Tuesday, March 27, 2012

It’s really VERY simple…

My manager asked me a simple question yesterday: Do you have any documentation on the OTHER stuff you handle?

I swear by my hopes of retirement – my brain locked up in a blind panic. This is such a simple question. What do you actually DO all day? should be something with a simple answer, easily outlined as a one-page document. With a few bullet-points.

But when it comes to what I’ve been doing for lo these many moons…um…well…some of it is like that, but then some of it…isn’t

Well shoot, I thought gamely, I’m working on one of those things right immediately now, right? I’ll just go ahead and document what I’m doing here as I go! How hard could it be?



YA KNOW…I don’t generally think of my job as “hard.” I really don’t. I mean, granted, it is hardly “entry level.” It’s complex, and does require a certain level of expertise / finesse.

I ain’t no rookie, and I ain’t no slouch. If I do say so myself, which you will note, I totally do.

(The previous paragraph should be pronounced: “Dear Universe, obviously I need some humbling in my life, so please send me something that I will use to make a really big, juicy, stupid, highly visible rookie-move mistake – and then have somebody else find it for me and announce it through a ‘reply all’ to an email, k-thx.”)

But for folks who don’t have that “I just sorta ‘get’ how these things work” under their belts…sure, it starts off easy. First check this. If it isn’t that, then look at this. Those are your two Easy Button answers…and they will be the case anywhere from 20 to 80% of the time, depending on the question and the system.

The rest of the time, well, then what you do is {star-burst of seemingly schizophrenic troubleshooting}

Whenever I’m called upon to attempt to do this kind of explanation of What I Do Around Here Anyway to somebody who is, say, a business analyst or manager, I am uncomfortably aware that they are either starting to panic because they feel completely lost…or that they are looking at me suspiciously, like they are just sure I’m intentionally trying to make this all sound very complicated and hard so that they will feel stupid, to give me some kind of intellectual leg up on them or something.

Which makes me cranky, because to me…this isn’t hard. Dude. We haven’t even gotten to the hard stuff yet! Just pay attention! {claps hands} Focus, people, FOCUS! Here we go again, one-two-three AND…you put de lime in de coconut…

But, when I’m not being frustrated by my own inability to explain things well, I have to admit…there’s a reason not everybody flocks to this particular niche occupation.

I really don’t think it’s hard, exactly…but it is extreeeeeeeemly detail-oriented, and the sheer volume of details to keep track of can be a little staggering at first.

Plus there’s the slight wrinkle that it isn’t necessarily as linear as most people think it is.

I mean, you probably think of “computer stuff” as being linear, right? A simple progression of steps happening in a certain order, A => B => C => D.

A database system both is, and is not, actually like that. Sure, processes will fire in a certain order. This calls that, that calls this. One, then two, then three. Code executes from top to bottom most of the time. You read it just like you would a book – start at the top left, and work your way down to the bottom right.

But the whole system is more like…a fancy Swiss watch. Dozens, hundreds, even thousands if you’re in a really-big one, of tiny little gears, spinning and whirling at different rates, regulating each other into a cohesive whole…and each tab of every gear its own name and purpose, fits into one and only one slot correctly…each tab is likewise the walls of another slot, meaning that another tab will be slipping into place as it passes to get its push from it…

…touch, push, part, touch, push, part…all day and night, the systems are coming together, exchanging pushes and pulls…we take in from you and you and you…compile, process, transform…give back this and that and this…now you all compile, process, transform…and our tab comes along again to fit neatly into that slot at precisely 12:00:00 0.38 each morning…

That’s the part that is always hard for me to explain to folks who aren’t database analysts; that’s where I start to flounder when trying to document how to do what-all I do; that’s where I start to sound like somebody who is just trying to confuse the @*^&@ out of people.

How do I do what I do? Well, it’s very simple, really…when I see this, I start looking over here in Gear 1. Gear 1 touches gears 2 through 36, each of which in turn touch a different set of 36 gears…one of those tabs is my culprit…

And when I figure out which gear the gum got into, I have to figure out how to tease it outta there…without bending the gears, this is the important bit!, do NOT bend the gears while you’re tinkering around in there…!!!!

I love it. It’s fascinating. It’s like doing logic puzzles all day. My job is full of things that fall into the “ten hours to find, ten minutes to fix” category – but that thrill of victory at the end of It All is more than worth it.

To me.

But as I sat there today, with an almost blank Word document mocking me as I tried to document what I was doing right that moment, trying to track down why we had selected the patently WRONG account as the “primary” account for a customer relationship…I had to admit…for most people…? This would be confusing, and complex, and crazy, and about as much fun as digging your eyeballs out with a grapefruit spoon.

And also, there’s simply no way I can document this process for somebody else.

All I can really tell them to set them on their way is this magnificently unhelpful gem: Learn your system. Know every gear. Know every tab, and every slot, by name…and time of day…and other-gears-touched. Know what’s “right,” and what’s “weird,” and what’s “wrong.” Understand where it’s going, with all this whirling and whirring…understand what happens when Tab 32 on Gear 7 misses its appointment with Tab 5 of Gear 9.

Once you’ve done that, my son…it will all become very, very simple indeed…except for the parts that aren’t, but won’t you feel like the clever one when you figure it out anyway…?!


PBear said...

Which is why DBA's, and other computer professionals, are not appreciated, and just seen as an expensive piece of fluff. Because when you're good, you make it look easy, and therefore clearly ANYONE could do it, so why do we have to pay THAT person that much money to do so?

Which is all well and good until they don't have a good person, and it all starts to fall apart at the seams....

JustGail said...

so "new system" is a code phrase for gum in the gears of the magic that used to get our Sunday paper to the correct place, but the gum now makes it not go there?


KatherineR said...

And there's truth in the old joke about the retired factory engineer who was called in to fix a problem, put a chalk mark on the part that needed replacing and then sent an invoice for $50,000. When questioned by HR he broke it down to: $1.00 for the chalk, $49,999 for knowing where to put the mark.

I would not be surprised if you get called back eventually. Good luck. Enjoy your rest next week. (I think we'll understand if you don't even blog next week.)

Kat said...

As another IT professional, I totally get the comment about trying to explain to someone else....
My tasks are often unstructured and the issues addressed are less defined, requiring new perspectives and creative approaches.
How do you explain creativity?