Kill It with Fire: Manage Aging Computer Systems (and...

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Kill It with Fire chronicles the challenges of dealing with aging computer systems, along with sound modernization strategies.

How to survive a legacy apocalypse
 
“Kill it with fire,” the typical first reaction to a legacy system falling into obsolescence, is a knee-jerk approach that often burns through tons of money and time only to result in a less efficient solution. This book offers a far more forgiving modernization framework, laying out smart value-add strategies and proven techniques that work equally well for ancient systems and brand-new ones.
 
Renowned for restoring some of the world’s oldest, messiest computer networks to operational excellence, software engineering expert Marianne Bellotti distills key lessons and insights from her experience into practical, research-backed guidance to help you determine when and how to modernize. With witty, engaging prose, Bellotti explains why new doesn’t always mean better, weaving in illuminating case studies and anecdotes from her work in the field.
 
You’ll learn:
   Where to focus your maintenance efforts for maximum impact and value
   How to pick the right modernization solutions for your specific needs and keep your plans on track
   How to assess whether your migrations will add value before you invest in them
   What to consider before moving data to the cloud
   How to determine when a project is finished
 
Packed with resources, exercises, and flexible frameworks for organizations of all ages and sizes, Kill It with Fire will give you a vested interest in your technology’s future.
 


From the Publisher

Kill It With Fire review quoteKill It With Fire review quote

Author Q&A

Meet software engineer extraordinaire and legacy-systems expert Marianne Bellotti (@bellmar). Her new book, Kill It with Fire (March 2021), reflects her internationally known work on some of the oldest, messiest computer systems in the world, and is rich with historical contexts for advancements in technology, fascinating case studies, flexible modernization frameworks, and her inimitable wit. Bellotti currently runs Identity and Access Control at Rebellion Defense; prior to that, she oversaw platform services at Auth0, served on a technical SWAT team in the U.S. Digital Service, and built data infrastructure for the United Nations. Below, we talk with Marianne about following social science into Big Tech, why a learning disability became her biggest career strength, how diversity affects software output, and the best advice she ever got.

No Starch Press: You took a fairly unconventional path to software engineering. For one, you’re completely self-taught; and, even though you were a fairly prolific hacker in high school, you blew off Silicon Valley to travel, study anthropology, and pursue a career in international development. Eventually, of course, you did get lured into the tech industry, where you’re now pretty much at the top of your field. What led to the pivot?

Marianne Bellotti: I was very interested in social systems. Actually I still am! A lot of Kill It With Fire can be described as organization theory. So I didn’t really change my mind about what I wanted to do, stuff I wanted to do just moved into the tech industry. At the time I went to college, being in technology on the east coast meant working for the banks, or maybe a Fortune 500 company. There was no Facebook. There was no Twitter. Google was just a search engine. Ten years later, the data science movement was getting ramped up and all the interesting activity around social science was shifting towards the way the ubiquity of computers was changing how people organized and interacted.

NSP: Given that it’s often difficult for women to “make it” in tech via traditional means (advanced degrees, networking, etc.), is there something to be said – based on your experience – for going your own way?

MB: The biggest advantage I had making it in tech was actually an experience I had in grade school. When I was eight years old I was diagnosed with a sensory processing disorder, which is a type of learning disability. I struggled in school a lot at first, and then as I found my rhythm I had to deal with the social stigma of having a disability. The attitude of people around me was that I couldn’t possibly compete with “normal” children and if I did better than the “normal” children it was clearly because I cheated. It broke my spirit for a while. I didn’t want to try, because what was the point? It was an awful time, but it came in handy when I entered technology.

Women in technology get treated exactly the same. Many people will assume you can’t possibly be as good as the men, and if you’re in the room it’s because you somehow cheated or because standards have been lowered. By the time I got into technology I had realized that those experiences I had in school were bullsh*t and I regretted giving up on myself. So when people tried to convince me I couldn’t be successful here because I was a girl, I didn’t internalize it. I just ignored it and kept going.

Some of the best software engineers I know come from non-traditional backgrounds. It’s not about degrees or credentials, it’s about giving yourself a chance. For some people the structure and credibility of a degree will give them the confidence to fight for a place in the room where things are happening. For people like me it was more about having other skills that could be super useful to gatekeepers. But one approach isn’t more effective than the other. You need to be resilient.

NSP: There’s a lot of talk these days about closing tech’s gender gap. After all, women make up less than a quarter of the technology workforce, and even fewer are in government tech roles. Are there solutions for making the field more inclusive, regardless of sector? And, as someone who’s literally written the book on the subject (Hiring Engineers), in what way can recruitment efforts or hiring processes help resolve this?

Marianne Bellotti, Kill It With Fire, Author, Headshot, Legacy TechnologyMarianne Bellotti, Kill It With Fire, Author, Headshot, Legacy Technology

MB: I really believe that you don’t recruit diverse talent, you grow it. I think more engineering managers need to understand the dynamics of experience level. People assume that you should always hire the most experienced, most talented person you can. If you can fill a team with All Star talent, you should. But when you study how teams actually work, you learn that isn’t a recipe for success. All Star talent needs to own big projects. So if you fill your team with All Stars, they will end up burned out trying to run all the big projects they’ve started by themselves. My rule of thumb is when I need my team to deepen their expertise I fill out junior and mid-career roles. When I need to increase my team’s responsibilities, I hire senior engineers.

When junior roles are not an afterthought, it becomes much easier to plug in diverse recruiting efforts. I watch a lot of teams try to hire all senior, then someone comes through the pipeline who is just below the standard for senior and all of a sudden the team hires them for a more junior role that didn’t exist before. That’s a strategy that’s going to result in homogeneous teams, because the people who we see “great potential” in tend to be people who remind us of ourselves. So an equal candidate from an under-represented group doesn’t get a junior role created for them. The other thing that kills diversity in recruiting is trying to hire and grow fast. It’s just math. Under-represented groups are going to be rare, if your goal is to hire the first qualified person who makes it through your pipeline, that person is probably going to be a white or asian guy. If you want a more diverse group to choose from you need to factor in some lead time to source candidates. Right now I’m working on finding leads for what I expect to be hiring in late Q3. I do a lot of my own sourcing. I don’t just sit back and wait for recruiting to send me candidates. (For that reason people who are interested in working with me should definitely reach out over Twitter and ask for a 30-minute coffee date!)

Publisher‏:‎No Starch Press (March 17, 2021)
Language‏:‎English
Paperback‏:‎248 pages
ISBN-10‏:‎1718501188
ISBN-13‏:‎978-1718501188
Item Weight‏:‎0.035 ounces
Dimensions‏:‎6 x 0.65 x 9 inches

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