MY Hines

Ungeeking Geek

Posted on: April 27, 2010

I find that sometimes the primary function I provide as a nonprofit techie is that of a translator. I have to find the ways to translate the geek-speak into something that all staff will understand. There are so many different levels to this ungeeking that sometimes I feel like I’m under seige. However, when I find a good way to ungeek something, I love to share it – because maybe it will help someone else do the same thing that I’ve been forced to do.

Most often, the easiest way for me to ungeek things is by turning them into analogies of some sort. I have to find some way to remember that defragmentation is a lot like cleaning your desk, or a point to point connection is a private driveway between two buildings that you can only travel on if you work for the buildings. It’s easy to get lost in this world too – but when you figure out an easy way to explain, you feel like you have followed that rainbow to the pot of gold.

That is the situation I was in last week. For years we have been talking about individual silos of information that our databases are and how we need to centralize in the future. Now, those don’t seem like geek terms to me, but what was happening was that employees were imaging this one giant mess of a database with lots of things that they could see, but wouldn’t have permission to use because it wasn’t for them. It was clear that what was in my head and the heads of our consultants did not match the employees’ thoughts. I had to find a way to bring this back to something that could be understood. So, after a couple of hours of thinking, I thought of the way we want our databases to communicate much like power plants working together to support the power grid. Below is what I’m using to explain and you may find it useful if you ever have to ungeek this situation.

Database Version 1.0 (right now) – This represents a situation where the database/system is much like a new nuclear power plant that has been started. It has security in place to make sure that everything stays contained and if things go outside of the nuclear power plant, it is going to a special location that is only being used by the nuclear power plant (the power plant was built to give power to just one community.) Each individual database/system is represented by all different types of power plants – there are some hydroelectric power plants, some wind plants, some coal plants and so forth. Each works independently and when started are working within their own little shell.

Database Version 2.0 (near future) – This represents the nuclear power plant realizing that it has excess power that it wants to give out to the greater community. But before it can start sharing information, it has to figure out how it can work together with other power plants. Sometimes this means finding what types of wires can be used and sometimes this means that changes need to be completed within the nuclear power plant in order for it to have the right types of wires to connect to other power plants. These wires are like finding the similar fields within the database/system that wishes to start talking to another database/system.

Database Version 3.0 (several years from now) – This represents when the nuclear power plant is transmitting extra power out to the whole power grid and it is able to work along side of the hydroelectric power plants, wind plants, coal plants and other types of power plants. The plants all know what they have in common and they also know what they don’t have in common. They work together to make sure that they work together to supply electricity for all and to also know when they have things that are uniquely theirs. Problems can be isolated if necessary so if a thunderstorm takes down hydroelectric plant, the other plants can continue to work while the hydroelectric plant fixes its problems and then comes back up online.


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