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GIGO – Garbage In, Garbage Out

September 23, 2013

It’s a software phrase. It means that if you put bad data into a system, you’ll get bad data out. And it applies to people, and canning too. I’ve been in the computer industry for 25 years. When I started at WordPerfect (Back To Where It All Began) a century ago if you knew how to type, you could get a job. That literally was the screening process. If you could touch type, WordPerfect would hire you to work in their support department.

Times, have changed, but it didn’t take 25 years. When I went I left WordPerfect and went to Microsoft I was shocked at the level of education Microsoft support engineers had. Becky Winn, the person I cowrote my first book with had a masters, and our manager (Rodney, are you working or are you screwing around?) had an MBA.

The requirements for entry have continued to climb. Especially if you are looking at something other than an entry level position, companies have figured out they can be extremely picky. In many cases they decide to simply promote an internal candidate and teach her what they need to know.

At my last company I managed the SharePoint team. This was about 5 years ago and SharePoint expertise was extremely hard to find. Now, it’s merely difficult to find. Both of my senior SharePoint engineers got hired away. I was stuck with a SharePoint installation and no one to manage it. We looked briefly at searching for external candidates, but I knew the state of the industry and knew that at what we could afford to pay, we wouldn’t get anyone. We identified an internal candidate, Kent and tried to persuade him to apply for the position.

Kent was reasonably technical, but most importantly he was teachable. At least that’s what my technical screeners said. I remember interviewing Kent. Since my background is messaging, I asked him to describe the process of getting an email from your laptop to the destination desktop outside our company. Kent knew a few terms like DNS, and TCP/IP. But, he had no real clue how DNS entries got accessed. He fumbled and bumbled his way through the interview, constantly telling us that he was sure he’d failed it. Afterward, I talked to my senior messaging engineer who had conducted the interview with me.

What do you think?

I think we should offer it to him.

He missed nearly every question we asked him.

Yeah, but he was willing to say “I don’t know.” And that type of a person is willing to learn.

We offered it to him and he did an outstanding job.

So, as you look at your staff, you have to decide if they are teachable. Are you giving them opportunities to grow? Are you pigeon-holing them because they started out in another role?

I spent my weekend canning. Yeah, I know, kind of weird. I did 28 quarts of tomato sauce and 21 quarts of pear sauce.


And there’s what made me think of GIGO. The tomatoes weren’t hard, but it takes a lot of work to turn pears into pear sauce. You have to wash them, then blanch them (scald them in hot water) and then douse them in cold water so you can remove the skins. Then, you have to core them. Then, you have to turn them from pear slices into sauce. I used a blender. Then you have to put them in the jars, put the lids on, put the jars into the canner, let it get up a head of steam and then cook them for 38 minutes. (It’s normally 30, but I’m 4,000 feet above sea level, so they need the extra 8 minutes.)

It’s a lot less work to just go buy a can of pears. And yet, there’s a certain satisfaction in taking a pear, or a tomato and turning it into food. Similarly, it’s satisfying to take an employee, maybe one who’s stagnated in their current role, or one who simply is the best fit for your SharePoint team and train them in a new role. And just like my pears, there’s lots that can go wrong. I could start with spoiled fruit. I could screw up the canning process. It’s take a lot of attention to detail to get them to come out just the way I want them to.

The same thing applies to our staff. Start with good raw product, give it adequate attention and when you get done you have a product that will last a long time.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife and thirteen children. In the next two weeks he will can dozens of quarts of applesauce and gallons of the most delicious Concord grape juice you have ever tasted. And he’ll explain how it relates to business.

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From → Team Building

  1. The worst part of working for you was getting put in the blender (followed closely by the scalding water). 🙂

    • The big caldron wasn’t too tough to track down, but you would not believe how difficult it is to find a 6′ tall blender!


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