13 June, 2007

It Is Okay to Say "I Don't Know..."

Error - Another user has changed this file. Would you like to save it, copy your file to clip board to compare, delete.

This is rubbish. I am the only one using this software at the moment and the only one trying to access this file.

I escape.
Would you like to send an error message?
Yes - I would like to tell the programmer's new company that they are paying a lot of money for someone that knows nothing about programming!

I send the error message to my new, short on time, certified programmer and double click on the file again. I have found that if I repeat this process a few times, the file will eventually open to allow me to enter my data.

This is insane! And, for the first time in a long time, I am not ticked off and blaming Microsoft.

A few years ago I had this great idea - it was innovative, it was novel, it was something that had not been done in this large company before, and it was mine! I was going to automate a database for a specific program which would allow desk top access to everyone working that program.

At the time we had one programmer working with us - a self educated programmer at that. He needed hours, I had this exciting project, and we decided to start the ball rolling.

Never did he tell me, not ever even once, that he had no idea how to do the required programming.

A year after we started, we had a program that the users were, for the most part, comfortable using. Then... being the visionary that I am, I decided that I needed more administrative tools to increase ease of use and functionality. These advancements were for team use only - the normal user would not need to update their system.

And he changed it.

The night before he resigned.

And it is now 50% of what it once was such that I have not let my team update to the new system. Thousands of dollars, 2 years, and this is it!

He had a new programmer ready to take his place. I met with the new programmer He asked "how many people wrote this code?"


"Oh... (long silence)...It looks as if it were written by at least two. I will try and find the problems."

That was a few months ago. He is still trying to figure out why I am getting these error messages. I am now doing more work than I was before this project started.

I am a firm believer in ensuring that people know what they are doing, are honest about their abilities, and are doing work that someone else can do should they decide to leave.

The problem - my original programmer was improvising. Given his lack of formal training, he was tinkering and "making it work" rather than doing it correctly. My new programmer is having to decipher the code to formalize it to ensure that everything works properly.

Is it difficult for people to admit that they do not know how to do something? Is there some kind of humiliation involved with saying "I don't know?"

I learned, in my early twenties, that saying "I don't know" often provides an excellent opportunity to learn. I know that this guy was seduced by the challenge offered in this project. He used this project to get his bigger and better job somewhere else. That said, he might have learned more if I had known his limitations and been able to team him with an IT person familiar with the code required.

It is totally okay to say "I don't know!"


cathouse teri said...

So you thought the self-taught guy was going to say, "Hey, I am sort of at the end of my abilities here, do you think we could bring in a REAL IT guy to help me?" I think that's called job suicide.

Remember, people are out for one thing. Themselves. Not the team, not the company and certainly not you! It was your job to know that he was not up to the task. He would never have admitted it. I know it seemed that he was doing it right. But it is never a good idea to keep a "tinkerer" on hand to do extensive IT work. Loyal hearts are the ones that get fucked.

My dad always says, "Teri, I know you love your job and you feel dedicated to the people you work for. But always be looking for something better. Remember, you don't owe allegiance to anyone. Well... except for me... hee hee"

He is so right. I have given my heart and soul to people only to have them screw me the first time they come up with something cheaper.

Live and learn.

Eric said...

I agree with Teri, it would have been suicide for him.

If it is a Microsoft program it should not be to hard to fix. Let me guess, either access or excel?

Access can be a pain in the ass. I work with it a lot and I HATE it, but it does the job, sometimes!

Sorry to hear your program does not work.

Princess Banter said...

From an IT person's point of view, saying "I don't know" sometimes may just save your ass :) Not to mention it can also save you hours and hours of unproductive work...

JustRun said...

Ugh, how incredibly frustrating! I work with a lot of programmer types and thank goodness, they will say "I don't know." But the people that won't say it always seem to pop up somewhere, if not in the office then in life.

Good luck getting the mess untangled.

The Exception said...

Teri - yes, he needed the hours and was charged by the idea of doing something interesting. He definitely did not want to admit that he couldn't do it given that he was supposedly "the IT guy" for our department. Knowing little to nothing about code or programming, I had no idea that he couldn't do it. I know now to get bids, do a story board, and perhaps have a two person team on such work. But honestly, when you are paying someone that much (honestly THAT much) as an IT guy, they need to know what they are doing.

Live and learn, as you said!

Eric - Microsoft Access is what he used because that is all he knows. It is not the best code for this system, as we are discovering, but it is all he knew so it was the code of choice.

Princess Banter - I appreciate anyone who will sit down with me and explain the complications or what they can do. I recently heard that a large percentage of government IT projects fail - one of the reasons is because the contractors promise that they can deliver exactly what the government wants, even when they can't. We want to believe that code can be written to have a computer do anything and everything. I am not sure it is possible.

Just Run - Time spent, hours lost, and we will, at some point, have a product that works. If this programmer doesn't have the time in the next month, I will simply take it to another department to fix it as they will be able to devote 40 hours a week to it. It is frustrating.

Eric said...

You need to switch to SQL and a webbased setup. You can do so much more with it.

I had a company once you an SQL Database with an MS Access front end. Why would you do that? It was wierd.

The Exception said...

Eric - that would be great except that there are company reasons why we can't go to an internet based system. It is probably possible, but there are many hoops between where we are and the ability to do it. We will have to make it work with what we have.

Eric said...

That sucks. I am sorry to hear that. You can always use and Intranet based one and keep it only internal to your office. Just a thought.

cathouse teri said...

Maybe you should fly eric out there. :)

The Exception said...

Eric - it does suck.

Teri - I have no doubt that Eric would like that. Not sure I could justify bringing in a consultant when part of this company reportedly is IT!

(PS, I do love your comments)