Thursday, October 6, 2011

Oh, you're looking at *me*

Every month or so, the IST Team Chief sends out an email with a link to giant Excel spreadsheet. This spreadsheet contains the tactical shift schedule for everybody on the team, from MMs to TAP/SIEs to RPs to team ninjas. With the email comes a few comments. This month's set of comments included an interesting bit:

Matt Lenda will begin TUL training

Time to strap my learning hat on. It's almost as if I'm starting all over again.


Each flight project at JPL has a very specific way of "doing business." Everyone has their own flavors, their own takes on things, their own politics, their own tools and processes. MER does not stray from this trend — it is the same in that it is different from every other project. One striking feature of this difference is that each project will have a peculiar spot where they "bury the bodies." 

So to speak.

At JPL, we have a particular process architecture for going from ideas ("I wanna do science stuff") to activities ("I wanna use this thing to do my science") to sequences ("I wanna use these commands and directives to tell the thing to do my science"). This architecture is roughly the same for all flight projects that JPL manages. "Burying the bodies" means that everybody puts their own spin on this process. The same idiosyncrasies rear their ugly (or very, very pretty) head in slightly different ways for each project.

Again, MER does not stray from the path of straying from the path (sic). For us, differences really come out full tilt when you sit in a different chair, literally and figuratively. On Tuesday of this last week, I began my TUL training. (Read: I began my campaign of world dominance.) It's been on my list of goals for some time now, but it's been one of those goals that I kept forgetting was one of my goals. Suddenly, there I was, in lockstep with and shadowing the prime TUL of the day. Suddenly, there I was, feeling like I did the first few times shadowing TAP/SIEs a year ago.

Mr. Prime TUL Man did his best to keep it high level and speak to the TAP/SIE within me (he's a qualified TAP/SIE, too, of course): "Are you on the Ninja Spotting email list? You need to be. You have to know where the ninjas are."

"Oh. Ok," I said. A little lacking in reception, I think. Although I was only 10 feet from the TAP/SIE chair, I didn't feel like it.

"What about the Space Godzilla analysis? Do you know where to find that?" Mr. Prime TUL man continued with the questions.

"No, no idea." I continued with the lack of answers.

It became very clear — nearly right away — that I'd have to start the mind-numbing process of learning where the TUL's bodies are buried. The TAP/SIE's job was already intricately detailed — a million places to hide bodies — and now I had to do it all over again, and for a job with more responsibility. 

As a TAP/SIE, you sit in your corner, poking your head into various conversations almost as you please. You perk up at the walkthroughs and meetings, but as soon as they finish, you inch away from the center of the controlled discussion going on at the round table and you go on your way. You have the power to pick and choose what you want to hear and when you want to hear it. Then, you can turn back around and keep turning the crank. You can ignore things. You can let the overwhelming rock of Riverside drown out the noise in the background, if you want. (By the way, you do want. They are the droids you're looking for.) 

As a TUL, the eyes are now on you. You can't ignore the room, the noise, the questions — except maybe when you go get your lunch. As I shadowed Mr. Prime TUL Man this week, I watched in awe of how many questions must be answered by the TUL. 

"What's the drop dead time?"
"How much margin did you give me?"
"What's the duration of the Pancam observations?"
"What's the expected downlink data volume?"
"How comfortable are you with the power situation?"

TAP/SIEs can blithely accept (with some reservation) that the TUL is going to take care of business. I certainly adopted this paradigm — you know, the "don't worry, that's TUL's problem, they'll take care of it" kind of paradigm. Now, I'm the TUL. (Er, the TUL Shadow. For now. Rome wasn't built conquered in a day.) Now, those questions are pointed at me. Now, everyone's looking at me. The job — nay, art — of the TUL is to take all of these questions and problems and turn them into manageable, single-bite cookies of Mars'y awesomeness. There's no chaos when there's a TUL in the room. And there's always a TUL in the room.

Now, to begin my world domination, I require sustenance

(Yes, there will be a TUL "album of the day" when I go prime in a few months. Yes, I expect my co-workers to Google the TUL AotD. I'm looking at you, Dr. Awesome XVII.)

1 comment:

Dr. Awesome XVII said...

ha! nice work, my friend.