July 24, 2018

A Treehouse for my youngest son

In 2015 we, my family and I, spend our summer vacation at the Mediterranean. Although this is irrelevant for this post, what is relevant though, is the fact that our youngest son, was watching Treehouse Masters on sat-TV.

This is a TV show where a group of professional Treehouse Builders (if there is such a thing) are building the most awe inspiring treehouse you can think of. And he was awe-inspired. You have to know, our son has had many great ideas about remodelling our home. One of these ideas was to make a hole in the floor of his bedroom and install a slide. This would allow him to be quicker downstairs when called for dinner, and he would have more time to play. We, my wife and I, try not to discourage him by telling him it can't be done. Instead we agree to most of his ideas, but he has to figure out how to realise them. Taking permits, structure integrity, budget, etc into account. We're willing to apply for anything needed in case a grown-up needs to sign a paper, but the tinkering is completely his responsibility. We always come out in a win-win situation. Either he finds out it can't be done, or we find out it can be done.

Anyway, he was going to build a treehouse in the fashion of the treehouses in that show, as soon as we would be back in the Netherlands.

You might be wondering what this has to do with agile architecture. I'll try to explain.

What happens in this TV show is that the team building that treehouse makes an amazing design and start building it. They do this within 60 minutes, the duration of the show. Of course in real life this will be longer, but typically they will have the treehouse done within a couple of days. One of the things they never show are the costs involved with building the treehouse. And with that, they also omit the costs involved with keeping the treehouse inhabitable. I'm using that word, inhabitable, consciously because those treehouses are really of the kind you could live in without 'of the Apes' being your lastname. My guess is that most of the treehouses (ever wondered why it is houses instead of hice? Since the plural of mouse is mice?) cost a couple of thousand €'s to build. And I wouldn't want to think about maintenance costs. Considering that most of the construction material is wood, you'll understand that there's a lot to be done to maintain it. To my son, although he's a really smart kid, it feels like they build the treehouse in minutes and for free. Not to speak about the running costs. He was 8 at the time. We forgave him his naivety at the time.

It's not a lot different from running a product in the Cloud actually (don't know why I always write cloud with a capital C, well almost always). When you take some time and watch for example Amazon's video's on AWS, you see how easy it is to use the many services of AWS. Amazon has done a great job in that. One of the things you are not seeing are the costs involved in building your SaaS products. Nothing about time nor money. Just like the Treehouse Masters never disclose anything about costs, structural integrity, maintenance etc. The tutorials nor the training exercises mention the AWS equivalents either. The tutorials and training exercises do mention different aspects around your architecture concerning reliability, stability, resilience and security. But it is all very generic.

Back home in the Netherlands, our son came up to me telling me that he was going to build a treehouse. He wanted me to film the endeavour, so I took out my GoPro Hero 4 Silver with the Gecko stand I got from a KickStarter project I backed. I asked him where the tree was where he was going to build the treehouse. It was going to be the apple tree in our garden. Only we quickly discovered that its branches would hold the treehouse. So the on-premise solution would fit, just not enough resources available, hardly scalable and other than being really close to home not suitable. Close to home was good, he would be at the dinner table quickly. Remember the slide earlier on in this post? Yup, not a lot of latency there, it was actually a solution you see a lot with on-premise solutions, you can bring resources really close to each other. I will not insult you by explaining the analogy, but feel free to explain it to show off your awesomness in the comments below.

Like pretty much everybody in the Netherlands, we all have bicycles so my son took his and was on his way looking for a suitable tree. After a while he came home, all excited, he found the perfect tree. I took the GoPro and we went to 'his' tree. It was a 25 minute ride. This was an issue and he realised this immediately. A roundtrip of 50 minutes would be very cumbersome for him, especially since his treehouse would become sort of a satellite of our home if it were up to him, it would use up about an hour of processing, uhm, playtime every day he was going to enjoy his very own treehouse. But he figured it would be worth it. He could use the extra exercise. Really, building and sort of living in your own house. Up in the trees? How cool is that? And by all means, it was an excellent tree. Perfect branches, not too high up and accessible without having to cross busy roads. It was everything a great cloud solution would offer to us, great infrastructure to build our solution onto, low entry costs and excellent connectivity. Yeah, that analogy still holds.

While we were at the tree, I took out the GoPro and our son started climbing in the tree. He loved it. And what do you know, there was a little higher up in the branches a sort of ladder. He could reach the higher branches by using it. Apparently he wasn't the only kid in town that knew about the tree and thought it was awesome. Yup, he was going to face some sharing of resources when using this tree. And that got him thinking. The tree was clearly big enough to have more than one kid playing in it. I mean it was an oak tree and virtually reaching all the way into the clouds. Well, in the fog it would be in the clouds. So that was fine. But what about his treehouse? How could he make sure that the other kids wouldn't get into his treehouse without him knowing about it and granting access? Yup, he needed to do some tinkering about that. Definitely. And he needed to figure out how to handle the construction of the treehouse as well. It would take some wood, plenty of nails and a hammer. A hammer we had, but the nails. Or the wood. And the expertise to really make it a save treehouse. Some tinkering was required.

Even though it seems so easy to just go into the cloud, create an Amazon account or Microsoft Azure or Google Cloud, enter your credit card details and you're good to go. It's really low entry. But once you really understand what your objectives are, you understand that you need to think about the fact that you share resources. You're connected to the internet so security really is something to wonder about and you will need some new tools and technologies in the cloud with the right expertise to benefit from what the cloud can offer. In a safe and cost effective way. Just like our son has parents that allow him to experiment, come up with new ideas, tinker with them and that help him with all the 'hard stuff' needed to first consider feasibility, then viability and eventually really build that treehouse, the Agile Architect should be available to you to help you with all the intricacies of the Cloud. Working together with you building the best solutions within the right context.


That treehouse? Well we got some wood from the local DIY store and the proper nails. We went to that tree and created a platform. It was his Treehouse MVP. We used it to see how often he would actually go there to play, to see how many kids would (try to) use the platform and whether or not he would like to play with them. The MVP cost him €23, that's without a k and a full day of hammering about. Two weeks later he had a bright(er) idea. Instead of building a treehouse, he was going to build a sales-booth to be placed in front of our house and he was going to sell the apples from our tree in the garden. The treehouse he originally envisioned would've cost him about €1,700 in building materials, not to mention the security system he thought was needed to keep the other kids out of the house. He saved €1,677 by starting small. He made that fall about €30 selling our apples. Which were donated by me to the great cause of teaching my youngest kid to think big, start small, to learn and to adapt.

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The text very explicitly communicates my own personal views, experiences and practices. Any similarities with the views, experiences and practices of any of my previous or current clients, customers or employers are strictly coincidental. This post is therefore my own, and I am the sole author of it and am the sole copyright holder of it.

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