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Age Wisdom and What We Do With It

September 4, 1998
by Alex Zavatone

Age is a double edged sword. You gain the experience and wisdom (hopefully) to help you get through life and thrive while your body slowly takes the "I am no longer a teenager" path. Fortunately, my daily 1 hour warm up procedure allows ample time for observation, an occasional cup tea, tithes to the gods of good workstation posture and general tying together of stray threads of this alleged wisdom we're supposed to acquire throughout life.

Looking back, it is interesting to see what I remember as the wisdom that I have picked up along the way. Little snippets like "you never know what it's like unless you've been through it yourself", "don't be a dick - alright TRY not to be a dick" (can we print that?), "life is too short to surround yourself with people who suck, drink cheap beer and search for parking" and "steal info from people who know more than you do and hope that they do the same to you" are valuable basics to me. Probably, the "steal (learn) from those who know more than you do" is so key because I was the "I'm smart, I can do it" kinda guy. Once you prove that to yourself, it is so important when you learn not to create the idea or project yourself but to let somone who has already done it/learned it teach you what they have done. Big win. Next to your health, your time is the most valuable thing you've got.

So we do code right? No. We do projects. Code is the easy part. The project is the complicated issue and the project is surrounded (at times) with marketing, branding and sales issues. So what have you learned that helps you make the project happen? Think about it and I'll tell you what I learned.

See, speaking from the little 5 year old boy who defines the foundation of my behavior today, I like to take things apart. Ok, ALL 5 year old boys like to take things apart. How many put them back together again? And how many of these things we put back together again work with all those spare parts we have left? Well, descriptions of how Pat fixes his Macs not withstanding, I noticed that as a child, I was GREAT at planning to do stuff. Then I was pretty good at actually starting my project. Occasionally, I'd get halfway through it and let it rest - unless it was a model airplane which most always got built. Otherwise you'd never be able to see if it was aerodynamically sound and be able to glue it back together again. But that type of behavior was the foundation for me and how I would take on and proceed with projects in my future. It is not a great shock that I was not alone in behaving this way.

This realization came in my early days while I was contracting at Macromedia and other companies. Many times, I was hired in at multimedia companies to fix up other people's projects. Lotsa times in fact and this got me thinking. The following pearl of wisdom told me that to become successful in multimedia and in any path I might take was the following:

There are three types of mindsets you need to have when working on a project.

  1. You have to be good at planning and starting the project. Brainstorm, talk about it, jam out those storyboards.
  2. You've got to switch tracks and start to DO the project. Or hire somone who is good at that.
  3. You've got to stop doing the project and actually finish the project. Or hire somone who is good at that.

A very valuable person is one who can be all three of those people and that person has a likelyhood of becoming successful because he or she can COMPLETE projects, not only talk about or start them."

Pretty key huh? So I decided to actually try to live up to my own wisdom - another pearl in itself. Surprisingly another tidbit came to me back from the days of failing Organic Chemistry II. "If you teach concepts to others, you reaffirm them in your own mind." I learned this because I was having trouble in Organic I and I started tutoring other students. I did better because the concepts that were tough to me got clearer when I helped explain them to my classmates! Moral of the story: the more you do stuff the easier it gets and talk to your friends about the stuff you do that works. Don't bitch about the stuff that doesn't -- that won't help you learn. (Severe apologies to the members of the Director engineering teams who listened to me bitch about bugs for almost 4 years :] .)

So we do Projects right? Not always. Many of us run companies or are responsible for a big chunk of one. If we back up a step and get our heads out of the product/project we are working on (another HUGE advantage to personal and professional growth) we can see that just completing the project is not the whole issue. We also need to worry about the aforementioned branding, marketing sales and business issues. These are too much to take into consideration at once and should be handled separately. Just try to bring a product to market once. Just once and you'll see how difficult it can be. This is the big picture and surprisingly or not, the advantages of object oriented programming DIRECTLY apply here. Think of a top down approach where you have the main task (the project) and the component parts as the portions that must be managed. Each of these components (marketing, design and coding, sales) also have parts that must be managed. By knowing the big picture we have set up the structure that affords you the freedom to focus on the details - something I tell artists who don't rely on timelines and structure but on inspiration.

This may help in the management but the true big picture is applying your wisdom to allow you to work less, get stuff done with less stress and take time do things that don't involve the office. Have fun and get your stuff done so you can get the hell out of the office.

A Director user since 1987, Alex (Zav) Zavatone has worked on the engineering teams for both Director and Shockwave, 4, 5, 6 and 7. Recent investigations find him developing foundation classes for Director with asynchronous process management and other life threatening activities. In its early days, he had something to do with this Internet thing known as "DOUG". A noted ne'erdowell, slacker and laggard, Mr. Zavatone is nonetheless is trusted by children, small animals and the elderly. In his spare time, Mr. Zavatone rehabilitates lame desert trout.

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