Being Quiet

Almost six months have passed since I transferred divisions at the day job, leaving behind a better-paying position with loads of opportunity for one that is far less visible, far less challenging, and far less important. The change was made for a long list of reasons and I'm satisfied with the effects of the transfer. Not only do I feel a lot less anxiety every time I sit down in front of the keyboard, but I am able to approach problems without feeling unnecessary pressure as seconds turn to minutes and minutes turn to hours. So great was the burden half a year ago that I stopped wearing a watch and hid anything that reported the current time in my office.

This new role sees me doing similar things as before, as people report problems and I work with them to find solutions. However, these problems are often self-inflicted wounds created by people who wanted to find a simple solution to a complex issue, only to create a black hole of "legacy" that everybody is now afraid to touch or modify. Fortunately, it's these messy situations that often have the greatest rewards. A person can sit down to understand the original and current problems, talk to the various people that interact or are impacted by the problem, and find a solution that works for everybody. If a person does this correctly, they'll be rewarded with a daily stream of questions from colleagues who now trust them to offer answers that are realistic and actionable.

A few weeks ago a long-standing problem at the day job was eliminated with a few thousand lines of code that required two complete rewrites to get correct. Generally a rewrite points to a failure to understand requirements while two rewrites might point to incompetence or worse. For me, it was a number of factors that collided to create a situation where a solution needed to be built to replicate existing functionality of a system that had no documentation, no upgrade path to work on modern servers, and nobody at the company who new the ins and outs of the project. It was a pet endeavour for a manager who has left the company.

However, just because something is hard to understand does not mean it's impossible to overcome. Andy Weir said it quite well in his famous book, The Martian:

“At some point, everything’s gonna go south and you’re going to say, this is it. This is how I end. Now, you can either accept that, or you can get to work. That’s all it is. You just begin. You do the math. You solve one problem and you solve the next one and then the next. And if you solve enough problems, you get to come home.”

Mark Watney

This is how I tend to approach every problem at the day job. Projects that are expected to be easy may turn out to be multi-year undertakings that can change the direction of entire organisations. Objectives that have a long list of expectations can sometimes be solved with a well-designed Excel sheet that sits on an executive's notebook computer. Or, as is the case with this most recent effort, it can be an opportunity to solve hundreds of little problems, one after the other, until a complete solution is in place and a team of people you'd never worked with before sees the value you bring to the table.

Working in the global division at the day job certainly offered a lot of opportunity. A person with the right ambitions and office-political skills could easily work themselves into a C-level role within a decade, setting goals while coordinating resources and ostentatiously proclaiming success. That's not what I look for from a career, though. I like solving problems. Real problems. And experience has shown that the better problems to solve are the ones that a handful of people care about.