Advancing Life & Work

How to manage disruptions, in real life and in a computer network


By Diman Zad Tootaghaj, Post-Doctoral Researcher

For my first post on the Labs blog, I first tried to write a post on mathematical modeling of the impact of different quarantine strategies to reduce the impact of disease spreadingI came up with a nice formulation which shows how a timely quarantine strategy can reduce the size and impact of the spread. At the same time, I found my life very disrupted. My partner and I have been trying to balance work and life. The uncertainty of the current situation was very stressful, and yet we have been one of those lucky families who were able to have childcare for our 8-month daughter. My impression is that other parents with kids are more disrupted and more stretched.  

As a researcher who has been working on network disruption and recovery, I am managing my life in a similar way I manage network disruptions right now. 

 Controllable and uncontrollable parameters in life/network: 

Similar to a computer network, we can divide parameters in our lives into controllable and uncontrollable parameters. During the shelter in place, I have always asked myself a lot of what-if questions: What if my partner and I both get sick? What if our babysitter gets sick?  What if a family member gets sick? What if …? There exists a lot of uncertainty and gray area that we have no control on. Similarly, in a disrupted computer networ, the disruptikon creates a lot of gray area where we lose connectivity and controllability, although most of the nodes and links in the gray area might still be working but we don’t have access to reach them.  

As computer network scientists, we try to focus on the controllable parameters to design and employ a system that works in steady state. And there is a lot that we can infer in the gray area by sending end-to-end probes. Similarly, we can answer some of these “what if questions” by asking for help whenever we need. I have very much appreciated our manager, Puneet Sharma, who always tells our team, “If you need help, please just ask for it”. 

dimangraph.PNG Finding other routes to meet the demands and goals 

In a disrupted computer network, we try to find and exploit alternative paths to satisfy the traffic demands temporarily during the large-scale disruptions. Similarly, we need to focus on the aspects of our daily routine that we can still follow, or we can find new daily routines to continue progressing our livesWe can take this opportunity to catch up on discovering and finding new and innovative ways of meeting our goals.  

 Prevent the cascading failures 

In order to recover a disrupted computer network, we need to avoid cascading failures. We need to be careful about the weakest link in the network and similarly we need to take extra care of the elderly and kids. Sometimes, turning on a failed link can re-distribute the traffic and overload to another link, which causes further failures. Similarly, in a real-life situation, we need to account for cascading failures in our lives We’ve suddenly become full-time caregiver, tech support, teacher, and emotional support for our kids on top of a full-time job. Working all day to meet our life standards before the disruption might not possible. We all need to understand how unsustainable this situation can be and need to prioritize based on the amount of time and resources we have. This is similar to a delay tolerant network, where we need to prioritize some tasks and hold back others for which there is no bandwidth. We might end up having a messy house or unable to be the perfect parent or colleague we wished to be but remember that this is temporary; and we need to remember that life is a marathon, not a sprint. 

Finally, as Ellen Zegura, CRA chair, stated in her message: 

If you have the capacity to do so, please reach out to check in with those in your sphere who you normally mentor. Expand your outreach to those you could mentor but don’t normally. Offer listening and advice on how and what to prioritize. Provide assurances that the long tail of this disruption will be understood and accounted for in program committees, proposal reviews, teaching evaluations, promotion and tenure processes. And when the time comes, make good on that assurance. 

Stay safe and healthy.


About the Author


Managing Editor, Hewlett Packard Labs