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Jun 18, 2019

NBlog June 18 - craftsmanship

Currently I'm getting things ready for the next consultancy gig. Figuratively speaking, having cleared a space on the workbench, I'm stocking up on raw materials and selecting tools for my toolbox. Literally, that's simply a new directory for the assignment, a few potentially useful templates and public information from the client, and a bunch of methods and techniques in mind.

My favourite tools are pre-loved and well-honed. They are familiar, comfortable and trustworthy. Some of them (such as the ISO27k standards) are off-the-shelf products. Others are either homebrewed or customized for particular purposes. They all have their advantages and disadvantages and, like any craftsman, I much prefer to use the right tool for the job, hence some specialist items are rarely used but invaluable for specific tasks. I make the effort to check and maintain my tools, from time to time investing in new ones or "improving" (well OK, refurbishing and adapting) old ones. Very rarely is a tool discarded, except for those that are plain worn out and are replaced, often by something shinier. My workshop is bulging, placing a premium on small/simple/multipurpose tools.

In many areas, ‘pragmatic’ approaches are the only tools available. It’s down to me to apply them to the tasks at hand with skill and passion, although it's hard to keep in mind their limitations. There's a tendency to press on regardless, leading to uncertain results and occasional accidents. I hate bodging things and yet that's an inevitable part of practicing and improving. 

A valuable routine at the end of any assignment is to look back and draw out the learning points. Those templates I mentioned are an example: having drafted, say, a standard form for describing security metrics, I use and gradually refine it on successive metrics until it stabilises. Every field on the form has a purpose. The structure, layout and sequence makes sense and works ... so it's worth turning into a template, an MS Word template in fact. The next time I'm describing a security metric, I can simply grab the template and start filling it in, avoiding the time and effort of starting from scratch.

Alternatively, if the client already has a structured way of describing security metrics, I can probably use that instead, perhaps proposing changes based on my experience but more likely adapting my approach to suit the client. Who knows, I might even learn some new tricks along the way, leading to an updated template. That's what I mean by investing in the tools of my trade, best practices you could say - well good-enough practices anyway. The quest for perfection is never ending.

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