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Friday Philosophy – Run Over by a Bus December 3, 2010

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, Perceptions.
Tags: , ,

I chaired a session at the UKOUG this week by Daniel Fink, titled “Stop Chasing your tail: Using a Disciplined Approach to Problem Diagnosis”. It was a very good talk, about having a process, an approach to solving your IT problems and that it should be a process that suits you and your system. All good stuff and I utterly agree with what he said.

But it was a passing comment Daniel made that really set me thinking. It was something like:

You should be considering how people will look after the system after you have gone, the classic ‘what will we do if you are hit by a bus’….. No, I don’t like thinking like that, that phrase… I prefer ‘after you win the lottery and retire to a great life’.

It just struck a chord with me. Mr Fink’s {and I do go all formal when I intend respect} take on this is a far more positive way of looking at the situation of leaving the system in a state that others can look after once you are no longer able to help. The “Bus” phrase is very, very common, at least in the UK and I suspect in the US, and it is a very negative connotation. “Make sure it all works as something nasty is going to happen to you, something sudden, like being smeared across the tarmac by 25 tons of Greyhound doing 50mph, something basically fatal so you can’t prepare and you can’t help any more”. So, not just moved on, but dead.

Daniel made me realise that we should be looking at this from totally the other perspective and that doing so is much, much, much better. “Make it work so that they love you, even when you have gone away to a happier situation – one involving no road-based unpleasantness at all”.

Everyone leaves their job eventually and I like to think it is often for more positive reasons. Like retiring, or a better job {better for you, but a real shame for your old company as they like you so much}, moving to a new area, attempting a dream. Yes, sometimes (depressingly often at present) it is because you get made redundant or things go bad with your managers, or HR take over the organisation. But even so, better to leave knowing you did so with your professional duty intact I think. It’s one way of winning in a losing situation.

If turning the “bus” metaphor into a “lottery” metaphor results in the response in your brain of “well, when I do leave rich and happy, I still want to leave a painful mess behind me” – then it may indicate that you better leave where you are working as soon as possible in any case? As it is not a good situation and you are deeply very unhappy about it.

Up until now I have sometimes used a far more gruesome but less fatal phrase for the concept of making sure things continue after you leave and can no longer help, which is “involved in a freak lawnmower accident”. As in, can’t type but not dead. I’m going to stop using it, I’ve decided that even with my macabre sense of humour, it really is not a good way to think about doing your job properly. Daniel, your attitude is better. Thank you.

Oh, if you went along to the conference you can get the latest version of Daniel’s talk slides from the UKOUG web site (try this link), otherwise, he has a copy here – pick “papers and presentations”. It has lots of notes on it explaining what the slides mean (ie, what he actually says), which I think is a very nice thing for him to have spent the time doing.


1. Gary - December 3, 2010

There are worse ways to become “unavailable”.


mwidlake - December 3, 2010

No! NO Gary!!! You probably had no idea, but the first language I programmed in was MUMPS! I understand that code! Do dots, globals, $Piece (which is what $p stands for) and $piece was the first user-defined function I created in Oracle PL/SQL as I missed it so much. And as for where the story ends up, NO GARY!!! I have never, ever, ever been known as Darren. I might even delete your comment….

Gary - December 3, 2010

I did a bit of MUMPS too. I started at the South West Regional Health Authority and got taught MUMPS but quickly escaped to their only Ingres application so I wouldn’t have to touch it.

mwidlake - December 3, 2010

How odd! I was at SWRHA from late 1989 to June 1992! I worked for the central IT team, writing and supporting patient admin software. I got this awful reporting package dumped on me to look after, called “Report Genie”. Terrible thing it was and it used this funny relational concept and a language called SQL. That allowed me to escape to a little company called Oracle….

2. Patrick Hurley - December 6, 2010

It has always puzzled me when people worry about IT professionals being run over by buses. My Father is a bus driver and he has never run over an IT professional. I have asked many people over the years if they are aware of this ever happening and the closest I have come is a DBA being run over by a fire engine.

mwidlake - December 6, 2010

>being run over by a fire engine
Classic 🙂

3. joel garry - December 10, 2010

And of course, examples of winning the lottery and getting hit by a bus or truck: http://www.oddee.com/item_95629.aspx

My friends brother ran over my foot with a VW bus, but that was two years before I took Fortran and a number of years before I became an IT professional. Hurt some, but didn’t really damage my foot. It had 10″ wide tires on the back, so the weight was unusually well distributed, and they don’t weigh all that much to begin with.

Black humor is entirely appropriate for dealing with grim events, in my view. It doesn’t define how you do your job, it defends you and your group against the most stressful events, those beyond your control.

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