Things I Wish I Knew When I Started

Way back in August, Matt Cushing (blog|twitter) was preparing to teach and asked for a list of “what do you wish you’d known when you started” items that he could present to his students. I threw a barrage of Twitter direct messages at him and he incorporated much of it into his post, but I thought it was worth posting here as well.

Most of these aren’t technical “I wish I understood the nuances of filtered indexes” type of thing. Many of them are hard-learned lessons that would have kept me out of hot water had I known them previously.

  • Rome wasn’t built in a day

  • It’s cheaper to erase on the whiteboard than break down with a sledgehammer

  • Learn who in the business has the domain knowledge/is the SME

  • Source control, source control, source control

  • Unless your organization’s core competency is the thing you’re going to build, chose to buy over building. “Buying” includes using open source & community tools.

  • Write things down. On paper. With a pen. Not only does this give you a record, it helps cement the idea in your mind. As the Field Notes folks say, “I’m not writing it down to remember it later, I’m writing it down to remember it now.”

  • Checklists are your friend. Automating the checklist - even better. But understand the checklist before attempting to automate it.

    • Funny story about how I got to this one. Many years ago, I read a blog post about checklists written by Allen White (blog|twitter) and it lodged in my brain. A few months later, Allen was sitting in my office starting up a consulting engagement with my employer. He started talking about checklists and I mentioned that I’d recently read a blog post about them but couldn’t remember where. Then he said “yep, that was my post.”
  • Know your audience. Don’t get into technical details if your audience isn’t technical.

  • Don’t suggest solutions if you aren’t prepared to fully explore/implement them

  • Be careful what you say in general. Some people have a tendency to hear something and then latch onto it as the One True Solution to everything

  • Don’t immediately jump on every “urgent” task that hits your inbox. Sometimes the requester needs to process what they’ve just asked for and will amend it.

  • Don’t respond to every email immediately. Email is not IM. Responding to every email immediately:

    • Gives the impression that you’re just watching your inbox and/or will always be at peoples’ beck and call
    • Gives the impression that you don’t have enough work to do
    • Can result in sending emails that you haven’t thought through carefully enough
  • Unless you’re on-call, you do not need to “check in” with work email after hours.

    • Especially if you’ve had a beer or two with/after dinner.
  • Don’t let your phone number get known around the office, else you may find people thinking you’re on-call when you’re not

  • Unless there’s a need for it in the meeting, leave your laptop out of the conference room