Thursday, February 26, 2004


I haven't written much lately for two reasons. First, I've been balls-to-the-wall at work. There are so many things going on and the directives seem to change so often, it's hard to keep my thoughts straight some days. The second reason is because I want this to be fun: Both for me and for my readers. With all of the pressure and stress, I haven't felt very insightful. Almost every day I'm ready to throw in the towel and give notice or simply walk away.

This past Monday was a very bad day. My team and I were tasked last Friday with setting up an ad-hoc computer lab to allow a vendor to demonstrate some software. We learned of the demonstration at 8am Friday and the demonstration was set for after lunch on Monday. We needed to secure at least two computers, set them up similar to our student labs, upgrade them with a newer operating system, apply all patches and tie them into the test environment.

I'm very proud of my guys. I asked them to make it happen and so they did with nary a grumble (a question or two but nary a grumble).

By 5pm on Friday, I knew what progress had been made during the day and had a good idea how far we had to go before Monday afternoon...

I stewed about it all weekend. This was just another in a series of last-minute changes and emergency needs that reflected, in my eyes, our lack of preparation for this migration to take place in 4 weeks. The biggest problem was that I didn't know that was what I was stewing about. All I knew was that something was gnawing away at me and was causing me to be grumpy and hateful all weekend.

My guys completely rearranged their priorities and put off previously scheduled support visits to get this ready. I agonized over whether what we did would lead to a successful demonstration and I let that color my attitude for four straight days. And as far as I know... The vendor never so much as stepped foot in the building.

By Monday evening, I was broken. I tried letting off some steam but only managed to anger my spouse. When she verbalized this, I turned everything internal and spent most of the night an emotional wreck.

Since then, I have been blessed to have two very enlightening conversations. Curiously, the first was longer than the second but the second had more impact.

My first conversation was with a man I've known at the University for about four years. When I first met Rod, he was working for the College of Engineering. I didn't think much of him then because he came off as... how can I describe it... proprietary. He was part of a group that tended to do their own thing their own way and he seemed quite willing to go along with it. That, and he tended to play devil's advocate which I thought tended to complicate issues at the time but now realize it tended to clarify them.

At any rate, he now works for the library and I've noticed he takes a different approach even though he still works for the University. During our conversation I figured out that he tends to echo the management he's under. That's not to say he's a brown-noser or a yes man. The Dean of Engineering is a very straightforward "make it happen and don't tell me why you can't, tell me what needs to be done so you can." The Dean of Libraries, however, is more analytical and practical (from what I can tell). In each of those cases, Rod has simply utilized operational techniques similar to those of his managers and has done so to his benefit.

But I digress...

As Kevin and I were walking over to the Student Union to get breakfast, we ran into Rod. As per standard procedure lately, we began mildly lamenting our situation. We didn't get very far before Rod began telling us about how he looks at the reformulated IT Division and their recent activities from an outsider's perspective. He was the first technical person I've spoken with since this whole thing started who didn't start the conversation with, "What the hell are you guys doing over there?" It was quite refreshing.

Nothing specific about what he said really stands out in my mind. To be honest, I was too busy digesting his words and how they related to my current situation to remember any of them. What I remember is how I felt after. Rod was very relaxed about the whole situation. He wasn't worried about what if this doesn't work, what if that doesn't work and what are we going to do about situation X? Why? Because he knew the success or failure did not rest on his shoulders. He also knew that, given that his area's conversion dates are toward the end of the cycle, by the time we got to him, we'd have most of the kinks worked out.

So, what did I take away from that? The success or failure of this project does not rest entirely on my shoulders. I should worry about making sure my part of it gets done to the best of my abilities with the resources I have and let the rest of the project worry about itself.

The second conversation was this afternoon with one of our server admins, Jason. Jason was working with me to get some computers connected to the test environment and was helping orient me to the portions of it that I was unfamiliar with. I mentioned to Jason that I felt like a blind man just being led around by the hand. I had no concept of where I was but was sure I'd get oriented once I got my bearings. Then he said it...

"I feel like a little kid who's been dropped in a pitch-black room but has decided to run across the room anyway. I just keep running and every once in a while I'm like, 'Whoops! Found a chair' but I just keep on running."

That comment lifted my spirits a bit and soaked in over the rest of the afternoon. About five minutes before I sat down to write this, it triggered an epiphany... Call it a paradigm shift, if you will.

So what if we run into a chair now and then. Sure, it hurts a little and it causes us to stumble but who cares... nobody died. If we keep running back and forth, eventually we'll learn the layout and know our way around. Then, when this part is all over, we'll be that much more wiser and stronger... even if we do have bloody shins.