SF/Oakland, CA January 31, 2015
The System Boundary - What the software industry misses when favoring computer systems over social systems

In his essay “The Infinite Hows (or, The Dangers of the Five Whys),” John Allspaw offers an alternative to the standard process for examining and learning from catastrophe in software systems: using the first-person accounts of operators and responders to construct a collective narrative of failure events and their many causes. Outside of engineering, similar techniques have been applied in the Epic Theatre, Ethnic Studies, and countless areas of social justice work. However, when results from these fields are presented to technical workers, they are frequently rejected for “lack of rigor.” Ignoring methodologies that prioritize first-person accounts can represent a significant blind spot for the software industry. We can see the effects of this ignorance in the design, development, and operation of software products, social media harassment and abuse, and the skewed employee demographics we see in the industry. This talk will examine how using these methods can support the human systems that create, maintain, and make use of software, and how ignoring them will fail to produce the social benefit Silicon Valley luminaries so often pitch to the public.

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