Thursday, March 3, 2011

The War of the Geeks

First a small history lesson. Just after the Earth cooled, the first Sysop and Code Slinger launched the opening salvo in the age old conflict I have termed the "War of the Geeks." In the history of man, there has been only one other conflict that has been more adversarial or enduring, I am of course referring to the conflict between the Arabs and Israelites.

Not surprising, each of these conflicts share a couple of common themes. Each side involved are fervent believers in an ideology which is diametrically opposed to the other side's. There have been multiple parties who have attempted, many times in vain, to broker a peace. While there have been a great number less casualties in the war of the geeks many, many lives have been impacted.

In order to understand the rationale behind the conflict, you must understand that Sysops and Code Slinger really are trying to reach the same point, albeit from opposite vectors. The destination each is seeking to reach is a stable and performant system.

The conflict comes in due to the approach each side has a proclivity to take. The Code Slinger wants a open system where all system resources are at their disposal. The Sysop wants a closed system where each resource is accounted for and used efficiently. There are also theological differences on security, file structures, database layouts etc which while germane to the conflict, would be tangental and redundant to discuss here. Suffice it to say, each side is adamant in their convictions and vilifies the opposing side at every opportunity.

Starting in 2001 I began a journey which took me into the heart of this conflict, I became a manager of an IT Operations team. Up until this point, I was but a lowly foot soldier in the Sysop army and while I did not understand why we fought, I understood that fight we must.

When I was elevated to a position of leadership, I quickly gained a perspective on the previously stated rationale, which had previously been unavailable to me due to being in the minutiae. This perspective allowed me to clearly identify what was at the core of the conflict, and once realized, I began to formulate a plan to bridge the gap which separated the two sides.

The plan I devised was to create an ecosystem where each side was exposed to the dynamics which influenced the other's ideology. Put another way, I wanted each side to "walk a mile in each other's shoes."

Now as it usually happens, this plan was much easier to conceptualize than it was to implement. When I broached the subject with my team, I received many incredulous looks from the team members and shouts of "blasphemer!!" When I approached my contemporary on the engineering side, the reception I received was a more open minded one. You see, he had also come to a similar understanding and conclusion. It was in this moment that a unholy union was formed and a plan was hatched.

Our plan was to cross pollinate our teams by creating scenarios in which interactions developed organically. We also began to relocate key individuals to be in close proximity to one another to remove the artificial communication barrier short distances can sometimes present. In fact, we had a famous saying which was "there is no distance greater in our business then the distance between the 5th and 6th floors."

Our scheming began to bear fruit almost immediately. What I observed was that people who had initially argued their entrenched positions, started to use each other's lexicons when speaking in team meetings and began to argue the other side when the other side was not present.

Over time, the teams began to blur and instead of building barricades and arming themselves with verbal arrows, they began to speak in a unified voice. Now, this does mean that they were holding hands and sing Kumbaya, but it did mean that they were no longer at war.

This success was the start of something amazing and frankly has become a passion of mine. As I look for new opportunities, I intend to seek out those opportunities which allow me to take all that I have learned and once again attempt to broker a peace in the war of the geeks.

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