Responding to the Call of the Wild

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I was working away at trying to set up remote servers with alias server names the other day. I'd done it many times in the past, but for some reason it just wasn't 'happening' this time. I was staring in puzzlement at the screen when I recalled that an old programmer once told me that development work could, at times, be more like lion taming. At the time he told me that, I wasn't sure what he meant. After all, you don't approach an IT problem with an upturned chair, a whip, and a gun, do you?

The meaning is more nuanced than this: it is all about the way that a horse-whisperer, or lion whisperer in this case, tackles the problem and 'prepares themselves mentally'. The first step in preparing to tackle a really difficult and pernicious IT problem is to not show your fear. You have to be confident you can deal with whatever the truculent problem can throw at you, which will generally include obscure and misleading error messages, the blue-screen of death, help-text written by an intern, and scattergun log file information.

Never turn your back on the snarling beast, even for an instant. Calm eye contact is essential. The thing is, if you get distracted and do something else, it is tricky going back. Every fibre of one's being resents doing so. You delay and prevaricate. You shrug and tell people that the objective probably isn't 'strategic', or 'a high enough priority within the team' or 'won't be supported'. No, it is much better reconcile yourself quickly to the fact that it is going to take a while, and so take time to set up the most effective test harnesses and scripts to ease the pain and make it quicker to fail. Arrange for sandwiches to be brought in every four hours. You can then face the prospect of a battle of wills, even one that lasts into the night. If you solve it within minutes, then the pleasure of dominance over the machine is that much more intense. As the horse whisperers say, it is difficult to overemphasize how "very, very careful, and quiet, and calm, and comforting one needs to be".

I occasionally wonder whether machines and applications hear the 'call of the wild', and were intended to be free spirits, roaming the majestic plains of the internet. Sadly, I prefer my servers to be docile, well tethered, with a ring through the nose, but they seem to occasionally to sense the breeze, flare their nostrils and give a brief howl for the life of freedom.

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