Looking Back Again

I had reflected back on my last job before. However, I had a thought today that got me in a reflective mood again. I miss being involved in any and all problems that came up. I was in a position that I would get tapped whenever anything went wrong and it wasn’t clear whose problem it was. I got to take it apart and find the root cause and either fix it or pass it off the team responsible for that area. The rush of having a regular stream of critical problems to deal with was intense. It had stratospheric highs, and it had some amazing frustrations that went with it; in all it was intensely involving.

I miss the puzzle of it all. I used to go to the office, read my email, pick the most immediately  pressing problem, and go look into it. The problem of it was I spent all day putting out fires and no time doing fire prevention. The knowledge to help prevent the fires was only really learnable through dealing with them. Most of the developer team wasn’t exposed to the problems in a way to learn how to avoid them. The problems were varied enough that you couldn’t just put together a brown bag session to teach them.

It’s exhilarating to be someone who gets to work on the problems but it also becomes massively stressful. The situation is bad for the organization as well. Problems get solved but the organization doesn’t really learn, so it will never get better. There was one particular incident that sticks out in my mind where another developer sent me this error message asking if I knew what to do with it. I responded immediately with an explanation of what was needed to fix the problem. The developer later asked how I knew what to do so quickly, the answer was I had spent 6 hours figuring it out the day before when someone else ran into the same problem.

I don’t miss the stress aspect of this when you’ve got problems six deep and someone asks if you’re able to help them and the answer is no. It’s difficult when the person whose problem is way down your queue wants to know what is going on with it, and you need to tell them it isn’t your priority right now. I didn’t fully understand how much stress I was under there until I had given it all up and moved on.

I managed to avoid some of the negative aspects of being a hero in software development. I kept to normal hours. I didn’t create situations that need to be fixed by my personal efforts. I didn’t try to be involved with everything. In fact, I was actively avoiding proactively getting involved in some places that looked like they were going to get into problems, because I felt that while their problem was going to prevent them from making progress, it didn’t endanger the existing system and therefore might be a learning experience.

By understanding and being able to articulate the various issues there that I did and did not enjoy, I hope to be able to optimize my involvement at my new job. Learning from your past experiences is the only real way to do better.

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