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Why IS is like golf (first appeared in InfoWorld, July 8, 1996)

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I wanted to start my retirement the right way. And what better way than with a re-run. And of all the possible re-runs, what could be better than an account of why IT is like golf?

Hope you enjoy this trip down memory lane.

– Bob

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If it didn’t happen this way, it should have: On the great golfer Ben Hogan’s 70th birthday, I’m told, an interviewer asked if he had plans to retire. “Retire?” Hogan is supposed to have responded. “People retire to fish and play golf. I fish and play golf!”

Management consultants have an unfortunate penchant for sports metaphors. So, it occurred to me the other day as I searched for my ball that IS management and golf have a lot in common. To those of you who play the game I need go no further. For the rest, here are some of the parallels:

1. When your golf swing goes off, you try solutions more or less at random to fix it. When a computer program that used to work crashes, programmers often do the same.

2. Sometimes, the tools we use in computing just don’t work the way they’re supposed to. The same can be said of golf clubs.

3. In golf, even when you can reach the green in one shot it usually takes two putts to get the ball in the hole. With computers, even when you have a relatively easy problem to solve you usually need two iterations after delivering the product before you satisfy the user.

4. With computers, no matter what new snazzy tool you buy someone announces a better one right after you spend your money. That’s true of golf clubs too.

5. In golf there’s par, but most of us are pretty happy getting a bogey. With computers there’s the project plan, but we often feel pretty good if we only need one extension to finish the project. (By the way, for those of you on Year 2000 projects – you won’t get an extension. Sorry.) (By the by the way … yes, this is an anachronism. I wrote this in 1996, when Y2K was as bit a threat to our technology’s health as COVID-19 is to our public health.)

6. In IS we often work in politically charged environments. Keeping your head down can be important. In golf you want to keep your head down, too.

7. Many greenskeepers resent those pesky golfers who mess up their beautiful golf courses. Many network managers resent those pesky end-users who clog up their pretty networks with unwanted packets.

8. On a related note, too many users on the network slows down response time. Too many golfers on the course slows down play.

9. Golfers remember the sport as being fun, but when we’re playing, at least in Minnesota, we spend half our time swatting bugs. Likewise in IS, getting rid of bugs gets in the way of the fun.

10. Most people outside of IS don’t understand why we find our profession so fascinating, and have no idea why it’s so hard. Non-golfers have no clue why golfers hit a small white ball around a field with sticks, let alone why the ball usually flies off in the wrong direction.

11. In golf you can hit a great-looking shot that lands nowhere near the hole. You can also hit a nasty-looking shot off the heel of your club that scoots across the grass, bounces off a squirrel, and finishes two feet from the cup. With computers, you can write elegant code that somehow fails to satisfy the users or succeed in the marketplace … and on the other side of the equation, there’s Windows.

12. Most people can become competent programmers. With time, training and hard work we can create solid programs that work well. In the next cube, though, there’s someone who speaks C++ as if it were his native language, writing code as beautiful as poetry that always works perfectly on the first compile. In golf, most of us can get the ball in the air and “out there” after a bunch of lessons and several years of practice, but we all know someone who shot par when he was twelve years old.

And, both pursuits have the same favorite phrase: “Oh %$#^!”

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