The other day I was speaking with Robin, a friend and colleague. We were talking about marathons and half marathons, which got me wondering if I could do a half without any training. Sunday was a beautiful fall day in Ithaca, and I decided to go for it. I didn’t know what the outcome would be since I’ve never run more than 6 or 7 miles, but that’s part of the fun. While on the run, I noticed the challenges I faced were very similar to challenges I encounter when designing electronics.
Mile 1: “Dammit, I forgot my watch. Better go back, even if it does change the total distance” It made me laugh since every project I’ve been on was tweaked the moment a ‘concrete’ spec was decided upon. Must be human nature in all endeavors.
Miles 1-6: “Left foot, right foot, left foot…” This is like going to the day job at the start of a project. Everything is normal, the path is familiar, and you chug along at pace. No big challenges, no big breaks.
Mile 7: “This isn’t bad at all! I feel GREAT! What if I finished this half, and then repeated it for the FULL 26.2 miles? I would be THE MAN!” In a project, this is the point where the engineer truly understands the problem and the solution. This new found understanding emboldens him, perhaps mistakenly making a comment to a marketer about what might be possible beyond the spec. Uh Oh.
Mile 8: Pit stop to snack on a few bites of power bar and drink some water. At the time, that powerbar tasted so good it could have been a porterhouse steak paired with a russian imperial stout. I wanted to scarf it down in 2 seconds flat, but that would put a quick end to the run!!! The goal is to take enough fuel to continue, not to cut lose on enjoyment. Engineering work is the same. It is easy to convince yourself you’ve earned a giant coma-inducing lunch, or even a night out with 2 or 3 friends and 2 or 3 cases of beer. But go too far, and you’re worthless/hungover by the time you need to get back to work.
Mile 10: I could feel 2 large blisters developing on my feet; finishing will cost unexpected sacrifices. This same point occurs when the reality of the schedule vs. outstanding work becomes clear. In order to finish, it will take more hours, more effort, and more pressure — much less pleasant than the 9-5 pace enjoyed earlier.
Mile 12: “Mayyyyybbbeee I should just cut across this field and finish sooner….” To run less than 13.1 mi. would be like an engineer not documenting well or trying to convince a marketer that a broken feature is not needed in the first place. I’ve found the only way past this temptation is to look back at the progress, and think, “If I only make 12.5 miles, I might as well have quit at mile 8 with that seductive powerbar. And then I’ll have to do this all over again. Better finish up.”
Finished! “Oh, sweet sweet nectar. Now where did that beautiful powerbar go?” The completion of a project probably won’t be celebrated with a powerbar and 2 quarts of water, but the feeling will be the same. It was a good run. Yes.