I’ve been going down this eye-opening and fascinating path of how computers work and what the internet is. I realized that as much as I’m immersed in it I know very little about how it works.
Begin chapter 1: The Pursuit of MVP’s and the Software World
The story begins two years ago when I decide I’ve finally had enough of living in a digital world and not understanding how it works. For all those generational christenings of being a digital native, I sure don’t feel like I have any idea of what happens beyond my screen. I can post, I can blog, and my education is even online, but I have no idea how any of it came to be.
September 2012/January 2013 - An encounter with reality
I’ve just spent a little over a year working on my own mobile startup, depending at each turn on what engineers thought I should do with my product.I’m flying by a vision and a hope more than an understanding of the technology I’m working with. Something akin to a chef who cooks on a whim hoping something good comes out instead of understanding the chemistry behind food and how different tastes can combine to form a beautiful experience. An amateur, someone who mixes raw eggs, peanut butter, Nutella, garlic and tofu because it sounds good but with no understanding of how to make such a combination work. I feel an outsider, an observer of the technology instead of a creator. And a frustrated one at that.
As you can guess from my cooking metaphor my first attempt doesn’t end well. I don’t know enough.
January 2013 - The VC hustle
At the same time, I’m traveling back and forth to the Valley because it’s taken a magnetic hold of me. (What startup founder hasn’t felt the same?) I become part of the awesomely extreme, I-can’t-believe-I-can-paint-on-the school’s-wall, entrepreneurial bootcamp, Draper University of Heroes. I’m in the Valley raising money for my next idea. Education software attempt # 2. (Oh… the cliches). I’m pitching day and night, convinced that raising money is the end goal and that after I raise a good seed round it will all come together magically. (Beware kids, this is the startups version of the Easter bunny or Santa Claus).
Investor after investor that we meet with tell us, “Wonderful idea, come back to us when you have a prototype.“ I think: "How can I have a prototype if I need money to hire engineers and you won’t invest the money to hire them? ” A chicken-and-egg problem. Finally, fed up with this back forth and watching my meager savings evaporate at the speed of money in the valley, I realize that if this prototype is going to happen I’m going to have to build it myself.
Necessity, the mother of all inventions indeed! Coding is no longer an it-would-be-nice-to-learn- thing, but it’s imperative.
Thus it begins. A pursuit of a product turns into a new hobby for my boyfriend and I, and eventually into a business.
June 2013 - Present: Full immersion: ON
We begin spending countless hours trying to fix a single bug only to realize we missed a semicolon somewhere and our website still leaves much to be desired. We start to understand the plight of software engineers everywhere and slowly develop their adoration for open source and “the community”. Trust me, without StackOverflow… few things would be possible.
We immerse ourselves into the world of HTML, CSS, and many other acronyms that sound either like children’s games (python, ruby on rails,) or like Euclid came back from the dead and created new terms (node.js, angular). We challenge ourselves enough to where our clunky copy-pastes, (because let’s be honest when you’re learning how to code most anything you create is really just copy paste) to where we’re talking to others and creating value for them through beautiful designs and automated processes. We’re officially software developers. We now have some sense of if-and-else statements, controllers and models and how they form Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram, etc.
Begin Chapter 2: Shots of Light and Taking things apart.
I’m leisurely strolling through Sophos, one of my favorite bookshops in Guatemala City, when I stumble upon a book called “Tubes". A book about a journey to the center of the internet. Jules Verne meets…head-scratch? As soon as I read the introduction I’m hooked, I can’t believe that somebody has actually taken the time to write a book about how the cables/tubes of the internet are connected and find out where “the internet lives”. It seems too bizarre, wonderful and actually like something I should have always wondered about but never have. It stays in the back of my mind for a year before I finally decide that I have to read it.
Now I’m surfing the internet, staring at maps of underwater cables and researching the location of companies with abnormal amounts of security and bunker like buildings. It makes me nervous I will seem suspicious to the great gods of data. I mean what woman in her 20’s is sketching maps of the internet’s most important buildings in her spare time? Well, to be honest, I’m pretty paranoid about big data and who’s tracking our every movement already, so that might not be the best example. But still. I’m suddenly immersed in a world of network engineers and find myself pining to attend the next NANOG conference so I can get a feel for these things. (NANOG= North American Network Operators Group).
So reading Andrew Blum has only piqued my curiosity further, now I’m wondering about how light works, what fiber optic cables are and do, and if I could put together a circuit board on my own. My fascination for it has become such that I’ve finally done something that I’ve always wanted to do: I’ve eaten an entire bottle of Nutella by myself in one sitting. Just kidding, although I would love to do that. I’ve taken apart an old computer and put it back together and made it work. (Pride = through the roof).
Begin Chapter 3: Stumbling upon Fragility and the Fountain of Everlasting Questions
Pursuing these obscure but very real interests has been too much fun. I love learning how the world around me works, and I’m only more intrigued and fascinated by how we have been able to create and understand so much. I can’t help but be exited about where following these questions will take me next and what new things I might find out about.
At the same time, getting a peak behind the curtain is only making me realize how fragile our systems really are - I mean, really! Thinnish underwater cables vs. the forces of the ocean? We all know who’s going to win that eventually. Just ask Poseidon. Furthermore, it’s begun to make me realize that we’ve decided to build our world in this way but that we can just as easily ask how else might we create these connections were it not through light, cables and products?