I'm a senior production engineer and a part time dragonborn paladin. While at work I support thousands of systems in collaboration with a team of geeks. It’s often stressful though very rewarding. Some evenings I spend with other geeks trying to survive imaginary disasters and save the world from the sorceress Morgana.One thing I love about collaborative games is that they plug into some of the real world emotional responses and social processes. It’s a place to practice dealing with critical scenarios in a safe place. When we know the stakes are purely imaginary we're able to look at our efforts from a distance, to gain understanding and enjoy ourselves. I'd like to share with you some insights D&D has given me about my work and how this can help you over the next 24 hours in your hacking efforts.
What is a production engineer? It comes under many names Operations, DevOps, Infrastructure engineering, System Admin. Someone who deploys and runs a highly available, scalable, and secure service that meets business and partner requirements. What does that mean? Generally it means someone with a wide ranging set of skills tackling different challenges at any point of time.
When you first start a campaign in dungeon and dragons, you build out a character using a character sheet with back story. This character sheet has a number of abilities and skills. You are given a number of points to allocate to each ability and skill which grants you additional chances to handle particular events successfully.In gaming you spend time in collaboration with your team to ensure that you have a well rounded team often choosing roles to complement the team. You don’t want a team of all “magic users” or hack and slashers. As a production engineer, I also want a diverse team with varied skills. I am not seeking people with the same expertise or abilities although they can overlap. I’m looking for people who complement me and help accomplish the goals and visions we have as a team.While we have resumes, and linked in profiles, there is no real character sheet that aligns experiences like submitting git pull requests, participating in hackathons, attending training or conferences, or the myriad of other day to day challenges you face to skill levels. Additionally, in real life if we don’t practice skills they languish. As I have not worked with Solaris for over 5 years, I can no longer call it a “skill”
Taking a step back I imagine a scenario where we are able to share character sheets as an introduction summarizing our current experience and skills. What would these abilities look like? 3 such abilities could be Communication, Collaboration, and Confidence. A first aspect of communication is the quantity of communication. How many messages are being transmitted, and how frequently.A second aspect of communication is the quality of communication. What is the mechanism used to transfer the message? How detailed is the message? What barriers exist that may affect the message being transmitted? Do you eliminate barriers that are superficial?A third aspect of communication is the effectiveness of communication. The message may be received, yet what are the overall behaviors in response to the message. Is the action what you expected?As you plan out and execute on your hack keep in mind that you need to invest points into communication. First when you seek out complimentary team members, second as you plan out the project you are working on, and finally as you present the narrative about your hack tomorrow on the stage.
There is a work that needs to be understood, planned, and completed for any product or service to be successful. It doesn’t matter who does it just that it gets done. Who we are isn’t “one thing”. We are not cogs, immediately replaceable and interchangeable. We are adaptable and intelligent, individuals with a variety of talents and skills.
The second ability is collaboration.There is a distinction between the members of your team and the roles they play. In gaming, you become comfortable speaking on behalf of your character while having a separate, sometimes meta-conversation with your teammates. Social environments seem to tend towards homeostasis, and we naturally ascribe a simplistic narrative to our co-workers actions. An awareness that we're all filling a role on our work teams sometimes not representative of everything about us as individuals.We need to consider the motivations behind our team mates to understand how to better communicate and collaborate.
The third ability is confidence. Confidence is about the innate quality that drive us to take risks or not. In gaming, sometimes you take the wrong path, or you put your squishy players out front and they get severely damaged. Mistakes happen. In the “real world” customers do something unexpected, There are bugs in the software, hardware fails, or someone from the team enters the wrong command on the wrong terminal in the production environment.Big data can mean big failures. Collaborative games like Dungeons & Dragons teach you to fail as a group and rise again, while retaining the group cohesion necessary to succeed. If a teammate really caused you to be captured by a giant spider, you'd probably flip out, but across the game board one has the emotional wiggle-room to behave in a manner that would be laudable in professional situations.
Playing D&D teaches you about exploring challenges with imagination and a sense of play. You have to piece things together while continuing to take action, both keeping in mind the larger game goals and what's immediately on the board at the same time. While there is this big world to explore, there are complex characters to talk to, and information to be gathered within each encounter. So how can we create character sheets that reflect our “character”?
Dungeons and Data - Yahoo Hack Day 2013
Dungeons and Data
by jennifer davis