The COVID-19 pandemic has emphasized the internet as a utility and a right. Connectivity and speed allow us to keep in touch, work, and study. It makes it easier to stay home and save lives. Yes, binge-watching tiger hoarders does indirectly save lives.
With a virus that doesn’t discriminate, the tech industry is suffering the direct and indirect pains of the pandemic as much as any other industry. Tens of thousands of tech jobs have been already lost in the last month. It’s been particularly harsh in industries like hospitality and travel.
But the truth is some tech companies are working harder than ever to keep up with the demands of this new age. E-commerce, supply chain, logistics and delivery services are straining to get out food and medical supplies. Telehealth is trying to keep waiting rooms and hospital beds empty. And from school to work and remote meetups to e-birthdays, videoconferencing is our new way of life. Plus, you know, all those Netflix docuseries.
For a lot of tech and infrastructure teams, they not only are going through the stress of the collective trauma we’re sharing in, but they are struggling to keep up with ever-scaling, extreme strains on their systems. Simply put, no one could have predicted this uptick.
In fact, edge computing platform Fastly found a direct correlation between internet quality challenges and regional policy enactments, like schools closures and stay-at-home orders, which follow an uptick in cases. As you can see by the accompanying image from Fastly, with the exception of Japan and to a lesser extent California, an increase in traffic led to about a 12% decrease in speed.
Traffic isn’t going to slow down any time soon at this time of quarantining, so organizations are working to assure systems resiliency and uptime, while making sure their teams are supported, while under profound professional and personal stress.
The Importance of Empathy in an Age of Anxiety
Since in our agile world it’s supposed to be people over processes and responding to change, let’s start with the resiliency of the human side of tech. Again, whether we’ve been directly touched yet by COVID-19 or not, we’re all sharing in trauma. This is our generation’s 9/11, except most of us lived through that too. And it’s like we know it’s going to happen and we can’t stop it and millions could die.
The internal team of psychologists at Container Solutions recently created an internal guide to psychological health during this pandemic that they decided to open source. The guide starts asking each of us to acknowledge that feelings of anxiety — including fear, anger, sadness and frustration — are completely normal.
Container Solutions Lead Psychologist Helen Bartimote writes: “Take time to process what is happening. Give yourself time to adjust. If you carry on as if nothing is changing, you will burn out before this ends.
Bartimote then goes on to encourage empathetic responding, which is basically asking what you can do to help. We often get wrapped up in our own lives and forget to simply ask questions like this. A benefit in our suddenly remote-first world is that many of us are growing accustomed to asynchronous communication. That means we could even stick a Post-It to our laptops to remind us to ask these sorts of questions that are essential to fostering healthy communities.
Next up, the Container Solutions team reminds of self-care practicalities that we may miss when we are overcome with anxiety. Many developers are overworked, away from a sense of a normal work schedule, and under a natural sense of obligation to deliver code that people are relying on, self-care is forgotten in daily life. Bartimote offers a list of self-care reminders, like:
- Don’t socially isolate. Make an effort to communicate over Slack, SMS and email more than ever.
- Try to create a positive, healthy daily routine.
- Be mindful of media consumption.
This guide includes a whole page on working at home with kids. Container Solutions was one of the first The New Stack saw to explicitly put in writing that kids popping in and out of work calls is the “new normal.” And to remind employees how to create boundaries with family while emphasizing it’s healthy and natural that especially kids — but really everyone — will “want to be close and feel safe.”
This guide is an excellent resource for managers, teammates and individuals for self-care and community care.
The Minimum You Need for Stable Systems
Any software or hardware-based organization that’s seen a spike in traffic these days is also feeling a sense of duty. It goes beyond service level agreements toward a personal impetus to not leave users hanging.
Bob Moul, CEO of Circonus machine data intelligence platform, not just notes that we are more dependent on our digital infrastructure than ever. He is witnessing the unprecedented demand on IT infrastructure in just about every industry, and he’s seeing it as going from “one way of producing and procuring goods and services to the primary way or perhaps the only way.”
Moul offers the bare minimum we need to do to meet this new level of demand for dependability and quality of service:
- Monitoring and issue alerting has to be in place across all infrastructure.
- High-availability, redundancy, failover, and recovery processes, along with continuous testing, all have to be in place.
- As well as a similar assessment of the viability of your critical third-party vendors and integration partners.
- Turn all this insight into predictive analytics that can feed into maintenance plans.
- All stakeholders have to understand the extra precautions you are implementing and to understand any challenges you are facing.
Add to this, all users need extra reassurance of your uptime and your continued work to make sure your systems are going to continue to work.
Good News: The Internet Probably Won’t Break Any Time Soon
He continued that “This is partly due to the regionality of these trends, but modern websites and applications are also better able to adapt to changing internet conditions. We are seeing the internet bring people together, whether for work, entertainment, or to get in touch with family and friends. And while there’s more traffic than in previous months, the internet is resilient.”
In fact, after initial wobbles like with Zoom and Webex, there simply hasn’t been notable outages for major systems and tools. Of course, Netflix and YouTube were asked to slow down and decreased their high definition viewing in order to keep Europe’s internet from breaking under the strain.
Fastly relates the internet speed decreases it noted from Feb. 16 through March 29, 2020, more with population shifts toward more home Internet use than with a traffic increase alone. Of course, at least larger organizations have greater access to edge computing and faster processing, plus less Wi-Fi across many devices.
One thing to note is that this coronavirus has hit the Global North first. There’s no doubt as the pandemic spreads rapidly to developing nations, its impact — from infection rate due to overcrowding and under-funded healthcare to mortality rate to internet infrastructure instability — will only increase.