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Zen And The Art Of Infrastructure Maintenance

There’s a famous passage I’ve quoted from time to time when I see someone “stuck” with a problem, flailing potential fixes and solutions wildly in hope that one of them does the trick.

“Assembly of Japanese bicycle require great peace of mind.”

Just like that. Improper grammar and all, quoted verbatim from Robert Pirsig’s philosophical classic Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. The quote is in reference to the first printed words on a set of technical instructions, which the narrator discusses with friends and colleagues on a long-distance motorcycle trip.

And the response I get is the same every time, likely the same response you’re having right now…

What in the world are you talking about?

Well good, now I have your attention. And I’d be willing to bet that attention is on 1) the ludicrous loss of translation from Japanese to English and 2) debating whether or not something as seemingly superficial as “peace of mind” is really required to assemble a bicycle.

Language barrier aside, let’s abstract away from modes of bipedal transport into a more generic “machine”. Do we really require “peace of mind” to assemble or create a machine?

Reliable? Maintainable? Usable?

We certainly all want to receive peace of mind from our machines. We want them to do the job they were created to do without fail so we can move our attention onto other things.

What words do we use to describe such machines that give us this peace of mind? Reliable? Maintainable? Usable? When we think of the reliability, maintainability or usability of a machine, we’re really just describing a machine that can produce peace of mind. I’d argue if we want that machine to produce peace of mind, then it must be created under peace of mind.

The rare and treasured "RJ45" cover variant of Pirsig

Why is that? If we, the creators of machines, are in a state of peace of mind when we start our endeavor, we’re highly motivated to do that which will continue our state of peace of mind. We don’t want to lose this state. Since if the machine does break, we the creators will be forced to lose our peace of mind and fix it, we’re motivated to create a machine that’s resilient against failure and resilient against our loss of peace of mind.

Without this key precondition to creation, we’re likely to build our existing personal problems right into the machine itself! Under time pressure? We’ll cut corners to make deadlines. Dealing with a different machine breaking? Likely to gloss over a key failure condition in the machine we’re actively building so we can fight a fire elsewhere. Worried about the problems of today? Then I can guarantee there’s no thought going into a machine that will be resilient to the problems of tomorrow.

Quality creations produce serene creators as much as serene creators produce quality creations.

Those in a state of serenity will continue to create that which maintains the state of serenity or peace of mind; those that are not in a state of serenity are unable to escape a vicious cycle of build-fix-build-fix, never achieving peace of mind. Ultimately, the serenity of the creator is the key test for the quality of creation.

And ultimately, this passion for peace of mind from our machines (our rock-solid DNS and email infrastructure) is what you’ll find when you meet the technical staff of Dyn. We’re guided by a desire to maintain our peace of mind — for ourselves, for our families and for the folks that count on us the most: our customers.

If the machine produces tranquility, it’s right. If it disturbs you, it’s wrong until either the machine or your mind is changed.

There are no predefined instructions for how to create or maintain the world’s fastest growing managed DNS and email infrastructure. There are no beaten path blueprints to follow. We owe our success to a team of master Dyn technologists, making careful and calculated decisions as they go along, demonstrating there is as much as art as there is science to the creation of infrastructure that fulfills the mantra “Uptime is the Bottom Line” and produces peace of mind.

The material object of observation, the bicycle or [in this case, the global infrastructure], can’t be right or wrong. Molecules are molecules. They don’t have any ethical codes to follow except those people give them. The test of the machine is the satisfaction it gives you. There isn’t any other test. If the machine produces tranquility it’s right. If it disturbs you it’s wrong until either the machine or your mind is changed. The test of the machine is always your own mind. There isn’t any other test.

– Robert Pirsig

So the next time you find yourself struggling with a problem, take a lesson from Robert Pirsig and the Dyn culture of engineering excellence: step back, achieve peace of mind, combat that which threatens peace of mind and strive to maintain peace of mind.

You’ll be a better (and happier) creator for it.

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Oracle Dyn Global Business Unit, a pioneer in managed DNS and a leader in cloud-based infrastructure that connects users with digital content and experiences across a global internet.