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June 09, 2004

So what *don't* I have to leave behind?

After my NotCon talk, one of the questions that was asked was

"So you seem to be saying that everything I currently know I have to ignore. Is there anything I take with me?

I'm not entirely happy with how I answered the question, and it's been bugging me slightly since. My answer was basically

(*Remembering to read it, so you don't violate the golden rule: Never Piss Away Your Staff's Work)

What I should also have reinforced is that you bring with you a huge bunch of mental models of problems and scenarios, and also a million mistakes you've made where you've applied them wrong. So you take the broad generalisations of many different techniques, and how to focus on the differences between them.

Again, this comes down to perspective, the key skill of managers - spotting the assumptions your staff have made and, rather than relishing their failings, leading them into better solutions.

There's also the fact that, while you are often deal with bigger chunks of things, your background knowledge means that you can explain your assumptions clearly to the people below you, and drill down to find out whether things will work. If your staff can't explain the how and why to you in terms you can still understand, then the solution is probably a bit suspect and they can be encouraged to fix it, rather than poper over the cracks and hope you won't notice.

Also, there is plenty of new knowledge to be gained from books about managing technology and technology people. You still get to soak up those overviews and build the macro-bricks of knowledge, rather than focussing on the individual pieces of lego. I remember the joy of reading a book on interactive TV and realising that I could skip the rest of the chapter on the fine detail of how MPEG encoding worked because it very definitely *was* someone else's problem.

All this doesn't mean that you *must* give up technical knowledge, just that you shouldn't use it as a distraction from your day job. Wait till a personal project comes along that you need them for, and enjoy the fun of learning without the pressure that the business needs you to deliver a solution.

Now, where's that PHP book again?

Posted by Tom Dolan at June 9, 2004 02:52 PM

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