Getting my hands dirty

Posted 9 February 2011 by
Cooperative rowing crew

Cooperative rowing crew

A standard interview question is asking how I gain subject matter expert cooperation. I know of some people that resort to bribery (read: chocolate or beer). That may work, but that makes your success hanging on the ability to find the right commodity at an affordable price.

For me, the best way is to get my hands dirty.

That is, I do not sit in my cubicle writing email messages and making telephone calls. Along with meeting with the experts, I try to validate the information by doing it. If I successfully complete the task, then I know how to write it in my own words. Before that, I am translating the words of the expert.

Translating always is an interesting task, even if it is from one type of English to another type of English.

Besides, not everything from a subject matter expert works. I have had subject matter experts that did not know about a change made to the system, or misunderstood what they thought was the process. Getting my hands dirty meant I was validating the process.

I was a contractor at Washington Mutual during the late 1990s. This was during the first period of major expansion into California followed by the expansion into the rest of the United States. My primary task involved providing process documentation for companies building out workstations and servers for branches, and for installing those servers and workstations.

Writing the instructions to build out hardware was never ending because specific models were available for a period of about 6 months. When planning a major rollout after purchasing a new thrift institution, IBM commitment involved providing the same model server and workstation for the complete rollout. If a piece of hardware required replacement, the hope was to swap it out with the same model.

Each set of instructions for build out and installation clearly stated what model workstation and what model server it covered. The documents typically stated which rollout for which I wrote it.

One of the things I enjoyed doing was validating what I wrote in the hardware lab, particularly for the branch installation procedures. (The build out instructions were mostly where to install what model number part.) Down a floor in a windowless room, going to the lab was like visiting the home basement to work on a hobby project. Seeing I was interested in what was going on, the IBM hardware consultants gave me a lot of background information and advice. Including a lot of this information made the branch installation documents more valuable, which made the rollouts go smoother.

After practice installations involving install crew supervisors, there were rarely any corrections.

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