Think for Yourself. Question Authority.

02 May 2019 by Dave

How often do you reconsider how much you should really trust those you consider to be “authorities”? Now, I’m not talking about governments here (although there are certainly some analogies we could make!) but rather trusted parties in our professional lives. Case in point: Amazon Web Services.

To be clear, we use AWS and are very happy customers. We trust them with our data. Back when we started using them, no-one else had anything approaching what we get from RDS - managed replication and failover. High availability managed by AWS really helps me sleep better at night. And that is the danger. AWS has done so many great things for us that I now see them as an authority. This post is about challenging that.

I’ve recently noticed a heavy push from AWS to get people into using Microservices. “Breaking Up the Monolith: Adopting Microservices on AWS to Foster Agility and Innovation” reads the latest. I immediately want to give them the benefit of the doubt, because, as I said before, they are an authority in my mind.

(Because I don’t want to detract from the main point of this post, I’ll mostly steer clear of discussing the merits of Microservices, save to say that if they were that great, we wouldn’t need to be constantly reminded of them. There is, after all, no silver bullet.)

The onslaught from Amazon has been relentless. The messaging is clear: use Microservices or you’ll fall behind due to your competitors innovating faster than you. Oh, and by the way, we have lots of services that’ll help you manage your Microservices. Pay no attention to the extra complexity, fees and vendor lock-in.

Humans are not perfectly rational. As much as I want to believe that you and I will make decisions based purely on technical merit instead of being influenced by marketing, authority bias - like the many other cognitive biases we suffer from - is very real.

Becoming aware of our biases is the first step in overcoming them, but often not sufficient. In this case, it comes down to recognising that we see AWS as an authority because they have indeed earned that position, and noting how that may bias us to accept what they say as fact instead of evaluating it critically.

I’m not saying we’re dumb enough to buy whatever AWS is trying to sell us. But, statistically speaking, some (perhaps small) percentage of developers who were on the fence about Microservices could be influenced by the subconscious bias caused by constant messaging, instead of focusing solely on whether it will actually solve their problems.

Questioning authority is not the same as disregarding it. Just don’t ignore your doubts when someone in a position of authority says or does something that doesn’t seem quite right.

We’ll never have completely unbiased thinking, but we can try.

Think for yourself. Question authority.

(blog post title taken from a quote by Timothy Leary)

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