I was saddened to learn last week that one of my former coworkers passed away unexpectedly. Duane Mersman started at the same time I did at United Systems and we both spent most of our time in the engineering area working on projects. We worked together on so many things that I honestly couldn’t keep count of them if I tried. He’s going to be missed by so many people.
A Hare’s Breadth
Duane was, in many ways, my polar opposite at work. I was the hard-charging young buck that wanted to learn everything there was to know about stuff in about a week and just get my hands dirty trying to break it and learn from my mistakes. If you needed someone to install a phone system next week with zero formal training or learn how iSCSI was supposed to operate based on notes sketched on the back of a cocktail napkin I was your nerd. That meant we could often get things running quickly. It also meant I spent a lot of time trying to figure out why things weren’t working. I left quite a few forehead-shaped dents in data center walls.
Duane was not any of those things. He was deliberate and methodical. He spent so much time researching technology that he knew it backwards and forwards and inside out. He documented everything he did while he was working on it instead of going back after the fact to scribble down some awkward prose from his notes. He triple checked all his settings before he ever implemented them. Duane wouldn’t do anything until he was absolutely sure it was going to work. And even then he checked it again just to be sure.
I used to joke that we were two sides of the same coin. You sent me in to clean things up. Then you sent Duane in to clean up after me. I got in and out quickly but I wasn’t always the most deliberate. Duane would get in behind me and spend time making sure whatever I did was the right way. I honestly felt more comfortable knowing he would ensure whatever I did wasn’t going to break next week.
Management knew how to use us both effectively. When the customer was screaming and needed it done right now I was the guy. When you wanted things documented in triplicate Duane was the right man for the job. I can remember him working on a network discovery diagram for a medical client that was so detailed that we ended up framing it as a work of art for the customer. It was something that he was so proud of given the months that he toiled away on it.
In your organization you need to recognize the way that people work and use them effectively. If you have an engineer that just can’t be rushed no matter what you need to find projects for them to work on that can take time to work out correctly. You can’t rush people if they don’t work well that way. Duane had many gears but all of them needed to fit his need to complete every part of every aspect of the project. Likewise, hard chargers like me need to be able to get in and get things done with a minimum of distraction.
Think of it somewhat like an episode of The Witcher. You need a person to get the monsters taken care of but you also need someone to chronicle what happened. Duane was my bard. He documented what we did and made sure that future generations would remember it. He even made sure that I would remember the things that we did later when someone asked a question about it or I stated blaming the idiot that programmed it (spoiler alert: I was that idiot).
Lastly, Duane taught me the value of being a patient teacher. When he was studying to take his CCNP exams he spent a significant amount of time on the SWITCH exam learning the various states of spanning trees. I breezed through it because it mostly made sense to me. When he went through it he lobbed up every example and investigated all the aspects of the settings. He would ask me questions about why something behaved the way it did or how a setting could mess things up. As he asked me what I thought I tried to explain how I saw it. My explanations created more questions. But those questions helped me investigate why things worked the way they did. His need to know all about the protocol made me understand it at a more fundamental level than just passing an exam. He slowed me down and made sure I didn’t miss anything.
Duane was as much a mentor in my career as anyone. We learned from each other and we made sure to check each other’s work. He taught me that slow and steady is just as important as getting things done at warp speed. His need to triple check everything led me to do the same in the CCIE lab and is probably the reason why I eventually passed. His documentation and diagrams taught me to pay attention to the details. In the end he helped me become who I am today. Treasure the people you work with that take the time to do things right. It may take them a little longer than you’d like but in the end you’ll be happier knowing that they are there to make sure.