Friday, August 03, 2007

Step Away From The Keyboard

All the great folks in our geeky career domain are passionate about what they do.  They’re passionate about technology, they’re passionate about getting quaility solutions built, they’re passionate about solving tough problems for customers.

That passion is a critical part of our job, yet it can also be a hinderance if taken too far.  Frustration over any number of factors build up, stress piles on, and that passion can turn from a highly motivating force into a massively destructive factor.

If your frustration factor is building up, take a moment to consider how quickly you need to respond to an e-mail or an IM conversation.  High frustration leads to responses that are ill-thought, and/or are in phrases or a tone that’s nothing like you’d use in face-to-face conversation. 

Do yourself and your correspondent(s) a favor and step away from the keyboard.  Put the “urgency” of the issue in the right context.

Consider that last sentance for a moment.  I used to work in a job where urgency meant get something done right away because people could die1.  I also worked in a different job where urgency meant get something done right away or the company would be losing tens of thousands of dollars per minute because of a system outage.

If the situation you’re involved in doesn’t run the risk of death or huge per-minute costs due to outages then you’re not in a situation where you absolutely must respond to that message immediately.  Step away from the keyboard and let your emotions calm down.  Leave off responding to that e-mail for four hours.  Let your IM partner know you’re taking a short break, and be honest about the reason why.  Use the break to re-think your approach and re-assess how you can work with your correspondent to solve whatever the issue is.

(If you are in one of those jobs then stop being an asshat and put your passion aside because what’s called for is calm, cold clarity and speedy precision.)

I’m writing this post after having done just that with a person who is a good, good friend.  We were both getting angry over how to best achieve a very cool goal, but had different views on a few things.  I had to step away from the IM session and go beat my kids.2 When I came back to the computer I was completely calmed down and was able to move past our mini-tantrum.  (Note that was “our” tantrum.)  My good friend and I left the newly-resumed conversation in a much better frame of mind than we otherwise would have.  Problem solved.

Don’t let your passion run rampant over whatever it is you’re trying to accomplish.  Passion’s a Good Thing.  Unbridled passion?  Rarely so.

[1].  My wife and I had served with 75% of the crew of YUKLA 27 when it crashed due to striking a flock of geese just after takeoff.  Good men, all, and I still miss ‘em.

[2].  Be real.  I’m kidding, for crying out loud.


Joe Wirtley said...

Thanks for the post, and the good advice. One of the reasons I enjoy reading your blog is posts like this one. It's great to hear about technology, but there's so much more to being a successful developer, or a successful human being, for that matter.

Jim Holmes said...

Thanks for the kind words, Joe. Dunno how successful in either of those categories you list, but I'm working on 'em both...

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