I realized the other day that my role in my current job requires that I do something very, very strange, as far as I’m concerned. I realized there are some things I have to avoid learning, and I have to avoid them quite strenuously. I have to know they exist, but I have to not know any more than that.

One of my tasks is to help software engineers write their own tests and documentation. To be good at that, I have to help them focus on the kind of documentation they’re writing, and at the moment that documentation is “pager duty” how-tos: short instructions for how human beings must respond to problems and issues with the running system.

To that end, I have them focusing on “What are the symptoms we’ve seen? What are the correct responses? If the response can be automated, why hasn’t it been?” (Answers such as “It would take too long” or “It’s too rare to justify the development cost” can be debated; “No one knows how” is not acceptable.) And then “Who knows how to fix the issue?”

I have to not know the answers to these questions. Very deliberately, I must avoid knowing the names and faces associated with the answers. Because that way, when I’m proof-reading the documentation, these issue jump out easily. Questions like “Who would I go talk to?” comes easily to mind, and I can pass that back to the engineer.

The best part is how good they’ve been about all this. I really appreciate and like the people I’ve been working with. People diss millennials all the time for their odd, new work-ethic, but I like it: it’s very emotionally aware and deliberate. These people know that emotional labor is work, but the work has a great pay-off. I just have to work hard to keep up and keep participating.