This piece originally appeared in Human Infrastructure Magazine, a twice-monthly newsletter from the Packet Pushers. You can subscribe for free at Ignition.packetpushers.net.
Summer is vendor tradeshow season, and a major part of every tradeshow is the executive keynote. I thought I’d have a little fun on that theme.
The scene: a cavernous hangar inside a brand new Death Star, still under construction. This is the Death Star mark II, a replacement for the original space weapon destroyed by Luke Skywalker and the Rebel Alliance.
Tens of thousands of Storm Troopers, Imperial officers, TIE fighter pilots, and technicians sit elbow to elbow in ranked rows of thinly padded folding chairs. Many are hunched over mobile devices, trying to ignore all the work that’s piling up while they’re sitting here.
Punishingly loud techno music blasts from hidden speakers as a light show dances across three gigantic screens hanging above a raised stage. Carefully curated social media messages flash on the screens.
Mark II gonna kill it! #deathtorebels
Scoring excellent swag at the shuttle bay w/ my boy @TK-421
Psyched for the after-party on Endor #speederbikes
What’s your operating number? Enter it for a chance to win your very own MSE-6!
The music fades. The lights go down. A voice booms over the speakers: “Clones and gentlemen, please welcome Darth Vader!”
A menacing horn section sounds a familiar theme. Vader strides onto the stage in a frenzy of laser light. Applause sweeps through the hangar. Vader scans the assembly, the black orbs of his mask glittering. He raises a gloved hand. The silence is immediate.
“Hello everyone. It’s really great to see so many of you here. We’ve got a fantastic program for you today, so let’s get started.”
The Sith Lord clicks a tiny device to bring up the first slide.
“Every day, more and more systems come under Imperial rule. This quarter alone, we’ve brought twenty-three new worlds under our control, bringing the total number of Imperial citizens to 45 quintillion. At this pace, we’re adding one new citizen to the Empire every .075 microseconds.”
Vader pauses for applause, then advances the deck. The next slide reads
“But managing all those teeming life forms, spread across so many worlds, is a real challenge. Taxes have to be collected. Restive populations subjugated. Spice smugglers caught. And rebels defeated. That means implementing planetary blockades, manning local garrisons, and training and arming troops. And you’re expected to do all of this faster than ever, with smaller budgets than ever.”
Vader gestures to the audience. “I know I don’t have to tell you all this—you live these challenges every single day.” There’s a murmur of knowing laughter.
“So what’s the solution? How do we meet these challenges so that we can we tighten our grip and ensure the endless reign of the Imperium?”
“That’s right. Fear. Fear of the awesome power of this battle station. When the Mark II comes online, it will be the most powerful weapon in the galaxy, able to destroy an entire planet in a single blast. With such power under our command, we’ll do away with all the tedious effort of localized subjugation.”
“Now, I know what you must be thinking. ‘Didn’t we try this once already?’ We did. And yes, we had a few problems the first time around.”
“But as we like to say in the Imperial Council, fail fast, analyze the learnings, then iterate. And that’s just what we’ve done. Because while the initial design might have had flaws, the intent was always correct.”
“And we’ve learned a lot from Death Star Mark I. A tremendous amount—including more than I ever wanted to know about exhaust ports and shafts. Am I right?”
The audience titters nervously.
“OK. I could stand up here all day and talk about Mark II, but why just talk when I can show you. Would you like to see a demo? I knew you would! Let’s welcome to the stage Commander Tiaan Jerjerrod. He’s the guy in charge of this whole shebang. Come on out here, TJ.”
Music plays. A nervous looking man in an Imperial officer’s uniform comes onstage. There’s an awkward moment as the commander tries to combine a bow, a handshake, and a bro hug with his boss.
“Thank you, Lord Vader. This is an unexpected pleasure.”
The commander walks to a podium where a laptop waits. He launches the demo, but nothing happens. He tries again.
“Forgive me, Lord Vader. I think it’s the WiFi.”
Vader’s hand twitches, his thumb and index finger flirting with the shape of a C. A technician scurries from the back and futzes with the laptop. In the meantime, the commander vamps, running through some of the new features of the Mark II, including a ground-based shield that protects the Death Star from attack.
“The shield protects us from any number of advanced threats. It’s is a sign of just how seriously we take security,” says the commander.
At last the demo is ready. The commander opens a live video conference with the fire control team at the heart of the Death Star. The fire control team waves awkwardly to the audience, and then goes about arming the weapon. Buttons are pushed. Levers are pulled.
The video switches to an external camera. Vader reminds the audience that this is happening live. A beam of energy stabs out from Death Star and strikes a decommissioned freighter hanging in empty space. The freighter explodes into a billion tiny specks.
The audience cheers. The commander wipes his forehead with a handkerchief and bows his way off stage.
As the applause dies down, Vader turns to the crowd.
“Great stuff. Really great. And we’re going to see much, much more of that when this battle station becomes fully operational.”
“Well, it’s time to wrap things up. We explored three key ideas today: domination, complexity, and fear. But where do those ideas take us? What’s the outcome we’re trying to deliver?”
Vader clicks the slide button.
More cheering. Vader clasps his hands and raises them above his head like a boxer who’s won the bout.
“With the Mark II operational, we’ll sweep aside the last of the rebellion and bring the entire galaxy under our sway. It’s really going to happen, I promise. Mark II is gonna be great. Great stuff. Thank you all for coming, and enjoy the rest of the event.”