Don’t Lose The Fundamentals – Can You Drive A Stick Shift?
I was browsing through my Facebook feed recently, and I came across the featured image for this blog post. I thought it was hilarious because my wife and I both drive stick shifts…and our daughters do NOT know how to drive stick. Yes, that is ultimately our fault as parents, but would you put teenaged daughters behind the wheel of a 6-speed Camaro?? Regardless, we never have to worry about them borrowing our cars because they would never make it out of the driveway…since they lack a driving fundamental.
I interview a lot of IT professionals while looking for “profile hires” to best represent PK’s high delivery standards. Struggling interview candidates typically fall short when it comes to the fundamentals for their role. They know and are attracted to emerging technology and tools, but they’ve lost sight of what drives those tools under the covers. My issue with that type of candidate is that tools may come and go as part of a constant technology evolution, but the fundamentals rarely change. Here are a few examples, and teaching moments, I’ve come across through the years.
1. Always understand what is going on under the covers
I frequently interview candidates for SAP Data Services roles. Over-simplified, Data Services is an Extract-Transform-Load (ETL) tool that has a highly evolved graphical interface for creating jobs that move data from point A to point B…perhaps transforming and cleansing the data along the way. A developer can literally click-and-drag several built-in transformations and query objects from a palette to a job. They can then “connect the dots” by drawing lines between the objects, and WHAM instant ETL job followed by an insane desire to be paid large amounts of money for their “expertise”. These candidates can sometimes give me the textbook definition of what each of these transformations do; however, they CANNOT tell me how to troubleshoot for performance and stability because they do not understand what is getting built under the covers. When you are building jobs that will move and transform millions of rows within a tight timeframe, and you do not understand issues like Cartesian products, pushdown SQL, and lack of indexing, you are setting the project up for failure.
2. Do not fall into trap of using tools as crutches
I did data modeling for a large part of my career, and Sybase PowerDesigner was one of my favorite tools. Since I’m a huge proponent of a clean and correct data model before writing ANY application code, I would review employees’ data models before they could proceed with application development. If I saw entities haphazardly placed in the model, with relationship lines crossing or getting obscured by entities, I’d send them back to the drawing board. A clean model allows other developers, report writers, and even business users to comprehend it. PowerDesigner would also allow data modelers to use templates to create triggers to enforce referential integrity. However, that meant that junior modelers would just establish relationships between entities and leverage the default referential integrity without any thought of the underlying code. If I quizzed them on something like “how do you use a sequence with a pre-insert trigger”, they had no idea where to begin because the pre-built templates did all of the heavy lifting. So what happens on their next project – when they do not have tools to use as a crutch? Or worse – they have me interview them for their next job, and they can’t answer fundamental questions?!?
3. Equip with fundamentals before equipping with tools
How about the constant discussion on marketing automation or having interns manage social media profiles? We give employees slick tools that make it easy for social sharing, auto-replies, and bulk-scheduled content sharing. But a nugget of wisdom applies in this case (as well as the two examples I’ve already mentioned): Just because you can…doesn’t mean you should! No employee, intern or otherwise, should be equipped with tools before they are equipped with the fundamentals via training and mentorship. In the social sharing example, employees should understand the need for (1) due diligence on facts and sources, (2) appropriateness and contextual relevance of the shared content, so it does not reflect badly upon company values, and (3) escalation processes for conflict resolution and crisis mitigation.
In all three examples above, the employees’ careers – and their work deliverables for their companies – could suffer as soon as extenuating circumstances require them to work off-script or troubleshoot problems. As employers and mentors, we need to teach employees the fundamentals that will provide strong foundations as tools, technologies, communication channels, and work environments continuously evolve.
But that doesn’t mean we have to teach them how to drive our stick shifts!!Tags: Application Development, Intelligence, Recruiting, SAP