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RE: common time-management mistake: rack & stack
From: George Bonser <gbonser () seven com>
Date: Fri, 17 Feb 2012 17:15:58 +0000



-----Original Message-----
From: Leo Bicknell [mailto:bicknell () ufp org]
Sent: Friday, February 17, 2012 6:46 AM
To: NANOG
Subject: Re: common time-management mistake: rack & stack

Low level employees should be apprenticed by higher level employees.
Many of our skills are learned on the job; just like other trades
someone with only book knowledge is darn near useless.  Not only do
those above need to teach, but they need to supervise, and exercise
standards and quality control.

+1  I believe that can not be stressed enough. There is also another aspect to it in that about 15% of the population 
of people are "abstract" thinkers and 85% are "concrete" thinkers.  The abstract thinkers are the ones who can come up 
with a vision in their head of how something should work as a system and then set out and build it.  Or when they are 
faced with a problem, can in their head envision the work around and then apply that vision on site to do things such 
as rewire a portion of the network in a methodical fashion with no/little downtime.  Those people are relatively rare 
and working with your line staff gives one an opportunity to assess the various talent sets of the people in the 
organization.  The abstract thinkers are the ones good at being able to design a network from scratch and the concrete 
thinkers are the ones who will be great maintaining that network and keeping everything documented and done according 
to policy.  You need both and it just so happens that you need more of one sort in just about the same proportion that 
you find them in the general population.  The key is to identify which people have which talents and place them where 
their natural abilities more closely mesh with their job requirements.  If you can do that, you can have a very 
powerful team.  If you place people into positions simply based on the number of years in the organization or because 
of holes punched in the cert ticket, you might end up with people in positions that they don't really like or aren't 
particularly good at doing.  The first step in building such an organization, though, is working closely with your 
people and attempting to identify whose natural abilities like in which direction.  Sometimes it is more about talent 
than training, more about nature than nurture.

To your point, if you look at skilled trades the simpler the task the
more likely it will fall to the "new guy".  Rack and stack is probably
one of simplest jobs in our industry.  A two man team, one senior, one
junior, showing up at a colo may see the junior guy doing the physical
work, while the senior guy works out any issues with the colo provider
brings up the interconnection to them, etc.

But at the same time, if you have a guy who might not be so sharp at troubleshooting a very complex network but is 
sharp as a tack when it comes to documenting things and keeping paperwork organized, that is a vital skill in the 
overall effort, too.  That person should be given responsibility for maintaining more of the documentation, organizing 
things so they are easy for other employees to find, etc. and their pay should still continue to increase as they gain 
wider scope across more of the organization over time.  The point is that it often takes many different sorts of skills 
and attempting to match people's natural talents to the requirements of the organization benefits both parties provided 
the individual involved doesn't see their position as a dead end.  A good person of the sort mentioned above can 
literally save hours of time for people doing other tasks such as troubleshooting a problem.  There is a certain 
synergy involved and some organizations recognize that, and some don't.  Some are better in an architectural role, some 
are naturally better in a sustaining role, others are better at an organizational support role and (darned) few are 
good at all of those tasks.  Sometimes we don't have the luxury of such specialization of roles, but some organizations 
do, particularly if they are in a phase of reorganization and downsizing.  One thing to look at might not only be "how 
good is this person in their current role" but also "would this person absolutely kick butt in a different role".

But key to an apprenticeship is that the senior guy does some of the
low level work some of the time, and _shows_ the junior guy how to do
it right.  The senior guy might rack or stack a couple of boxes each
colo they visit, and relate concepts like how the screw hole spacing
works in the rack rails, how to plan cable management, proper labeling,
and so on.

Actually, just having the senior person assist with some tasks such as moving/installing heavy/unwieldy gear does more 
than just show them how to do it right, it is actually quite an important almost sort of bonding experience between 
employees.  It says "I'm not allergic to work and not above doing the same job you are doing when it needs to get done, 
we are all important pieces of the big picture."  It can give an employee a sense that they are respected and 
appreciated for the job they do, even if it is fairly low on the corporate org chart.  It is still vital to the success 
of the overall business or they wouldn't be there to begin with.  Doing things like this telegraphs that in a tangible 
way without having to spew a lot of corporate propaganda.

 
It really accomplishes much of what everyone else is talking about,
while still being productive.  The "old hat" gets the downtime and
catharsis of doing a simple, yet productive task.  The new guy gets to
learn how to do the job properly.  The employer knows the work has been
done right, as it was overseen by the old hat, and that they will have
someone to replace him when the old hat retires.

The "old hat" still gets job satisfaction from seeing a vision come to physical life and operate as planned.  Why 
deprive them of that?  It can re-energize one's love of a particular carrier field and remind them why they are in that 
field to begin with.

Maybe if we did more apprecenship style learning folks would still know
how to wrap cables with wax string.  It's simple, fast, and works well.

Leo, in many trades, telecommunications being one of them, the military was one source of new people with some skills 
and with some hands-on experience.  As that scales back these days, it gets harder to find such people.  We don't have 
trade schools and we don't have apprenticeship programs like companies used to have so I agree.  People coming out of a 
community college or a certification program know enough to be extremely dangerous (sort of like a lieutenant with a 
screwdriver, the most dangerous person in the world aside from a corporal with a clipboard) and need to be mentored as 
they gain perspective in real world situations.  I completely agree that we should be looking more at our employees in 
the longer term as a nurturing process and identifying where their natural interests and abilities can benefit both 
sides of the equation.  Having that interaction with the senior staff is vital.  And that senior staff member should 
not only be explaining WHAT he is doing, but WHY he is doing it that way.
 


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