David Heinemeier Hansson (DHH created Ruby on Rails, founded Basecamp, races in the Le Mans and wrote Rework, among other things) was on The Tim Ferriss Show not too long ago, and they were discussing what unrelated field would have the best potential programmers. DHH replied journalists because they “are good at uncovering the mystery of a story and explaining it in the simplest terms possible.” I thought that was such a great description of the essence of high level programming: breaking down a problem to its basic elements and chunking them into efficient, elegant bits. I wondered if there was a similar pool of undeveloped talent for AV Commissioning. The best parallel population I could come up with was simply: digital natives.
You might think I’d be passing up a gold mine of talent by overlooking IT or other technical fields, but more often than not, uber-technical people are not the ones typically using our systems. Actually, experience may somewhat blind a commissioning agent to issues a user might encounter. I have seen many specialists with years in the industry and credentials out the wazoo (sorry for the blue language) overlook glaring issues because it would be an easy fix or translation for them.
An example would be terms used throughout the system. A user may want to make a video call, but the only options on the Main Menu are “Codec,” “ATC,” and “PCs.” First of all, what the heck is a codec? Second, what the heck is an ATC? Thirdly, where’s the stupid “Video Call” button? Someone with AV experience would not give those button titles a second look because they’ve been dealing with codecs since codecs were born, and they named their kid “Aeteecy” because they made their bones in the AV world on old Gentner systems.
A digital native is comfortable with the purpose of all this AV stuff, nay, the purpose is a part of who they are. They’ve had a smartphone since they could crawl. They have been connecting with Grandma via videoconferencing since they could crawl. They have been sharing files with their friends before they knew how to spell “p-i-r-a-c-y.” They are the ideal users of AV systems because they have grown up with a decent conference system in their pocket and they know what it is supposed to do.
Digital natives are also used to a world without manuals. They have mastered GUIs as awful as Snapchat’s interface in seconds because they are not scared of the technology or of tinkering with something to find all the menus. And speaking of hidden menus, they do not shy away from scrolling through a video frame by frame to spot an Easter egg. A large part of commissioning is going through every single button of a control system and making sure it does what it’s supposed to. I bet you thought the skills learned while looking for a naked Tyler Durden would never be useful.
Digital natives are also great at online trolling. I know you’re asking yourself how could online trolling be valuable to AV commissioning. Have you ever got into a social media flame war with a millennial? It’s like trading insults with a professional comedian. If you’re not a millennial, you will lose even if your argument is rock solid. They pick apart every aspect of your comment, from the content down to the last *you’re. While getting into nonsensical political arguments has no place in an AV project, picking apart problems with an AV system and being able to document them in a methodical way is very valuable. Reading “the display don’t work” on a report is not nearly as effective as “The HDMI 1 input on the [Make and Model] LCD display is not showing content from the system or a video generator. Oh, and *doesn’t.” It’s like Facebook is building us an army of commissioning report authors and no one even knows it!
A good commissioning agent must keep the user as their focus throughout testing. They must also be disciplined enough to investigate every nook and cranny a system has to offer. I’m not saying that I wouldn’t mind hiring a specialist who can explain why a system’s signal to noise should be more than 50dB. There is incredible value in that. What I am saying is, at its heart, the purpose of commissioning is to deliver defect-free AV systems to the users, and using the quintessential user to verify and document this is not such a bad idea.