Thursday, January 24, 2019

An Old Man's Tools

This weekend, my children and I cleared our driveway of about 3 inches of snow covered by about 1/2 inch of ice, in bitter cold weather after Winter Storm Harper.  While "shoveling snow" (mostly breaking ice chunks), I found myself saying something to my children my father used to say to me: "Let the tool do the work."  Somehow, I was never as able as he to let the tool do the work, and now I understand why.

It's an approach of a more experienced (older), less physically energetic (lazier) tool user.  Letting the tool do the work requires an understanding of HOW the tool works: how to hold it, how to use (and abuse) it, what physical advantages it provides, and how to best take advantage of it to get the job done.  In the main, that can all be chalked up to experience with the tool (or ones like it), including how much experience one has trying to be lazy with it.  My youngest pointed out to me that I also had some physical advantages she didn't (height, and uhmmm... weight).  I found her a post hole digging bar, better suited to her capabilities and stature (it had more mass and could just be dropped through the ice) and she was able to be more successful with it than the shovel.

The same thing applies to software engineering.  The tools you select define the level of skills needed to get the job done.  I can do just about anything with XSLT (and for some things, it's my favorite tool for the job), but that's not a skill that anyone has.  I can write a code generator, but again, that's not necessarily a skill that every engineer has.  In defining my approach to software problems these days, I have to look at tools and approaches differently.  I have to find ways to get things done so that I'm not the one who has to do them.  I have to select and identify tools in ways that enable others to do the work, because I don't scale.

My old man's tools aren't necessarily the tools I select for MY use, but rather, the tools I select for younger men and women to use.  My job, like my father's before me, is to pick the right tool, and teach others how to use them according to their skills.


P.S. Yes, my birthday was Sunday, and (well) in my fifth decade, I can certainly claim to be "old", although my children still insist I have yet to grow up.


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