Recently, in a conversation with colleagues, I let it be known that I was a lifeguard for many summers on the Jersey shore (the real Jersey Shore, not that fake show!). After the series of stereotypical questions of what it was like to be a lifeguard, I was asked if I ever rescued anyone. I told them that I probably participated in 100 rescues, including 4 in one day. The first comment that followed was that I must have been a great swimmer. My reply was “not true, just average.” “Well then how did you do it?”, “Weren’t you afraid?”
I was prepared. Simple as that. We had endless training sessions, conditioning sessions and mental preparation. There were lots of practice rescues, swimming conditioning, running and surf dashes (yes, you run a lot before you can swim). We trained on what to do if the tide was going out; if there was a rip tide, high waves, multiple people, cold water, warm water, kids, elderly, and if alcohol was involved. You cannot account for all factors, but when it came time to enter the water, I was confident in my abilities and my fellow lifeguards. Yes, it could be scary. People panic and sometimes want to pull you into their predicament. However, proper training goes a long way to helping slow the process down to a manageable amount of fear.
So what does this have to do with software? Ever notice when it comes to crunch time the panic that comes into play? I see it on the support side when calls come and the questions are so basic, but because they did not train well the mind does not work as well as it could. The adrenaline is flowing, the heart is racing, and body temperature spirals up. These are all signs that the mind is not working as well as it could. Almost all of the people who I helped rescue felt the same. Most of them got in trouble because they did not properly prepare (not just swimming, but understanding weather conditions). On the software side, a lack of planning and training can make one feel like they are drowning.
The quote above is from legendary NCAAA Basketball Coach John Wooden, the all time winner of NCAA Division 1 basketball titles. He believed that only a properly prepared team was ready to be successful. On the first day of practice every year, he sat his players down and had them practice putting on their socks and then lacing their sneakers. Yes, putting on their socks and sneakers. The freshmen were usually bewildered and the seniors would stare hard at the freshmen because they knew the value of the lesson. A simple thing like a blister on the toe could cost a game (sneakers are better today, but blisters happen all the time with new shoes). He did not leave them a note or let someone else teach them on the side. He conducted a training session in front of everyone to hold each team member accountable for themselves.
Far too many teams and people fail to appropriately prepare. “I know how it works. The new stuff isn’t that important. The same as last year is how we will do it”. They fail to acknowledge that circumstances can change, that environments change and of course technology evolves. Without acknowledging these aspects, they will not be prepared. Can they get through it? Yes, but it will cost them and potentially their company.
There were, and still are, a fair amount of teachers who work as lifeguards during the summer. They have participated in more rescues than I did and could rest on their experiences to get them through the summer. They do not. They work just as hard as when they were in their younger days. Although the ocean may look the same, water flows can change, gullies can be deeper, storms change the ocean floor and water temperatures are always subject to change. Failing to prepare will lead to a failure. In this case, potentially death.
This may be a bit dramatic since death is usually not the end case if someone fails to train on how to use a piece of software. However, significant economic impacts can happen if tax returns, provision reporting, or planning do not provide accurate results because someone failed to understand how to use the software.
If I did not work every day during the summer days to prepare myself, I may have missed a rescue. Fortunately, that never happened. It taught me a lot about the value of training to be prepared. Just like John Wooden did when he simply taught people how to put on their socks and sneakers, the objective is to prepare so you can eliminate controllable problems, so you can be prepared for when the unexpected occurs.
Amateurs train until they get it right; professionals train so they do not get it wrong. I would rather be a professional.
And for the record (I hope my boss does not read this), being a lifeguard is still the best job I ever had!