The Lost Art of Troubleshooting

Me - USAF - July 1992
Me – USAF – July 1992

Today is the fourth of July — recognized here in the United States as “Independence Day”. This is another of those “holidays” that make me cringe internally. There’s the obligatory flag-waving  and over-the-top displays of the United States flag, the parades with people praising military veterans with far too much gusto, and the incessant American need to blow things up. Yes, I am not fond of this time of the year.

I have a denim jacket that has a ton of patches on it – mostly my old squadron patches, and a few of the patches from my time in the Boy Scouts. On the jacket is an American Flag – put there because I did serve in the United States Air Force for eight years. Looking back, I served because there were no other options available to me. I failed my way out of college. I had trouble holding any kind of job. I bristled at any attempt to place me under authority. In short, I was a “bad-tempered, irresponsible little shit” — in the words of my late father. Eight years in the United States Air Force smashed all that out of me. I learned that authority was not necessarily a bad thing, and when applied appropriately – it could literally help place someone on the correct track in life. Please, don’t get me wrong – this did not happen overnight. The first two years of my career were littered with Letters of Counseling and Letters of Reprimand. But my work ethic was next to none. When I had a job placed in front of me, I did my best to complete the task as accurately as I could – and would only ask for further instruction when any other available option and resource available to me had been tried. I didn’t see it in that manner – I merely wanted to get the job finished, and show my superiors that I could be left alone to my own devices. I was still bristling at any type of Command Authority being placed upon me.

In my second year, I was working the late-night shift at the telephone switchboard. I spent a large portion of my nights reading and writing. In between, I answered calls from people around the base wanting to be connected to an off-base number. I rarely paid attention to the numbers – I just plugged the corresponding connection cord into the patch panel, dialed their numbers and released. I wound up in front of my section Chief one morning for placing “976” numbers over the course of a week. My Section Chief expected me to deny what happened. Instead, I walked in, quoted the section regulation that I was responsible for what happened during my shift and stated I was ready to take my punishment. That was the moment that I started to grow up. That was also the moment that my Section Chief believed in me enough to move me over to the Data Center. In six weeks time, I knew the operations of the UniSys mainframe nearly as well as the very experienced civilian UniSys maintenance crew that were there to keep the system running. Soon, I was made a shift leader, and giving more responsibilities, such as learning how to operate the newly installed digital backup power system that was installed in my second year there.

I still got in trouble from time-to-time. I had other issues with Command Authority, and did my level best to keep the starched career-military people away from my troops. I was deemed as “unconventional” and “odd” by folks like this — and honestly, promotions boards tend to view people with my attitude as “unreliable” because I did not follow rules. That is still true to this day. I do not worry about the rules, I stress over the results. As I told the individuals on my shift several times — “Let’s not worry about the way we are supposed to get it done, let’s make sure it works. We can work around whatever we do later, so that it ‘fits’ what Command Authority wants. Let’s make sure it works first.”

I left the Air Force in 1994. We did not part on great terms. There are a lot of people that I still view as being assholes because they could not see beyond the regulations to notice that the responsibility should come first. Or as mentioned in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies on more than one occasion: “…they are not really rules, merely guidelines.”

Since leaving the military, I have made a semi-decent career of being an out-of-the-box trouble-shooter for computer systems. But people who think outside of the rules and regulations in order to obtain results are looked down upon even more so in corporate America. Its not really about solving problems, its more about following the rules. And yes, that meant that I got in more trouble as a result. At one job, I mentioned several times that the current computer systems that were in place would not handle an added VOIP service because of their age – I was told that I was not knowledgeable enough to know the difference. And when the VOIP service did not work out-of-the-box, I was cussed out by the company’s President in front of all the individuals working there, and told that I was the reason that the company was circling the drain. I had only been there eighty-eight days at that point. I quit ten seconds after the company President shut his mouth. I was their only Information Technology worker at that time.

When I hear people thank me for the time I spent in the service, I bristle inwardly. They may thank me for wearing the uniform, but that’s all they are thanking me for. It did not take a ton of resolve to stand there at the MEPS station, raise my right hand and recite my oath:

I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Its not a really tough oath to take.  I removed the last part of “So help me God” because I did not say that part. It doesn’t nullify the oath for me. If you think it does for you – then you say it. However, less than ten percent of the United States population will ever raise their right hand and take this oath. When I hear people thank me for my service – what I actually hear is a different statement:

Thank you for serving (so I or my kid or my spouse or my family members didn’t have to).

Statistically speaking, most members of the military come from very poor origins. They go here so that they can accrue monies to go to college — and thus be able to compete within the marketplace for a job. And to be completely honest, an individual with a military background gets a far greater consideration from me when applying for a job. Not because they served, but because I know what serving did to change them into the individual that they are today.

Yes, today – we here in the United States celebrate the birth of this nation. Its an interesting experiment in Democracy. Lately, we seem to disagree far more vehemently than we ever have before. My oath of enlistment states that I will obey the orders of the President…I don’t get to add to that. When I hear people say that the current President is not “their” President – and thus they do not have to respect him, I only hope they never put on a uniform and go to a front-line combat area, where they may pick and choose which fellow soldier they would protect and work with based on that individual’s politics.

In a a manner of speaking, I am digressing a bit…rambling if you will. Of course, those of you that read me are aware that I do that. So let me drag this back to where I was headed…

We spend a ton of time with “country-oriented” holidays here in the United States. And yes, I like the freedoms that I enjoy here as a citizen. There are other aspects that I do not care one bit for — the political and social divide that exists throughout the United States; the knee-jerk social reactions that gets far too much amplification from “social” media; the way we marginalize people based on what they believe, the pigmentation of their skin or who they choose to love. What I hate more is the manner in which none of this will be solved in regulatory passage, Supreme Court rulings, or in loud, over-the-top protestations. Its only going to change when we start to treat one another as equals – regardless of our differences.

I looked beyond the rules and regulations to find solutions that kept information flowing into my command structure. Troubleshooting is not about following the rules….perhaps we need more troubleshooters….

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One thought on “The Lost Art of Troubleshooting

  1. When I thank a serviceman or woman, it is not because I didn’t have to serve, it’s because I couldn’t have served. The same way I would thank police officers and firemen.

    Accept the thanks as the only way we know how to show gratitude.

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