3 Days Without Email
all because no one knew what that strange box under the table did.
Years ago, I worked for a manufacturing company in the IT department. We were moving to a new building, upgrading out network infrastructure and internet connectivity, and generally making things easier for the entire company.
During the move, someone noticed a small network box with a large cable plugged in to it, that no one knew about. It was hiding in a storage closet, under a folding table … with a very large cable coming out of a hole in the wall, attached to it. Now, I don’t mean there was a plug, or a plate with an adapter… I mean, there was a very roughly cut hole, large enough to put your arm in to it.
No one could figure out what this box did. It had to do something, right? It was blinking and looked like it was doing something network related… so how did we figure it out? We unplugged it and waited for people to complain about something being broken.
3 days later, we started getting questions from sales reps and support staff, wondering why no one had emailed them in 3 days. Oops.
Of course, we got it fixed quickly – but not by plugging it back in. We had new mail servers online already, but no one had made them the production servers yet. So we did that and everyone was happy.
I’m A Risk Taker
I don’t remember if it was my idea, or if I simply agreed with the IT Director when he suggested unplugging it. I do know that this is typically my style, though. I take a lot of risks with a lot of things in my career, because I mostly know that catastrophic failure doesn’t happen that often. There’s usually a way to fix it. There’s usually something we can do to mitigate the problems that arise.
When I was 15, I bought “DOS 6.22 For Dummies” and purposely did everything it told me not to do. “format c:\” ok. “fdisk” and delete my partitions? Done. “deltree” c:\windows? yep. I spent a lot of time learning how to rebuild and re-install DOS on that old computer.
I’m not afraid of pushing buttons that look interesting. I’m willing to delete code to see what happens if it’s not there. I’m the guy that buys a new toy, and smashes it with a hammer so I can figure out how it works and how to put it back together.
I can’t always say I’m on the right side of my little experiments, but in general it works out well for me in the long run. A willingness to do things that are “bad” and dangerous helps me to gain new skills. When I break something and it’s important, it forces me to scramble and learn how to fix it. It also helps me to identify the extreme cases where something may or may not be usable.
I push code in to places that it shouldn’t be. I accidentally delete production databases (yes, accidentally in this case). I do a lot of things that are dangerous, even when it seems that I may be jumping off a cliff before learning how to pack my parachute. There’s no time like the plummet to the bottom, to learn what you really do and don’t need, after all.
Of course, I do have limits. There are some things that are truly terrifying to do – including the time that I accidentally deleted my production database for SignalLeaf. But having learned through the trials of “do or die, fix it now!” I have been able to grow quickly in my career.
Not The Only Way
In spite of my success at being a crash test dummy, I realize that this isn’t the only way to do things. I have worked with a lot of tremendously intelligent people that are more scientific in their approach. People that break problems down, analyze, deduce and come up with plans and formulae to solve problems, vs my own intuition and experience preference. It’s great to work with these people, too – I get to show them how to live on the edge a little, and I also get to learn how to analyze things better. Everyone comes out ahead.
In the end, I’m not ashamed or afraid to say that I have a “let’s see what happens” attitude about my career. Sometimes I think it gives me a bit of an edge, too. Either way, I’m having fun out here, putting myself in to all kinds of new and difficult situations by doing things that I know I shouldn’t be doing just to see if I can fix them.