’t, while sometimes two pieces fit the same but contain different pictures so aren’t quite a match. When developing technology, it is key to understand the content of each new development so that you don’t accidentally put the wrong pieces in the wrong place. Like in a complex puzzle, when a piece will seemingly work in a spot, only later do you notice a small difference and exchange the piece for another. Similarly, with technology there are always a number of ways to do the same thing, but new, better ways to do the same thing become apparent all the time.

Whether working on a 5,000 or 50 piece puzzle, another similarity is breaking the large task into smaller steps. Imagine trying to complete a puzzle in one move, putting all the pieces together at once rather than one at a time. I can imagine this only with the help of magic, where a gust of wind hits the pieces and they magically all fall into the right place. Now picture that with the biggest puzzle you can think of – my head hurts just imagining it. The point is puzzles are meant to be solved one piece at a time. By breaking a giant project into smaller steps, the entire task becomes doable. This type of small-step thinking is at the core of how technology is built, and how programmers have to think.

Puzzles naturally make people work one step at a time, until all the pieces are in place and what's left is a masterpiece. In the case of technology, it’s an eternally unfinished masterpiece, but no true artist is ever completely satisfied by their work.

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