Even since cavemen invented the wheel, people have been using specially designed tools to make their work and their day-to-day lives simpler. Can you think of a single profession today that does not benefit from the use of a tool of some kind?
In an ideal world, a tool would be something that you invest in only once and you can continue to use forever. In reality, that is not the case. Think about the tools that a mechanic uses on a daily basis: screw-drivers, wrenches, air-compressors, etc. If you know any mechanics personally, you know that they are always buying new tools. So what are the reasons that their tools become unusable, obsolete or need to be replaced? Here are the biggest ones:
- Tools corrode – Even just sitting on the shelf tools will get rusty.
- Tools bend or break from being over stressed.
- Tools get lost.
- You want to replace them with the next best thing you see on an infomercial!
At Atomic, we are not mechanics, but we use tools nonetheless, and without them we would not succeed. Our tools include our values, established best practices, custom software, computers, etc, and, although they are not made out of steel, they run the risk of suffering the same fate as your favorite Craftsman wrench.
Take, for example, a custom software tool. If it just remains “on the shelf” and never gets used, it is probably rusty. Maybe it has some unresolved bugs, or possibly the user interface needs some improvement. If that is the case, take the time to polish it, wipe the dirt off and make it appealing again.
A best practice is a technique—or a way of doing things—that has been discovered and proved to be highly successful. But, every best practice is constrained to a specific context. If you try to use a best practice in an area that is outside of that context it may be over-stressed and break. One of our esteemed values, here at Atomic, is that we are pragmatic programmers. That means that we take the time to survey all the options, consider multiple approaches, and choose the best one for a given requirement. We watch the infomercials, read the forums, and wade through the bullsh*t to determine if we should invest in a new tool.
Don’t lose your tools. Document. Document. Document. This is one of the biggest challenges for all teams of all sizes. With a greater number of people working together, the risk of wasting time solving a problem that some else has already solved increases drastically. If you write a great custom software tool, document it, announce it, and put it in a place where others can easily find it. Making a company wiki can be an excellent resource for accomplishing this.
Serj Tankian, of System of a Down, once posed the question, “How do you own disorder?” The answer is, you cannot. Disorder, in every area of life, happens naturally. It does not need to be inspired, planned or intentioned. Be proactive about combating the infection of chaos and disorder into your tool-set. Take a look at the following proverb. It applies just as much today as it did thousands of years ago.
“I went past the field of the sluggard,
past the vineyard of the man who lacks judgment;
thorns had come up everywhere,
the ground was covered with weeds,
and the stone wall was in ruins.
I applied my heart to what I observed
and learned a lesson from what I saw:
A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest—
and poverty will come on you like a bandit
and scarcity like an armed man.”
Do not be foolish. Do not expect that you can invest in something once and reap the same benefits forever. The value that you receive from your tools and practices will not remain constant over time. Polish, maintain, improve, and share what you have learned from your mistakes –or fail.