Part 4: Everything I Needed To Know About A Career In I.T.


(image courtesy of Marvel)

...I learned from "Doctor Strange"

(This is the last installment of a 4-part series. You can find part 1 here, part 2 here and part 3 here)

Don't confuse a bad habit that works for a good habit

The Ancient One observes that Strange isn't, "…motivated by power or the need for acclaim. You simply have a fear of failure." He replies, "I guess that fear is what made me a great doctor." She calls him on this little bit of b.s., saying,

"Fear is what has held you back from true greatness. Arrogance and fear still keep you from learning the simplest and most significant lesson of all."

Strange asks, "Which is?"

The answer? "It's not about you."

After 30 years in IT, I've come to realize that our daily work is full of positive rewards for poor choices. We work long hours, come in early after an overnight change control, check systems on our days off, learn new skills for work on our own time, don't venture too far from a network connection, just in case, and so on. We do this because we are rewarded for giving 110 percent. We’re lionized (at least for a moment) when we manage to bring up the crashed system in record time; we receive bonuses and other incentives for closing the largest number of tickets, and so on.

But that doesn't make any of those behaviors good.

I'm not saying that sometimes putting in longer hours, or more effort, or rushing to help rescue a system or team is a bad thing. But our motivation for doing so – like fear of failure – should be identified for what it is and dealt with honestly.

RTFM before you try running commands

After being firmly warned about the perils of manipulating time, Strange grumps, "Why don't they put the warnings before the spell?" Later, he repeats this sentiment as the villain is hoisted on his own mystical petard.

Often, we find a potential solution and rush pell-mell into implementation without testing, or, as in the case with code, you find in the middle of a long forum thread, without reading to the end to find out it doesn't really address your issue, and, in fact, breaks several other things. Or worse, you discover that someone decides to be a smart@ss and tell you the solution is to run rm-fr / as root. If you don't read down to the next post, you may never find that warning that tells you this would erase all the files on your system.

This is the reason all IT pros should know the magical incantation, RTFM.

Being flawed doesn't mean you're broken.

Kaecilius, the villain of the movie, points out at one point that Kamar Taj is filled with broken souls to whom the Ancient One teaches "parlor tricks, and keeps the real power for herself.” While the second half of that sentiment is clearly not true, the first half has some merit. Look closely and you can see that each character you meet in the mystical fortress is flawed, either externally (in the case of Master Hamir, who is missing his left hand) or internally (as with Mordo, battling his inner demons). What is interesting is that, while some of the characters succumb to obstacles related to these flaws, none allow themselves to be defined by those flaws.

It is obvious to the point of cliché that none of us are perfect. Nor have any of us had perfect IT training, or career paths, or experiences. But those flaws, deficiencies, and missteps do not invalidate us as people, nor do they disqualify us as credible sources of IT expertise.

Artist Allie Jenson once said,

"I am proud of my flaws and mistakes. They are the building blocks of my strengths and beauty.”

In fact, the Japanese practice of Kintsugi is the art of taking flaws in an object and emphasizing them to create even greater beauty in the piece.

We need to remind ourselves that the ways in which we live with – and  sometimes overcome –our flaws are often what makes us special.

The path to mastery is not easy, but simple

Sitting at the feet of the Ancient One, Strange despairs of learning the secrets of the magic she offers. "But even if my fingers were able to do that," he says, "How do I get from here..." (indicating where he's sitting) " there." (pointing to where she sits.) She asks, "How did you become a doctor?" He answers, "Study and practice. Years of it."

Over the course of my 30-year career in IT, I’ve had the privilege to work with an astounding number of brilliant minds. These talented engineers and designers have unselfishly passed along hints and secrets on a daily basis. For that, I am sincerely grateful.

Even so, none of what we do comes easily. It requires, as Doctor Strange observed, study and practice, and often years of it to truly develop mastery. And usually in IT, the thing we're trying to master is a moving target, morphing from one form to another as technology continues to evolve at a breakneck pace.

But despite that, the mastery we acquire is rarely as impossible as it feels on that first day when we attempt to write our first line of code, configure our first router, or install our first server.

Even if words aren’t spells, they have power and must be treated with care

In the moments before Strange exposes the secret of the Ancient One's long life, she warns him, "Choose your next words very carefully, Doctor Strange." Not heeding her warning, Strange barrels on. In doing so, he sows the seeds of distrust and anger that ultimately lead to his friend Mordo becoming a lifelong nemesis.

It's important to recognize that nothing that Strange said was wrong. Nor was he wrong in challenging the Ancient One's choices. But doing so publicly, and in anger, and using the words he did, created more problems than he could have ever predicted.

In IT, we place great value in the Truth. In fact, I’ve written about it a lot lately:

But there is a difference between being honest and being insulting; between being assertive and aggressive; between uncovering the truth and exposing faults purely for the sake of diminishing.

It's an undeniable reality that the world has become more crass. Dangerously so, in fact. Not just as IT professionals, but as good faith participants in humanity, we have the ability and responsibility to change that trend, if we can. It means that even when we understand the pure facts, that we, like Doctor Strange, also choose our words very carefully.

Never doubt, diminish, or dismiss your value or importance

Denying that magic exists, Doctor Strange exclaims, "We are made of matter and nothing more. We're just another tiny, momentary speck in an indifferent universe." This is the point at which the Ancient One opens Strange’s eyes to the infinitude of reality, and asks, "Who are you in this vast multiverse, Mr. Strange?" The question is not meant to diminish Strange, but to point out that there is, in fact, a place and role and opportunity for greatness for every living being.

Walk into the convention hall at Cisco Live!, Microsoft Ignite, VMWorld, or CeBIT, and you begin to grasp the enormity of the IT community. In doing so, it's easy to believe that nothing we have to say or contribute is new or even meaningful in any way. We fall into the trap of being a technological Ecclesiastes, thinking there's nothing new under the sun.

The truth is that nothing could be further from the truth. It is our experiences, and our willingness to share them, that makes IT such a vibrant profession and community of individuals. Our struggles provide the motivation for solutions that otherwise would never be imagined. It is the intersection of our humanity with our abilities that create the compelling stories that inspire the next generation of IT professionals.

Did you find your own lesson when watching the movie? Discuss it with me in the comments below.

Thwack - Symbolize TM, R, and C