Blessed are the Geeks, for they shall internet the earth

The Pointy Haired Boss does Exist
by Graham Parks

I was reading an article and was struck by this sentence.

“Lots of companies are good at knowing what it is that they need to do, but typically companies are less successful in doing it the right way”.

This reminded me of an incident that happened to me some years ago which ranks as one of the most absurd happenings I have ever witnessed in my working life.

I was working for a company that sold a product that required a degree of skill and knowledge to use it properly. The company did not sell this product to the public, only direct to businesses with the required skills. To help with any problems the company provided a telephone helpline. They also sold a computerized solution. This consisted of a PC running DOS with a custom database application written in Clipper which had been written by an outside software house. Everything worked well and customers were happy.

Then someone decided to take things one-step further by selling the computerized solution on CD-ROM. Not a bad idea, but what followed could have been lifted straight out of Dilbert.

This project to get this CD onto the market had been underway for quite a while before me and the rest of the in-house I.T. department got involved. By then an order had already been placed with a CD manufacturer for 1000 CDs.

The moment I heard about it my heart sank. I knew trouble lay ahead. I already held the opinion that the senior managers were an inept bunch that never thought anything through.

“Who is going to be doing the technical support?” I asked.

“No need” I was told, “Customers have been using the product for ages without any problems”

See the sort of mentality I’m up against.

“But that was on a hardware platform we provided” I pointed out “Has it been tested on any other hardware?”

That went down really badly and the response made it clear that raising sensible questions was not welcome.

No prizes for guessing what comes next. Yup, the in-house I.T. department gets landed with the job. Now the I.T. manager is wailing and holding head in hands. We have been royally screwed into supporting an application we have barely seen that has not been tested on anything other than a pure DOS machine that the company (or rather the outside software house) supplied. It is now going out into the big wide world where it will be running on top of windows.

So I asked to have a copy of the software. This is where the fun really started.

It would not load. I had a look at the CD contents and found that the installation program was nothing more than a DOS batch file. I discovered the problem in about five seconds. The program assumed your CD ROM drive was the D: drive. If it was anything else, as mine was, it failed. Remember, 1000 copies of the CD have already been made, so it is too late to correct the fault on the CD.

So I told the senior manger dealing with the project about this and also asked about the lack of license with the package.

“License?” he said.

Oh dear, here we go again. I explained that software is licensed not bought and why this is done.

“So what do we need to produce?” I was asked.

“I think you need to talk to a lawyer, not me” I replied.

“Yeah, but you deal with these things in I.T. all the time”

“I deal with technical matters, not legal ones”

Guess who got the job of sorting out the licensing issue? But not for long. I went to my manger and complained that things were getting completely out of hand and that to expect a network administrator to draw up legal documents was ludicrous. My manager agreed and shoved the whole issue back to the project manager. Trying to be helpful, we also sent a photocopy of a Microsoft EULA to show what sort of thing would need to accompany the CD-ROM.

Then someone comes to see me with a CD-ROM and associated floppy. Because of the problem I found with the installation program they have decided to issue a floppy disk with a revised version of the install. That should fill the customers with confidence in our software. Anyway, it works now and so an order for 1000 floppies to be produced is sent out.

A few days later I get sent a mock up of the new CD insert which includes a EULA. I am asked to check the EULA. Do these people not understand the difference between a technical computing professional and a lawyer!!! Once again I state that I cannot be expected to carry out such a task, but am told to get on with the job. So I start to read it and quickly collapse with laughter. They have just copied the Microsoft EULA word for word. And I mean word for word. Our new company EULA makes several references to Microsoft. According to the EULA our software is the property of Microsoft. Once we had all had a good laugh at these idiots we send it back, pointing out their obvious mistakes. We also question that they have not thought that an American company (Microsoft) and a UK company might have different legal requirements. This last point is ignored completely and the next day the revised EULA comes back. All they have done is remove the word Microsoft and replace it with the company name.

Nothing more is done and the product ships, CD + floppy with a EULA pinched from Microsoft.

I no longer work for this company.

Please note: This is not a work of fiction nor have I exaggerated any aspect of the story. Any person, living or dead, appearing in this story is a complete moron. This includes me. I should have made a wiser decision when being offered a job in this madhouse.

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