While running through a practical example on a training course, I found that my instance of a piece of software wasn’t working the way I expected. I scanned over the list of instructions provided as part of the course to see if anything jumped out at me, and realized that I had completely skipped over 3 steps.
It’s not that the instructions were vague or hard to understand; they were literally presented as a numbered list, with each step detailing exactly what needed to be done. It’s just that I had ignored some of them while trying to create the end result.
I told myself off for being so silly, applied the steps I skipped over, and made a mental note to be more careful next time. Then, not 30 minutes later, I was skipping over instructions in the next exercise.
What I realized was that I have lost the ability to follow instructions.
My job is about pulling in the 10 different steps required to reach an end result, and without fail those 10 steps have been deduced from 15 different pieces of documentation, StackOverflow posts, forum posts, bug reports, and trial and error.
I couldn’t tell you the last time I performed a task that had all the steps laid out for me. My day is spent Googling around, quickly scanning web pages to find those that seem to have the information I want. I will spend no more than 5 seconds skimming over the content and layout of a page before deciding if I want to read further, or if I close that tab and try the next page.
This ability to skip over ads, SEO filler text and empty forum posts an absolutely critical to my day to day operation, and I have become so accustomed to doing it that I have to force myself to work through a step by step list of instructions rather than skim over the list looking for the important steps.
I see job descriptions with “must be able to follow instructions” as a job requirement. Now I laugh when I see that as a requirement for an IT job, because the reality is that anyone who performs even a moderately complex IT job probably lost the ability to follow instructions years ago. The reality is that “must be able to generate instructions from disparate information sources” is a far more apt job requirement.