One of the major sources of complexity in modern systems is the simple failure to pull back the curtains. From a recent blog post over at the ACM—

The Wizard of Oz was a charlatan. You’d be surprised, too, how many programmers don’t understand what’s going on behind the curtain either. Some years ago, I was talking with the CTO of a company, and he asked me to explain what happens when you type a URL into your browser and hit enter. Do you actually know what happens? Think about it for a moment.

Yegor describes three different reactions when a coder faces something unexpected when solving a problem.

Throw in the towel. Just give up on solving the problem. This is fairly uncommon in the networking and programming fields, so I don’t have much to say here.

Muddle through. Just figure out how to make it work by whatever means necessary.

Open the curtains and build an excellent solution. Learn how the underlying systems work, understand how to interact with them, and create a solution that best takes advantage of them.

The first and third options are rare indeed; it is the second solution that seems to dominate our world. What generally tends to happen is we set out to solve some problem, we encounter resistance, and we either “just make it work” by fiddling around with the bits or we say “this is just too complex, I’m going to build something new that simpler and easier.” The problem with building something new is the “something new” must go someplace … which generally means on top of existing “stuff.” Adding more stuff you do understand on top of stuff you don’t understand to solve a problem is, of course, a prime way to increase complexity in a network.

And thus we have one of the prime reasons for ever-increasing complexity in networks.

Yegor says being a great programmer by pulling back the curtain increases job satisfaction, helping him avoid depression. The same is probably true of network engineers who are deeply interested in solving problems—who are only happy at the end of the day if they know they have solved some problem, even if no-one ever notices.

Pulling back the curtains, then not only helps us to manage complexity, it can alos improve job satisfaction for those with the problem-solving mindset. Great reasons to pull back to the curtains, indeed.