The whole family watches Canada’s Worst Driver. We regularly watch the show to see how bad people are. And some of them are really, really bad. It’s even worse when they say that they are from Edmonton. *sigh*
One of the things that they talk about is “speed kills”. I have a problem with that statement. Excessive speed does not kill, it is driving at an unsafe speed, even if that speed is below the speed limit. What is an unsafe speed? A speed at which the driver is incapable of performing certain functions to save not only their life but someone else’s life.
If you look outside (assuming you are reading this shortly after I am writing this) winter has come. It’s white. It’s cold. It’s slippery. And just because you are driving a truck and doing the speed limit does not mean that you are automatically safe from the hazards of the road. So, yeah, you in the white Dodge Ram, I hope that the dent in your fender can be hammered out. I know you were driving at the speed limit, but you were driving unsafe because you didn’t know your own limitations or the limitations of your vehicle. That’s the key, understanding limitations.
But it’s the same regardless of whether or not you are driving a vehicle in winter or driving your IDE while developing. (Wasn’t that a smooth transition?) You need to know your limitations and the limitations of the tool. One of our biggest problems is putting in artificial limitations, both for ourselves and the tools we use. For instance, have you ever thought “I can’t do that!” when approaching a task but then subsequently doing it? You started off by limiting what you can do and then surpassing that limit, surpassing that expectation. By limiting what you can do you are preventing yourself from being let down if you fail. (I told you I couldn’t do that.) It is a safety mechanism, but it also inhibits your full potential. I know, this kind of sounds like Star Wars (Do or do not, there is no try) but humans actually work this way. We sabotage ourselves before we try something.
We do the same thing with the tools that we use. We learn a little bit about the tool, make some assumptions about the rest and then confidently say “Nope, the tool can’t do that.” The problem is that we are limiting what we can do with the tool. Modern tools in the software industry can do a heck of a lot that we don’t know about. They definitely do more than we use them for. I make use of a wide variety of software tools in my work and personal life and I’m confident that there are few tools for which I make almost complete use of all of the features.
Word? Not even close. Excel? Ha! PowerPoint? Visio? Outlook? IE? Chrome? No, no, no, no, no.
I think I make extensive use of Notepad. But if the tool is more complicated I learn what I need in order to do a specific task and stop there. I have Photoshop CC installed at home (two computer subscription from Adobe) and I can barely do enough to clean up photos. My daughter uses it for her art. Our knowledge level is worlds apart. My brother is in the insurance business and makes extensive use of spreadsheets, but if he has a complex task to do he calls me and I don’t even consider myself an expert.
Sometimes there is something that one tool does that is significantly different from another tool that you need to use both. I use Scrivener for writing fiction but Word for writing reports and other documents. (Although people have said some of my reports are pretty much fiction. I wonder what they meant?) I still have Notepad, TextPad, WordPad, the Visual Studio IDE, and a couple of other text/word editors on my machine. Each has a purpose, but I’m pretty sure that I could get rid of a couple and not really impact my productivity because the other tools also do the same task.
The more complex the tool, however, the higher the demand for other tools because they present a simpler solution to doing a task. The Visual Studio Integrated Development Environment (IDE) is a complex beast. Integrate it with Team Foundation Server (TFS) and you’ve thousands of pages of documentation you would need to review before fully understanding the toolset. So when you can pick up a tool for $100, that does something that Visual Studio already does, but makes it really simple to do, should you buy the tool? If you already have the tool do you use it or pick something easier? Do you even know if your existing tool does what you want to buy this other tool for?
Do you know the limitations of your tool?
For the most part, the answer is that people know enough to get their job done. That’s all most people have time for in this world of ours. “Just enough to be dangerous.”