The Lost Art of Thinking Critically

In my job, I am often called upon to solve problems – in fact, most of my job is less about writing code or making things pretty (no comments from the gallery, please) than it is figuring out how to make things work the way that they are supposed to. Often, the issue is actually to get everything back the way it was before a wayward upgrade skewed the normal operating procedure to a point where everything went slightly haywire.

Over the weekend, for instance, against my better judgment, I took on a job to implement an upgrade. With steps in hand from the company who supplied the software, I felt mostly confident that we could get the job done relatively quickly. Unfortunately, as we were nearing the end of the process, everything went absolutely nuts. Suddenly files were inaccessible and nothing would work. I still have to admit that I just don’t know what went wrong – it’s like there was a forgotten uninstall process that someone just left waiting to explode. At that point, the most useful skill was not knowledge, but being able to figure out how to restore some semblance of order.

Ultimately, the whole upgrade wasn’t bad – the application had just been rendered inaccessible, and we spent a while trying to figure out why, before a reboot resolved the apparent uninstall that had been waiting for who knows who long to happen. When you deal with multiple service providers, this sort of thing is bound to happen, and so being able to think your way through the process is what becomes the most important tool at your disposal.

To make matters worse – or perhaps to further illustrate the point – the same company reared their head again today, when they showed that they have been unable to resolve a printing issue (on the same upgrade). After I spent an hour or so determining that only a few clients couldn’t print (those that connected to the same server that had a missing application, from which they drew their files), it seemed logical to try and reinstall the report software. The software in this case is Crystal Reports, though I suspect any such software would have had the problem.

This in turn brought out a new set of errors, but it showed that at least we were on the right track. Sure enough, another round of updates, and installing the software into the shared path where the clients could find the software, resolved the issue entirely. After just a couple of hours, the client was happy again, despite the fact that I had no idea what the software itself was doing (other than creating an error). Strangely enough, the creators of the application spent more than 10 hours on the same problem and couldn’t resolve it.

I’m not sharing this to brag or anything of the sort – I’m just left wondering what has happened to the ability to think through a problem? Apparently all day yesterday, this software company did nothing but blame the changes to the network (there actually weren’t any) for the fact that their software could no longer print on some clients, when all it took was a quick reinstallation of their software. I hate that it took me two hours to find the solution, but the fact that I had to work through the problem to get there makes me okay with the answer. What do you think? Am I being too hard on this group? Surely they should have been able to see it sooner than I did, right?