April 30, 2017

The Single Best Tech Skill is Tenacity

Once again I’m in the throes of a personal server transition. Over the years I’ve accumulated quite a stable of web properties, most of which are of dubious benefit but nonetheless receive the love that any parent feels for their child. Well, not exactly, but you get the drift.

Suffice it to say that I have to move multi-gigabytes of diverse content, install two database systems because I’m too lazy to merge onto one, dump said databases and reload them, reindex everything else, transfer domains, and generally wreak havoc of what had previously been humming along just fine, thank you very much. All of this to get a faster, more commodious home for these sites at the same price.

But that isn’t why I’m writing this post — no, all of that is simply what led me to the topic described by the title.

As you might imagine, there can be a few…let’s just say, “issues” in any major move like this. Some are clearly my own darn fault, and others creep in through such things as unfamiliarity with a spiffy new operating system and other such changes. Then throw in the fact that Unix sucks and you pretty  much have all the makings of a bloomin’ PARTY.

And don’t begin to think that when you run into that nasty little problem that a quick Google search will solve it. Far from it. Searching Google by using an error message as your query might sound like a good idea, but the variability in situations soon makes it apparent that one person’s answer can be far from correct for your particular situation. Also, these questions and purported answers are often embedded in a long thread of bulletin board posts, which must be successively navigated in search of an answer that is: 1) correct, 2) cogent, and 3) complete. Even if you only get 2 out of 3 you’ve hit the jackpot. In other words, you can find yourself in a world of hurt pretty quickly.

That’s where tenacity comes in. Solving any technical problem when you are not an expert in that particular technical backwater can be a series of trial-and-errors (with perhaps equal emphasis on the “trial” and “error” parts). First try one thing, then another, then another, all the while checking your solutions against documentation, tutorials, and whatever other pertinent information you can find.

Some situations I’ve haplessly fallen into have taken me hours or days or even weeks to solve. But eventually I’ve solved the problem before a) committing suicide, or b) giving up and hiring someone who really knows what they’re doing. And that is why I believe that tenacity rules. It’s how I’ve learned everything from arcane BITNET commands to impenetrable Unix commands, and so much more in between. Just keep at it, head-bangers.

Roy Tennant About Roy Tennant

Roy Tennant is a Senior Program Officer for OCLC Research. He is the owner of the Web4Lib and XML4Lib electronic discussions, and the creator and editor of Current Cites, a current awareness newsletter published every month since 1990. His books include "Technology in Libraries: Essays in Honor of Anne Grodzins Lipow" (2008), "Managing the Digital Library" (2004), "XML in Libraries" (2002), "Practical HTML: A Self-Paced Tutorial" (1996), and "Crossing the Internet Threshold: An Instructional Handbook" (1993). Roy wrote a monthly column on digital libraries for Library Journal for a decade and has written numerous articles in other professional journals. In 2003, he received the American Library Association's LITA/Library Hi Tech Award for Excellence in Communication for Continuing Education. Follow him on Twitter @rtennant.


  1. Oh man – I am a dedicated lurker – *never* commenting publicly on such things for fear of looking foolish or getting flamed – but Roy, you pushed me over the edge. I LOVE THIS STORY!!!! This is so, completely, utterly true (at least, it always has been for me). I always find it ironic, because my husband is a computer scientist… but I’m Chief Tech Support at home. He’s helpless in the face of the technology most people use; I have to figure everything out, and he’s always in awe. To me, it’s not that big a deal – just stay calm, try things, figure it the heck out. But you HAVE to be patient and – tenacious.
    Wow. And now I’ve been affirmed by a leader in the business. :) My day is made!
    Thank you!!

  2. Thanks, Suzanne. I like how you put it: “stay calm, try things, figure it the heck out”. That’s pretty much it in a nutshell, with the emphasis on staying calm. Too many fail on that first step, thereby not even getting to the others. Thanks for de-lurking!