Archive for May, 2010

Problem Solving by Drawing

From a previous post on IT’s natural soft skills, we saw how years of coding & debugging changes your process of thinking. Rather than thinking in words, techies would think in groups/item/object & how it moves.

To provide various solutions, I’m sure we have all use the following:

1. e-Mails
2. Lists for Specifications & Requirements
3. Creating ER-Diagrams, Workflow & Use cases
4. Drawing on the whiteboard to work through issues

From experience which one is most effective? which is the least?

One of the best ways to discuss in-depth IT problems are to discuss visually through diagram. That’s why you can find more whiteboards with arrows & shape in IT than in most department.

The current top author on visual thinking is Dan Roam. I meet him this year at SXSW at his session: Blah Blah Blah: What to do When Words Don’t Work

He gave a great scenario to shows how much better to use visuals rather than words. Scenario: Ways of Giving Directions

1. Using Words
    • Explaining the directiono Turn left & walk for 2 block then turn right …
2. Listing Steps
    • Bullet pointing each direction … Turn left & walk for 2 block … then turn right …
3. Drawing
    • Draw the path on the map
4. Showing it (Using visual, words & motion)
    • Point: Point to the CN Tower & tell they to follow it to reach the convention center

I’m sure most of us have either ask for directions or been asked by someone else.
Which one is the most effective? To me, the latter 2 methods are faster & more effective.

We all learn to draw before we learn to write e-mails. It’s actually second nature for us to understand visuals than essays. Unfortunately along the ways from kindergarten to work, we grew away from drawing to express our idea & creativity.

The above example parallels with the few listed tasks we do to solve work problems in IT
… which is more effective communicating ideas & solutions?

When you are stuck at explaining an issue/solution, use the whiteboard/piece of paper & draw. It’s easier than you think … all you need is to be able to draw boxes, stick figures & arrow.

Next time, to get your point across … Draw it out!

Through visuals, Dan was also described how health care industry works on the napkin.
If you want to learn about how to communicate visually, you can check out Dan’s book:
The Back of the Napkin.

Good Days, Bad Days and Productivity

This week I personally had 2 good days & a bad day. I noticed the difference in results I was able to deliver between it.

Productivity really gets impacted on a bad day, while it feels like you can do anything on a good day.

On the 2 good days, I was able juggle a dozen tasks at once. Then navigate & troubleshoot issues left and right. Then coordinate some fixes, while guiding a intern through the project.

On the bad day, I just couldn’t connect my words & sentences with my thoughts. I was stuck in a 1.5hr status meeting, then I keep on making mistakes on testing for a fix for 30 minutes …

Eventually, it balanced out between the few day to become a better than average week.

Some bosses expect a constant stream of productivity out of their employees every second; Unless we are robots in a factory, I don’t think that’s realistic. Everyone have good & bad days, but in the end it’s the overall results that matters.

This is as true in IT as in anywhere else. On a good day, programmer’s mind was able to ski around the codes; While on the bad ones, they would keep on hitting red lights when trying to fix a bug with a mysterious error message.

If you are having an really unproductive day, don’t stay behind for that day … You are not doing any favors to anyone, because it might take you working in an unproductive hour on something that can be done in 10-15 minutes. In such an scenario, just cut you losses for the day & be better prepare for tomorrow with some … zzz …

That’s my 2 cents

Techies have Soft Skills Too

From my previous post on soft skills needed for IT, there was a comment at mention that analytical skills was missing. After thinking about it, I realized there are a few soft skills that techies & engineers are naturally good at.

Really? There are soft skills that IT folks are naturally good at?

If you are working in IT, I can assume you have done a decent amount of coding/debugging. With years of programming/technical admin experience, you will nurture some unique skills:

Root Cause Analysis:
To Debug code is to find the root of the issue and then fix it; To do this, the person need to search the cause with multiple perspectives & some trail & error. This forces IT to always look for the key reasons to solve problem, so the issue stay dead. This constant application of such skills really fine tunes it. That’s why root cause analysis is second nature to IT folks.

Adapting to Change:
When starting to code in the real world, you are working with codes & application made by others. This could be new system integration to your code/system, new functionality added, change in process, fix/patch in bugs or anything amongst these will require to the IT person to adapt their work/system with constant new changes.

Identifying Risks/Potential Issues:
To be good/great at identifying risk, you need some intangible skills at searching for issues. The aim of most coder is to have no bugs in their code; so they at looking for flaws in planning, designing, coding, debugging … supporting the code. When you are debugging all the time, you gain the ability to identify issue anywhere.

Problem Solving Skills:
One thing that attract people to computer science is having opportunity for a solving complex problem. Nothing beats solving problems by coming up with an elegant complete solution.

You are in an constant problem solving mode when you are programming. Also when you find a bug or big issue, you got find a way to fix it. Both of these task really build problem solving skills in handling issue that are big, small or risky.

Recovering from Failure/Errors:
One thing that IT support & coding, is that you learn by trying … trying an application, hardware, gadget, new language, troubleshooting … we have to try out solutions to see it works. When things doesn’t work rather than dwelling on it, they then move on to try the next approach. That’s why silicon valley is famous for embracing failures.

For any techie who undermines soft skills, check and see if you use any of these skills? Is it critical to your job?

Techies might not be the best communicator most of the time, but they do have valuable soft skill sets behind all of those technical knowledge & IT certificates, especially analytical skills.

Try having a chat with a techie about a problem you have, they will start debugging your problem & give you an solution before you finish your sentence.

So what are others soft skills might IT folks are naturally good at?