why not to say “it’s easy”; 8 interpretations

I recently took the AWS Practitioner test. When speaking to a number of people who took the exam before me, I heard a lot of “it’s easy.” That simple phrase doesn’t convey much information and has the potential to make people feel bad.

Curious why? Keep reading for the many possible interpretations of “it’s easy”. I’m writing this in the context of a test, but it applies to tasks and skills as well. For example, I find coding “easy”, but many people do not.

Option 1: “It’s Easy; the test covered things I knew”

If someone doesn’t know the material already, he/she will have to study. Which means work and not “easy”.

Option 2: “It’s Easy; there were no trick questions”

Having straightforward questions is definitely easier than trick questions! Saying that conveys more information than “it’s easy”

Option 3: “It’s Easy; the test covered what I studied”

Without knowing what you studied, the listener isn’t likely to have the same experience.

Option 4: “It’s Easy; it’s not technical”

In the case of the AWS Practitioner exam, target candidates include technologists, sales and finance. This means there is a limit to how technical the questions can be. Personally, I like technical questions so non-technical questions aren’t necessarily easier.

Option 5: “It’s Easy; it was mostly memorization”

People vary extensively in their memorization skills. I’m not good at memorizing facts. Understanding things is something I’m good at. Retaining information in a context is also something I’m good at. Remembering random facts, not so much. Which means I’m going to find an exam that focuses on memorization far harder than one that involves coding and rules like the Java certification.

Option 6: “It’s Easy; I forgot how hard it was”

People frequently forget how difficult something seems before they understand or know it. For example, I bet you find it easy to tie your shoes. Now go find a four year old and see if that child finds it easy. This means that an exam is likely to seem easier after the fact. (I *so* wanted to say “it’s easy to forget how difficult…”)

As an author, we constantly need to fight this reason for “it’s easy.” Our readers are unlikely to think everything is easy. We have to remember what it is like to not yet understand the concept.

Option 7: “It’s Easy; I passed”

Sometimes people think that if they can do something, everyone can. Sometimes it comes from how the person views themselves and sometimes from other things. But most exams are set up so not everyone passes. Which doesn’t mean it is “easy” if you passed.

Option 8: “It’s Easy; I want to be seen as smart/knowledgeable”

Sometimes people say something was easy when the person thinks it is hard. The idea is to seem smarter/more knowledgable/more clever in front of others. Like a form of boasting. “Oh, you thought that was hard? I thought it was easy”

In conclusion

There’s at least eight interpretations for what “it’s easy” could mean. So they next time someone asks you how an exam/task/etc is, use more than two words! Conveying actual information will help the person asking. And it will avoid the person feeling bad if it isn’t easy for that individual!

your calendar belongs to you!

I was taking a training class this week and was informed that some of the things I do aren’t “common knowledge.” So I’m going to be using the soft skills category in this blog to share some of them. Consider this the first blog post of many.

The advice that started this was a comment I made about blocking out your calendar. If you want to be able to do something, you need to make it a priority. And how do you do that if your calendar tells the world (well your co-workers) – “hey look, Fred is free at this time.”

Personally, I block out time for lunch each day. I also block out “coding blocks” so I have dedicated blocks in which I can focus. Want to do something after work? Block out your calendar starting 5 or 5:30.

Now I know what you are thinking – that won’t work in my job. We have unplanned events, emergencies, high priority meetings. Well, that’s ok. You can make peace with the idea that you won’t keep all of your blocks. Maybe you want to run at 5pm three days a week. Block out 5pm on all five weekdays. That way you can have two unplanned events and rest assured that you will still run three days a week.

One reason this works, is that you regain control of your calendar. If you have it blocked, someone has to ask you (or you have to offer) to free up that time for them. Which ensures it is important enough a reason to do so.

One of my co-workers started calendar blocks at my suggestion. He still has those blocks in his calendar so it must be working for him too! And if it helps us, why not you as well?

the “empty chair test”

I’ve been using the term “empty chair test” for many years. I recently learned that it’s not a commonly used term. In fact, I googled it and this blog post is the only reference I can find. Oh well. I’m going to continue using the term. It’s clear to me and mostly self describing.

The idea is that when you hire an employee, consultant or contractor, he/she needs to quickly be providing more value to you than an empty chair.

Day 1

It’s rare for someone new to pass the empty chair test on day one. That’s because day one is centered around getting the new person a computer, setup, teaching him/her what you do, etc. It has happened though. We had a contractor search Google on his phone and find out how to do something that needed research. (while waiting for his computer to be setup.) While I was particularly impressed by this, I don’t have any expectations of someone passing the empty chair test on day one.

In fact, I’m surprised if I get 50% of my work done on day one because my focus is training. I do try tao pair as much as possible on day one. For example, I showed last summer’s intern how to write a Groovy script and then he did some. I could have gotten it done way faster myself. But he learned something. And then later in the summer when I needed that done, I didn’t need to be involved at all. So a good investment.

This is the key. You want to invest heavily in training new people. It pays off later! And if subtract that time from what the new person is accomplishing, it is unlikely you break even right away. No worries there!

A month in

By a month in, the new person should be getting things done. Either independently or pairing depending on your culture.  The new person probably isn’t as fast as people who have been there longer as it takes time to learn everything about a new system. That’s normal and ok. However, it is a red flag if you are still spending more time training the person than he/she is accomplishing. It’s also a red flag if there is lots of re-work required. Or the new person is still arguing with you about team practices. Bringing up a practice in a retrospective for improvement is fine. Refusing to do something is not.

By a month in, if your team (including the new person) would be accomplishing more with one less person, it’s time to revisit what to do. Aka if your team would literally be better off with an empty chair, if is time for a conversion with the person, a new strategy for acclimated them or to think about saying goodbye.

Notice how I didn’t account for the fact that you are paying the person yet. Whether so and so is worth X dollars a year is a test that is higher than the empty chair test. However, if the person can’t pass the empty chair test on a timely basis, there is n’t much hope of them passing the “earning their salary” test.


At this point, it is time to get rid of someone who isn’t passing the empty chair test. It’s time to start earning the money he/she gets paid rather than be compared to an empty chair!