Own Something Ugly

Stuff here could apply to other industries and professions. I work in technology, so that’s the spin.

If you work in technology you have seen ugly things. Not many of us want to work on them. They’re the old relics of software teams past, where all product knowledge has disappeared. The projects you want to kill, but can’t because someone, somewhere, holds on to it for dear life. Or perhaps it is so heavily used that yanking it would make the company go belly-up. Which would leave you out of a job. We don’t want that.

This may sound outlandish: own it! No, don’t buy it. I mean own the knowledge of it. Be the one to spearhead bringing sanity and order back to the thing everyone else just wants to throw into a dumpster and burn. Be the one to relieve fears about what will happen when it breaks, and no one knows what to do.

There are very good reasons for it. They serve the company and your co-workers well. And, yes, they have some self-serving purposes as well.

Benefit 1: Knowledge Sharing Sanity

There it is. Smoking in the corner. The application is rattling and sputtering as it continues to run. No one has the manual. Everyone is afraid to open the hood and look in. But someone has to do it! So you do it.

You open that thing up and begin documenting what you can glean from non-destructive prodding. Before you know it, you have completed a manual that other people can use in the event you aren’t around when it falls over.

Sure, you took on the project, but that doesn’t mean you are the only one responsible for it. It shouldn’t become the bane of your employment. It shouldn’t creep solely into your non-working hours.

When the mysterious box becomes regular business knowledge, everyone can share in the relief it offers. This has the side-benefit of making you look like a superhero. Sometimes that helps with the money situation. Just sayin’.

Benefit 2: Gaining Business Knowledge

Most likely you’re going to have to ask a lot of questions. Especially if there are magical equations and business logic. Things that look like an attempt at neural networks are suddenly untangled. Or, at least, you know what the tangled mess is about.

Taking on a black box requires a lot of knowledge gathering (and documenting). You are going to learn things other people have no clue about.

This equips you to make better suggestions for future improvements (or for entire rewrites). You can make stronger arguments about why the application needs to die, and what it takes to get there. Besides that, you also aren’t seen as another complainer who just doesn’t like the product. You are taken more seriously.

Benefit 3: Progress

By taking on the thing no one really wants to touch, you help move everyone forward. A word of caution here that didn’t seem to fit earlier: if possible, split your time with something fun and interesting. One of the new/thriving/hip projects. If you don’t, you will burn yourself out. All the benefits of doing it won’t matter because you’ll be stewing in boredom. Unless, of course, this is the kind of thing you like to do.

Back to the point: by removing the burden, everything else can begin to thrive. And if you’re in a healthy working environment, you will too.

Be A Hero, Sometimes

Consider it. Be the person who makes your team breathe a sigh of relief. But don’t do it all the time. Let other people be tech heroes too. Just be the one who sets the example.