Notes ≠ Knowledge

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During my brief time so far as a consultant and pre-sales solution architect I have met several clients who will ask me very specific questions regarding how to configure a device. When I know the command I will share that information with the client. The client will then write down what I said verbatim in their notes. The client then mentions how they will use that information later in their production environment. I have heard some of the field engineers that I work with describing similar events occurring to them.

I have no problem with people asking questions and taking detailed notes. I encourage and practice both. I even have a LiveScribe pen and notebook set to easily transfer my notes into digital form and to capture a synchronized audio recording when permissible. Great note taking skills are essential to any profession, and you develop a great deal of insight and understanding by asking a well thought out question.

My concern here is that some people are mistaking their notes of answers to their narrowly focused questions as being a more complete form of knowledge. The concept being that when a situation occurs they will “know” what command or configuration to use.

This is not always the case though, because while I may be able to tell you how to enter a certain command and what the results will be I have not transferred to you the expertise of when to use the command. More importantly I have not transferred the knowledge of when not to use the command, or when to use the command in conjunction with other processes.

Those notes are not a proper reference. Those notes are not documentation. Those notes should be guidance and inspiration to learn more.

If you want to be an IT professional you have to treat your notes as merely being reminders for your next action item. If you wrote down a command your next action is to start researching that command, followed by setting up some kind of test environment where you can safely practice the use of that command. Your notes will have then been the catalyst that took you down the road to the most precious of IT resources – experience.

No amount of notes will trump actual experience, because while notes contain information experience results in actual knowledge. Once you have that knowledge you might find others taking notes of what you said. So take all the notes you want, but never let them be a substitute for practice, planning, and experience.

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