The "Wizard of Oz" Moment

Mar 17, 2019

In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy an co. are shocked when Toto pulls back the curtain, revealing the all-powerful wizard to just be an ordinary old man. The ruler of Oz whom they respected and feared turned out to just be another guy from Kansas.

As a software engineer, I know I've had few experiences similar to this classic movie scene. So much of our lives today are dictated by software: our entertainment, our finances, even our health. These applications and algorithms are the magic wielded by the programmers, engineers, and technicians that build and maintain these systems. When you first enter the field, you become introduced to some behind-the-scenes knowledge of the reality of software development, and it isn't always pretty. The wizards aren't actually as magical as they seem from the outside.

Sometimes, that perception can turn into negative thoughts. The internet feels like it's held together by rubber bands and paper clips. At this point, you can only assume all your personal data is out in the darknet somewhere. It's a miracle that these systems that have become the foundation of our society aren't failing right now, and it's only a matter of time until something truly catastrophic happens. These views aren't necessarily wrong, per se; they are just pessimistic. I've definitely had some of those thoughts whenever starting a new job or project. "How could anyone even derive value from this software? I'm surprised it even works."

It isn't all hopeless though, and there is one takeaway from these realizations that I've found helps me view software development in a positive light. Just like the Wizard turned out to be a Midwesterner like Dorothy, at the end of the day the engineers behind these ubiquitous programs that impact our lives aren't all that different from you or me. These developers aren't always wizards, geniuses, or savants. All of the technology in our lives is primarily the result of a lot of hard work and perseverance from regular folks working behind the curtain.

Rather than focus on reality that the wizards aren't omnipotent, I'd rather try to find assurance in the opportunity for any of us to write software that feels like magic.



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