Comfort Zone

A substantial part of my job is to train people to work as an IT specialist and as a company we have done a pretty good job. We do not train many people, but we seem to train them properly. I really enjoy training people and try to prepare them for a challenging and fun career.

Over time the training improves with every session and you need new insights along the way to keep on improving. So my ‘explanation of the Complete Route and Workings of showing an application through a browser’ has grown to a state which I am quite proud of.

Other parts of the traineeship can still improve and my latest ‘revelation’ is something about comfort zones. Mine seems to be different then the ones of the trainees, which explains some behaviour.

One of our latest students, a very bright guy, was sent off to his first assignment. It was somewhat challenging, but doable. He felt confident in doing it after we talked through the process and went to work. Almost nobody at the clients site understood what was supposed to be done so he knew the most about WebSphere by far in the IT department. And they were desperate for help.

After some time, however, he stumbled into some problems and his confidence levels dropped. He did not know how to proceed and he seemed to panic a bit. It was supposed to be easy. He was trained. And it looked like he needed help.

At the same time I was rushed into another client: Their main applications were down and nobody could fix it. “Please help! Now!”

I came in and we could not find a good reason why the applications were failing, other then we suspected a ‘choke’ of some sort, as it only happened at increase load. Yet no single component seemed to show problems. I too, just like my colleague, could not solve the problem. We agreed to split the two applications, so if one of them choked, it would not bring the other down as well. And by separating them out, we also had more data available, because other components could now report on differences as well. So we set to work.

When all plans were executed and we were ready for testing, it just did not work. We verified everything but it would not ‘fly’. The team panicked, yet I did not.

I started to make lists and sit with everybody and went over their work, their check-lists and their configuration. It seemed the firewall/network was to blame and it is not my ultimate field of expertise. Yet we worked together: I made him work meticulously and with a plan. I made check-lists, brought up ideas, created tests and finally even proposed a work-around which worked. We went home late, but with the result we aimed for.

So, I thought, why was I never in panic? Yet the other guys and even my junior colleague were. And then it came to me: I was in my comfort zone all the time and they were not. But, more importantly, I have a different comfort zone: Their comfort zone it what they know, what they can oversee and what they have done in the past.

My comfort zone is very different: I know how to solve problems. I do this by working with a plan, by breaking it down into smaller chunks, by inventing small tests, by writing steps down, by checking my to-do-list etc etc. And I have a strong belief that the problems are solvable. They only need a solution. And within IT there is always a solution to solve the problem. Especially if it worked before.

I do have a lot of experience, but I am sloppy at remembering some details. They change anyway, so why bother?

It is not new. Nowadays we are thought to learn to find the solution, rather than learning al the tiny facts exactly. Yet sometimes you still need the insight.

I will incorporate this is the trainings even stronger.

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