Slacking on the Job: Or using someone else’s brain as your own!

This post by Thomas LaRock came across my feed a few weeks ago. I’ve had it in my queue to write about since then. Basically he talks about cutting back on using Slack communities. For those not familiar with Slack, it’s a tool used to basically chat with other folks. It can be used internally for companies, set for just two people, or for larger groups of people.

But before we go further, let’s jump in a time machine and go back to the fall of 1985. I was a freshly minted freshman at RPI. I was so freshly minted, one or two of my friends to this day joke about how minty fresh I smelled.

Back then the main computer on campus was Sybil, a dual processor IBM 3081D. Some students had written a program called *CB. Some of you may recall the popularity of CB radios in the 70s and 80s. (If you’re too young for that, click the link back there and read up on it). *CB was a computer based version of it. It had as I recall 10 channels; 0-9, 0 being a ‘public channel’ and the other 9 used for different types of discussions.

I found this early on and started to use it. Of course a problem was, this being a mainframe, all CPU cycles got billed to the student. Of course CPU cycles were cheaper after midnight, so, yes, I did a lot of late nights at a terminal (preparing me for a life in computers).

But, *CB had its limits and it wasn’t long before the powers that be decided to shut it down. But the students weren’t to be denied. Next came *CONNECT. This ran in a different mode so was better tolerated. But that too eventually went away.

At some point *CONNECT was replaced by Clover, which I believe ran on an UNIX system. Clover was soon replaced by Lily. I’m not sure how long Lily has been around, but I know it’s been around for at least 24 years.

From *CB to Lily several features were added or improved upon. The number of discussions on Lily is infinite. Discussions can be private, so only allowed members can see the discussion and who is in it. Discussions can be moderated to control who can and can’t talk. Moderators of discussions can control who is or isn’t in them.

One of the coolest features, and as far as I know the first system to implement this was the concept of a detached user, i.e. you could leave the system, come back and reconnect and review what you had missed. This predated by a number of years AOL introducing a similar feature (and other systems introducing it). Many features found in IRC and SLACK and other systems were first tried out at RPI on Lily or one of its predecessors. (more of a history at that preceeeding link)  (Yes, I’m bragging a bit about my alma mater and the students there.)

Anyway, I write all this because it leads me to Slack. I’ve used Slack. I’m not a fan of Slack. There’s no one specific reason and I’m not saying Slack is bad. That said, one issue I personally find is that everything is so separated that I end up with 3-4 separate Slack Windows and I lose track of what’s going on.

But, I still use Lily. I continue to use Lily every day. I’m a member of 333 discussions, I own 16 and some of those I’m in and I own are private (no I’m not revealing any secrets, sorry!) Why?

Well first I should note, of the 333 discussions, probably 300 of them get little to no traffic. For example the discussion Usenet gets extremely little traffic.  Others, such as Space can be very popular at times (like yesterday around 4:30 PM during the Falcon 9 launch).

So why am I on Lily so much? There’s two reasons. One is the obvious reason: we’re social creatures and I like the interaction. And since I work from home, it’s nice to chat with other folks. And I should note that Lily members are scattered around the country and even the world.

But there’s also another very important reason.  I’m not as smart as some of you may think. My brain is limited to the size of my skull. BUT, I’m not limited to that. I call Lily my extended brain. And it really is. At one point I was having a particularly difficult time with some Javascript (we’ve all been there right?). So I asked one of my Lily friends for help. She’s a full-time web-developer and she was able to help me out. When I’ve had Perl questions, various people have helped me out, including at least one member of the Perl Foundation (I may be mistating his actual role/title). I routinely answer questions about SQL Server.

Other RPI Alumns or associated people have played a major role in writing or being involved with the development of Usenet, DNS, the modern Internet infrastructure. Several work at Google, Microsoft, Amazon or other major companies and can provide a great deal of information I might not have access to otherwise.

I’ve also hired people I’ve met through Lily. It’s been a great resource for job hunting for myself and others.

Even long before we had the wealth of knowledge easily available on today’s Internet, Lily was my extended brain. And it continues to be my extended brain.

I’m not as smart as you think I am. But my friends are, and they’re even smarter than that. And this is one thing that basically makes us humans unique: our language and ability to communicate permits us to be smarter than we really are. We can and do share knowledge. If you really want to be smart and improve your lives and your careers, develop your network. Find your extended brain and exploit it. And remember your role in being an extended brain in others.

So no, I won’t develop a love for Slack. But I won’t give up Lily either. It’s part of who I am.

As a postscript, I will remind folks: if you like what I write, please subscribe so you get the updates when I write more.

And look for me at:

SQL Saturday Philadelphia: April 21st
SQL Saturday Atlanta: May 19th
SQL Saturday Albany: July 28th

You can pick my brain and extend yours there.

 

3 thoughts on “Slacking on the Job: Or using someone else’s brain as your own!

  1. Pingback: Sharking | greenmountainsoftware

  2. Pingback: Oil Change Time and a Rubber Ducky | greenmountainsoftware

  3. Pingback: Sharing and Building | greenmountainsoftware

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