Ditch Digging for Professionals

I spent the weekend digging ditches and it gave me some time to think about a few things. I was digging a trench for a phone cable, it was a service project for the Boy Scouts at the local summer camp. Volunteer service is a good thing, but that’s not really relevant to the topic on my mind.

I’m not sure where this mentality came from, but I’m one of those guys that believes that there is a right way and a wrong way to do just about anything. And most of the time the right way involves more upfront work, but much less work in the long run. This trait can get you labeled obsessive/compulsive, but it has served me well professionally. So here the group of 10 or so men and boys is filling in a trench and I’m thinking the whole time about the most efficient way to go about the work. First the big guys should do a rough fill using the shovels, then the rakers should pull the rest of remaining dirt in, and then the smaller boys should walk along the filled trench packing down the dirt with their boots. Well, one group does this technique and another group goes with a plan of let the spastic kids kick the dirt in with their feet, then have shovelers and rakers try to push the dirt packed by the kickers until the trench was filled. At the end, you could look up the trench line and see the difference in the work. But was even more interesting was how much longer it took the dirt kicking group to even finish their trench filling; and of course it looked like crazed monkeys had done it and much dirt was left packed into the adjoining grass.

In my role as an “Outsourced CIO”, I regularly walk into IT departments and server rooms, and I never cease to be amazed by how often the IT Manager or Network Technician apologies for the state of his office or the server room. And many of these rooms deserved to have apologies. I don’t want to get into a big conversation about methodologies for wiring cables, but have some pride in your work. Create an impression of competency and professionalism. Its one thing when an outsider like myself walks in, but what do you think other people in the company are thinking about your level of competency when they see that mess. It isn’t not usually “Hey, let’s give them some more money to buy things to throw in that mess.” If you want the executive management to take you seriously, probably one of the best/easiest places to start is the impression your environment gives them when they walk into it. The best IT outsourcing vendors know this. They love to get executives to tour their pristine facilities and show them their hand-picked staff of professionals. They know it creates a contrast with what these business leaders generally see in their internal IT.

And putting on a suit and pushing all those papers on your desk into a drawer is not the change I’m talking about. One of the most professional guys I ever worked for was the owner of a one-truck roofing company that I worked for during the summers I attended college. His dress was never fancy, but he was always clean and pressed (which is no easy feat for a roofer) and he was meticulous in his craft. There was even a certain way to sweep shingle granules off the roof at the end of the job. Short cuts were never taken, the truck was always clean and there were no radios on the roof (because it made you look like a bunch of hooligans). And he would always sign/date his work on the back of the chimney where you could not see it from the ground, but any other future roofer would know who had done the work. He had worked the neighborhood so long and so well, we would shingle roofs he had done 30 years before.
I remember one of the most enjoyable parts of working on the crew was after a day of hard toil in the hot sun, coming down and standing on the street looking at the roof we had just put on and feeling an incredible feeling of accomplishment. For him, it must have been his “millionth” roof, but he still seemed to care just as much. And that feeling was infectious.

So here’s what I learned from him:
1. Being meticulous is good business.
2. Working at a high level of professionalism can be done on any sort of job.
3. It’s much more enjoyable to work for/with high level professionals.
4. It takes discipline, but once it’s a habit, it’s hard to do otherwise.

Information Technology is changing. The future is the past. IT is about quality, maintainability and long term performance. The answer = craftsmanship. The future belongs to the true professionals.

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