“Tinkering” is a term for a form of tweaking. One user of the Finnish urban dictionary website puts it as “what computer people call programming or some such tweaking”. Tinkering and tweaking are words often used by specialists working with automatic data processing, and especially infrastructure and operating systems; sometimes several times a day. Many use tinkering as a general description of everything that an infrastructure expert does for a job; some of us drive cars, some of us wash cars, some of us tinker with infrastructure.
In order to find new approaches to the hard core of tinkering, I had a talk with two fresh faces at Solita Cloud, Tommi Ritvanen and Lauri Moilanen. We focused on the question of what tinkering actually is, reaching pretty far down the rabbit hole, and also discussed what is included in tinkering. Finally, we naturally considered how the newly-published Solita Cloud Manifesto has manifested in the everyday work of our professionals.
We gave a lot of thought to whether tinkering is a professional activity. It could also be seen as an amateurish term – something that refers to artisanal “gum and tape” contraptions rather than professional, fully automated and easily replicated solutions. Lauri Moilanen said that he puts in as much work as possible to minimise tinkering. This is not the full picture, as he continues to state that tinkering is a very interesting phase, but it’s only the first phase. What is even more interesting is how the chosen initial setup can be refined into a professional final product. Tommi Ritvanen had a different perspective. If there is no ready-made solution for the required product, he sees tinkering as producing the automated final product.
In the Solita Cloud Manifesto, we posit that “tinkering is a combination of interest and learning experiences”.
Tommi suggests that tinkering is not always smooth sailing. One has to – or gets to – work on, polish, iterate and grapple with the final product. One cornerstone of learning at Solita is learning by doing, and we believe that 70 per cent of creative experts’ learning happens through everyday work and experiments. An academic attitude in thinking is highly advantageous when learning from books or documentation and to come up with hypothetical solutions for a given problem – or when considering the problem itself.
True individual learning events are related to learning by doing, and, in particular, to learning by doing something outside one’s comfort zone. Purely technical slogging is rarely what happens in Solita projects. Because our business is about people creating solutions for others who use them, the object of tinkering is often not only our customers’ processes and operating methods, but also those of Solita.
Tommi and Lauri have different profiles at Solita Cloud. Their career paths are different, but both think that they now find themselves in a position where they have wanted to be. Working at Solita is the sum of their own choices. Currently, Tommi works in the Cloud maintenance team and Lauri works as an infrastructure specialist in two projects.
Is it okay to say no at Solita, and is it possible to pursue your own interests?
Tommi says that the maintenance team has people from different backgrounds. The team members can take their work in whatever direction they wish, but their activities are limited by the reactive side of maintenance. “Maintenance requires you to take care of things, even if you don’t want to,” says Lauri, who has experience in maintenance work prior to Solita. Maintenance team members must be flexible and willing to learn and do things. There is no hiding in a silo. “You encounter many new things in maintenance, so you take them on and want to try everything,” says Tommi.
In projects, the resourcing stage largely dictates what the specialist will be doing. Although the situation may be an overly complex puzzle with indirect consequences for every move, at its best, the resourcing stage can be a dialogue between the specialist, the account, and Cloud’s resourcing manager, Jukka Kantola. The importance of communication is highlighted even before the actual work begins.
Lauri says that there is a sense of psychological safety at Solita Cloud. According to him, it is okay to say “no” to resourcing, and there is no hidden pressure in the environment forcing people to do what they would rather not. He points to the important observation that he is not afraid to say no in this environment.
The customer’s end goal may not be clear at the resourcing stage, so the team of specialists is expected to continuously investigate it and find facts – and maintain situational awareness. In other words, the work’s expectations may not be precisely worded, or the vision of the desired end result may change already in the early stages of the project. Changes are likely as the project progresses, whether the identified project model is like a waterfall or agile.
Those individuals working in Solita projects are authorised and obligated to discover and clarify what needs to be done and why, as in what needs to be achieved by the end result. The will to understand the whole connects all Solita employees, and Solita project managers are especially skilled at taking hold of all the strings and leading communication.
The specialists have personal motivations that we have collected somewhat frequently through, for example, our Moving Motivators exercises. Lauri offers his thoughts on how to express the feeling of “doing a job with a purpose”: “When you turn off your computer, you are left with a feeling that you did something meaningful and accomplished things,” says Lauri about his personal motivation. Motivated people produce better results, which equally benefit Solita, our customers, and the employee in question. Motivation, but also confusion, often manifest in people attempting to challenge external requirements and pushing themselves physically to reach high-quality results. “An attitude of ‘just get something done’ kills motivation and often surfaces when there’s a rush,” says Lauri.
In the crossfire of moving targets and ambiguous goals, we at Solita have to understand the limits of our personal ability and be able to take on technically challenging situations in projects as a community. We at Solita Cloud are a group of people from a variety of backgrounds with different motivations, and we may not be focused on a single clear target in our everyday work. But we all love tinkering.