The value of paper

When I say “paper”, what I really mean is “not only in somebody’s head”.

I’ve heard a saying: “if it isn’t written-down, then it didn’t happen”. When you consider that technical-people are notorious for not communicating well, you can probably imagine that this is an ongoing problem in IT, or technology fields in-general. Let me elaborate.

So, lets just say that you are an excellent craftsman and you never have to write things down. Anybody could observe you and be amazed at how skillfully you perform your craft. You look like Jackie Chan or something. It is simply amazing. …and then you wake up because you remember that this never happens in the real world.

If you are really good, then you usually make difficult tasks look easy. So, in reality, the only people who are impressed by your ninja skills are the ones who also do this for a living. Most people know next-to-nothing about computers. So they would compare you to any stereotypical movie hacker (Operation Swordfish, Mission Impossible, Die Hard 1 or 4) and they would be completely underwhelmed because you weren’t able to hack into the Pentagon in less-than 45 seconds. Oh sure, they would still look at your source-code and say “its all greek to me”, but they would say the same thing about an excel macro.

For a non-technical person to truly grasp the full complexity of a system, that person needs to see the dimensions and full magnitude of a system. Any boastful description will sound really really really really really exaggerated. “one million lines of javascript eh? Is that a lot?” No, to truly express the magnitude of any project, you need to express it in terms that even children will understand: Pounds of paper and ink.

So then, who is asking for these phone-book sized epics? Well, nobody. Because, who cares if you don’t get a raise or any recognition at all. Nobody but you, Of course, if you get fired, and you stop sprinkling the servers with magical awesomesauce every day, they will notice eventually. But they might not make the connection. “Hmm, all of our servers and databases seem to suck now. What could it be? I’ll bet it is the Russian mafia or maybe this is the fault of George W. Bush. Yep, That makes more sense, GWB hosed our servers. I’m joining the tea party!”

Here is how you get that recognition, step-by-step:

  1. Start paying attention to what you do (consciously), so you can eventually put it into words.
  2. Write it down somewhere. It doesn’t have to be perfect at first. Just do anything to get started.
  3. Look for examples of how other people have written documents, so your docs look professional.
  4. Make an inventory or ToDo list of processes, procedures, and other things that you want to document.
  5. Find out where your boss is MOST LIKELY to look for your documentation. If there are several places, then make a list and be prepared to use any/all of them, if necessary.
  6. Find out what your boss’s boss wants to see (your boss usually knows what this is).
  7. Find out what experts in your field think are important docs.
  8. Review your docs a few times (more than 3 times) to make sure they are really nice looking. Cool-points really do matter here.
  9. Advertise for yourself, by asking your boss (or his boss) to review your documents and make suggestions for improving them. Also, ask if they have any requests for changes or additional information.

With all of this, it is important to have a good attitude and be prepared to receive constructive criticism.  After all, you want an “A”, and the boss is the one who is grading you.

Also, your co-workers might be a little jealous and start mocking you. That is, until you start getting recognition and you are asked to mentor your colleagues to do similar paperwork. Then, they might be a little spiteful. If you are nice about it (and humble), they will get over it quickly and eventually thank you for helping them become more professional. Don’t expect it overnight. It takes about 6-8 months until they stop whining and realize that this is actually valuable. Just keep a secret count-down calendar and stay positive until you emerge from the tunnel.

About Tim Golisch

I'm a geek. I do geeky things.
This entry was posted in IT Psychology. Bookmark the permalink.

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