“Because” and “Best Practice” are not complete answers

(This is an old post migrated from my Blogspot blog of years ago. I was speaking to some colleagues about “Best Practices” and how they’re usually a cover for the lazy or at best a baseline of mediocrity. While I collect thoughts for a more in-depth post, I’ll leave this old one here.)

My mind is lazy. It’s a problem that I’m aware of and am working against as hard as I know how. There are two main symptoms of my mental laziness. The first is that I want to remain as comfortable as possible by staying with what I know. The second is that I just don’t want to spend the time it would take to learn something new.

As a result, when I want to do something a certain way I skew my views, bias the facts, ignore fallacies and generally rage against the scientific method in my pursuit of all things Me. I’m heinously selfish.

While reading through the blog of Virtualization maven Jason Boche, I came across a convicting jewel of a statement within this post that detailed his in-person defense of a Virtualization design while pursuing his VCDX certification. I was happily reading through the longish post when out of nowhere, in the eleventh paragraph, Rational Thought punched me in the face thusly:

Anything you list in your design you need to be able to speak to. If you cannot speak to everything in your design, then how do you know it is appropriate for your design? “Because”, and “Best Practice” are not complete answers.

Most of you, as seasoned IT professionals, will probably be staring at the screen and mumbling something like “Well duh!” Go back and read the first sentence in this blog post. Do you see why Jason Bosche’s sentence was so devastating to me? I stopped and re-read his two sentence dose of reality several times.

When I’m looking to create a solution, I heavily favor what I’m most comfortable with by using words like “Industry Standard”, “Best Practice” and “Standards Based” to soothe the pangs of protest from my conscience. In reality, I can sense that I’m probably only pursing The Path of Familiarity or avoiding The Path of Lots of Reading.

Don’t get me wrong. I really enjoy learning new things. That’s one of my favorite things about this industry. But sometimes in spite of enjoying this field of work, and this is the confusing part that I haven’t been able to sort out yet, I just don’t want to go through the effort of learning a new thing.

Other times, I make a design decision and know that I don’t really know why I’ve chosen a certain element. I’ll glance at it and think “Eh, it’s a standard.” But shouldn’t I be able to defend that decision on a more granular level?

I admit athat you can’t know everyhing about any industry, especially info tech. I can’t break every link in in each chain that makes up a solution down to an atomic level because if I did, I’d be reading books on particle theory and leaving out saucers of cream for Schrodinger’s cat.

And furthermore, I firmly believe that there is often no single definitive “best solution”. The decision on what is the best solution is legitimately influenced by what you’re most familiar with. More on that in a later post.

Can you defend your design decisions? Can you speak to each element with something more thoughtful than sales department buzzwords like “Best Practice” and “Industry Standard”? Are your decisions based on more than familiarity and comfort? Here’s to admins that embrace the scientific method.

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