Tuesday, May 11, 2004

I love responsible people

My previous post on passion reminded me of a great dialog I was recently reacuainted with. If you aren't farmiliar with the writer Aaron Sorkin, you will be when I mention some of his work. American President, A Few Good Men, Sports Night (sitcom), and West Wing (sitcom). He has other writing credits, some more obscure than others, but those are the ones he is best known for. My manager and I found each other quoting Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson from "A Few Good Men". He asked if I was an Aaron Sorkin fan and I said "Aaron who?". He demanded that I borrow and watch his series set of Sports Night DVD's and of course I accepted without question. Now this sounds like some heroic ass-kissing, but it's only six DVD's and two seasons, so it was quite reasonable actually. It took me some time to start watching (too busy, etc.) but once I put the first one in, wow, I couldn't stop; it was like heroin for the intelligent/dry/witty-humor-appreciating mind.

Sports Night is a sitcom based upon the making of an evening sports show similar to ESPN's Sports Center called, creatively enough, Sports Night (I said Sorkin was a script writing genious, I didn't say he came up with creative names for sitcom's). So you get to see the behind the scenes of making a daily sports new show including all it's crazy twists and turns. Anyway, enough of my Sports Night plug, I'll digress back to the origonal point... though you really should give it a shot. :)

At the end of episode three, season one of Sports Night there is a GREAT dialog that illustrates the way I feel about the people who work on my team. I believe people have a certain level of responsibility to their management and peers to be honest about how they feel on a given topic, which includes passing out a fair number of BLASTS when appropriate. I'll try to draw out the scene for those of you who didn't rush out and buy the DVD based upon my recommendation. :)

Jeremy the geeky new guy was asked by Dana and Isaac, the big bosses, to film/produce a story on hunting, which he is patently against. They call it "getting the call" as only they could on the SportsCenter-esque show. He agrees to do it because it's his first shot at something like this, and he feels that if he turns it down that he will not have the opportunity again (not an irrational fear). Jeremy passes out on the hunting trip after the hunter shoots a deer, and is rushed to the emergency room. Jeremy returns and the guy who runs the station pulls Jeremy into his office towards the end of the episode. He gets Jeremy's side of the story and then basically says you have the responsibility to tell us that you have a problem with hunting, and that "getting the call" is no excuse for putting everyone on the shoot in jeopardy and also

This reminds me of my first (and only) shot at journalistic greatness. :) I was a Technical Editor for Windows NT Magazine (which then evolved into Windows 2000 magazine, and finally Windows and .NET Magazine). A tech editor checks the technical accuracy of a submitted piece, basically the last set of technical eyes that go over an article before it goes to the printer (or so I'm to understand). It was a good gig; the first step towards actually contributing to the magazine. Well, my first opportunity to contribute was an abyzmal failure. I was late with the article, and ended up writing something really bad because I was writing about something I had knowledge of, but not something I was passionate about. After taking a good beating on the They asked me to fix it, but with my tail already between my legs, I told htem I would probably not be able to add what they were looking for and I respectfully declined to fix/finish it. That, without question, was the end of my journalistic days.

What should I have done? I should have said, "I'm not ready, this isn't the right piece for me to write". There were two other guys on my team that could have written a much better article than I could have, but I wanted the glory. I worked hard to get to the tech editor gig and I didn't want these guys to waltz right up to writing content when I had to "slave" over tech edits (slave is a harsh term, I really enjoyed it). So instead what did I do? I tried to write the article, I failed, and all the tech edits, and any further opportunity dried up in a hurry. And all this because I tried to do something I wasn't passionate about (much like Jeremy, but he hated hunting instead of lacking passion for it).

So I guess the long and the short of it is this: be passionate about what you do, if you aren't, then move on (like I should have), but if you are, be prepared to go to the ends of the earth over what you are passionate about, even if it's an unpopular position (like Jeremy's).

I love nice people

Nice people are great, I love them, which is not to say that I'm "in" love with them (quite a relief to my wife). While that may sounds quite "3rd Grade", that's ok, some of you (well both of you that are reading this) know what I'm talking about.

Really, how much does it take to be nice? Not much, just a polite "no please, after you" when walking through the door or a "I like the polka-dot's" as I have been quoted as saying to one of my co-workers who wore a black or navy shirt with polka-dots on it. The shirt was out of character for her but it worked for some reason... the mystery of fashion. I guess we all know that person who you say "good morning" to and they retort "what's so good about it" or something equally as cheer squelching. This is not to be confused with my coworkers who merely point out that the fact that the morning is good is a judgement call, not to be confused with a statement of fact. I love working with genius level technology people. :)

But my question is, can one be TOO nice? I had this conversation with my polka-dot clad co-worker a few days ago. She is SOOO nice I tell her it's to the point of the nice-ness being percieved as disingenious. She tells our other co-worker that her hair looks nice, but I tried to point out that when you do it twice a week that she's bound to think you are sucking up and trying to get something out of her. A genuine gift of niceness is occassionally pointing out that something on someone looks nice. I still remember vividely when one of my co-workers commented on my new cufflinks and said they were kewl (cool) and she had never seen anything like that before. So is my polite and sincere co-worker who is perhaps just TOO nice overdoing it? Is it possible that I am a complete idiot and these people take it as she implies, as a genuine compliment?

I don't know, only the world can tell. I know one thing... I do love nice people...

One final note, speaking of nice people (and hte motivation for this post), I think you owe it to yourself to visit one of the nicest (and sharpest) people I've virtually bumped into in a while. Her name is Kirsten and her company is Re-Invention Consulting. They do all sorts of important marketing stuff that a simple minded techy guy like me wouldn't understand. She says her site is for women, but it applies to guys too (don't let her fool you). :) Check it out, if you don't like the content, you have to love what she's done with the place... maaahhhvalous.

I love diversity

One of my favorite sites, Worthwhile had a great forum question on diversity. That question spawned this rant... (you Worthwhile folks only have yourself to blame). :)

I remember when I was doing pre-sales work for Microsoft, and I told my boss that my goal was to approximate a decision he would make, and make it myself, thereby reducing my need to go to him for all things big and small.

He didn’t like that… and for good reason.

Why? A single important, but confused and misguided word: diversity. His point was that without diversity of thought, we would continue down the path we are on doing the same things we are doing today without thought of how to improve, etc. How stupid was I? Very, very, painfully stupid. Now don’t get me wrong, we were less than diverse when you looked at us. We were all middle-aged, white males, living upper-middle class lives (or higher, depending upon how long you had been there and how good the options were to you). ;)

Now I understand. I sit here on my way into work getting ready to spend a day (as I do every day) with serious diversity. Here’s our team in a nutshell (including me):

* Techy geek with lots of varying experience (if it’s technology and they haven’t used it, it doesn’t exist).
* A mathematical mind unparalleled in my experience, and with over 25 years of service at our employer.
* Geek with a personality, good leadership abilities, also good architectural/strategic/visionary mind.
* Ex-Navy Nuclear Submarine engine room person. Left the Navy, moved on to public sector nuclear work, then eventually to technology.
* High horsepower technical person, also good personality. Good consulting experience.
* High touch, people person. Well versed in high-end technology, great coordinator.
* Operational technician, lots of previous experience in current role, the bedrock of support on our team.

Note, I’ve not talked about gender, race, sexual-preference, education, pedigree, etc. Here are some other attributes:

* 1 – 50’s, 2 – 40’s, 2 – 30’s, 2 – 20’s (these are guesses, I’m not really sure)
* 6 married, 4 of those have kids
* 1 graduate degree (UVa MBA), 2 Undergrad Degrees, 4 Some or no college
* 6 white, 1 non-white (this is a guess too)
* 5 male, 2 female

I would love to have people play the mix and match to see what attributes they thought fit with whom. So what does any of the info in the second list have to do with the attributes in the first list? Not much. I came into this job with a fast and loose mindset, and I walk out with a conservative and risk adverse bent on the world. Why? Because I have a person who dealt with nuclear reactors for a living, and he’s just a LITTLE risk adverse! :) They’ve taught me that if you can do it fast, great, but can you do it with minimal risk? Where speed was the buzzword of the dot com boom, risk (and the reduction thereof) is the buzzword of the post dot com implosion. THIS IS DIVERSITY MY FRIENDS! These people think in a different way and bring something new to the table. I also have a person on my team that has worked in our organization for 25+ years. They have a different viewpoint than the rest of us, especially when the next longest has spent a mere 6 years here (not to minimize that person’s contribution).

The bottom line for me is this: who cares about the racial, cultural, sexual, gender, etc. stuff?!?! I don’t! I think it makes for interesting hallway conversations; to peer into the world of someone unlike yourself. Beyond that, I just don’t really care.

I love risk mitigation

Risk is something that is not new to me. Having worked in IT for long enough to be able to spot risk from a mile away, I can assure you that risk has been a foe and an ally of mine on many occassions. What is new to me is a consistent team of people who continually calculate risk in every action they take, and then mitigate that risk to a point where the risk almost becomes inconsequential. In IT the conventional wisdom is to let it fly and pick up the pieces later (or so I've found), so finding this type of trait in IT is GREAT.

When I was younger and I didn't have quite the number of war wounds that I have today, it was fun to consider the "plan" for implementation as clicking setup.exe and letting it fly. Perhaps I can blame it on my previous negative experiences, but I really like reducing the risk to a point of inconsequence. I find it fun! There's nothing better sleeping soundly at night knowing that the patch you are rolling out to a few thousand desktops that evening is not going to break anything... not that if we hadn't done considerable testing I would have lost sleep, I'm just not that kind of guy anymore.

But I digress. So my big question is why does anyone in IT deal with co-workers who aren't willing to mitigate risk in all tasks regardless of their scope?