The Keynote that Shocked Me

I’m not dissing solar panels…

Put up some solar panels, that’s great. But if my only advice to a room full of oil executives was “recycle” that would be a missed opportunity. To tell techies to put up solar panels is similarly unambitious but it’s also dangerous — it encourages the belief that tech folk don’t have much individual power to change the world. That belief is quite wrong. It is the scariest face of imposter syndrome and the world cannot afford for us to think it.

Why techies have power

I talk to enterprises and vendors constantly. Their number one tech problem, their top priority, is almost always hiring and retaining good engineers. I have met companies who’ve spent hundreds of thousands of dollars re-implementing platforms mostly (it seems) to keep their developers happy. Some firms are apparently OK to risk major sexual harassment lawsuits just to avoid distracting a programmer.

Why we need to wield our power

I love working in tech but that doesn’t mean we should be blind to its flaws. Data centres currently use ~2% of the world’s electricity, often very inefficiently. And that % is growing because we are an expanding industry. We’re on a par with the aviation industry. We are a major polluter.

How should we wield it?

Why don’t we use our powers?

All this sounds really easy so why don’t we do it? I believe there are 2 reasons.

  1. I suspect many of us live in a constant fog of imposter syndrome in which we worry that eating too many biscuits in the tearoom is going to get us fired. We therefore lack the confidence to even hint that we might want to see a small change in the way our employer operates. We cannot afford to feel this way. We are highly educated, free, self-aware, relatively healthy, well-paid and secure humans. If we don’t say anything then who will?

Can we just go to the cloud?

Going to the cloud is interesting. Cloud providers run their DCs much more efficiently than on prem (good) and some Cloud providers like Google have 100% renewable energy targets (very good). But, it’s very easy to get more machines in the cloud and that is helping our industry expand. That’s great if it expands using solar or wind but not if it expands using dirty fuels so it really matters how cloud DCs are powered and we should always ask.

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