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Application Support: Embracing Taboo

By Misnad Haque: Utter the words, “Application Support” and you will be met with a variety of reactions. To some, it merely translates into extended work hours. Another popular reaction is that of condescension, where the word “support” implies “assistance”, hence an Application Support Engineer would qualify as an Assistant to the more proficient “Developer”. You may also witness reactions of boredom where this line of work is believed to lead you towards a dead-end in your career, effectively “de-skilling” a person as all that is needed is to answer calls and deal with customers: customer care.

It is due to this negative perception that IT Engineers prefer developing a career in core development, IT infrastructure services and Robotics to that in Application Support. You could say that it is taboo to utter the word “support” when referring to a designation or work-stream. In contrast, we now live in a world where almost anything related to IT is provided as a “service”. We have Software as a Service (SaaS), Platforms as a Service (PaaS) and even Database as a Service (DaaS) to name a few. Robotics, AI and even Data Science could all be provided as a service, so why not jump on that bandwagon and remain at the bleeding edge of technology? Certainly, one might feel inclined to do so and there is no fallacy in that. However, take a moment to understand how one incorporates “service” into the words “… as a service”.

Building these services or products alone is not a viable solution for any business. It needs a service wrap around it whereby reliability, availability, scalability, etc. is ensured. It needs a “support service”. Looking at any standard development lifecycle, software maintenance or application support makes up the largest component of effort and represents a retainer for any product or service being sold. With all this untapped revenue and opportunity at stake, why would anyone opt to develop something, deploy and gift it away? 

What is Application Support?

A major misconception with application support is that the core activities comprise of defect fixes and incident resolution. On the contrary, this is mere speculation as the more rewarding aspects to the stream are non-correctional activities. Let’s delve further by studying the various types of work-streams involved:

  • Adaptive – constantly altering the system to cope with changes in the environment
  • Perfective – implementing enhancements based on user requirements
  • Corrective – troubleshooting and remedying errors in the system
  • Preventive – improving reliability to avoid future possible problems in the system

Believe it or not, 75% of maintenance effort falls under the first two types. But, let’s take the supposedly simplest ones first: corrective and preventive maintenance.

Isn’t corrective & preventive maintenance monotonous?

Yes and no. This line of work is in contrast, an adrenaline junkie’s nirvana. Corrective maintenance or incident resolution is synonymous to a Formula 1 pit stop. The engineering marvel built by designers and developers enters the pit stop for urgent and important repairs. With no time to lose, the engineers now should rapidly swap tires, refuel and change a front fender, all in just under three seconds. With so much pressure and no room for error (this is life and death as everyone in the pit stop at the time is at risk), does this sound monotonous? Yes, the designers did a great job at building the car, however without the pit stop crew, there wouldn’t be any race being run. Similarly, with software engineering, the Application Support crew faces many such situations daily, be it thwarting DDoS attacks, capacity or even mysterious one-off incidents.

Over time, however as more preventive actions are applied and the IT system stabilizes, incidents such as these reduce in frequency. Here come the days of boredom. Well, that is up to you. If you are happy with the way things work, then you’ve created that ambience of inactivity. Think about automation; eliminating the other monotonous tasks you are performing and even venturing into adaptive / perfective tasks. How much more could you accomplish?

The robotic automation apocalypse is upon us!

Are you content working with tasks that were always meant for robots? If so, then simple robotic automation ought to replace you entirely. If not, then help introduce adaptive and perfective changes to the system so they work better and at the same time, leave robotic tasks to robots. Our engineers work with RPA frameworks as well as the good old scripting mechanism to make IT systems more reliable and resilient by eliminating human error and reducing execution time. How great is a system that manages itself? Only a support engineer could create that.

Contrary to popular belief, most Support Engineers prefer automation as they constantly strive towards newer experiences and learning opportunities. Yes, they do not simply nurse systems. They too get their hands dirty with technology, albeit from a different perspective and objective. As this is the area of preference, it is also the one that consumes most of a Support Engineer’s time. Is that a bad thing? Is anything bad if you are enjoying it?

A sense of pride

Caring for the system exposed to the whole world from its infancy, helping it mature into the wonder it was meant to be. Supporting mission-critical systems that could forever change the face of humanity. Building synthetic remediation systems and self-learning capabilities through failure, like organic beings. Application Support Engineers are the sole guardians of IT systems. Isn’t that something to be proud of?

At Virtusa we work with leading IT systems in the world spanning various lines of businesses such as Telecommunications, Healthcare, Banking and Media to name a few, our Support Engineers gain both technical and the more interesting domain expertise. While you work your way through the latest technology, aren’t you keen to understand how business functions work? How are telephone lines provisioned? How are ambulances called out in the event of an emergency in the healthcare sector? What logic goes into loading and unloading ferries without them toppling over? Unlike anyone else, Support Engineers gain this exposure by directly interacting with live data and systems accessed by millions of people worldwide. This certainly is not mere “assistance”.

What will you do?

Will you take the monotonous route or will you help create something extraordinary? Do you see yourself being de-skilled or do you see yourself growing along with the system? Do you build and let go or do you parent the system? Will you see yourself redundant through robotics or unleash your passion through innovation?

Your choice will affect your experience and opportunity to help shape the future of this world. The world needs support. Will you step away from dogma, embrace a role in Application Support and wear it like a badge of honor? I sure did.

Photo caption: Misnad Haque is Senior Architect - Technology Services at Virtusa. A technologist and an advocate of Innovation in the field of Application Support & Maintenance (AS&M). He presently heads the Engineering arm of the Tech Ops practice in Colombo, introducing concepts such as Autonomics, AI and IoT into the vast AS&M space

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