Why Everyone Needs A Matt

If you are lucky, you have some days where you can feel like a rock star at your job. And to balance out this feeling, other days you will really mess up. Most days, I have both these feelings, and today was no exception.

The great thing about my line of work is no one dies if I mess up. Bonus is there is literally (usually) an ‘undo’ button. The bad thing is because everyone thinks the internet is easy and instant, people think that you can fix an internet-based problem in five minutes.

Over the years, I’ve had several mentors who have ‘taught me to fish’, the most important being Matt Baya. When I want to use my charm to get out of coding or otherwise exhibit not-confident-in-my abilities behavior, Matt calls me out.

More importantly then making sure I am and act confident, Matt has been able to reframe my thinking, give me just enough information, and let myself try to get unstuck. He does all this over chat hundreds of miles away.

Matt has taught me a lot about not just fixing my own problems (forcing myself to learn new things) but also how to let other people help me. Here are a few things I’ve learned in the past five years with Matt:

1) Give it time (ideally sleep).
Sometimes, when you are completely frustrated by something, walk away. I royally screwed something up yesterday afternoon and looking at it at 8:30 AM after sleeping, having breakfast, and walking my dog, it was solved by 9 AM. Worried about something being messed up overnight? Remember, no one is going to die. Unless you are a surgeon or something, in which case, get enough sleep!

2) You are not who you were in high school/college/last year.
For years, because the crappiest grade I ever got in college was computer programming, I have stayed away from coding. Matt has pointed out several times that I am no longer in college. And he’s right. Point is, don’t let who you think you are limit what you can do. Because you aren’t even that person anymore really.

3) Backup.
This is to say, do whatever you can to minimize loss. When you bake something tricky, you may measure your ingredients to be precise. If you are going to do something crazy on a website, you back up. It’s a lesson I relearn at least once a year.

4) If you need someone smarter, there’s always someone who can help.
In this world of informational forums, search engines, and social networks, you are hardly even in a position where you have a problem and no one can help.

5) If you are asking someone to help, isolate the problem as much as you can. 
Rather than say ‘x isn’t working’, try to take the problem as far as you can. I’ll try to isolate the variables (Is it the server that’s causing the problem? The website theme the person is using?) I try to look up and implement any obvious solutions. Then I write a detailed summary of what the problem is, what I tried, and what I might have done to cause it. Trust me, if you can articulate the problem and what the solution isn’t, you are that much closer to what the solution is.

6) If you are smarter, teach the other person to fish.
Matt teaches me to fish, I teach Alice to fish, Alice teaches clients to fish… soon the world is full of fishermen. And we can all get together and come up with better ways to catch fish.

Matt says that someday I won’t need him anymore. I have a hard time ever seeing when that day will be. Because there are always new problems to solve and I hope as time goes on, I’m moving from mentee to colleague for Matt.

If I do this right, I know someday, I can be a Matt for somebody else.

Nicole Ouellette
Nicole runs Breaking Even Communications, an internet marketing company in Bar Harbor Maine. When she's not online, she enjoys walking her short dog, cooking with bacon, and trying to be outdoorsy in Acadia National Park.

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