Some organizations have policies in place to make sure that everything in their IT infrastructure is documented. There are runbooks, procedures, wikis, diagrams, charts, code comments, and more to make sure that knowledge is available if an employee leaves or when disaster strikes. Not only does the documentation exist, but it’s also organized and easy to find.
Unfortunately, not every shop requires documentation. Let’s face it – documentation is not easy, and, unless it’s required, may not get done. For example, DBAs have so much responsibility and so much to do, that there isn’t enough time to do it despite good intentions.
The worst case is when an employee purposely hoards knowledge with the misguided notion that keeping information in one’s head instead of sharing is good for job security. Not only is this foolish, but it can also hurt the employee in the long run. If something goes wrong, then that employee is the only one who knows enough to fix it. The knowledge hoarding employee can forget about long weekends and vacation trips because they must always be available.
I’ve even heard that workers have been fired for refusing to share knowledge because, the longer they work in the position, the worse it’s going to be when they finally leave. The classic situation is described as “what happens if you get hit by a bus?” (I like to be more positive and change this to “what happens if you win the lottery?”)
The company in the fiction book The Phoenix Project has such an employee, Brent. In this case, he’s not trying to ensure job security, but he knows more than anyone else in the IT department. It’s easier to have Brent jump in and fix things than try to figure it out. Brent becomes a constraint to every project and change because nothing gets done without his involvement. He doesn’t have time to explain or document anything and hasn’t had a vacation in years. One of the first steps to solving the problems at the company is to isolate Brent from unplanned work. This doesn’t go over well with upper management, and, well, read the book to see how it turns out.
The best advice is to try to document yourself out of a job and make sure to share what you know with your team. This means you will be free to take long weekends without watching emails or go on dream vacations where you can forget you even have a job. You’ll be able to change positions within the same company or even leave one day for an opportunity at a different company with no remorse.