To fix a problem, you must understand the problem

hairdryer_problemI have seen this too many times, and I’m at a point where I just need to get this out.  I have known technicians (and even “engineers”) that fix problems based on internet posts.

Now, this is not inherently evil.  Part of being a good engineer is admitting you don’t know and knowing where to go to get your information.  But, there is a difference between “knowing where to go” and “trying everything that other people have tried”.

What’s the difference?  Well, you MUST remind yourselves two things:

  1. Not everyone is an expert
  2. If you don’t understand the problem, your fixes may cause more harm than good

Consider this fictitious and exaggerated use-case:

You are working on the network, and someone said they need to be faster.  You have no idea how to do it, so you look online.  You read some blog post on a guy who increased the bandwidth by adding another bonded link from the system to the network.  Now, you have no idea what a bond is, but you think that’s just a descriptive term the author used.  So, you do that.  10 minutes later, you hear that everyone can’t access anything.

Now, this probably doesn’t happen alot, since most network techs know what just happened.  But, the process is still the same.  If a system administrator gets calls saying login scripts do not work, and they start adding registry values that worked for others, you can see why this could be bad.  You have no idea what you are doing, you just do it because someone else did.

So, you *must* understand the problem, in order to fully resolve it.  How do you do that, you ask?  If you truly understand it, then won’t you already know how to fix it?  Well, not necessarily.  In order to understand the problem, you need to look at the context and use your fundamental training.  Asking yourself questions like: “What IS working?”, “What are the scenarios or environment when this happens?”  If you do not understand the fundamentals, then you can’t understand the problem.

Aaron, you are talking in riddles.  What does that mean, “understand to understand”.  Is that some kind of Chinese proverb?

There is a difference between knowing the problem and knowing the solution.  ( I feel like Morpheus talking to Neo saying “There is a difference between knowing the path, and walking the path”).  If you took the proper time to review the issue and how it relates to your training, then you can better identify which blog posts or forums will help.  If you just willy-nilly all types of solutions without weeding out what you know won’t work, then you will cause far more problems than you are fixing, believe me.

If you fix a problem without understanding the problem….. That’s not a fix.  It’s a workaround  –Aaron Paxson

True enough, Darren.  Very good insight.

I suppose what I am trying to say is, don’t be lazy.  Take the time to think through the problem, rather than just using someone else’s steps.  Not only are you not learning anything, but you will never “grow” to be more than you are now.


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