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Day 4: Understand

Level 18


Last year I discussed how some areas of technology were in (and others were out) of the range of our understanding - depending on what area of focus we have ourselves.

I still think those things are true. We need to be willing to understand, and simply prioritize based on the available time and importance.

However, a blog I read recently reminded me of an important aspect - we also need to know why.

In an essay titled, simply enough, "Why" (, Derek Sivers points out that you need to understand WHY you are doing what you are doing. And the answer is not a panacea. By asking and answering "why", certain aspects of life will become more important, and others less so.

If your goal is to be famous, then you may have to make sacrifices to family life or even money. If your goal is job stability, then career growth may take a back seat.

This is the ultimate form of understanding. It is the meta-understanding. Once you nail down the fundamental reason for your choices, you can make them faster and with more confidence that they will ultimately get you where you want to go.

Derek summarizes by saying:

"That’s why you need know why you're doing what you're doing. Know it in advance. Use it as your compass and optimize your life around it. Let the other goals be secondary. So when those decision moments come, you can choose the value that you already know matters most to you."

Shakespeare famously wrote "To thine own self be true". But this is impossible unless you first take time, as Siver suggests, to really understand what you want.


To me learning something new requires one of two two things acceptance or understanding.

When I first learned JAVA, I never really understood the use of "this"  The person who taught me said "I don't know why, but it just works".  I accepted that this is the way it works and was able to properly use it in my code "just because".

Fast forward 5 years and I take Java from quite possibly the best technical instructor I have ever met, and he drew it out on a white board and explained why you use "this".  I was amazed.  I had always used "this", I just never understood why.

Why is so helpful in our understanding of technology and our growth as IT ninjas.

But Why does not just help us understand technology, it helps us understand purpose in life.  Please check out this clip of Comedian Michael Jr as he explains the power of Why.

Michael Jr: Know Your Why - YouTube

Level 10

Calvin and Hobbes

Level 11

We need to be willing to understand, and simply prioritize based on the available time and importance.

adatole​ I agree with you on the above statement.

I think that the very fearful thought of not being able to understand a particular object of study already inhibits the understanding itself.

Now you've piqued my curiosity.  What "this" did you use and eventually learn?

Today’s word is “Understand.”

If you comprehend a concept well enough to accurately teach it to others, you thoroughly understand it. 

But you may not grok it.

Similarly, you may not WANT to grok a person beyond simply understanding them.  That could require table condiments.

If you understand the following quote you may have a grasp of relationships, and understanding your motivations in them: 

“Love is that condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own.”   ― Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land

Level 18

I agree with rschroeder​, what was the "this" that you learned? I'm sure even ironman84​ would be interested to hear, to say nothing of patrick.hubbard​!

Level 11

A process cannot be understood by stopping it. Understanding must move with the flow of the process, must join it and flow with it.

  • The First Law of Mentat

Einstein, having a final discussion with de Broglie on the platform of the Gare du Nord in Paris, whence they had traveled from Brussels to attend the Fresnel centenary celebrations, said

"that all physical theories, their mathematical expressions apart ought to lend themselves to so simple a description 'that even a child could understand them.' "

Level 12

Everyone understands topics or subjects at their individual level which doesn't make them stupid but is it possible they are lazy or just don't want to know? The process of understanding is taking the time to understand its concept and the process behind it.


Did anyone ever ask you to know "everything"? if they did, then there is your problem... them.

“If you can cultivate the right attitude, your enemies are your best spiritual teachers because their presence provides you with the opportunity to enhance and develop tolerance, patience and understanding.”

  ― Dalai Lama XIV

“Only the development of compassion and understanding for others can bring us the tranquility and happiness we all seek.”

  ― Dalai Lama XIV

Compassion is not an easy thing to give to everyone you meet. But if you understand that fragility of your own existence and can see that in others it does make it easier. Understanding does not mean acceptance though. You do not have to accept everything that comes your way. Developing compassion and understanding can help prevent lashing out, over reaction, and give you inner peace.


On a professional note, I find that striving to understand the why and how things helps create a solid knowledge base that can be used to solve problems you have not encountered before. Understanding and not just memorizing has helped me in bot my undergraduate and graduate education and served me well in my careers.

Level 10

I've found myself trying very hard to understand why others do the things they do and say.... instead of just turning my attention to myself.

Usually 'i' comes in second... and Other's first.

Lately though I've been wondering about the WHY I've done things that way...and found it's totally okay to actually put I (myself) first.

It's an interesting feeling trying to understand the why...why am i in IT, why do i like this field more then the other ones etc etc.

I think it will always be a work in progress though... we'll see.

Level 10


My career changed the day I understood why they pay me. It wasn't to script, monitor or manage. I had that job to make others work easier. The tools of IT management were the hammers and wrenches that I used to keep productivity flowing. Understanding that has made me better, it freed me from the things I was doing to focus on the results that were needed.

Level 12

Perhaps it's not just to ask why, but to keep asking why.  If at once we were to understand all, I think that the having would be not nearly so pleasing as the wanting.  The continual quest to understand, now that's a journey worth taking, even if, and especially if, one never reaches the end.

I'm several orders of magnitude beneath these tall thinkers, but adatole​'s comments about understanding "why" do apply to their conversation.

I wish I knew why Einstein believed all physical theories "ought" to be so simple that anyone could understand them.  Yes, I'd LIKE them to be that simple.  And being so simple would almost certainly mean they would be elegant and satisfying to see and know and understand.  Could it be Albert was indulging in some wishful fantasy?  Or could it be that such indulgence is what can lead great minds to greater truths?

I like this.  I'd love to have it include comments about the audience to which one would be trying to explain a concept.  Although you might understand it well enough to explain it simply, one's audience may not be able, or willing, to understand it.


Understand what you are talking about, before you open your mouth. Because what you say may come back on you in a bad way.

Level 13

"Mystery creates wonder and wonder is the basis of man's desire to understand."  Neil Armstrong

Image result for man on moon pictures

adatole​ I can not message you on Thwack, i have been trying, i have posted to this word of the day, i submitted one today even and its not showing.   Is there something wrong with all of thwack?  Leader board is wrong, points are not being awarded, its very odd, and now i can not direct message anyone. 

Level 14

Understand who you are

And love what you do,

As Shakespeare would say

To thine own self be true.

Level 11


to perceive the meaning of; grasp the idea of; comprehend:

Screen Shot 12-05-16 at 09.50 AM.PNG

Level 10

The WHY has led me to change focus numerous times in my job as a systems manager.  This is caused by changing technology, change in operational needs that leads me to learn new skills like VM, Cloud and automation.  If there is one thing you can always count on, it's a demand to learn new skills to meet users needs.  I guess you can also count on the user not understanding how to use new software and hardware...

learn to use Google.JPG

Level 9

When asked about his ending to "2001:A Space Odyssey" Stanley Kubrick would almost always shrug and say we do not always get an answer to our questions. "As much as Mankind wants to understand everything, there are things which we will never know and questions we will never be able to answer." I try to remember this whenever I am confounded by situations that only afford me a small view of what is going on. I get so tempted to form an opinion based on knowing but my lack of understanding. Say it's me submitting things here that end up in moderation for days. Even in the most demanding of situations, there is always enough time to inventory. With me, the 1st step making sure the inventory is accurate is to remove any beliefs that processes or inanimate objects have any sort of "interest" in me. For me, sometimes an open mind is the 1st step in understanding anything. Even if it's a day late and a dollar short, taking the time to understand is the difference between letting a mistake teach me or injure me.  

Level 13

Understanding is key to moving forward, whether it be in life or in work. Seek to understand yourself, your friends, acquaintances, and colleagues. By understanding, you come to accept. By accepting, you come to understand.


either that or a Heinlein fan....

"I grok"


To Understand conveys many different connotations...

As rschroeder​ mentioned Heinlein's variation and many have used it since.

As an avid Heinlein fan, "I Grok" pretty much spells it out.

But to know something and to understand something are 2 different things.

Level 10

I used to think that not understanding something made me stupid. Now it makes me happy to know I don't know. That means I get to learn new things! And my mind is hungrier than ever for understanding things.

Level 11

All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them. - Galileo Galilei

Level 21

To understand is to ask Why and find the answer.

Our VP of People and Culture recently hosted a class on interviewing to help people here become better at interviewing new candidates.  One thing she would pointed out is that when you are asking questions it's important to understand "Why" you are asking that question.  If you can't answer "Why" you are asking then the interview question probably isn't worth asking.  In other words you need to "Understand" why you are asking a question or it doesn't likely have any value.


maybe it was a philosophical question, i've been asked quite a few at interviews and have given answers that stump my interviewer. It is fun to turn an interviewer on his/her head and to mess with them a little.

Level 9



I'm going to take a more relational approach.

I think of empathy when I hear the work understand. So often we have that old IT response - show up to the users desk "MOVE" "There ya go." I've found that if you take a few minutes to allow the person to explain to you (sometimes vent) it promotes an environment of understanding. Rather than doing for my users I have them remain at their desks and I "tutor" them through what needs to be done. I find that they begin to see me as a team mate rather than the IT guy from the basement and I also find that the tutoring pays off in that the customers become more self sufficient and "pre-troubleshoot" issues.

Level 10

I think it's important to remember that there are varying levels of understanding. I think we all too often assume we have a compete understanding, which lends itself to the concept that we have nothing left to understand that we do not already understand. This is a barrier to learning. Be humble enough to recognize where your understanding could be broadened.

Level 20

"A brief history of time" helped me to understand black holes and the big bang a little better!

A Brief History of Time - Wikipedia

I'm also partial to Charles Babbage - the father of the computer

Charles Babbage - Wikipedia

and his difference engine:

Difference engine - Wikipedia

Difference engine built in Mountain View in ACTION:

Memorization is great for facts but understanding is required for concepts.

If all you have is a hammer every issue looks like a nail.  The more you understand the more tools you can use to solve problems.

"All I know is the basics, but I know them very well."



Preaching to the choir!   You find tons of people that have done things like memorized subnet tables, but do they understand the math behind it?   Can they recreate them using said math?

Do they know how to program a Cisco router, but can't figure out a Juniper?   While I was interviewing recently I got into a good discussion with one of the folks on how while its great to specialize in a brand, not knowing how to apply those same networking concepts on another, possibly brand new, platform is a big problem!

Better off understanding the basics first than jetting ahead towards trying to memorize more advanced ones!

"Do you understand the words that are coming out of my mouth?", he said loudly.

We are of the age where many speak loudly to convey their message but not as many expend as much energy to understand. In the IT realm the pendulum swings between the emphasis on SME's or JOAT's. Do you want to be an expert on one discipline deeply? Or understand many technologies to have that flexibility to support a wide array of products and services? Many of us grizzled vets fancy ourselves renaissance men/women. We continue to change and adapt, and keep up with that ever-swinging pendulum.

  My technical days are long behind me yet I still understand the technology very well to the point I can stay in IT.

Classic education technique:

  1. Tell them what you're going to tell them
  2. Tell them
  3. Tell them what you told them

And if you do so in a casual and friendly way, and listened to them share their side of the story, you've not only given them three repetitions of the data, but you might've made a new friend.

(Just think twice before giving them your cell phone number.)


"Any fool can know. The point is to understand" - Albert Einstein

Just reading the book doesn't make you an expert, you have to experience to truly understand.


When you learn something new, put IT into practice by acting on IT. To master IT, keep on searching and researching on IT. This may help you have a better UNDERSTANDing of IT.

Level 11




You've been married haven't you!!!

Sage advice indeed.

Level 9

A true mark of Successful person is the ability to listen to understand instead of listening with the intent to reply.

Level 10

To listen is not to understand. But to understand you have to shut up and listen.

Level 8

"The brain is like a muscle. When it is in use we feel very good. Understanding is joyous." - Carl Sagan

Level 12

“Rabbit's clever," said Pooh thoughtfully.

"Yes," said Piglet, "Rabbit's clever."

"And he has Brain."

"Yes," said Piglet, "Rabbit has Brain."

There was a long silence.

"I suppose," said Pooh, "that that's why he never understands anything.”

A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

Level 11

One of my first personal ideas at work was to never ask why.  It just seemed to cause more work or irritation.  Now, I ask all the time.  I want to know the details of a job, so I can do my part better.

Level 12

As I learn something new, and remember something I may have long forgotten, I do my best to understand what it is that I am doing and why I am doing it. This applies to simple things such as changing a line of config on a switch, to major life decisions such as starting a search for a new job or moving to a new location. I may not always be able to answer the what am I doing, but I should at least be able to answer and understand the why. There are times where you may not be allowed to know why you are doing what you are doing as well, as long as you understand what you are doing and being assured by someone that what you have been asked to do is the right thing to do. This applies more to day to day aspects, such as changing the settings on a circuit or a switch or a router. You may not know the why, but you should know how your doing that. And conversly you may not exactly know why it is your doing, but you should know the why then. Knowing is understanding. As long as you understand the what or the why, the rest should fall into place.

About the Author
In my sordid career, I have been an actor, bug exterminator and wild-animal remover (nothing crazy like pumas or wildebeasts. Just skunks and raccoons.), electrician, carpenter, stage-combat instructor, American Sign Language interpreter, and Sunday school teacher. Oh, and I work with computers. Since 1989 (when you got a free copy of Windows 286 on twelve 5¼” floppies when you bought a copy of Excel 1.0) I have worked as a classroom instructor, courseware designer, desktop support tech, server support engineer, and software distribution expert. Then about 14 years ago I got involved with systems monitoring. I've worked with a wide range of tools: Tivoli, Nagios, Patrol, ZenOss, OpenView, SiteScope, and of course SolarWinds. I've designed solutions for companies that were extremely modest (~10 systems) to those that were mind-bogglingly large (250,000 systems in 5,000 locations). During that time, I've had to chance to learn about monitoring all types of systems – routers, switches, load-balancers, and SAN fabric as well as windows, linux, and unix servers running on physical and virtual platforms.