Interesting links I clicked this week

I watched several really interesting talks from SRECon22 Americas this week, and in particular I’d like to highlight:

  • Principled Performance Analytics, Narayan Desai and Brent Bryan from Google. Some interesting thoughts on quantitative analysis of live performance data for monitoring and observability purposes, moving past simple percentile analysis.
  • The ‘Success’ in SRE is Silent, Casey Rosenthal from Interesting thoughts here on the visibility of reliability, qualitative analysis of systems, and why regulation and certification might not be the right thing for web systems.
  • Building and Running a Diversity-focused Pre-internship program for SRE, from Andrew Ryan at Facebook Meta. Some good lessons-learned here from an early-career internship-like program, in its first year.
  • Taking the 737 to the Max, Nickolas Means from Sym. A really interesting analysis of the Boeing 737 Max failures from both a technical and cultural perspective, complete with some graph tracing to understand failure modes.

I also ran across some other articles that I’ve been actively recommending and sharing with friends and colleagues, including:

  • Plato’s Dashboards, Fred Hebert at Honeycomb. This article has some great analysis of how easily-measurable metrics are often poor proxies for the information we’re actually interested in, and discussing qualitative research methods as a way to gain more insight.
  • The End of Roe Will Bring About A Sea Change In The Encryption Debate, Rianna Pfefferkorn from the Stanford Internet Observatory. You should absolutely go read this article, but to sum up: Law enforcement in states than ban abortion is now absolutely part of the threat model that encrypted messaging defends against. No one claiming to be a progressive should be arguing in favor of “exceptional access” or other law enforcement access to encryption.

Quick review: “Built”, by Roma Agrawal

Built: The Hidden Stories Behind Our Structures was a pleasure to read. Authored by Roma Agrawal, a structural engineer who worked on the the “Shard” skyscraper in London, it’s truly a love letter to her profession, and to the structures it involves.

Throughout the book, Agrawal describes a wide variety of engineered structures around the world. From skyscrapers to bridges; from clay bricks to steel; Agrawal’s writing goes into detail on the materials and techniques used to build the constructed world we all walk through.

In each case, Agrawal finds fascinating stories to tell about the cultures and individuals who pioneered various techniques. And throughout the book, it’s clear how much enthusiasm and love she brings to her work.

As someone trained in physics and materials science, I was especially happy to find such an engaging read that talks about such properties as ductility, elasticity, toughness, compression and tension. It’s a rare thing to find someone who can describe how fun these topics can be.

While Agrawal occasionally touches on her difficulties working in structural engineering, as someone who isn’t “traditionally” white and male, she doesn’t dwell on these concerns. To the extent I have a criticism of this work, it’s that she doesn’t spend more time on how she experiences being a professional engineer — including both the positive and negative aspects of the profession.

However, that’s a mild criticism, as that’s clearly not what the book is about. As I said above — this isn’t a memoir, it’s a love letter to her work. And to the extent it is that, it succeeds very well.