Thursday, October 17, 2013

The clueless bin

As a nearly-40 ex-teenager (I swear that's how it feels sometimes) I spend some time wondering if "this is what it means to have experience". The little details of how you start seeing parallels on every meaning.

Like you realize how the knowledge worker in his decision factory is actually not that different from the blue-collar worker in the real factory (salaries aside). How everything is a cog in the great gears that power our individual worlds, and when boiled down to their essence everything starts looking like... well... the same thing.

In that line of thought, I started trying to pay attention to the little signs that indicate someone's been around for a while and knows what he's talking about. I think that I come across as an experienced person - because I am, see line above about being nearly-40 - but what exactly is it that gives it away?

I can read about all the psycho-freudian-jung-ish stuff about authoritative sound and positioning, but as far as I can remember I always sounded as if I knew what I was talking about, even when I had no real clue (very important skill when you're a consultant by trade), so I guess the real difference is that now I know that I do know what I'm talking about most of the time, instead of knowing that I was pulling rabbits out of my hat.

How does that transpire to others though?

In my professional life I have met and worked with thousands of IT professionals, and all of them left an impression, as is inevitable. My binary brain will default to sort these people by "has clue" and "clueless", and while sometimes you get the privilege to work with someone long enough to do a proper evaluation, most of the times you get 1-2 days at most. And yet, that clue/clueless binary decision is taken anyway.

Be aware, I am not trying to determine whether someone has or hasn't a clue - I'm trying to understand what is it about those people that makes me think they (don't) have a clue.

Some things throw me completely off:
  • Bragging - I did this, solved that - immediately makes me think of daddy issues and insecurity, a sign that this person needs others to think they have a clue. Goes into clueless bin almost immediately.
  • Asks the same thing twice. If someone asks me how to do something twice - even if it's 6 months or 3 years apart - person goes into clueless bin. Not applicable to real technical terms, as in "which property of object X gives me its width", or "do you have a sample of how to get the current device context" - these get a degree of forgiveness - but definitely applicable to conceptual descriptions, as "what is the Ambient Data Framework" or "why would I use Java for that". Perhaps I should rephrase to "asks same thing twice without realizing I already explained it before"
  • Dismissing any technical challenge as "trivial" - especially if it has to do with CSS. I have the utmost respect for good CSS hackers. Great CSS hackers are like gods to me.
  • Blaming others for their failures. When ministers resign from their governments is typically because someone way down the chain did something they were not supposed to do. Is it the minister's fault? Most likely the minister didn't even know that there was one person in their ministry that was supposed to empty thrash bins in the first place, let alone that this person could have contacts with the press and was really good at reconstructing shredded paper.
 OK, so what else can influence me on this binary decision?

  • Honesty. Being able to admit that they tried something and it failed miserably. You only truly learn with your own failures.
  • Accepting guilt, not too eagerly, but understanding that perhaps it failed because the person did not understand or listen correctly to advice given, or assumed that doing it alone was faster
  • Understanding that sometimes you are way out of your depths and asking for help.
OK, so my goal was to have a more objective list, but I guess it truly is subjective and I should go read some more Jung before I can understand it. Or, I should show the wisdom that will soon be visible in my hair and just accept that people are how they are and embrace the beautiful diversity of people I have the pleasure to work with.


Elena Serghie said...

Heh, I also noticed a certain "street-wise" attitude, a different kind of confidence, as the person does not have to prove themselves. They've simply been there and done that, take it if you will.. Also a very freeing attitude and a willingness to help, somehow connecting with you out of a humane necessity. Now dribble some compassion on as well, and you got some recipe going!

Cheers, Elena

Nuno said...

Nice touch on the compassion Elena, indeed that is a sign "you get it".

Alvin Reyes said...

I was about to start with, "in my (not-so-expert) opinion" but instead I'll suggest I already chatted with future Nuno.

Response to Nuno-prime's post (and a book reference for Elena), from the past:

I'm not sure my clue-o-meter will ever be that keen, but trust-worthiness is something anyone can work on (preferably online where giving/getting clues is free and you can Google if you've done something before). ;-)

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