What Is Negative Engineering?

It was the second game of a double-header, and the Washington Nationals had a problem. Not on the field, of course: The soon-to-be World Series champions were performing beautifully. But as they waited out a rain delay, something went awry behind the scenes. A task scheduler deep within the team’s analytics infrastructure stopped running.

The scheduler was in charge of collecting and aggregating game-time data for the Nationals’ analytics team. Like many tools of its kind, this one was based on cron, a decades-old workhorse for scheduling at regular intervals. Cron works particularly well when work needs to start on a specific day, hour, or minute. It works particularly poorly — or not at all — when work needs to start at the same time as, say, a rain-delayed baseball game. Despite the data team’s best efforts to add custom logic to the simple scheduler, the circumstances of the double-header confused it … and it simply stopped scheduling new work.

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