Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Just Flailing Away

You're back? I'd better be careful. If more people start showing up to these group therapy sessions, they might start charging admission. That would clear out this place and I'd be able to go back to tilting at windmills. Tempting...

I was just thinking (I know I know, *slaps hand*, stop that!) about training someone to be a good developer. The accepted mantra is always, "Send them to training". But even when training is available, it always seems to be too early or too late. Have I ever told you about my friend Jack? I have? I'll act like I didn't hear that. Jack is a developer at a large company. They embrace new technology the way someone lost in a desert for days embraces a cactus; so thirsty it is easy to rationalize, "It won't hurt that much and I'm really thirsty and want a drink right now!" They can quench their thirst but its a prickly proposition. Anyway, Jack was telling me about getting training at work. Ok, he was ranting to beat the band but I don't want you to think he's crazy, that's reserved for me. Jack gets put on this cutting-edge project using new technology on a new platform developed with new tools. So Jack gets sent to training and then doesn't get to use it for months.

[From the back row]:*boo!*, *hiss!*
What are you griping about, you get what you paid for. If you want good comedy, go somewhere that'll demand some lucre. I'm just here to hear myself talk. The jokes are free, just like admission.

So back to Jack. Jack's training showed him all the bells and whistles. You know the drill. How to save a file: "If you want to save a file, hit the [Save] button!" or how to color your text, "This button will turn all your text blue!" More 'how's than a tribe of Native Americans in a marathon of bad spaghetti westerns. I've always preferred my learning to be more about 'why' (Pardon my French) than 'how'. A book or on-line tutorial and show me 'how'. My search for ones that can tell me 'why' (Sorry, about that) sometimes makes me feel like I'm panning for gold and only finding fools-gold. Finding such a rare breed "Look, she can clearly explain why I would want my text blue!" (Excuse me! I must have a rude tic or something.) can feel like finding that one gold nugget that makes it all worthwhile.

Even when Jack came back from training, whenever he'd try to apply what he learned, if it slowed anyone down or required them to change how they worked, he'd be met with "We don't have time to learn how to use that fancy new tool! Just do it the way we've always done it."
Hearing that story, I couldn't help but imagine how that would work in real-life. Imagine your hometown city pool (Hey, we're imagining here! I don't care if your city was too poor to have a pool.) where you went to high school, complete with life-guards, deep end, diving board and lots of squealing kids among other things. You get a job there as a life-guard even though you can't swim. They tell you they'll provide the training. When you show up to work, no training. Your boss tells you not to worry, no one every drowns anyway. You take him at his word until the day the Senior Class President "Johnnie" shows his true colors and throws the class geek's kid brother, who also can't swim, into the pool. Jane, the head cheerleader, screams, "Johnnie! Don't you care that he can't swim?!?" To which Johnnie replies with a shrug and a disaffected scowl, "Nah! That's what life-guards are for." Ignoring his bad grammar, you realize that he means *you*! Jumping in, you flail your arms to keep afloat and manage to make your way over to the little geek where he grabs onto you with a death-grip. You keep from getting water-logged long enough to get back to the edge of the pool where everybody's safe and all is right with the world; until you run into your boss later. "What do you mean you want to go to swimming class?" with a tone that implies that it's your fault people need lifeguards that can swim. "We don't have time for you to learn how to swim." Blithely deflecting your eloquent recounting of the days incident, "It was a fluke, a million-to-one. Go back to work. What are you worried about anyway, everything worked out ok, right?" That night, when you go to bed your dreams are filled with flailing arms and water being flung everywhere and you wake up in a cold sweat. You feel thirsty but don't know why.

Wake up out there! The snoring is so loud someone might come and wonder what the commotion is all about. And no, the concession stand did not bribe me to tell that story.

So, what does that leave? The next time you want training (or want to apply training to real-work), remember Jack and his developer cohorts, struggling to keep their heads above water, their cubes like mini-pools, and they're all just flailing away.
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