When I was in graduate school one of my professors presented a metaphor for the two different types of writers that he had come across. First, you have the “peckers”: the ones who type out just a few sentences (or words even), and then painstakingly go over them again and again until they are sure that everything is in its place. The second kind are “swoopers” who swoop down on a topic, write everything out that they could think of, and then at the end give a glance over the piece with some minimal editing and send it out. The important thing about this lecture was that neither peckers nor swoopers are better than the other, but may be better suited to different things.
I’ve found this to be incredibly true in support as well, and equally comforting. On all of the teams that I have been on, I pride myself on being an incredibly strong individual contributor to the inbox. This presents itself most tangibly in the way that I can write close to 100 emails in the same amount of time that it takes some of my coworkers to write 20. This is not an exaggeration, nor is it meant to be a humble brag. I was a swooper in graduate school, writing my thesis, and am a swooper now when taking care of tickets. This means that there are some things that I am better equipped to handle than others, but also that the converse is true: I could stand to learn some pecking. Here are some positive aspects and areas for improvement for both swoopers and peckers, as well as how to identify and manage your type.
How to identify your type
This methodology can be used either for you or, if you’re a team leader, to identify where on the barometer your team members might lie. It is good to have an equal balance of “swoopers” and “peckers” on each team.
How fast do you type?
The first point to consider is, and I know this might sound silly, how do they type? Swoopers tend to be fast with their decision making, and I’ve found a direct correlation with this in how fast someone can type. For me, for example, I am able to type just about as fast as I can think (~125 words per minute), so when I am writing a letter, I type out exactly what I would be saying if I were speaking it out loud. My brain moves quickly, my fingers move quickly, and I can do things a bit more quickly than others might be able to. On the other hand, someone who types more slowly is usually careful with their words; because it takes them longer to type, they can often reassess whether what they are typing is exactly the word that they are looking for. They are also, out of necessity, more likely to go back and look for errors in their typing or logic.
What is your confidence level with the material that you are speaking about?
Often times, your method of handling support can also be determined by how well you know the material. Just as with typing (where someone who has been typing for longer or is more familiar with the keyboard can type faster), if you perceive yourself as knowing what you are talking about, you will most likely be able to move more quickly and not feel the need to “double check” your thinking or methodology in solving the problem. I almost always expect a new support team member to be a pecker for the first few months of their employment when they are ramping up to speed. After that point, you can start to tell whether they are truly a “swooper” and were slowed by their need to learn the material, or if they are a pecker that is more methodical and may be suited to handling certain types of tickets.
How do you solve problems?
Do you like solving problems where you need to come at it from one angle, and focus on solving that one issue, or do you prefer coming at something from all angles and, once you find the one missing piece, everything falls into place? Peckers much more prefer tightly focused puzzles and problems such as algebra where you are solving for one particular piece, or slider puzzles where you have to move all of the different pieces one at a time to uncover a picture. Swoopers are more inclined towards puzzles like sudoku that require them to look over and understand the whole problem and then, once having solved for one of the squares, they can essentially fill out the rest with ease. Once swoopers get started, they like to exert effort at the very beginning, but then let the rest fall into a routine. Peckers are in it for the long haul.
Swoopers are able to ramp up bandwidth quickly, and accomplish a lot of things in a short amount of time. They are able to multitask well, and because they are so quick on their feet can often be thinking about many different things at once. For example, they can be thinking about the current ticket that they are working on, something related to the ticket that they were speaking with a co-worker about last week, whether the ticket is related to a bug that was brought up in Hipchat this morning, and also which pizza they are going to eat for lunch. While for some this would likely be exhausting, for a swooper it is second nature.
The situation with swoopers
Despite sounding like they are some kind of high-bandwidth, ticket-machine wonder pony from the above paragraph, there are some issues with swoopers that can be balanced out on your team by including peckers. Swoopers generally have issues with commitment; if they are put on a project that starts to stagnate, they will likely try to move to another project or stop putting emphasis on completing it. Similarly, swoopers like to be involved in lots of things at once and will be great contributors on any team that they are a part of. Unfortunately, this can also meant that they spread themselves so thin as to be a detriment to their own productivity and health. It can also reduce the amount of value they are able to provide in comparison to if they cut their involvement back slightly. Swoopers can also have trouble with working on a team if they perceive it as slowing down their productivity or their ability to “move fast.”
If you have swoopers on your team, which you likely do, it is especially important to pay attention to their time management. Perhaps, in your meetings with them, task them to keep track of how much time they are spending on each of their objectives each week, just to ensure that there is balance between work and home life, and also that they are making the most of their time. You may also want to encourage them to set three key objectives or focuses—otherwise they may end up over-promising and under-delivering as mentioned in the last section.
Peckers are great troubleshooters, and will very often be amazing technical additions to your team. Their deep focus and commitment to perfection allows them to track a bug as far deep down as it can go, and provide an eloquent and polished answer to a customer. They are great grounders for the rest of your team as well, and will often help to make sure that the focus of the team is a unified one that represents the whole. Peckers are more cautious than their swooper brethren, which means that they are generally very considerate and helpful team members. Because of their diligence, they are also good conduits between development/technical and customer facing teams.
The problem with peckers
Peckers can sometimes get so mired in trying to dive deep on an issue that they can have trouble recognizing that it may not be a good use of their time or provide any real value. For example, if a customer emails in a one-off crazy code issue, a pecker might spend hours trying to solve it, when really they could have put their available time to better use. Similarly, peckers are perfectionists and might not want to put something out into the world until they perceive it as completed. In the technical world, waiting for something to be absolutely perfect may mean that it gets passed over or starts to be ignored in favor of “flashier” or newer features. Peckers also have less bandwidth than swoopers and can become overwhelmed and subsequently shut down far more easily. In a loud office or on busy days, peckers may do better secluded at home, or being allowed to focus entirely on the inbox or another single project.
Just as with swoopers (and everybody), time management is hyper-important. In your meetings with your team members who are peckers, have them keep track of about how long they are spending on each objective that they have. Encourage them to, if need be, balance out the time that they are spending between tickets and other things while letting them know that having the inbox as a “home base” is totally fine. Perhaps, encourage peckers into a technical escalation type of position so that they are able to continuously deep dive and may not be required to context-switch as much as they would with other roles. Also, make sure that all team members are aware of the best working conditions for themselves and those around them—this can be especially important for peckers, who can become derailed quite quickly with overstimulation.
Both of these two types of support people are valuable team members, and no team would function with just one type alone. You need the power-house energy of the swoopers and the grounding of the peckers. Your support team should be a happy balance and, as long as you understand the personalities, strengths and needs of yourself and those around you, you should be good to go.