Thursday, November 21, 2013

familiarity with mainstream tools + local system -> GTD

(I have been learning this lesson since 2007, but Not before.)

We techies including the coolest techies, can get stressed up by technical issues, by deadlines, by users and managers. These really are the same kind of issue -- the damn thing doesn't work. This not-working issue constitute a major stressor though not the only stressor. When things are seriously bad, our basic competency becomes a question, meaning managers question if we are up to the job. When this stressor gets bad,

we feel like treated differently than other team members
we lose manager's trust, and we get micro-managed,
we are required to justify our (big or small) designs
we are forced to abandon what we wrote (99% working) and adopt another design imposed on us
we are asked to explain each delay
we are forced to work late
we voluntarily decide to cancel our vacation
we worry about our job
we have no time/energy to hit the gym
we lose sleep and lose appetite

On the other hand, when we are clearly capable of handling this type of issue, we feel invincible and on top of the challenges. We can GetThingsDone -- see blog post on GTD.

To effectively reduce this stressor, we really need to get comfortable with the "local system". Let's assume a typical financial system uses java/c#/c++, SQL, sproc, scripts, svn, autosys ... In addition, there are libraries (spring, gemfire, hadoop etc) and tools like IDE, Database tools, debuggers... riding on these BASE technologies.

We are expected/required to know all of these tools [1] pretty well. If however we are slow/unfamiliar with one of these tools, we get blamed as under performing. We are expected to catch up with the colleagues. Therefore each tool can become a stressor.

[1] see also

Therefore a basic survival skill is familiarity with all of these tools + the local system. If I'm familiar with all the common issues [2] in my local system then I can estimate effort, and I can tell my boss/users how long it takes. Basically, I'm on top of the tech challenge.

[2] If some part of java (say the socket layer or the concurrent iterators) never gives me problems, then I really don't need that familiarity.

Q: how about non-mainstream tools like spring-integration, jmock? Just like local system knowledge. Investing your time learning these is not highly strategic.

When I change job, again there's a body of essential know-how I need in order to / fend off / the stressors. Part of this know-how I already have - the portable tech knowledge. Frequently, my new team would use some unfamiliar java feature. More seriously, the local system knowledge is often the bulk of the learning load. If I were in a greenfield development phase I would write part of the local system, and I would have a huge advantage.

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