Troubleshooters.Com Presents

Troubleshooting Professional Magazine

Volume 4 Issue 3, March 2000
Take Pride
Copyright (C) 2000 by Steve Litt. All rights reserved. Materials from guest authors copyrighted by them and licensed for perpetual use to Troubleshooting Professional Magazine. All rights reserved to the copyright holder, except for items specifically marked otherwise (certain free software source code, GNU/GPL, etc.). All material herein provided "As-Is". User assumes all risk and responsibility for any outcome.

[ Troubleshooters.Com | Back Issues ]


Editors Desk

By Steve Litt
This issue of Troubleshooting Professional was scheduled to be about UCITA. But due to some last minute lack of information I had to postpone that topic and quickly come up with another. So I chose step 9 of the Universal Troubleshooting Process, Take Pride:
 The Universal Troubleshooting Process
1.Get the Attitude
2.Get a complete and accurate symptom description
3.Make damage control plan
4.Reproduce the symptom
5.Do the appropriate general maintenance
6.Narrow it down to the root cause
7.Repair or replace the defective component
9.Take pride in your solution
10.Prevent future occurrence of this problem

I figured it would be a slam dunk. Step 9 is maybe 15 minutes in my Troubleshooting course, and it's not an overwhelming favorite with the attendees (they like bottleneck analysis). But the more I wrote about step 9, the more I realized it's applicable to much more than Troubleshooting. That's when things got interesting...

Steve Litt can be reached at Steve Litt's email address.

Step 9: Take Pride

By Steve Litt
Step 9 of the Universal Troubleshooting Process is Take Pride. Step 9 is unique in that only it, among the 10 steps, allows emotion. In fact it encourages emotion. Let off some steam. The Universal Troubleshooting Process is unique in that only it, among the several published Troubleshooting Processes, contains a step like Take Pride. I included it because I've seen what happens when technologists don't have emotional release. The next article, Take Pride -- Keep Sanity, discusses the alternative to taking pride.

So what is Take Pride? The book Troubleshooting: Tools, Tips and Techniques defines it like this:
So you've finally nailed the tough problem you've been tracking.  OK, now's the time for emotion.  Take pride in what you just did. GLOAT over how you beat the problem that was trying to beat you. SAVOR the victory.  GO OVER in your mind every step of the way to victory.  REVIEW the course of the troubleshoot, where you were brilliant, where you could have done better.  BRAG to your co-workers.

Do it now. Get personal with the vanquished problem. Insult it. "Is that all you've got?". Proclaim your championship. If appropriate, maybe do a little victory dance. Brag to your co-workers. Flush with victory, you might even want to give them a little help with their problems.

There's no better time to feel great about yourself than after you did great. Soon enough the difficulty of your harsh and harried work environment will tax your mood. Celebrate immediately after the victory. You'll remember the good mood, and it will carry you through the tough work yet to come. On those terribly taxing days, it's vitally important to remember the good points. The alternative can be burnout.

The Take Pride step is also educational. It allows you to lock in what you learned in the Troubleshoot. This refines your techniques, advancing your prowess.

Does this all sound a little nuts? I'll tell you what's nuts. Once a vacant eyed, twitching homeless guy was talking to himself when he saw my Pascal Programming book. He approached me saying, "Pascal -- isn't that a programming language? I used to do Fortran, but" (twitch, headshake) "I don't like it any more". Then he walked away, animatedly discussing an unfathomable topic with an invisible companion.

If you think doing a victory dance at work is crazy, consider the alternative.

Steve Litt can be reached at Steve Litt's email address.

Take Pride -- Keep Sanity

By Steve Litt
Pacific Stereo was a fun place to work. We had the best techs. We were paid on commission, and we had two repair production contests per year. And every few months another tech would burn out and check into a mental hospital. Contest months drove us the craziest. Almost invariably, the runner up would be in therapy the following month.

It's not surprising. Burnout requires two distinct circumstances:

  1. Overwork
  2. Disappointment
As the old song says, it takes two. The winner didn't burn out -- there was no disappointment. The guys far down the list didn't burn out -- they weren't overworked. Nope, it was the guys who went all out and then didn't make it.

Try to avoid, at all costs, the combination of overwork and disappointment. Step 9 helps immensely by cutting the workload and by reducing disappointment.

Cutting the Workload

First and most obvious, the time during which you Take Pride is time off from heavy mental work, so it cuts your workload. If you repair eight computers a day each Take Pride might take 2-5 minutes. If you've just finished debugging a 25,000 line software system taking off an entire day or half day is appropriate. If your employer can't understand that, he's not worth working for.

Beyond the actual work time reduction, the workload is further cut because taking pride increases your efficiency. The happy technologist will invariably work more rationally and more creatively, resulting in quicker resolutions, hence decreased workload. The time consumed by taking pride pays for itself many fold.

Reducing Disappointment

We all meet defeat every now and then. Being human, it's almost impossible not to wallow in that defeat. Some get depressed, some try to "find a silver lining", some try to learn from it, but we almost universally focus on defeat one way or another.

We all have a balance sheet containing percieved victories and percieved defeats. A net surplus of percieved victories makes of us serene. But when percieved defeats substantially outnumber percieved victories, it's a prescription for burnout. Victories uncelebrated are victories forgotten. Celebrate every victory. Take pride.

Death March Projects

Death march projects are projects (usually software projects) whose only hope of on-time completion is to work the employees til they drop. Death march projects often fail, thereby adding disappointment to the overwork.

Ed  Yourdon wrote an article called "Surviving A Death  March  Project" in the July 1997 issue of Software Development Magazine. In his article, Ed makes the following ominous statement: "In addition to the project collapse, at least one of my team members suffered a nervous collapse, and several others burned out to the point where they were never really productive again."

they were never really productive again

Don't let this happen to you. Try your best to get out of any death march projects. If you must be on one for a while, take pride early and often. You can take a walk around the building before anyone notices you're missing, and take pride during the walk. Go get a drink of water, go to the bathroom, whatever. Just rejoice every victory. It makes you more mentally robust, thereby increasing the likelihood that someone else will hire you away from the slave drivers before it's too late.

A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste

You take care of your body. You try to eat right, you exercise, you floss your teeth. Take care of your mind. Take pride. Regularly.

I once took second place in a Pacific Stereo contest. Runner up. It was a brutal contest, with the top three finishers beating the old repair production record. During the month I had taken pride after every fix. I had jabbered about every repair. I was a dancing fool. My coworkers thought me crazy. Maybe I was. But I was sane enough to come right back to work the next month.

Steve Litt can be reached at Steve Litt's email address.

Taking Pride Takes Many Forms

By Steve Litt

The Party

This is the classic form of taking pride. Whoop it up with your co-workers. This works *especially* well for computer programmers. We're an outgoing, gregarious lot. We love spinning programming tales and listening to tales of others. The beauty of the Take Pride Party is that so much knowledge is transferred. The listeners learn right along with the performer.

Take Pride Parties work well in any environment where several friendly co-workers with similar jobs and skillsets work in close proximity. Programmers, sysadmins, hardware people, automotive technicians, etc. If possible, whoop it up at work.

The Debriefing

Debriefing is often done in a party atmosphere, and sometimes done in a solitary manner, but it should always be done. Debriefing is the act of reviewing the course of the Troubleshoot and asking yourself what you did right, and what you'd do differently next time. This is a vital learning tool, and also a confidence builder. Every once in a while each of us runs into a problem that makes us look like an amateur. By deciding on a course of action designed to prevent future occurrences of such debacles, we build our confidence.

The Walk Home

Work is almost always followed by solitary time. It might be a walk to the car, or a walk to the train, or maybe a bike ride home. Whatever it is, use it. Review the victories of the day. Fully understand the muscle you displayed while handling the challenges. Smile as you remember how some problem (maybe technological, maybe human) had you against the ropes, and what you did to duck the punch.

I know sometimes this isn't easy. Sometimes the time after work is spent plotting escape from cruel taskmasters, or worrying about tomorrow's deadlines, or problems with other employees, or the conflicts existing between your home and work responsibilities. Those things are natural. But try to log some time chuckling about your victories of the day.

The Family Party

Sometimes Take Pride Parties aren't cool at work. I once saw a surgeon interviewed on TV, and the (very perceptive) interviewer asked him if he and his fellow operating room staff cheered after successfully finishing a particularly difficult operation. He explained that surgeons must maintain their dignity, precluding such outbursts.

But I bet his wife and kids hear about it when he does great work. I know my wife and kids sure do.

The Journal

I try not to raise my rates on existing clients, but occasionally I need to. On those rare occasions, I include my accomplishments in the rate increase letter. It's very difficult to remember all those nasty problems you solved, all those time saving procedures you put in service. the little programs you wrote that solved a specific problem. If you can't remember your accomplishments, you're at a disadvantage in a job interview or a pay raise negotiation. You're also at a disadvantage in, for want of a better word, "self esteem".

You may find it worthwhile to take five minutes a night recording your victories in a journal. A spiral notebook serves as a low tech solution, but it's hard to search. Much better is a computer document (kept at home, not at work). Perhaps the most effective is one of those straight-to-digital dictating machines, so you can record your thoughts anywhere and any time.

The benefits of keeping a journal go *far* beyond taking pride. A journal can be a powerful life management and decision support tool. However, those uses are beyond the scope of this magazine. Just remember that a journal can be a vital component of taking pride, and if you use it, you'll gain incredible side benefits.

The Spiritual Experience

Sometimes taking pride is a spiritual experience. Your workday ends, you walk away, and you realize you've done one of the best days' work ever. Maybe you made more money than ever before. Maybe you solved an incredibly tough problem. Maybe you solved sixteen problems. Maybe you got a promotion or a new job. These are the times taking pride becomes a spiritual experience.

We're all different, but in my opinion these spiritual experiences are best as solitary experiences, preferably while walking. Walk around the block several times, playing back the day like a movie. Enjoy the victory. Explain to yourself how well you did. Allow yourself to smile. Don't worry if other people on the street think you're strange for smiling.

Speaking of other people, try to find a solitary place to walk. I walk in the woods a lot. In the woods, seen only by the lizards and birds, I can dance, jump for joy, let out a yell, and even discuss my victory out loud with myself.

This solitary stage should last long enough to let the full import of your accomplishments sink in. You'll know you've reached that point when the excitement and euphoria start to fade, leaving just a general feeling of well being. Now it's time to celebrate with friends and family.

Pick people who can understand and share your excitement. Spouses and family are usually an excellent choice, but some friends can also fit the bill. Be careful to choose someone wise enough to let you have your moment of glory, without jealousy or bragging interruptions.

The Golden Rule

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. When your co-workers, friends and family come to you with accomplishments, rejoice and ask questions. You'll likely learn quite a bit, and it's likely they'll do the same for you when the time comes.
Steve Litt can be reached at Steve Litt's email address.

The Woods

By Steve Litt
There's a woods near our house. Some day we'll move far away, but there will always be a piece of Steve Litt in that woods. It's where I designed the table of contents for Samba Unleashed. I've gotten past writers block walking in the woods, and I've planned life strategies. And most of all, head spinning after an incredibly productive day's work, I've walked its green covered paths rejoicing my achievements. That woods was made to create and to take pride.

Everyone has something like the woods, if they just look. In Reseda, California I had Reseda Blvd, a funky, overly colorful busy street with more soul than all of Motown. In Venice, California I walked and skateboarded the sidewalks around West Los Angeles Community College, where I first conceived of the process that would eventually become Rapid Learning. As a little boy in Winnetka, Illinois, I had the Hubbard Woods Grammar School schoolyard. For each person, in each location, there's a perfect place.

I discovered the power of immediately taking pride in accomplishments while investigating Troubleshooting. But Troubleshooting is just the tip of the iceberg. We humans have a tendency to focus on our failures and forget our successes. That's why it's vital to indelibly mark each victory in our mind. By immediately celebrating all victories, we permanently add those victories to our mental balance sheets.

How many stories do you hear of highly successful people getting to the top of the mountain, only to self-destruct soon after. They've accomplished the goal, there's nowhere else to go, and they feel let down. Consider the frequent heavy abuse of drugs and alcohol among the most successful, especially those achieving success at a young age. How often do we forget our daily successes, and focus on a failure. Or focus on the fact that we've reached the top and have no place to go. Without memories of our successes, we leave ourselves open to burnout, and maybe even substance abuse.

It's vital to celebrate victories as they happen. Don't put it off -- the feeling will float off in the winds of everyday life. Celebrate immediately in order to stamp the image of your victory firmly in your mind. Make taking pride a priority. Celebrate with your family, with your friends, with your co-workers, and with yourself. Celebrate every victory. Find a celebration place. Go there. Make sure your balance sheet has a surplus of remembered victories.

Writing this issue of Troubleshooting Professional Magazine has made me aware, for the first time, of the universality of taking pride. This month's magazine was supposed to be a quick and dirty write. I selected a topic I thought to be simple and straightforward. After all, it's just step 9 of the Universal Troubleshooting Process. It gets only a quick mention in my Troubleshooting classes, because the attendees are quickly bored with it. Yep, this issue seemed like a slam-dunk.

Wow, was I wrong. Taking pride is nothing less than a major piece of the universal body of truth whose laws govern Troubleshooting, quality, psychology and human performance, morality, business, and almost every other human endeavor. I'm now incorporating immediate victory celebration in my personal and professional life. For me, this could be the most important issue of Troubleshooting Professional Magazine written so far. I've learned a fundamental piece of the universal body of truth.

I need time to assimilate this new knowledge. To let it become part of my instinctive thought processes. To understand all its ramifications and applications. To decide how to incorporate it into my tactics and strategy. I'm going to the woods now to continue this train of thought. I'll think as I walk its shady green covered paths. And maybe, witnessed only by birds and lizards, I'll do a little victory dance.

Steve Litt can be reached at Steve Litt's email address.

Linux Log: Be True to Your LUG

Linux Log is now a regular column in Troubleshooting Professional Magazine, authored by Steve Litt. Each month we'll explore a facet of Linux as it relates to that month's theme.
In the Beach Boys TV miniseries a week ago, the Beach Boys sang a song called "Be True to Your School". I wasn't true to my school, which had (IMHO) a well deserved reputation as a snob school. Most of my friends were from other schools. And besides, it's pretty hard for an intelligent person to get chauvinistic about a circumstance entirely dictated by his parents decision on where to live. To me, "rah-rah" was an epithet for pretty people who were individuality challenged.

The groups to which I've been truly loyal can be counted on three fingers. The first was the Venice Speed Demons outdoor speedskating team. The second was Orlando based Everyone's Linux User Group (ELUG), which I joined within 2 months of arriving in Orlando. When ELUG split in two, I chose to go with Linux Enthusiasts and Professionals of Central Florida (LEAP-CF) -- the third finger. In all three cases, I felt I was "in with the in crowd". It's a good feeling.

Linux User Groups (LUGs) are universally ideal places to take pride. Both ELUG and LEAP-CF encourage attendees to bring their boxes and show off their technology. Pride is displayed, knowledge transferred. My UMENU GPL project first saw the light of day at an ELUG meeting. I showed off my kernel compiling methodology at a LEAP-CF meeting. The feeling of having 20 or so of your buddies see your kewl new technology is incomparable.

But taking pride is about *immediate* celebration. You can't wait until the next meeting. That's where your LUG's mailing list comes in. After perfecting a discovery, email in the description and reproduction sequence. Some responses to your post will say "wow, that's cool", others will say "that's cool, and here's an improvement". Soon there's a 30 post thread devoted to your accomplishment, with you as the acknowledged guru. Did someone say proud!

A LUG is an ideal place to take pride. If you're not in one, join one. When you get there, if they don't encourage bringing in your box, work to change that. Without the ability to show off, a LUG is little more than a boring professional association. You know, like a Windows user group. When you join your LUG, post your discoveries on the mailing list and watch your stock go up. Congratulate your fellow LUGsters on their discoveries, and help them advance their technology.

Your LUG provides pride on more than just your accomplishments. There's pride in being in with the in crowd. When I wear my LEAP-CF shirt around town, I know I'm cool. Try it. Wear your LUG's tee shirt. See if it doesn't add a little bounce to your step.
And as you bop down the street, you might find yourself humming your own rendition of a song from a summer when "Windows" meant the ventilation system in the fifty dollar station wagon that hauled everyone and their boards to the beach:

My buddies and me are getting real well known
Yeah, the Win weenies know us and they leave us alone
I get around...

Steve Litt is a director on the LEAP-CF executive committee. He can be reached at Steve Litt's email address.

Letters to the Editor

All letters become the property of the publisher (Steve Litt), and may be edited for clarity or brevity. We especially welcome additions, clarifications, corrections or flames from vendors whose products have been reviewed in this magazine. We reserve the right to not publish letters we deem in bad taste (bad language, obscenity, hate, lewd, violence, etc.).
Submit letters to the editor to Steve Litt's email address, and be sure the subject reads "Letter to the Editor". We regret that we cannot return your letter, so please make a copy of it for future reference.

How to Submit an Article

We anticipate two to five articles per issue, with issues coming out monthly. We look for articles that pertain to the Troubleshooting Process, or articles on tools, equipment or systems with a Troubleshooting slant. This can be done as an essay, with humor, with a case study, or some other literary device. A Troubleshooting poem would be nice. Submissions may mention a specific product, but must be useful without the purchase of that product. Content must greatly overpower advertising. Submissions should be between 250 and 2000 words long.

By submitting content, you give Troubleshooters.Com the non-exclusive, perpetual right to publish it on Troubleshooters.Com or any A3B3 website. Other than that, you retain the copyright and sole right to sell or give it away elsewhere. Troubleshooters.Com will acknowledge you as the author and, if you request, will display your copyright notice and/or a "reprinted by permission of author" notice. Obviously, you must be the copyright holder and must be legally able to grant us this perpetual right. We do not currently pay for articles.

Troubleshooters.Com reserves the right to edit any submission for clarity or brevity. Any published article will include a two sentence description of the author, a hypertext link to his or her email, and a phone number if desired. Upon request, we will include a hypertext link, at the end of the magazine issue, to the author's website, providing that website meets the Troubleshooters.Com criteria for links and that the author's website first links to Troubleshooters.Com. Authors: please understand we can't place hyperlinks inside articles. If we did, only the first article would be read, and we can't place every article first.

Submissions should be emailed to Steve Litt's email address, with subject line Article Submission. The first paragraph of your message should read as follows (unless other arrangements are previously made in writing):

I (your name), am submitting this article for possible publication in Troubleshooters.Com. I understand that by submitting this article I am giving the publisher, Steve Litt, perpetual license to publish this article on Troubleshooters.Com or any other A3B3 website. Other than the preceding sentence, I understand that I retain the copyright and full, complete and exclusive right to sell or give away this article. I acknowledge that Steve Litt reserves the right to edit my submission for clarity or brevity. I certify that I wrote this submission and no part of it is owned by, written by or copyrighted by others.
After that paragraph, write the title, text of the article, and a two sentence description of the author.

URLs Mentioned in this Issue