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hiking, backpacking, bushwhacking as a technology metaphor

Going back a few years I used to refer to certain stages of software development as going rogue, the dark side, or cowboy. These term meant something to us because we were watching Indiana Jones, Star Wars and Star Trek, and a resurgence of the western. And now that hiking and bushcraft terms are now in my dictionary I've realized they are also metaphors for my professional work and in there are some lessons to be learned.

There are many different types of hiking.
  • day hikers carry enough regular gear to make the day pleasant and to handle so normal survival conditions
  • section hikers will have a few overnights and so they need to carry more supplies and comforts
  • thru hikers have to make some choices based on total trip as well as just the next section
Back in the day a backpacker was considered someone who might be traveling with a pack on their back. I would typically see someone hitching from NY to FL or maybe from the east coast to the west. Or maybe backpacking thru Europe. Much more urban and suburban travel.
Backpacking is more Amazing Race than it is Survivor.
Bushwhacking is what happens when you blaze your own trail. Grabbing you machete or chainsaw and going where no one has gone before. Travel is going to be slow. While your making a trail you'll be making a lot of noise and working hard. And you won't be going very far.

I think there is also a sub-genus of the backpacker called the trailblazer. Where a bushwhacker is trying to get to a destination the trailblazer is trying to make a trail for others to follow but doing the hard work up front.

So let's recap

  • hikers - typically trek on trails with a primary function of covering distance. Everything they carry is about supporting that with minimal luxuries.
  • backpackers - similar to hikers in that they are trying to cover distance, however, it's a less primitive trail and so long as you have currency recovery is swift.
  • bushwhacker - going full primitive where no one has gone before
  • trail blazer - a cross between a bushwhacker and a hiker
There is some or plenty of overlap for instance: Sometimes hikers bushwhack to take a shortcut.

As a programmer, project manager, or manager use those terms to describe projects you've been on.

Back in the 1990's Microsoft was just starting to take computer networking seriously. The company I worked for was hell bent that everything was going to be hosted by Microsoft Servers and yet the Java war was not over. At the same time we were still using paper forms to get management approval for production releases. It was a nightmare to find the management chain necessary to get permission to deploy changes. And so I automated it. At first I was bushwhacking just trying to get things going. I was using FreeBSD, perl and MySQL even when we had this corporate mission for everything MS. The reality was that I could not carry those systems with me. Laptops in the 90's were still very heavy and under powered. SQL Server was a pig and getting a suitable environment was just painful.

I managed to shift from bushwhacking to trailblazing by making the user interface something that the CIO would like and would then endorse. With his approval everyone else would fall in line as he was the guy that hired or attracted a majority of the employees who followed. 
The trail was blazed and they followed.
When I think about the differences between hikers and backpackers I'm a hiker. As a hiker I like to write raw SQL instead of using an ORM. I'll write my own message protocol or use a basic MQ which includes redis instead of those erlang MQs. I also like to use editors like vim or joe instead of IDEs like visual studio, netbeans or forbid eclipse.

The best metaphor for my tools is that I use Chromebooks and Chromeboxes almost exclusively. These machines are like my packs. They are just the outer layer of my shelter. They work anywhere there is power and internet and when not there... I should be focusing on something else anyway. And when I need to backpack I drag my Apple MacBook Air with me. I realize it's kinda counter intuitive that the MBA is self contained and the Chromebook relies more on the environment around. I decided to strikeout the previous sentence because realized I got it wrong and that in this sense I'm actually a technology backpacker and sometime trailblazer. (I'll have to change my LinkedIn description now).

UPDATE I might have been correct the first time. While having a MacBook Air is self contained and will go long stretches with little outside support, similar to a hiker, it also contains many of the luxuries that you might enjoy as a backpacker. Compared to using a Chromebook and logging into a remote server through a terminal session... as is the general use-case when not going browser everywhere.


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