Quality is a skill.  We need to teach it to our children, just as assuredly as we teach responsibility, compassion, and honor.  At work, we need to both embody it in ourselves, and encourage it in those around us. 

I was a SDET for a while.  That’s Software Development Engineer in Test.  I wrote code to test other code.  I never expected my code to see the light of day, and it didn’t, but the code I tested saw millions of computers, and I was proud to be part of the quality cycle.  As an Architect, that ethic is more important than ever, because it is more difficult to detect ‘bugs’ in an architecture.  Quality has to be high when no one is ‘testing’ you.

I spent the day, today, working in the yard with my oldest son, Max (It’s a time-honored tradition in a suburban neighborhood, to spend inordinate amounts of time working in the yard ;-).  Part of the work involved taking a pressure washer and scrubbing years of dirt and grime off my cedar fence.  It’s messy work and if you miss a spot, it shows.  Another task was taking a hand clipper and carefully grooming a hedge between our house and a walkway to a neighborhood park.

Max is just a few weeks from his 14th birthday, a tall, lanky boy with a sweet smile.  He’s pretty typical.  Loves video games, and hanging out with his friends.  He’s growing fast.  But his approach to work is pretty much “do as little as you can to get the work done.”  The output can, at times, appear a bit sloppy.

So I spent the day teaching.  Sure, we were doing yard work, and the hedge looks much nicer now.  But more importantly, I hope that Max comes away from today with a greater appreciation for quality. 

Quality is the art of standing back, looking at a job through another person’s eyes, and judging it as they would.  It is the art of finding the imperfect and deciding if it should remain.  It is a kind of pride: pride in a job well done. 

For me, quality is related to honesty.  If I believe that something is truly good enough, it is because I believe it is an expression, as best as I can muster, of the truth.  I know that sounds esoteric, but there it is.

At the beginning of the day, Max worked to make me proud.  By the end of the day, I think he was working to make himself proud.  I hope so anyway. 

He did quality work. 

By Nick Malik

Former CIO and present Strategic Architect, Nick Malik is a Seattle based business and technology advisor with over 30 years of professional experience in management, systems, and technology. He is the co-author of the influential paper "Perspectives on Enterprise Architecture" with Dr. Brian Cameron that effectively defined modern Enterprise Architecture practices, and he is frequent speaker at public gatherings on Enterprise Architecture and related topics. He coauthored a book on Visual Storytelling with Martin Sykes and Mark West titled "Stories That Move Mountains".

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