I realized something the other day. When it comes to explaining things, I really need a good mix of dialog (2 way communication) and exposition (1 way communication) to really get it right. The problem is that I tend to be quite bad at balancing the two. The same appears to be true for the acts of saying something and writing it down. I need to do both.
For the last 6 months or so, I've been attempting (off and on) to write a document that helps explain data storage technology choices in software engineering at Yahoo: what's available and how you might decide when to use a DBM system vs. Oracle vs. MySQL and so on.
Every time I've attempted to start it, I had written a sentence or two and then stared at the monitor. After 15 minutes or so, I'd erase everything and stare at the blank space on the monitor some more. Never quite sure where to start or even how to put bounds around the problem, I got nowhere. It was like squeezing Jello. Every time I manged to get a hold of something--an idea, stuff began moving elsewhere.
Then, about a week ago, a co-worker posed a very simple question on our "database stuff" mailing list. It was a question I'd answered a few times before. It had came up now and then during the "MySQL at Yahoo!" talk I've given in a handful of Yahoo's remote offices. The question, if you're wondering, was roughly "We seem to have a lot of MySQL around here. Does anyone use PostgreSQL? If not, why?"
Having answered it before verbally, I set out to do the same thing in writing. In the process of doing so, I finally drew (using ASCII art, of course) the visual aid that I'd previously described verbally (and by waving my arms a bit): my database technology continuum.
After I finished, I re-read the message and it hit me. This could be the starting point for that damned document. If I begin here using this (and explaining it), almost everything else just falls into place.
I was further encouraged by the fact that several folks contacted me off-list to say that my explanation really cleared some things up for them.
Duh. It was right there all along. In my head. Someone just had to get me to pull it out. I really wonder how long this would have lasted if he hadn't asked that question.
Is it just me, or does this sort of thing happen to other people too?
Posted by jzawodn at December 15, 2003 10:48 PM