Hacking the systems
6 min read
In engineering and computer science, we get to learn and discover how systems work.
Why is it that they are built in the way they are? What led to their creation? How do they work on the inside? And many more questions that arise when we start in the career.
While that's all well and good, most of that knowledge ends up being used to pass an exam, get a grade, and then move on to other assignments. But learning about how computer systems work is just the beginning.
For most people in a degree related to this area, the concept of systems can be a familiar one already. Only situated in a different context depending on the personal experience when learning about it.
But knowing and understanding about systems is important for many other reasons aside from academic knowledge or... you know wanting to repair your broken computer.
It helps to develop a different kind of thinking. A kind of thinking more orientated to problem-solving and to the discovery of alternatives. Alternatives that can be used when what we initially tried didn't bring any results.
Hackers are very good at this. They have cultivated both the skills and curiosity needed to see how things work.
To go beyond the surface and see those things that the majority of people miss.
To achieve a desired outcome without following the traditional path that others would have to take.
Whether is for noble or evil purposes, they have to get to know a particular system very well to see what are the ways to interact with it. To see what are not only the expected results but all the other possible ones.
Once you have interacted with a system long enough and see how it behaves, there are things you get to expect and others that don't.
Expected behaviors normally are a sign that everything is working properly and the opposite applies as well. But sometimes, deviating from the norm is not a sign that something's wrong. It could be a sign that there are opportunities for improvement. For doing things much better than initially planned.
That curiosity, drive for learning, and willingnes to explore alternative paths can be some of the most powerful tools that we have as technologists.
Taking this a step further, not only are these tools useful for solving problems in our industry. We can use them to solve problems outside our area of work.
Abstracting the primary concepts of our interaction with technical systems, we can use them with any other systems that we come across in our regular lives.
Looking closely, pretty much everything is a system of sorts. There are more complex systems than others but they have several similarities.
We'd like that all systems were simple and predictable. In that way, we would know with a great deal of certainty that our inputs will lead to our desired output.
And while the real world is more complex than that, there are several avenues we can take to get closer to the outputs that we want.
Everything from software, electronics, energy, information, economics, politics, society, law, art, health, science, etc are systems.
In that sense, all of them can be analyzed, understood, influenced, and in a way, 'hacked'.
One could say that all problems we have are due to an issue with its related system.
Have very little money & can't seem to get more? That's the personal finance system.
Can't get a job and applied everywhere? That's the labor system.
Struggle with weight, sickness, or lack of energy? That's the biological system.
Can't make friends or find love? That's the social/interpersonal system.
Those are just a few examples but we could go on and on with it. The main concept is that everything we deal with is or behaves like a system and thus is susceptible to change or be altered.
When extending this idea further we can see that many things that we normally deemed "out of our control" aren't so. We can do more for ourselves only if we take the time to analyze the system and its functionality.
At the same time, disciplines and areas of knowledge that we normally conceive as "totally different" are much more similar than we think.
Programmers and musicians are not that different.
Mathematicians and lawyers are not that different.
Artists and athletes aren't either.
Everything is interconnected. The general skills gained from an area can be abstracted and used as a 'headstart' when entering a different one.
This is if we use our curiosity and learning disposition as tools to guide us through uncharted lands in a different field of knowledge.
Josh Waitzkin is the person that first comes to mind in this case. He might very well be the perfect example of using these tools we've been talking about to propel himself to the top.
In two disciplines that, for the broadest audience, are considered "totally different". Those being chess and martial arts, very similar right?
So now, regardless of whether you're a hacker, a programmer, a computer science student, or a person from a different discipline learning development, you can do this too.
Develop the skills the curiosity, the willingness to keep learning new things, and understanding how they work.
Is like what I heard from Paul Krugman once:
Instead of saying: Oh it's so complicated, I don't get it. Say: Hmm let me try to figure this out. Let me make sense of it.
That's not only a better way to think about it but also a more conducive way to better results.
When you put yourself out there looking into things, doing some research, and figuring stuff out, you can find yourself in a different place. A place where serendipity comes more often and makes outcomes much easier than would otherwise be for someone else.
Get your hacker-like curiosity out. Get your drive for learning out. Sharpen your skills and keep going.
There are always going to be too many things to learn out there and we will never have time for all of them. But if we're intentional and know what we want to do, we'll be able to filter from all the noise out there.
Picking what's most important for our particular journey and interests.
Now you can know what to start experimenting with. Take a chance. Seek to understand your particular system and how to improve it.
With the proper practice and some time, you'll be able to get yourself from your initial state to a much better one. And in less time than it will take people who go about it the 'traditional' way and haven't learned how to 'hack' the path.
That's it for this article. If you have read all the way here I appreciate you. Thanks for giving it the time. Hope this helps change your perspective and you can start approaching situations in a different and much better way from now on.
Until next time.
Photo by Sajad Nori on Unsplash