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Tuesday, 23 March 2010 13:08

The Rule of Threes

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I've spent a long time, probably too long, in the computer industry. Through my various positions and after careful observation of my own and the actions of others, I've come to realise there are some special rules that relate to IT people and to how they interact with the world. I've decided to call this the rule of threes. Here's why...

This first group of rules relate to employment in the IT industry.

The Three-Decade Rule: The IT industry is constantly evolving and changing, probably much more than any other engineering discipline.  So, three decades represents the amount of time it takes for a body of IT knowledge to become truly ancient

There is nothing we learned (from an IT perspective) 30 years ago that has any relevance today. Strangely, there was a brief aberration to this rule a few years ago.  Y2K suddenly brought back to life the ability to write Cobol - previously considered to be a long-extinct skill!

The Three-Year Rule: In many ways, the three-year rule is related to the three-decade rule. Three years is the maximum time anyone should spend in the same IT position for the same employer. C'mon, if you aren't itching to move on to a new position either with the same employer or with a new company, you must be working for the government!

The Three-Month Rule: Having made the jump to a new employer, you have exactly three months to build your empire. During this time, everyone is tiptoeing around each other. Use this time wisely - build relationships, demand responsibilities, insist on new equipment and software.

Whatever "world" you manage to create during this period of grace is the world you will have to inhabit for the remainder of your time in that position (see the three-year rule).

The Three-Week Rule: This is the "what on earth have I done?" rule. It might be less, but typically it takes as long as three weeks to decide whether the new position you have just taken up was a good idea or a total mistake! In fact, I strongly suggest taking the full three weeks to make this decision - after all, early impressions of your new-found workmates on a Friday afternoon may not be a true reflection of their level of professionalism!

Next, we'll turn our attention to the tools of the trade.


The Three-Day Rule: Here's where we turn away from employment and strike right at the heart of geekdom - this is the rule of new gadgets. Whenever a gadget freak buys a new toy, you find that whatever features he/she manages to master in three days are the only features they will ever use. I've seen this in myself and others countless times.

I recall on more than one occasion buying the latest wonderful mobile phone on a Thursday or Friday and playing with it all weekend. By Monday, that's it - I've figured out everything I'm likely to use on it. Never mind that most of the new wonderful features were on my previous phone - I didn't figure them out in the three-day learning period last time, so as far as I'm concerned, they're all new!

The Three-Hour Rule: Strangely, there are two versions of the three-hour rule; perhaps they're related.

IT support is a very complex job; no support guy can know everything; in fact many pretend to but they're soon found out. So, here's the first of our three-hour rules. It is impossible for a support person to go more than three straight hours without resorting to a manual to either solve a problem, improve his knowledge or study for the next exam.

There's an alternative to the three-hour rule, sometimes also known as the 3:30pm rule. Hopefully you only encounter this on Fridays; I sincerely hope it's not too regular in your professional life.

If you're off on the liquid lunch (either with workmates on a Friday or being "coerced" by a vendor) and the lunch lasts more than three hours (or goes past 3:30pm according to the alternative name) don't go back to the office. After that much "liquid lunch" there is no point even pretending to be productive and being seen in that state by your peers (or worse, your bosses) is not a good look!

Readers may decide if the two versions of the three-hour rule are related.

Next, we'll consider how quickly responses to events are handled.


The Three-Minute Rule: The average support guy has next to no personality, rather like lawyers or bankers, I guess. However, unlike lawyers and bankers (you have seen the TV advertisement of the banker at the barbecue, haven't you?), if our support geek does get invited to a party, he becomes much too popular - for all the wrong reasons.

Once people learn he's a computer expert (their emphasis, not mine), the Three-Minute Rule kicks in. Three minutes is the maximum amount of time a geek has at a party before someone comes up to him with "I don't know if you can help, but my computer...." Unless our geek is also a trainer (they're a different breed altogether), this is a major reason geeks don't like to go to parties (apart from their socialising skills, of course!).

The Three-Second Rule: Technology has to respond quickly - particularly if it is out of sight. Websites for instance. Three seconds is the maximum time we will permit a website to take to clear our screen and start drawing its front page. It's also the amount of time we will wait for a telephone connection to be established or indeed for any other remote action to occur. We get frustrated very easily in this modern age; if we can only see one end of a connection, we expect instantaneous response from the other end.

The One-third of a Second Rule
: As frustration levels rise, so too do our attempts to get things done quickly. We click here... click there... highlight this file or that... stab at the delete key... click OK... OOPS! Here comes the one-third of a second rule - this is the amount of time that usually elapses between clicking OK and the OOPS.

So, there you have it, the rule of threes. I'd love to hear from readers with examples of other rules that fit this structure - my studies are far from complete!

One final comment: before you complain, yes, this IS a tongue-in-cheek article; let me just say by way of justification that stereotypical sacred cows make great hamburgers!

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David Heath

David Heath has had a long and varied career in the IT industry having worked as a Pre-sales Network Engineer (remember Novell NetWare?), General Manager of IT&T for the TV Shopping Network, as a Technical manager in the Biometrics industry, and as a Technical Trainer and Instructional Designer in the industrial control sector. In all aspects, security has been a driving focus. Throughout his career, David has sought to inform and educate people and has done that through his writings and in more formal educational environments.

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