COVID brought two kinds of people out. Those who wanted to help others in whichever way possible and those who wanted to make use of this a business opportunity to earn more. Black markets opened up for masks, gloves and sanitizers. For things where there is no MRP, prices sky rocketed for a while before supply caught on. I thought it was only small businesses who were trying to make quick money on this but it was there for a lot of big businesses and unicorns who jumped on this wave.

For example, I had seen status messages of people exchanging their points for donating oxygen facilitated by a fintech. This fintech was making people put up in their statuses for donating tens of thousand of liters of oxygen for their accumulated points, which made people very happy and give the company a much needed free promotion. But on a simple fact finding they are not giving out liquid oxygen but they were giving out numbers in regular atmospheric pressure.

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A simple misinformation and not telling all the facts just drove people to freely promote the company. Oxygen is not at all costly, 20+% of atmosphere is oxygen, if you reverse the process of nitrogen concentrators that are used for filling car tyres you get 99% oxygen. For the record, a kilogram of LPG will not cost more than 60 rupees. A kilogram of oxygen is roughly 700 litres and that is barely enough for an hour for a covid patient, 1 litre of liquid oxygen will expand to around 860 litres of breathable oxygen. Government recently capped prices for refilling liquid oxygen at 25.71 rupees + GST per Cubic metre (1000 litres of liquid oxygen) which is around 86000 litres of breathable oxygen.

I have seen people putting up status messages on linkedin and whatsapp saying they donated 100,000 litres of oxygen and they feel proud about it, you are misled. You ended up donating about 40 rupees. There are more companies who are trying to ride the wave, we may not even be able to notice and will fall for their marketing skills.

It is the work of the majority of the good hearted people that still keeps us going. Do not get carried away with the marketing, help for the right set of people.

In my school days it was impossible to score 100 marks in a language class. When I asked my language teachers, they mentioned that there is no definition of perfect language skills at any level, so scoring a 100 in a language test is a disgrace to the language. All the other non language ones had a defined way of scoring 100, if you memorise facts and formulas, then it is easy to score and keep moving up levels. The thoughts ingrain to you that if you follow the plan, keep memorising and apply the facts then you will accomplish a lot.

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Unfortunately the world we live is not always filled with templates, more and more problems that could be done with simple cause and effects can be replaced with automations and what is left for humans to solve are wicked problems. Now what is a wicked problem? Instead of going to a textbook answer, let us observe something in an urban neighbourhood.

A neighbourhood’s green grocer is always crowded as the population of the neighbourhood is more than what that store can conveniently service. The store was designed for a people of 700 but the population is 1100. A businessperson sees this as an opportunity to open a new store and draw the excess crowd, but because of the costs of running a store it will take at least 800 people in the neighbourhood to profitably run. When the new store is opened, both the stores will plunge into loss and eventually one of them will shut the shop. Another businessperson will observe the same and repeat the cycle but the problem is never solved. You will see this in every neighbourhood, new grocers, saloons, pharmacies and dentists keep opening and closing over the course of the years and see only a few established shops.

Our system is designed to teach us formulas and templates as an approach to any problem, this is especially on the higher side for premier institutes where people right from a young age are primed to think that way. Learn a formula, apply and observe, change the formula, apply and observe which will just create cycles of boom and bust.

If highly educated professionals specialising in a field cannot easily solve wicked problems then who can solve wicked problems very well? They are solved well only by people who are generalists or polymaths. Problems will boil down to intricate webbing of macro patterns and micro patterns which can be observed in one discipline and implemented in another. It is solved through coming up with a hypothesis (need not even be scientific, gut feel is also hypothesis), try a small solution, expand the solution if it works else ditch the hypothesis and go on with another one. The key is to observe cause and effect across different areas even if they are unrelated and learn from them. Like a botanist playing a violin in free time and figuring out that some plants respond to classical music and grow well, the botanist would have never figured out if there was an alternative passion.

Software development overall is a wicked problem, coding as such is not but building software is a complex dance between people, process and engineering.

Concentrating and learning only technological bits will keep us prepared only to solve templated problems like coding. If we need to scale up and solve business problems through building software then being a polymath will take us a long way ahead.

COBOL was taught to me as a programming language that can supposedly be used directly by business than business telling programmers and programmers writing the code. For people who have never tried COBOL, you write programs called “Essays” with “Paragraphs” and with a lot of capital letters and leaving whitespace margins on the left. The software industry always has this fascination towards no code technology, it wants the business to be able to create software that is not lost in the translation. Which clearly proves the point that building software is not a technology problem but a communication problem in using technology.

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The closest any one getting to success with a no code tool is none other than the infamous excel sheet. Why did it succeed? It succeeded because the data, formula and output were close to each other with a very small learning horizon. Business people who started using it turned it into a personal software that does a lot of things for them but is not useful to put to use even in simple production scales or customise it for others. I have been given excel sheets during requirements phase and asked to transform that into a software that can be used and extended as well. So though it worked, it could not scale to be a full fledged software.

Rather than concentrating on no code solutions as a means to cut down programmer involvement, it should be seen as a powerful tool to enhance communication with programmers on what business is looking for.

Quick prototypes could be made both by businesses and programmers using no code/low code solutions that can shorten the learning horizon. Learn quickly from prototypes and then take it production grade at required scale when you learn from it. Isn’t this what agile manifesto is saying for last 20 years. Produce working software through emphasis on individuals and interactions, respond to change and have business collaborate well with programmers.