Deconstruct the Magic

Whenever something feels like magic, it means I don't fully understand it. To truly grasp and improve things, I must go beyond the surface and examine the underlying machinery.

Deconstruct the Magic

Every time I learn how the magician does the trick, I'm always left feeling a little disenchanted. Mere moments before, I was awestruck by the mystery and illusion, helplessly pulled in by its inescapable gravity. I had experienced something special. Something that transcended the mundane and the ordinary. For a brief time, there existed the (seemingly) real possibility of magic.

What's the problem with magic, then? In general, nothing; it captivates us with its allure. But from the practical perspective of an engineer and their work, magic is the veil that obscures understanding.

Imagine if we sent a modern electric car (along with the keys) back in time a couple hundred years. I'm sure someone there would eventually figure out how to turn it on and how to drive it. But the car’s inner workings would remain a mystery, an artifact of magic.

For a little while, this would be great fun. But at some point, the batteries are going to die, the tires will bald, the brakes will wear, and the software will need to be updated. This is where we, the "mechanics" of this contrived fiction, come in.

Equipped only with the knowledge of its usage, you can tell if a thing is broken. You only need to first see how it operates when it's working correctly. But in order to repair or improve upon it, you must first understand the form and function of the underlying machinery. If not, you increase the likelihood of making it worse than you found it.

So, instead of asking, "Why isn't this working?" and toying with its inputs then dumping the result — inspect that function, that module, the whole framework if needed. Read the source, and try to understand how it works. The docs might help illuminate the darkness, but the source will always contain the answers to your questions.

In addition to reading, writing will help you understand things better too. Write your own version of the function or framework, then compare it with the original. Write an article on the topic; even if you don’t publish it, explaining it to others helps organize and refine your thoughts.

The next time something feels magical, let that be a signal—a challenge to dig deeper and deconstruct the magic.