Wade MacNeil
Systems Architect
Conclusive Analytics

In 1992, the province of Alberta stated a construction job at the Oldman River in Pincher Creek, Alberta. The dam was being built to combat the droughts that plagued the farmers at the time. This job was the largest “dirt” construction job in North America at that time.

I was a college student at Dalhousie University in Halifax at the time, and as all college students can say, needed money in the worst of ways. I had a connection in Alberta that landed me a laborer’s job and I would live in a campground, in what can only be described as the world’s smallest camper. My first goal was to prove to the job superintendent that I was worthy of being allowed to live in the camp. The camp, for a poor college student, was like the Ritz Carlton. It had unlimited food in a large cafeteria, satellite TV, and best of all, great showers.

The job superintendent was an old Irishman named Jack Newell. Jack met all the best and worst stereotypes of an Irishman. He had the red hair, the temper, and loved to have a drink or ten. He didn’t say much, but when he did everyone listened. He would drive around the site and just observe. I was a laborer and made sure I was the hardest worker every day I went out. Jack took notice of my work ethic. At some point, he started picking me up in his truck and talking with me and became somewhat of a mentor.

I learned many a lesson from the man.
1. Always buy the first round when the guys are out having a drink. Never be “that guy”.
2. If you’re going to drink with the boys, you need to work with the men.
3. Only move the dirt once.

Only move the dirt once? It’s a lesson I will never forget. While driving around one day, Jack saw one of his foreman having his loader moving some dirt around 500 feet. At that point, a second front-end loader was loading the dirt into the trucks to be taken to the main dam site. Jack leaned to me in the truck and asked, “What’s wrong with this scenario, Wade?” I looked and thought about what he asked. Jack got out of the truck, and while maintaining a level of calmness, told his foreman in no uncertain terms what he thought of what he saw. Jack got back in the truck and was quiet for a few minutes. At that point, he turned to me and said, “Only move the dirt once, Wade. Every time you pick up the dirt and put it down, you are costing the company money.” I took that advice and never forgot it in my couple of years doing heavy construction.

As it turns out, Jack’s words of advice have been applicable in many different scenarios; most particularly, in my current role in technology. I had an experience with a new developer that underlines this. Our organization was merged with another organization, and thus our technical teams were merged as well. The other company had some code that was experiencing long process times and inconsistency in results. Our company owner asked me to review the code.

The process performed the necessary actions, yet performed them in singular operations. The data was moved from server to server, database to database, table to table, and from column to column. I asked our new developer what he saw. He said that he thought we sure had a lot of steps. There sure were. I went through the process of explaining how I would process the data, and how I would go about solving the problem. At the end of it, all I could say to my colleague and company owner was, “Move the Data Once”.

Jack passed away around the year 2000. I’d bet he would have a good chuckle, while having a drink of whiskey, about being quoted in a computer analytics company in the USA.