More "Good ground game" mailbag

Philip Morgan

I've mentioned Red Adair before on this list.


Red was a famous expert in fighting oil well fires.

List member Joe brought the idea of firefighting into the "good ground game" discussion we've been having around here. Shared with permission:

_Is this the same sort of thing?

I remember from when I was in IT that the "firefighters" get a lot of praise and excitement. By firefighters, I mean the tech folks who plan very little and prefer to let things fall apart until a series of minor disasters become a complete disaster.

And then they swoop in and work a late night or several, to stomp out the fire.

On its face, you might not think that people enjoy working late nights for no good reason, but these folks got to be heroes who saved the day every two or three months.

I suspect it was the most heroic thing they had going on in their lives, so they seemed happy enough with the arrangement.

I left that job and worked my way up until I could let major fires happen on my own, if I wanted to.

But as much as I would have loved some public praise on a regular interval, I tried to prevent disasters, and I gave my bosses a heads-up and suggestions when potential tech "fires" were on the horizon.

Unlike the years I spent with my emergency-prone colleagues, I felt more accomplished when I made steady progress and built things that made a lasting impact.

Slow and steady was rewarding in its own way, and some of the lessons and skills transferred over to my personal like and my new-ish life as a developer.

Wonder if others on your list have experienced something similar.

Thanks, Philip. Have a nice weekend,

Thanks for sharing, Joe! This is actually a really big topic when you get into it.

It involves personality, professionalism, risk management, and lots of other complex issues.

A few really simplified observations from my perspective:

If your work creates its own "fires" that you have to extinguish later, there's room for improvement. It might feel exciting to save the day, but like Joe points out it's better to not set your client up for days that need saving.

Being a professional "firefighter" and putting out other people's fires can work just fine as a market position. I remember a client who ended up with the reputation as an effective custom software "firefighter", and it was a good market position. As part of proactively managing his career he was questioning whether he might want to specialize elsewhere in order to change that market position (because it's a stressful one), but it was working fine for him in terms of market demand, premium rates, and that kind of thing.

Would a horizontal market position as a professional software firefighter work well for you? I have no idea without knowing more about you, but my book, Specializing Without Failure can help you find out for yourself -->