Five Lessons Playing Q*bert Taught Me About IT Posted on Nov 3rd, 2016 by Peter Eicher

Categories: Data Center

Q*bert-lessons

Q*Bert, an equally mindless game where a strange creature – the eponymous Q-Bert himself – would hop around a pyramid of 3-D cubes seeking to change their colors before one of various enemies would destroy him. 

I was never very good at it, and in fact I have had a lifelong talent for being bad at video games. But I enjoyed it. I had long forgotten Q*bert until recently I stumbled upon a free online version of the game. I tried playing it and found that I was utterly inept because I could never get the keyboard commands right. My brain just wasn’t mapping the four arrows on the keyboard to moving diagonally across a stack of cubes (nothing is ever directly up, down or sideways). It wasn’t until I switched to using the mouse instead that I managed to get past the first level.

Since I’m immersed every day in the world of enterprise software, I started to notice how lessons learned playing Q*bert could actually be applied to IT. Am I crazy? Maybe, but maybe not.

Lesson One: Trouble Can Come From Any Direction  

In Q*bert, the blobs that flatten you don’t always follow a straight path. Just when you think it’s going to keep moving in one direction, it goes the other way and gets you. In the IT world it’s much the same thing. You get your data protection down pat, and then a security problem pops up. You button down all the security issues, and now you’ve got an access problem. You never know what’s going to happen next, so keep your eyes open and prepare for as much as possible.

Lesson Two:  Never Jump Without Looking Carefully First 

Following the previous lesson, because things in Q*bert can change at the last minute, you have to look around you carefully before you decide what square to jump onto. Same thing in IT. If you make rash decisions without looking at the complete landscape, you may find yourself squashed. Instead, you have to look around, try to anticipate where things are going, and make the appropriate move. Easier said than done, of course, when the blob is getting closer and closer to smashing you. Alternate lesson: don’t panic.

Lesson Three:  Sometimes You Have to Go Back Over the Same Territory

The thing about Q*bert is that the nature of the landscape forces you to move back over squares you’ve already flipped. It’s annoying because you aren’t making any progress or scoring any points, but it’s often the only way to escape larger trouble. In the same way, it’s important to re-visit IT environments that you may think are working well on their own. There really is no “set and forget.”  It’s more like “set and don’t look at it all the time but check on it once in a while just to be sure you aren’t about to get squished.”

Lesson Four: Just When You Think You’ve Got it Under Control, a New Challenge Emerges

Nothing stays the same. In the first few levels of Q*bert you only have to worry about the blobs and the snake (he’s called Coily). Just when you’ve figured out how to avoid them you hit a new level and suddenly there are new beasts out to get you (they’re called Ugg and Wrongway). And then further on there are still more beasts, and one of these days I’ll actually survive to that level and see what they are.

In the IT world, it’s also like that. Think of just the past few years. You thought you had your servers figured out, then virtualization came along. You thought you had storage figured out, and then flash and hybrid hopped into the picture. You thought you had your infrastructure figured out, then Cloud showed up and changed everything. What’s going to be next? Who knows, but it will show up when you least expect it. Never stop looking.

Lesson Five: Jump on the Rainbow Disks to Lead Coily to His Doom

Ok, this one really has no connection whatsoever to IT, but it’s really good advice for playing Q*bert.

So there you have it, five (kind of) lessons I learned about IT from playing Q*bert. Now I just have to deal with everyone thinking I’m doing nothing all day except playing Q*bert. But that’s another kind of lesson for another day.