When I was twenty years old I got a summer internship at a little software company named Data Connection, where I worked on their “MeetingServer” product. This basically had the same features as Zoom but 20 years earlier, and with more of an emphasis on collaboration (screen-sharing and whiteboards) rather than video chat.
Data Connection also had a division working on a softswitch they called MetaSwitch, but they didn’t have any customers yet, so it all seemed like a waste of time and money to me.
My boss was a guy named David, who was a smart and experienced engineer (he had a doctorate in Mathematics from Oxford). He had been tasked with finding something useful for me to do, while also teaching me enough about software development that I’d want to apply for a job when I graduated.
I guess he succeeded on both fronts:
- I finished the summer by attempting a ridiculously ambitious project to rewrite the core infrastructure of MeetingServer so that it scaled better. I don’t think it ever really worked, but it felt cool to try.
- I did eventually apply for a job, and spent 14 years of my life working there.
But oddly, what I remember most about this time with David was a very simple lesson.
A couple of days into my internship I leaned over from my desk and interrupted him:
- “What was that command you showed me, again?”
- He looked at me… “I already told you that. Didn’t you write it down?”
- “Ummm, no?”
- “You need to write everything down. If I tell you something, or you figure something out, write it down, so you never have to waste time asking again.”
Boom. Write that down!
If you’re a technician…
Most technical people hate wasting time – and nothing wastes time more than repeating work. So if you learn some information, or you figure out how to do something, write it down.
At Award Consulting we literally have 54 pages of notes on Poly phones. (Thank you Stephen Denny.)
I’m old-school so I have a paper notebook that I work from every day, and I recently added an index so I can easily find the notes I took on particular phone calls. These are incredibly valuable.
When I was twenty I thought I was smart and would be able to remember anything important. Not true. Now that I’m in my forties I know that I forget things all the time – so I have better systems.
The lesson: write things down, and store this information somewhere you can look it up later. Your notes don’t need to be perfect – but some quick tips could save you hours of troubleshooting time later.
If you oversee a team…
For all the above reasons, create a place where your team members can store useful information, and make it well organized and easy to search. But if you have to choose, err on the side of making it easy to store information – people won’t contribute information if it’s hard to add things, or if they worry their notes have to be perfect.
As a mentor/coach, your goal should be to transfer knowledge out of your head, so that you never have to answer the same question twice. This can be through formally training your team, in casual conversations, or through creating documentation, cheat-sheets and MOPs.
Anytime someone asks you a question, use that as a prompt:
- Why did he/she need to ask that question?
- Do I want to keep answering that question for my team members?
- Is that information available anywhere else?
- How can I free up my time, and make my team more effective through better training and resources?
If you want to grow as a leader, you need to spend your time on new things – spend your time growing. If you continually spend time having the same conversations, or answering the same questions, you won’t have space to build your skills and responsibilities.
I am not as good at this as I would like, but everyday I try to get better, and we try to improve our bank of cheat-sheets, tips and MOPs.