Monthly Archives: January 2016

Island Hopping or just a regular day in the IT

Let me answer THE question raised in my previous post Grandma’s Cookies by inviting you to spend a typical day with me in the office, in a fast forward mode, of course. Don´t worry, I will skip the uninteresting details and do my best to keep your attention.

Let me grab my morning coffee first, bear with me, the meeting marathon is just about to begin. In a few minutes I will attend a project meeting together with the business department to understand the new requirements towards IT related to the launch of a new product. My gut feeling tells me that this will not be an easy ride, the project will require lot of effort and we better deliver a well thought-out solution.

Two hours later I attend a discussion full of tension, where the people from operational department and the end users, complain about the flaws and troubles of the existing software. My task is to keep calm and assure them that we will find quick solutions (so called workarounds) and future improvements to help them in their everyday work. I do not have any solutions ready and I know that I will not have time today (or the next days), but I prefer to keep this little negligible detail for myself.

During my coffee break I meet the colleagues from the testing department asking me for test support on a project delivered recently by our team. Of course, it touches a totally different area, nothing related to my previous meetings. It does not matter, the long years training in this business pays off and my brain is able to switch between topics pretty fast.

My phone rings in the middle of the conversation and I need to leave due to an urgent matter, a production problem, several provisioning orders are blocked and the customers are waiting for the service they ordered. You can imagine the panic, at this moment all eyes are on you, waiting for you to solve the problem. I must say, time flies on such days.

Luckily, the highlight of the day has arrived, it is lunch time! Time for biological and mental digestion, time that I take to clear my mind and to recharge my batteries.

I’ve got two more meetings to go and then I am done for today. Of course I have tons of mails to check and my TODO list (the action points I gathered during my last meetings) is also not getting shorter! Both activities require peaceful, quiet time, without any disturbing and without distraction. This is wishful thinking.

As I arrive to my desk (which I haven’t seen very often today), my calendar desperately signals me that the next meeting is about to start in fourteen minutes. Just enough time for me to answer the most important emails (which are, by the way, not the most urgent ones).

The rest of the unanswered mails have to wait as I have a really important meeting to discuss the concept of replacing an existing software with a brand new state of the art technology. This is not an easy topic to digest, especially when you do not see the benefit of it. During the meeting, I keep asking myself if this project will fail the same  way as  the most of similar big, expansive and complex migration and transformation projects. Such projects are purely IT initiatives and they rarely find any sponsors and fans in the business departments. Tons of books and scientific articles have been written, all trying to explain and solve this problem by defining recipes how to prevent such projects from heading towards a dead end. However, you cannot control human behavior with strict formulas, thus I am always skeptical about such recipes.

On the way to my last meeting of the day, I rush to take a cup of coffee with me. Entering the meeting room and holding an empty cup in my hand without any liquid inside, I realize that tiredness has taken over my brain. Good thing that it is the last mile, bad thing is that attending a team meeting without coffee will require double effort not to fall asleep and stay at least halfway concentrated. Not to mention the background noise in my head due to screaming emails and tasks which I have neglected the whole day.

As the final strike, when I finally arrive to my desk and plan to spend the last hour working on today’s backlog, a colleague comes to me asking me to check and analyze a production issue, which naturally cannot wait. He was hunting me the whole day and now, that he found me, I just cannot refuse.

 

Paradise Island

Such days are like island hopping.

Not because of the relaxing and pleasant art of a holiday, but because of the continuously changing landscape. This could become pretty much tiring and stressful, if it get’s out of control. Think about the Greek Islands, they are all different in their nature, environment  and culture. One moment you are in the middle of the dark forest trying to find the sunny beach to get some clarity, the next moment you are climbing high mountains to reach the top, hoping for the panoramic view to reveal the big picture to you. You hope to get answers to all those questions tumbling in you head by gaining an overview and seeing the big picture. You are desperately searching for the sense, the meaning of all what is happening to you and around you.

In stead of taking the time to explore and maybe enjoy the nature, you must leave and jump to the next Island. This could be fully populated, loud and overloaded with touristic attractions and party areas. This is not the place to retire, it is time to socialize and to have fun. If you have something to say, be as loud as you can. Sometimes you need to be loud enough to prove your point and influence decisions.

Hopping to the next island, you encounter a cozy place having a magical landscape and friendly people with amazing experience, gurus with special talents, mastering their profession. You can be thankful to meet them, as you can learn a lot from them.

You are overwhelmed to be on the paradise island, but suddenly a strong wind grabs you and takes you away to another place, a dense jungle full of hidden dangers and surprises. It sounds like  a thrilling adventure, having the time of your life, but after some time it can become really exhausting, driving you to the limit. Your survival skills are a must, your only goal is to get through the day, fighting through the jungle. It is actually not the nature you fight against, but the fictional, artificial enemies created by humans. Snakes could have been your friends, but it is too late for that now. The once virgin, pure, wild jungle is now full of intrigues, mental wars and conflicts of interests. Only the strongest survive.

There are two types of people on this planet: the ones who love island hopping and the ones who hate it.

Some prefer the hectic and adventure, the constant dynamic, moving from one place to another, but some people like to stay in one place, having time to enjoy and explore the scenery in its full splendor. Both has it’s advantages and disadvantages. The more you hop, the less time you have to explore but the more you hop, the more you get to see and experience.

Looking back, I would say that I am rather the island hopper than the „stay in one place“ person. Diversity attracts me, I tend to switch the scenery, being scared of the „monotony“ of one place. During my life, I have lived in several countries (and I am sure I haven’t reached the final destination yet), most of my holidays were tours, round trips, and I have worked mostly for companies where the ability to deal with many different topics at the same time was crucial.

Does this make me a superficial person? Will this ever change, will I become a „stay in one place“ individual with time?

Whatever happens, no matter which way we choose we need to adapt and make the best out of it, while it lasts. The next wind will come for sure to take us to the next island, maybe better or worse, anyway different. Changes change us.

Why to become a programmer?

If you work in the IT or it is just your hobby, you must know it. If you know anybody who works or is passionate about IT, you must know it as well. I am talking about THE question: „Why did you choose IT and what do you actually do?“. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? If not, then you might read it as well, because at some point in your life, I assure you, it will hit you, no matter if you are asked or you are actually asking THE question. I was always before the camera being asked and had hard time to answer as there is no easy explanation. Now it is time to switch roles and ask myself: how can I explain a non IT person what I actually do every day? Being a practical person (IT is all about best practices and examples), I rather not hold a speech but prefer something easier to digest.

I always wanted to become a ballerina, it was my childhood dream! Coming home from school, eager  to meet my grandmother, as she was waiting for me, with cookies, I could tell her: „Grandma! I want to be a ballerina! I want to wear tutu, spread my wings graciously like a swan and dance into the sunset.“ If I could travel back in time and meet my grandmother again, if I could sit on her lap and stuff myself with her famous cookies… sorry, just got distracted a little bit :)… knowing what I know today, what would I tell her?

What do the kids nowadays say? „Grandma, I wanna be a programmer! I would love to sit day and night in front of the computer and stare at the monitor for hours, read and write  in a cryptic language…“. Hmm, that does not sound attractive at all!

Let’s try some other approaches, feel free to choose your favorite.

Grandma: „My dear, what would you like to be when you grow up?“
Me: „Grandma, I want to help people have a better and easier life. Computers were invented to help people by executing and finishing work much faster and do less mistakes. They could even finish tasks some people are not able to do. Those machines should also take over repeating tasks which could save our precious time, so we can focus on something better (cookies, for example). I want to teach those computers to do all these wonderful things“. Oh, my grandmother would have loved it! Being a smart child, I could have said: Grandma, achieving this, you would not have to cook and clean yourself, you could spend your time with me in stead.“, or even better „The clever machines could do my homework so I could spend more time playing!“,  but let’s not upset Grandma.

I know, this is a rather naiv way to see things, but sometimes it helps to go back to the roots and think simple. I certainly would not want to scare my beloved Grandma trying to explain the concept of object oriented programming, talking about design patterns, architectures, firewalls, endless loops, multithreading and rendezvous messaging.

Grandma: „Tell me little child, what would you like to become in 20 years from now?“
Me: „Grandma, you are my favorite grandma, today I am your grandchild, tomorrow I am just a kid playing with her friends, later I am a nice girl who always listens to her mother. We all play different roles in our lives. IT is not different, we wear different hats every day, every hour, in every situation (it is the so called multirole). There is no strict border between programmers, developers, designers, architects or project leaders, you need to be flexible. Through my IT career I had the opportunity to be a firefighter, an artist, a pastor of souls, a protective mother, a diva, life rescuer, a nurse, a politician, joggler and let’s not forget about being a soldier, a fighter. I want to be all of them when  I grow up!“

You might know the panic situations, when you feel like the whole world is burning and you need to stop it. I have had the chance to be in escalation meetings and task forces with the goal to solve highly urgent problems like system outages or applications with unexpected behavior. Just when I thought that the fire was deleted, it started in another place. It is the same feeling as trying to stop a leakage in the boat, fill a gap, hoping that it holds for a while. What you don’t see (or do not want to see), is that beneath the „bandage“ the hole and damage is getting bigger and at some point you cannot go back, the process becomes irreversible. In those situations, you feel that you only have two options to choose from: you either stay in the sinking boat and keep on patching it or you jump out and swim hoping that you reach some better places. This might sound crazy at this point but I assure you, I will do my best to explain through my next postings.

Grandma: „My sweet girl, what do you want to become, when you will be the same age as your mother is today. Have you ever thought about that?“
Me: „Of course I have, Grandmother, I know what I want to become: I want to be rich when I grow up! I would like to have plenty of pocket money to buy all the toys I wish for. I think if I learn how to program I could achieve that. Everybody needs good programmers and their work is highly appreciated“.

No comment on this one.

Grandma: „You know, you will not always be a child. Someday you will have to choose your own path…“
Me: „Yes, I know, and I can hardly wait to grow up and become an artist. I want to create something amazing, something what seems today impossible! I want to explore the universe and reach the stars. I would like to learn the computer do things that humans can only dream about. People will admire me and call me a magician because most of them will not understand how I make IT work. I know it will be a long and curvy road, but I will love it for sure. Programming computers is like teaching small puppies how to behave  according to your own ideas and instructions. Computers could be my playmates, they never get tired or bored, no matter how many times I start the game from the scratch. They also do not argue and do not complain. What a luxury!“

Of course, this might sound a little bit exaggerated, but believe me, I met many people who actually think like that. IT could become quickly an obsession, it could even isolate one from the world outside the box without even noticing it. In the same time, it does really feel like magic. You build systems and feed them with code. They grow up and become stronger and smarter, exceeding your expectations. Just make sure you never stop polishing and improving them.

Full Stop! It is getting late and we are out of cookies. I am sure you will also find your own version of the story, if not, you better have one of these ready.