Wednesday, January 18, 2012

On Becoming and Training Troubleshooters

To  many of us at Lotusphere, solving problems is what we do.

Having always enjoyed taking things apart and putting them back together again or fixing them is part of an innate curiosity that many of us share. The ability to learn from each other and share the information we find so the next person can benefit is part of the Lotus way.

What about the next generation of techies or Business Partners? Do they have this ability? Has Google made it too easy for people? What about your kids? Do your kids wait for you to come home to fix something or do they go out and get it done? What are we doing to not only help them but encourage them to do this?

Over the last few days here at Lotusphere a number of conversations have been about how we got started. Back in the old days, 1980's for me, there were no great books or Google on some topics and training was not really there so when I started out on networks they gave me some servers and said here are the diskettes and go build it. Also screenshot it and document the process for others to follow. Good luck.

Well, I did it, and like most of us blew up the motherboard on the first server I touched when I plugged in the wrong RJ45 line or patch cable. Along the way learned, first hand, about networks, topologies, routers, hubs, drivers, creating network protocols and memory management. These were the days when 640K was still a barrier and QEMM would eventually come along to help with this bit, but I digress.

File servers, access, modems, Digiboards, security, standards, diagrams and other pieces of the puzzle were always new and interesting.

Now much of that need to know information is no longer required. TCP/IP and Ethernet became the standards as did SMTP and so many other things which back then we had to learn and understand to get our work done. Now your average cell phone does so much, yet many understand so little about them and what they do. Maybe this is how everything works. Commerce started out as a barter before a standard method of payment existed and now credit cards are our money. Digital transfers no one thinks about, except for those of us building the infrastructure. Your average person on the street has no idea why their cell phone works or not or how it works and blames the carrier when it drops calls even if the reality may be you just lost coverage in between towers.

The students GBS brought to Lotusphere, kudos to GBS for doing it again this year, I hope, learned from all of us some pieces of the ideas mentioned above because it seemed like they do not grasp, as one example, the concept that security is a multi layer function or how or why it is important in business. No doubt many of them are or will be great developers, but I hope their professors and teachers also explain the ecosystems which are needed, not just to run the code, but how it interacts with other pieces.

I have been walking around with one of my Moo Cards on my badge that says "I Troubleshoot Anything". It has brought me questions about kids, spouses, cars and more. I am not an expert on every topic or product of IBM's but that innate ability to look at the problem from many angles and narrow down the issue is something I have been noticing in the workplace is missing from many IT personnel. On the flip side it is why ISSL and other Business Partners, Vendors and organizations seek me and you out for work. Because when something needs to get done and there are problems, they need someone who truly believes there is an answer to the problem and will just get to work.

"I don't know that product" or "it's not my scope" or "I only work on product X" or "I never got trained on it" are some of what I hear and see and this will lead to many issues in your organization if you are not careful. It's okay to not know something. Really. Ask, learn, Google it or sit in font of a box and play with it till you get it. Instead of training on a new product's usage and some error messages, provide broken installations, down servers, screwed up Firewalls, reverse proxies and other real life scenarios to help the trainees enjoy training again and feel better about themselves.

No, I am not recommending you start performing neurosurgery or say you can do it. I am advocating that to advance yourself you need to look into the unknown and encourage yourself or your teams to do the same. Do not let them get away with being lazy Microsoft paper engineers. Don't kill them either although you may want to do so at times.

To everyone at Lotusphere or around the world keep up the good work, keep learning and solving the little and the big problems. And don't forget to write a wiki, document, white paper, book, blog post or do a video so others can learn and benefit as well.