I’ve been out of the loop here for a few days — for good reason. I have been working on a side project at work that will help me do my job. Basically, I’m building my “secret weapon” for understanding the work I do. I’m developing my own assistive technology.
Everybody needs some help, now and then, and in my case, I am keenly aware of needing help in a particular area of my day-to-day job. Basically, I have to look at information all day. Data. Statistics. Numbers and letters and strings of them all put together in a certain order. And then I need to understand what they are actually saying. The world we live in is increasingly “data-driven”, as they say. And at my work, especially. Basically, while they line up the company to get acquired in a few months, all spending on anything at all has stopped.That includes office supplies, food purchased by managers, awards… and projects. There’s a hiring freeze on, except for the most critical positions. And any work that gets done has to have a sound reason for getting done.
That means, in order to do things, you need to have data to back you up. You can’t just say, “Hey, let’s try this! Gather the troops and let’s get workin’ on it!” You have to produce evidence that says, “We have a real need for this to happen, and it’s costing us this much money, if we don’t do something about it.”
The key to management’s heart is data — the key to everyone’s heart, really. I’ve learned in the last three months that you can’t just show up and say, “I have a hunch.” You have to arrive with evidence and compelling logic in hand.
Or your work isn’t going to get done. You’re not going to get it approved by management, and you’re not going to get anybody to work on it with (or for) you.
So, instead of going blind over looking at tens of thousands of rows of data, and making myself crazy with coming up with a way to pull out only the few thousand lines I really care about, I’ve been building a tool that will take a file of tens of thousands of lines, and turn it into a visual. It color codes the information so it jumps out at me. That way, I can see the patterns that actually matter, and I have a starting point that lets me dig into the areas that are worth it.
Trying to find meaningful information in the midst of all the data I have, is like playing football at the park with a bunch of friends on Thanksgiving, and afterwards when you get to your car, you realize you dropped your keys on the field. It’s getting dark, you can’t walk back to the house, and you don’t have another set of keys. So, you have to walk around the field looking for those keys.
That’s how my job is — I’m looking for needles in the haystack. I’m looking for my car keys in the middle of a big park, while it’s getting dark. I’m screwed.
Except that now — metaphorically — I have a metal detector. And it’s not just any metal detector. It’s industrial strength, incredibly powerful, and it’s also automated. I don’t even need to walk out in that metaphorical field to find my keys. The detector that I’ve built is like a roomba that goes out on its own and covers every inch of the field on its own, not stopping till it finds my keys. And then it brings them back to me.
That’s the kind of tool I’ve been building, and it’s pretty friggin’ awesome. It doesn’t need to do everything for me. It just needs to find the patterns I need. And it does just that.
I got it working late on Wednesday, and now that I took a day off, I’m going to put the finishing touches on it, test it fully, and get ready to demo it for my team next week.
I’m pretty stoked.
First off, this tool is a short-cut through masses of data that literally exhaust me to work with. This tool will allow me to narrow my focus and not concern myself with the mountains of irrelevant information that just gets in the way. It’s going to save me time — and a ton of energy, letting me use literally half as much energy as I used to. Possibly even less. I’ve been pretty wiped out by my job, truth to tell, and this tool will allow me to fix some of that.
Second, it’s evidence that my brain is getting back on track in important ways. I haven’t been able to code like this in over ten years, and that’s been pretty devastating to my sense of self. I used to be able to whip up programs and scripts in no time and crank things out very cleanly. Since my fall in 2004, I’ve been muddling through.
This program I’ve written is a variation on that theme. It’s been a very uneven process. I’ve been like walking down a path on a cool fall morning. One minute, things are clear and I can see the path forward plain as day. The next, I’m encased in fog, and I cannot figure out what to do. It’s been stop-and-go for over a week, since I started working at this thing, and there have been many times when I just wanted to drop the whole thing and walk away, because it was all way too much.
So, I took breaks. I stopped and started. Every time I went back to the tens of thousands of lines of data, I realized I couldn’t go on without this tool. It was just too much for me.
It’s not the prettiest thing in the world, but it has all the proper logic behind it, the necessary flow, the step-by-step breakdowns of what it’s supposed to do. It’s taken me a lot longer to put together, than it probably would have, before my fall. But screw it — it works. And it does its job beautifully.
Plus by the time I’ve put the finishing touches on it, it will do it all even more beautifully.
I just need to know when to stop.
I just need to know when to trust myself that good enough is good enough, and I can just use what I’ve built to do my job.
It’s taken me 11 years to get to this point — perhaps even longer. Looking back on my life immediately prior to my fall in 2004, I realize that I was a “hot mess”, as some of my friends say. I was anxious and freaked out and constantly stressed. I had so many issues that I’d accumulated from numerous TBIs, and all of them remained unaddressed — and probably made worse by people who thought that my problems were emotional.
Everybody’s got their emotional “baggage”, but my real problem was with executive functioning and managing all the issues I had from at least 9 mild TBIs over the course of my life. Add to that a very non-verbal thinking style (I’m really more visual, despite writing so much on this blog), while the rest of the world expects you to think and communicate and interact verbally, and you’ve got yourself a potent combo for … issues.
Getting the information I need about how to move forward has been a life-saver. And I’ve been working so hard at getting functional again — getting to a level where I’m actually comfortable — that it’s been pretty discouraging at times. It’s been stop and go, touch and go. I’d feel like I was making so much progress and getting so clear, then something else would come up and knock me back down. I’d end up in the fog again… just when everything was seeming so clear.
But like with my program, I’ve always gotten back to the work of getting myself back on track.
And over time, it’s paid off. It’s taken years. And to be honest, I often still don’t feel like my old self. But I have this new self — a stranger whose clothes and shoes seem to fit me, and whose life is one I can lead pretty effectively. And that has to be good enough.
I’m not really sure if I’ll ever get back to where I want to be. And in all honesty, I’m not sure I can even remember where that was, or exactly how I was before. It’s all kind of jumbled up in my head. But for now, everything seems to be coming together pretty well. Bit by bit, piece by piece, it’s coming back.