common time-management mistake: rack & stack

Chad Dailey nanog at
Fri Feb 17 17:26:12 UTC 2012

On Fri, Feb 17, 2012 at 11:15 AM, George Bonser <gbonser at> wrote:

> > -----Original Message-----
> > From: Leo Bicknell [mailto:bicknell at]
> > Sent: Friday, February 17, 2012 6:46 AM
> > To: NANOG
> > Subject: Re: common time-management mistake: rack & stack
> > Low level employees should be apprenticed by higher level employees.
> > Many of our skills are learned on the job; just like other trades
> > someone with only book knowledge is darn near useless.  Not only do
> > those above need to teach, but they need to supervise, and exercise
> > standards and quality control.
> +1  I believe that can not be stressed enough. There is also another
> aspect to it in that about 15% of the population of people are "abstract"
> thinkers and 85% are "concrete" thinkers.  The abstract thinkers are the
> ones who can come up with a vision in their head of how something should
> work as a system and then set out and build it.  Or when they are faced
> with a problem, can in their head envision the work around and then apply
> that vision on site to do things such as rewire a portion of the network in
> a methodical fashion with no/little downtime.  Those people are relatively
> rare and working with your line staff gives one an opportunity to assess
> the various talent sets of the people in the organization.  The abstract
> thinkers are the ones good at being able to design a network from scratch
> and the concrete thinkers are the ones who will be great maintaining that
> network and keeping everything documented and done according to policy.
>  You need both and it just so happens that you need more of one sort in
> just about the same proportion that you find them in the general
> population.  The key is to identify which people have which talents and
> place them where their natural abilities more closely mesh with their job
> requirements.  If you can do that, you can have a very powerful team.  If
> you place people into positions simply based on the number of years in the
> organization or because of holes punched in the cert ticket, you might end
> up with people in positions that they don't really like or aren't
> particularly good at doing.  The first step in building such an
> organization, though, is working closely with your people and attempting to
> identify whose natural abilities like in which direction.  Sometimes it is
> more about talent than training, more about nature than nurture.
> > To your point, if you look at skilled trades the simpler the task the
> > more likely it will fall to the "new guy".  Rack and stack is probably
> > one of simplest jobs in our industry.  A two man team, one senior, one
> > junior, showing up at a colo may see the junior guy doing the physical
> > work, while the senior guy works out any issues with the colo provider
> > brings up the interconnection to them, etc.
> But at the same time, if you have a guy who might not be so sharp at
> troubleshooting a very complex network but is sharp as a tack when it comes
> to documenting things and keeping paperwork organized, that is a vital
> skill in the overall effort, too.  That person should be given
> responsibility for maintaining more of the documentation, organizing things
> so they are easy for other employees to find, etc. and their pay should
> still continue to increase as they gain wider scope across more of the
> organization over time.  The point is that it often takes many different
> sorts of skills and attempting to match people's natural talents to the
> requirements of the organization benefits both parties provided the
> individual involved doesn't see their position as a dead end.  A good
> person of the sort mentioned above can literally save hours of time for
> people doing other tasks such as troubleshooting a problem.  There is a
> certain synergy involved and some organizations recognize that, and some
> don't.  Some are better in an architectural role, some are naturally better
> in a sustaining role, others are better at an organizational support role
> and (darned) few are good at all of those tasks.  Sometimes we don't have
> the luxury of such specialization of roles, but some organizations do,
> particularly if they are in a phase of reorganization and downsizing.  One
> thing to look at might not only be "how good is this person in their
> current role" but also "would this person absolutely kick butt in a
> different role".
> > But key to an apprenticeship is that the senior guy does some of the
> > low level work some of the time, and _shows_ the junior guy how to do
> > it right.  The senior guy might rack or stack a couple of boxes each
> > colo they visit, and relate concepts like how the screw hole spacing
> > works in the rack rails, how to plan cable management, proper labeling,
> > and so on.
> Actually, just having the senior person assist with some tasks such as
> moving/installing heavy/unwieldy gear does more than just show them how to
> do it right, it is actually quite an important almost sort of bonding
> experience between employees.  It says "I'm not allergic to work and not
> above doing the same job you are doing when it needs to get done, we are
> all important pieces of the big picture."  It can give an employee a sense
> that they are respected and appreciated for the job they do, even if it is
> fairly low on the corporate org chart.  It is still vital to the success of
> the overall business or they wouldn't be there to begin with.  Doing things
> like this telegraphs that in a tangible way without having to spew a lot of
> corporate propaganda.
> > It really accomplishes much of what everyone else is talking about,
> > while still being productive.  The "old hat" gets the downtime and
> > catharsis of doing a simple, yet productive task.  The new guy gets to
> > learn how to do the job properly.  The employer knows the work has been
> > done right, as it was overseen by the old hat, and that they will have
> > someone to replace him when the old hat retires.
> The "old hat" still gets job satisfaction from seeing a vision come to
> physical life and operate as planned.  Why deprive them of that?  It can
> re-energize one's love of a particular carrier field and remind them why
> they are in that field to begin with.
> > Maybe if we did more apprecenship style learning folks would still know
> > how to wrap cables with wax string.  It's simple, fast, and works well.
> Leo, in many trades, telecommunications being one of them, the military
> was one source of new people with some skills and with some hands-on
> experience.  As that scales back these days, it gets harder to find such
> people.  We don't have trade schools and we don't have apprenticeship
> programs like companies used to have so I agree.  People coming out of a
> community college or a certification program know enough to be extremely
> dangerous (sort of like a lieutenant with a screwdriver, the most dangerous
> person in the world aside from a corporal with a clipboard) and need to be
> mentored as they gain perspective in real world situations.  I completely
> agree that we should be looking more at our employees in the longer term as
> a nurturing process and identifying where their natural interests and
> abilities can benefit both sides of the equation.  Having that interaction
> with the senior staff is vital.  And that senior staff member should not
> only be explaining WHAT he is doing, but WHY he is doing it that way.
Knowledge transfer should also include the very important WHY NOT to do
something a certain way.  This part is often left out.  Considering that
most bit-twiddler tasks can be performed a multitude of ways, both sides of
the argument should be presented.  Perhaps this is obvious to all on the
list, but it's certainly not to junior staff.

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