April 19th, 2010

planet

technical people

We've been switching to some new software at work, which means everyone has someplace to blame all their problems. Such as:
1) If we're late on a deadline, it's the new software.
2) If we're angry, it's the new software.
3) If the missing public option in the healthcare bill means that millions are still uninsured, it's the new software.

I might be a freak but I actually love new software, and love being in a group that gets to be on the front edge of ironing out the kinks. For one thing I'm good at it... I've written code before so I know how to offer constructive bug reports and ask good questions about how things are written. Which is different from the crazy angry engineers who will just call up an IT guy and say, "I'm sick of this crap always sucking." (Sucking in what way? Just the whole thing sucks.)

It's third-party stuff, so our IT department set it up and is dealing with permissions and configuration, but they don't know EVERYTHING about it, we don't have a "resident expert" and did not choose to hire onsite help from the developers. And that freaks people out even more because sometimes we've had to figure shit out ourselves! oh nos!

What blows me away is that these are engineers and IT people playing all these finger-pointing panic games. I have a long-running theory about what makes someone technical. I had a professor who told us troubleshooting had to be this knack that you're born with, and it really troubled me for a long time because I wasn't sure if God had given me the special techy brain cells or not. I knew I was smart, and determined, but did I have the magic talent?

I drilled it down to this idea: technical people don't know everything and don't have to know everything, but they always know where to start.

It's part confidence: telling yourself that you can find out where to start. It's part determination: you don't allow yourself to blank-stare at a problem. It's part knowledge: be familiar enough with a system to find some parts that are working. Eliminate those, and you find the parts that aren't working. Zen!

The best technical people are optimistic and very confident. we all know they don't know everything. Hell, they might not even know much. But they never say "I don't know where to start." So I say "resident experts" are totally overrated, and I've been the "we can figure it out" cheerleader for the last bunch of weeks, and it's fun! for me. everyone else is nuts. but that's on them.