Eating Our Vegetables

Kyle Brandt

Our CEO Joel Spolsky wrote a book about hiring programmers that is titled Smart & Gets Things Done. The idea behind the title is that when it comes down to it, you really just want to hire someone who is both smart and will get things done:

“People who are smart, but don’t get things done … would rather mull over something academic about a problem than ship on time”.

This applies equally in the area of system administration. Our CTO Jeff Atwood recently tweeted a reference to this:

When I read that I felt like he was talking to the sysadmin team (I hope he wasn’t — but the fact that I felt like he might have been is enough). The reason for this isn’t that we are not getting things done; I think we work hard and get a lot of things done. Rather, I think we have tendency to pick the interesting tasks over the uninteresting or tedious tasks.

Assuming as a system administrator you actually like what you do, I think tasks end up looking like the following:

So there are some interesting tasks that would be good to do, but may not need to be done. Then you have most tasks, which if you like your job, both need to be done and are interesting. Lastly, you have the tasks that are not interesting but do need to be done.

With a tendency to give too much weight to the interesting tasks or pieces of a project, that category on the right will grow over time. I like to think of keeping that category under control as eating my vegetables. Ideally, one maintains a good balanced diet all the time. But in reality there are times when you need to get on the scale and come to grips with the fact that you might need to go on a healthy diet for a while.

Lastly, don’t worry, the irony of taking some time to write this post is not lost on me.

  • The goal is to make tedious things interesting. It can be done!

    • Jscott

      Ouch, but, regardless +1.

    • aclowe

      yes, sometimes you can automate the tedious things and that is interesting!

  • Actually I think the “interesting Tasks that don’t need to be done” section should be larger. Perhaps it changes in size, so the more things there are that need to be done, the more interesting things that don’t need to be done there are!

    • Anonymous

      @Hywell: *Images are not drawn to scale.

  • Interesting isn’t always important, important isn’t always interesting.

  • Kyle Cronin

    There’s some things money can’t buy. For everything else there’s MasterCard.

  • Joe Webster

    Along a similar vein regarding getting things done… in the most expedient, cost effective manner is to make sure you have a clear purpose and objective for what it is you’re doing. I often hear admins say “I need to set up some VLAN’s” or “I need to virtualize all of my servers” and my questions to them are “Why do you think you need to do that?” and “What’s your purpose and objective for doing that?” Too often I see people fall into the “Everyone else says I should do it” or the “Everyone else is doing it” trap.

  • I think the key should making important task as interesting, than they can be easily done.