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Field Notes The Joy (and Pain) of Learning
Mark D. Scott is a Senior Consultant with Microsoft Consulting Services. He works closely with clients to help design and build large-scale, data-centric applications. You can reach Mark at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
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Mark D. Scott
I remember how it used to be when something new came out—the thrill of getting my hands on the latest technology before most people did, turning the product inside out, learning how it worked, making it work. I thrived on being an early adopter, the one in the know, the wizard to whom others came to get that secret knowledge.
But, somewhere along the line, the joy dimmed. I am not certain what happened. Maybe I lost it in the frustrations of trying to make mission-critical applications work at 3:00 in the morning. Maybe I left it on the floor with the product documentation I misread as the enterprise mail server went south (back in the days when one server was enough). Maybe I’m just getting old and cynical. No matter. It’s just not as exciting to burn the midnight oil as it was a decade or so ago. But that doesn’t mean it’s OK to stop learning. I had that point reinforced not long ago.
I recently upgraded to Microsoft® Outlook® 2007 and I really like it. But I am also an MSN® Premium subscriber; my ISP provides my subscription as part of its service. Under the previous version of Outlook, I needed a special piece of software called a connector to access my MSN e-mail address. This software connector did not work with Outlook 2007, so I contacted MSN. MSN told me to speak to my ISP, who told me—eventually—that it did not support the MSN Outlook connector on Outlook 2007. Back and forth, e-mail, chat, and voice—it took just short of forever to get this information.
Then it hit me—maybe I didn’t need a connector anymore. I started Outlook 2007 and configured a new connection to MSN without using the connector software. Outlook went out on the Internet, found the server, and configured the account without a hitch. It did that for several other of my POP3 accounts as well. So I got access to my e-mail and I learned about a great new feature of the product.
Now, there’s a moral to all of this. If someone in the support ranks had bothered to play with the new product, most likely he could have told me I didn’t need the connector and it would have saved us both a lot of time.
Perhaps more to the point, if I had played with the product in the first place, I would probably have found the solution myself. But instead I wanted someone to just tell me the answer. And because no one had taken the time to explore something that was, after all, important to our everyday lives, we both lost more time than if each of us had just dug in and solved the problem on our own—which is exactly what I ended up doing anyway.
Technology changes defeat our presumptions. To serve as IT professionals, we need to keep ourselves free of preconceptions. The knowledge we work the hardest to gain is the knowledge that new technology will inevitably supplant—because replacing that knowledge is what makes the technology easier to use. We can’t leverage that arcane knowledge as our competitive edge forever. The real edge lies not in the accumulation of aging facts about how technology used to work, but rather in the ability to master new concepts and techniques. By continually learning, making learning part of our routine, we hone those skills. With the vast array of new products endlessly coming down the pike, learning must remain our way of life.
So if you need to reach me, feel free to e-mail me at either my Microsoft account or my MSN account—I can get mail from both in Outlook 2007.