Business, processes, and things to drive improvement

About a week ago I was at PegaWorld. I’ll tell you what, for a rather dry business application – business Process Management, those guys know how to party. That being said, it is a really powerful platform to help automate existing processes or to interact with other systems to put a wrapper around the inputs and outputs of that system. That’s pretty powerful. Pega is one of those pieces of software that has the potential to “disrupt” the way traditional software is built. Essentially it eliminates the need to actually develop software the old fashion way, and allows users to create process flows that then generate the underlying Java. Now that doesn’t mean all coding will go away, especially at the interface API level, but it’s still a huge step forward to leveling that playing field.

I think this raise an interesting point, software is going to eat the world according to a lot of VC type folks. However, what happens when a piece of software enables more people to do what software was enabling people to do? I think it’d drive down the cost of enabling automated solutions. Not only are there super high level “languages” like Pega, there’s also a great deal of higher level programming languages out there, such as Ruby on Rails, JavaScript, Python, and others that help to develop the application as you’re building it. Swift from Apple is another such language. It shortens the learning cycle. I’m partially through building an App in Rails and I’d never used it before, it’d be a lot harder to do the same in Java alone.

All of this really drives a concern – we could just automate bad processes. Things that doing faster don’t actually help any customer or ourselves actually accomplish any sort of goal. This is a problem if you don’t actually understand what you’re trying to do. This is something that I think a lot of startups miss – who cares that I can really efficiently do something, when some thing isn’t really worth doing? It’s a waste of time, energy and activity to do that. Software eating the world or other types of automation are only useful to anyone if they actually work to improve the underlying structure they are being built upon. PegaWorld had some interesting talks of people that looked into this, but it was basically tangential when it needs to be at the core of everything that’s happening.

Apparently in the show, Silicon Valley, every startup ends up saying that this product is going to make the world better. Simply saying that doesn’t make it so – I’m sure that Ubisoft and EA believe that their games are going to make the world a better place. You could argue that by excluding something from the next Assassins Creed game really did make the world better by driving a conversation about the choices that developers and companies make when bringing a product to market – and how poorly those decisions can go for the company that makes them. It’s important to understand the root cause of a problem as well as any risks changes pose to the business when you don’t deliver on something you are selling.

We live in a complex world

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately. Not about my normal stuff, I think I’m feeling a bit down from not having much of a social life out here – had a friend in town likely sparked that a bit. Life’s complicated. We don’t live in a nice neat linear world where the good guy wins because the author wants it to be that way (or talks about how they should have written the series differently after making billions).

The world we live in is complex. Seemingly random decisions can impact the rest of your life. A flip of a coin over which grad program to go to, a roll of the die to pick between 4 jobs after college, living with all new people my freshman year at Pitt, even the decision to go to Pitt over anywhere else were all fairly haphazard and without much of a plan. I went with a lot of gut feelings with those choices. They’ve all lead me on pretty crazy and interesting adventures. If I hadn’t lived on the 9th floor in Tower A I would never have ended up living with 5 girls my Junior Year and none of the adventures all of my friends had there would have happened.

We don’t like complexity. We like to think that the path that we’re on was the one we were always destined to be on. It’s very nice and easy to look at the complex history of technology, science, and society to think that our current culture was pre-ordained in some manner. So many different choices could have dramatically altered where we are now. Just one of those decisions I mentioned above would likely have altered my life and everyone I’ve met since dramatically. This thought really struck me while I was watching an Episode of Cosmos. Essentially the entire German lens industry hinged on a SINGLE arbitrary moment of kindness from a Prince and soon to be King.

We punish people that remind us of complexity. Think of all the times people talk about “Flip-Flopping” in politics. You get punished for changing your mind because you’ve learned more. When I’m at my most arrogant I like to think that I’ve been really consistent with my thinking since as far as I can remember, but I know that’s not true. I’ve learned a lot and met a ton of new people, there’s no way I could NOT have been influenced and changed what I believed about a topic.

All these thoughts have been rattling around my head because they are essentially making me ask, yet again, what do I want out of life. I have a good job, I’m buying a house, I have a great wife, but what do I want?

I’m working on learning programming so I can start a company, it’s slow going, but it’s going at least. I want to write a book, but that’s even slower going – I’m finding with my current schedule I don’t have time to do both, let alone have a life outside of spending time with my wife’s friends. That being said, I think I need to do some soul searching on where I want my career as well as my social life.

Any thoughts?

Evolution and Synthetics

An amazing scientific announcement has recently occurred, we have been able to show that synthetic DNA, XNA, is capable of evolving. This is interesting for several reasons. First, it’s just more evidence of evolution, which should be a rather no brainer at this point. Second, it shows that there are other materials that can function similarly to DNA and RNA. Finally, we can make these structures and they will behave in a similar fashion to DNA and RNA.

If we can create something that evolves under stress, it indicates that evolution is still extremely robust. If this type of material did not evolve, it would have made scientists look at both that material itself and check a few things. First, would we expect this material to evolve. Second, if yes, why doesn’t it evolve. If we are developing a material that is expected to mimic DNA/RNA, it is likely that we would expect it to evolve in a similar fashion. If it doesn’t evolve, then this could have serious consequences. This would not disprove evolution, as DNA/RNA both evolve, it would indicate that either we have the wrong material or that only DNA/RNA can evolve. It would explain why only DNA/RNA have been found on earth and not any other type of xNA material.

Since this material can evolve it leads to interesting questions itself. Did evolution occur  between DNA/RNA and other xNA’s? Did the RNA/DNA combination beat out every other stain of xNA’s? This would be interesting to understand. If RNA/DNA did evolve because it was better suited to Earth’s early environment does that mean that our current environment still suits it best? Could we evolve completely new life forms based on these structures? Only time and more research will allow us to answer these questions. But we do know that these new strains could allow us to develop treatments and other solutions to biological problems.

One way we could answer these questions is if we discover alien life that is based off of non-RNA/DNA combination. This could be in the form of anything from bacteria to full blown organisms. At this point, it is more likely we’ll find a bacteria life form based on another XNA than anything else as they are capable of surviving exposed space transportation, such as on an asteroid.

The fact that we’re able to create XNA is an amazing accomplishment. It indicates that we understand biochemicals required for life to an extent that we are able to create new enzymes that mimic RNA/DNA. We also understand that the most important metric for this experiment is not the fact that we could make a stable XNA, but that it must evolve. A stable or static XNA would not be interesting as it would have no ability to adapt in an environment where there is competition. The ability to change as the conditions change is what separates RNA/DNA from other proteins and enzymes. Only the best combinations are able to change and develop over time.

I’m excited to see how these changes will impact us. I think there are some significant long term implications for this, but at this time I’m not sure what they are. The fact that we’re capable of doing this is an incredible step.