The government department I’m currently working for recently embarked on buying a new HP Blade environment to upgrade their VMware cluster, something which I had a big hand in getting done. It was great to see after 5 months of planning, talking and schmoozing management that the hardware had arrived and was ready to be installed. My boss insisted that we buy services from HP to get it set up and installed, something which I felt went against my skills as an IT professional. I mean, it’s just a big server, how hard could it be to set up?
The whole kit arrived in around 27 boxes, 2 of them requiring a pallet jack to get them up to our build area. This was clearly our fault for not ordering them pre-assembled and was an extraordinary tease for an engineer like myself. I begrudgingly called up HP to arrange for the technician to come out and get the whole set up and installed. This is where the fun began.
After chasing our reseller and our account executive I finally got put onto the technician who would be coming out. At first I thought I was just going to get someone who knew how to build and install these things in a rack, something I was a bit miffed about spending $14,000 on. Upon his arrival I discovered he was not only a blade technician but one of the lead solution architects for HP in Canberra, and had extensive experience in core switches (the stuff that forms the backbone of the Internet). Needless to say this guy was not your run of the mill technician, something I’d discover more of over the coming days.
The next week was spent elbow deep in building, installing and configuring the blade system. Whilst this was a mentally exhausting time for myself I’m glad he was there. When we were configuring any part of the system he’d take us a step back to consider the strategic implications of the technology we were installing. I made no secret that I barely knew anything about networks apart from the rudimentary stuff and he did his best to educate me whilst he was here. After spending a week talking about VLANs, trunks and LACP I firmly understood where this technology was taking us, and how we could leverage it to our advantage.
Initially I felt very uncomfortable having someone constantly question and probe me about all the principles and practicies of our network. I’m not one to like being out of control, and having someone who is leaps and bounds smarter then you doing your work makes you seem redundant. However this all changed after I got up to speed and starting asking the right questions. It began to feel less like I was being lectured and more I was being led down the right path. Overall I’m extremely happy with my boss’ decision to bring this guy in, as the setup I would have done without his help would have been no where near the level that it is today.
In any workplace it’s always hard to work with someone who’s a lot smarter then you, especially if they’re your subordinate. Whilst I can’t find the original source for this quote (paraphrased) I’ll attribute it to my good friend, Nick:
A bad manager will surround themselves with people who either agree with everything they say or aren’t as smart as them. A good manager will have a team of people who are much smarter in their respective fields then them and use their advice to influence their business decisions.
So whilst I felt inferior because my boss didn’t believe I was capable and the architect was leaps and bounds above my skill level in the end it turned out to be a great benefit to everyone involved. From now on I’ll be looking at decisions like this in a new light, and hope this is a lesson that all the managers out there can take to heart.