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Friday Philosophy – Disasters September 4, 2009

Posted by mwidlake in Perceptions.
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Some of you may be aware that I occasionally do presentations called something like:-

“5 Ways to Progress your Career Through Systems Disasters”

The intention of the presentations are to comment on things I have “been in the vicinity of” going wrong in I.T. and ways to avoid them, in a light-hearted manner. Having a bit of a laugh whilst trying to make some serious points about project management, infrastructure, teams, people and the powers of chaos.

I’ll see about putting one up on my Web Site so that you can take a look {check back this weekend if you like}

The talks usually go down well but there are two potential issues in giving the talks:

  • The disasters or problems, if in some way my fault, could make me look like an idiot or incompetent.
  • If it is known who I was working for when I “witnessed a disaster”, it could make that company look bad.

I never used to worry too much about this when I worked permanently for a company that was pretty relaxed about “stuff happens, it is good to share”. After all, if I looked like an idiot then that is fair enough and if I said anything that could be linked back to a prior (or current) employer {which, I hasten to point out, I did aim to avoid} then, well, sorry. But I only said things that were true.

However, when I returned to being self-employed, a good friend of mine took me to one side and suggested such talks could harm my career. I argued that it was not malicious and was helpful to people. My friend argued back that potential employing companies would not look so favourably on this, especially if they suspected that they may one day feature.

Hmmmm…. This was true.

So I toned down the talk…

The next time I did the presentation, the sanitised one, it was not such a hit. In fact, it was a bit rubbish.

The question is, should I have toned it down? Hands up anyone who has not personally done something unbelievably stupid at least once in their working life? Can everyone who has worked for an organisation that has not messed up at least one I.T. project please also raise their hand?

I can’t see any raised hands from here :-)

We all make mistakes.
All companies get things wrong at times.

Something you find when you start presenting or organising events is that the talks people most appreciate and learn the most from are about things going wrong.

So why can’t we all be grown-ups about admitting them, talking about them and learning? Personally, when I have interviewed people for jobs, I am always impressed by someone who will admit to the odd failure, especially if they can show what they learnt from it.

Oh, if anyone is reading this before offering me a position, I never made a mistake in my life, honest. I never deleted every patient record from a hospital information system, I was not even on-site when the incident didn’t happen. And if anyone suggest otherwise, it was a long time ago when it didn’t happen. ..

{I got all the data back, anyway. Never start work without a backup…}

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Comments»

1. Nigel Thomas - September 4, 2009

Martin

I sympathise with your dilemma, having gone quite quiet myself of late. Of course, the next best thing would be to publish the suitably anonymised stories on something like The Daily WTF (or if more Oracle-oriented, Oracle WTF). Then at least we can all have a giggle (sorry, learn useful lessons from someone else’s mistakes) without needing to point the finger at anyone in particular.

Regards Nigel

mwidlake - September 4, 2009

Thanks Nigel.

I guess once we can retire and need not keep our image pristine, we can let rip – but then, who would be interested by then :-)

I like This little posting on your Blog about doubly dynamic SQL.

2. PdV - September 5, 2009

Grinning at the sanitizing of presentations.

Just about all my ppts contain some a few of my blunders. Just not too explicit, as I look dumb enough already.
IMHO, the best presentations contain a bit of passion or frustration: better to convey the message.


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