Being old school

I got into work this morning and found that a heater had been left on overnight. It happens most nights. Muttering under my breath about it, I switched it off, as I do most mornings. My team lead noticed my muttering and asked the question, and I explained how I have to turn it off every morning and what a waste of energy and money it is and don’t people turn off after themselves anymore? He smiled at my affable grouching and related how his grandfather would mutter similar imprecations, and how he’d been brought up to think much the same. He’s about my age, and at that moment we were a couple of self-deprecating grumpy old men.

A few minutes later, after I’ve logged in and done all that first stuff – checking emails, messages from overnight, system issues, etc. – he speaks up again. He’s reviewing some data fixes we’ve proposed for which I’ve done the documentation, and he tells me he doesn’t have to change a thing, just cut and paste what I’ve written. It’s a compliment of sorts, and I tell him, well, I like to be thorough. And he replies that he’s the same and we both agree wistfully that we’re old school and unspoken in that is the thought: haven’t things changed.

I sometimes wonder if my experience makes me a bit of a dinosaur in some ways, but the reality is that it stands me in good stead. It means I have an answer often when others don’t because I’ve done my homework and because I like to understand things. I have a creative mindset and realistic enough to know that shortcuts are necessary sometimes and that just doing it is occasionally the best option. And I enjoy that because I like to do. But, I come from a process-driven background. There are ways to do things. There are structures to adhere to. I’m nowhere near as anal about it as some, but the irony is that when once I might have been considered on the looser end of that scale now times have changed such that I’m one of the more rigorous. And I haven’t moved an inch.

There are trends and fashions in everything, including business practice. The trend right now mirrors agile, even outside of IT and projects. It’s become a way of doing things across the board – a quick-moving, lightly touching, low documentation way of doing things. I have nothing against Agile per se and think it’s just right for specific projects but – and I always say this – horses for courses. One size doesn’t fit all. Properly speaking, you should define the problem first and identify the right solution for it rather, as it often appears the case now, having a cookie-cutter solution and attempting to fit the problem to it.

I guess this is an attitude that makes me old school at least. I’ve walked into an environment where nothing has been documented because no-one considered that anything you build will also need to be maintained. Knowledge is held in people’s heads or in scattered emails and user stories. There is no coherent understanding, let alone a baseline. If you put everyone in the same room and extracted what they know you might piece something together, like a jigsaw, or more likely a version of Frankenstein.

Trends come and go, and I expect this will moderate, as trends do, but I also think it mirrors the times, just as I mirror my times. I was brought up such a way that now makes me old school – turning off lights when I leave the room, closing doors after I open them, doing what I’ll say I’ll do, and doing things in a rational, methodical and thorough way.

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