Monthly Archives: October 2006

A Halloween Story

Halloween is not a big deal in Australia although retailers would like it to be – anything to make more money.  There are more costumes and Halloween themed treats in the stores than there used to be but still nothing like the US.  I’ve visited the US at Halloween and I thought it was awesome!  I don’t like over-commercialisation but the degree to which people get into Halloween really blew my mind.

Locally, there is a shop that caters to homesick Americans by importing hard to get American products and for the last few years, they have sponsored shop-to-shop trick or treating in their local shopping area.  My kids like doing it and scoring a huge haul of lollies so we dressed up and headed out.  It was all going well until it started raining.  For a town that suffering its worst drought ever, it really sucks when you get rained on when you’re trying to do something outdoors.  But that isn’t what made me angry.

It was almost inevitable that some evangelical would feel compelled to push his “Halloween is evil” message and sure enough, it happened.  This guy may as well have had a neon sign over his head saying “I’m a dork who wants to spoil people’s fun” – he was that obvious.  He sidles up to me while the kids are saying “trick or treat” to a shopkeeper and says:

FREAK: “Do you know what the origins of Halloween are?”

ME: “Yes, it’s All Hallows Eve, the day before All Saints Day.” (thank you, ten years of Catholic education)

FREAK: “Did you know it commemorates druids slaughtering new-born babies?”

Now, I have learned a few skills in my life… but that day I brought out one of my special skills: my look that says without words: “Listen here you pathetic dweeb, I’m out here enjoying time with my kids and you’re about to cross a line.  Get the fuck out of my face right now or I’ll be conducting a little experiment to prove whether your ugly face is stronger than the tempered glass in that shop window.”

I’ve spent years perfecting that look and all the work was apparently worth it.  Captain Shit-for-brains walked away rather quickly and the kids and I continued trick or treating in an idiot-free manner.

And as a community service, here’s a video that shows why you shouldn’t let kids loose with a huge bag of lollies:

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Why is IT recruitment so bad?

My current contract is coming towards its natural conclusion which means I’m about to be blessed with that most joyous of experiences – dealing with recruitment agencies. I’m not a huge fan of recruitment agencies but I don’t have a huge amount of choice. For whatever reason, the Australian IT market seems to regard recruiters as necessary; about 75% of permanent placements are found through agencies and about 95% of contracts are placed through agencies.

So we’re in “necessary evil” territory here, especially given that I’m looking for another contract role. On the plus side, when you take into account that recruitment agencies are so central to the IT job market you can rest assured that they’re good at what they do, right? Yeah, right. One of the enduring mysteries of life for me is: why is IT recruitment handled so badly so often?

The first question I’d like to see answered is why use agencies at all. The idea that they’re professionals who are the best at this sort of thing simply doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. They’re more often than not poorly paid, poorly motivated and with a limited (at best) understanding of what qualifies someone to work in IT. After all, if they knew anything about IT they’d be earning decent money working in IT rather than being in a dead-end recruiting job. The only honest answer I can come up with is nobody at the company who hires the agency can be bothered putting in the work of finding suitable candidates themselves.

So recruitment agencies are a time-saver for HR departments. And I had this crazy idea that who you actually employ might be one of the most important decisions a company could make. I don’t know what else HR departments do to justify their existence. Even the “time saver” response is giving HR departments too much credibility in my book.

I’ve had enough experience to form an alternate theory: recruitment agencies exist to give HR departments plausible deniability. Nobody want to take responsibility for decisions – on the off chance a hire doesn’t work out, the HR department doesn’t want to take the blame. The involvement of an agency gives them the ability to say “it isn’t our fault, the agency said s/he was the best available candidate.” Yeah, god forbid the HR department would actually do their job.

The second question I’d like to see answered is: why are candidates so often measured against some cookie cutter template of requirements? Yes, there has to be some sort of baseline for competence but setting a series of arbitrary measures (x years experience in discipline y) is again replacing actually doing your job with a “plausible deniability” safety net.  Anyone with any significant experience in IT who’s willing to be honest knows that a checklist approach is often no help at all in identifying suitable candidates and if you enforce the “ticks in boxes” approach arbitrarily you’re in very real danger of excluding some very good potential recruits.

So why does this approach persist?  Again, my cynical mind tell me that it’s to allow an escape route for an HR department that doesn’t want to take responsibility for their job.  “But he had 10 years experience with Ruby on Rails – that was heaps more than anyone else, he should have been great.”  Using a wishlist of attributes as a starting point is fine but refusing to think beyond the boundaries it sets is a recipe for disaster.  Occasionally when I end up in an interview where they are obsessing over experience in a particular area (especially if it’s something as nebulous as a methodology) I try to point out the shortcomings in their thinking.  Not in the hope of changing their minds, I do it for fun.

I am a strong believer in many of the hiring principles espoused by Joel Spolsky (he’s just published version 3.0 of his Guerilla Guide to Interviewing) which can be summarised as “hire someone who’s intelligent and knows how to get things done.”  When I try to illustrate the benefits of this approach to someone insisting on five years experience with use case methodology, I do it by pointing out where their strict requirement could turn around and bite them.  It goes a little like this…

“Say you are down to two people, one with five years use case experience and one without the requisite experience but they’re smart, flexible and know how to get things done.  It seems like you should go with ‘Ms. Five Years’ but the problem is use cases are done in very different ways in different workplaces and she may be totally locked into her version of use case methodology which conflicts with yours.  You end up wasting a huge amount of time arguing on the right way to execute.  On the other hand, Mr Smart and Flexible is far more open to working with you to get the results you want without obsessing over how the methodology is executed.  So, many years experience doesn’t necessarily mean the best result for you.”

Another obvious (to me) point that these obsessive types don’t seem to think of is you can have ten years “experience” with something and still suck.  Experience alone is not a measurement of competence, let alone excellence.  Someone might be a better programmer straight out of university than someone who’s spent half their lifetime coasting along.  Pointing out these flaws in the recruiting approach can be a lot of fun.  Not because you get to achieve some breakthrough that turns the whole recruiting process on its head but because you get to watch as the drone’s eyes glaze over because you’ve introduced enough cognitive dissonance to make their brains shut down.

Life would be much simpler if the recruitment pitch went: “We’re going to need you to successfully complete this sort of task in this sort of timeframe to this level of competence.  We’ll check with your references about your previous performance and what sort of person you are.  In the interview we’re going to ask you to complete the following tasks to try and get a handle on your competence.  If that all goes well and we think we could stand working with you then you might just have yourself a job.”

But I don’t expect a massive turnaround in this area any time soon.  I’m occasionally guilty of being an optimist but I’m not stupid.

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Hollywood calling

In the news this week was one of the big Hollywood agencies, United Talent Agency, forming a division specifically to find online talent.  You might think I’d get excited by this news but I’m not holding my breath.  Here’s a video explaining why:

Mind you, as cynical as I am, I’ll still take pretty much any offer that comes my way!

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Some video help from my other half

I’ve been getting a little bit of help making videos this week from the delightful Ms Angry.  Maybe she was jealous of the little angries hogging all the limelight – in any case, she helps me out in the following two videos.  It would be possible to draw the inference from watching these videos that I am painting my other half as a nag or I’m henpecked or some such thing.  I know my readers/viewers are too smart to fall into such a trap – after all, if she really was like that, there’s no way she’d get involved in videos that might suggest the same, however jokingly.

This first one is inspired by an article in the New York Times saying how Halloween costumes for women are essentially dressing them up as hookers:


The URL for this video is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i1jmKHCNZc0

This second video comes from an article on a UK website citing a study that “proves” women are grumpier than men.  This all comes from someone called the “Sleep Council”  – no explanation of who this sleep council might be, but we’re supposed to accept their word anyway.

The URL for this video is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OPcPHRT36-0

BTW, I haven’t been posting many videos to the blog lately although I’ve been making heaps.  Nobody’s complained about the lack of videos but if you’re feeling deprived, let me know.  I can post heaps more.

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Some random workplace observations

A few things I have noticed recently at work:

1. People talk shit. I’m not just talking about the standard “how about this weather?” shit – a disturbingly high proportion of people seem to have a pathological need to say insanely fucking stupid things. I’ve complained before about people making a big scene when I drink more than one can of cola but make no mention of the person who has four coffees before lunchtime. In the last week, I’ve been subjected to at least half a dozen people who feel compelled to pass comment on the fact that I’m making a sandwich in the kitchen to put in the sandwich toaster. It’s always a variation of “Wow, you’re organised.” What the fuck does that mean? Yeah, some bread cheese and ham – I’m a regular fucking rocket scientist. Piss of before I stab you.

2. Some metaphors are never appropriate. This is a shortcoming of mine. I like to use colourful language to illustrate points, it makes the day less boring. So today, someone offers me a donut for morning tea. I asked if it was a Krispy Kreme donut and they said no, it’s a normal boring cinnamon donut. So I said no thanks, “I’d have it if it was Krispy Kreme, I’d kill a small child for a Krispy Kreme donut.” Talk about conversation killers. Apparently, it’s never appropriate at work to mention things that would compel you to kill a small child.

**Disclaimer: I did mention yesterday that I was considering endorsements. I don’t have an endorsement deal from Krispy Kreme, I just really like their donuts. I think it’s safe to say Krispy Kreme wouldn’t want their product associated with infanticide perpetrated by a foul mouthed angry blogger.

3. Motivational tools almost never work.  So the latest “motivational” gumph at work is a mirror over the kitchenette sink with the slogan “Who is responsible for reaching this quarter’s targets?”  The implication being, I look in the mirror and see my face above this slogan so that means I’m personally responsible for the whole company meeting its targets.
That’s so fucking unfair.
What they hell are all those other lazy bastards doing?  Why is it all down to me?
I get caught by this mirror every time I go to the sink and I drink a lot of water so I’m at the sink a lot.  I get transfixed and stare into the mirror.  People think it’s because I’m vain but really I’m paralysed by the awful weight of responsibility that’s been placed on me.

4. Nobody likes to be told they’re stupid. And the more stupid someone is, the less receptive they are to being told about it. I don’t believe this requires any further elaboration.

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Using a foreskin blog to sell Google juice

One thing I never expected when I started this blog was to appear very highly in an Google rankings.  That’s supposed to be hard to do, right?  I started getting my first search engine referrals after maintaining the blog for a couple of months but they were always for pretty obscure things.  It started getting funny when I noticed how many foreskin-related referrals I was getting after having written a piece saying that “foreskin recovery” proponents were (excuse the pun) dickheads.

As it turns out, there’s quite an industry surrounding foreskins but for ages now, I’ve been the number one or number two search engine result for foreskin blog (the title of this post should push me back to number one).  Which has gotta piss off the people who seem to be trying to either make money or form a cult around the topic.  By the way, a sure fire party conversation stopper is “You can find my blog easily by looking up foreskin blog on Google – I’m usually the number one foreskin blog.”

This is a topic that ends up fascinating most blog owners at some point; what bizarre search terms are pointing people to my site? - particularly when you get referrals from sex-related terms and you don’t spend a lot of time writing about sex.  I don’t know why I’m a world-renowned expert on teen sex but according to my search engine referrals I am.

The thing is, it’s easy to make some obscure phrase “yours” – I always assumed making yourself appear in relation to a more common or in demand phrase would be hard.  If I mention “profligate cumquats” by next week I’ll probably be the number one search result for profligate cumquats (it’s a fruit you filthy minded animals).  God forbid I mention anally inserted cumquats.  I have no interest in a readership that’s into anally inserted cumquats. 

The biggest surprise I’ve had was when it turned out I was the number one search engine result for Melbourne Fringe Festival recommendations.  This seemed like a referral that would actually be sought after.  The ranking came about because I’d mentioned seeing rehearsals for shows in the Melbourne Fringe Festival being directed by my old college mate, Adrian Calear.  I’ve also hijacked the Google rankings for his name which is fucking hilarious – don’t piss me off, man.  As soon as I saw this I made sure I had the details for the shows and gave them a bit more publicity – you gotta help a brother out when you have the chance.

So it seems I can use my powers for good.  Surely I can use them to gain some filthy lucre too! :D If WordPress supported Adsense or something similar and unobtrusive I probably would have dabbled in that.  I sure as hell would embed Revver videos here with their inbuilt ads if WordPress supported that (any guesses as to what I want for Christmas, WordPress?)  Having good Google ranking is known colloquially in nerd-ese as having Google Juice.  I’m thinking of bottling that sucker.

If anyone has a good memory, they’ll recall a post from a few weeks ago titled “Matthew Churchill is freakin’ awesome”.  I mentioned it was an experiment and I would elaborate later.  This is that elaboration.  I’m now the number two Matthew Churchill on Google.  I possibly should have searched on the name before doing the experiment because the number one is a memorial for some poor kid who was killed in a hit and run and I honestly would have felt like shit if I had dislodged him.  But anyway, I proved my thesis: my Google juice is mighty and virile.

So I should be able to sell this to people right?  The theory I’m working on is that I could sell particular words on my blog and be paid based on how successfully my Google juice works.  I’d charge a sliding scale, say $30 for each week it was on page 3, $50 for page 2 and $100 for page 1.  The heading for the post would be something like “The best pub in Melbourne” and the first (and possibly only) part of the post would be “Jim Bob is paying me to say his pub is the best pub in Melbourne” with a link to the site.  It wouldn’t interfere with my usual posting – if it was for something I thought was worthwhile I could even make it into one of my standard angry rants. 

I actually chose the phrase “the best pub in Melbourne” deliberately as I assume that would be a sought after one and probably hard to get a good Google result for.  On the other hand, businesses in Australia are absolutely shit at using the internet for promotion.  It really pisses me off that I can almost never find what I’m looking for online.  Buying Google ads works but nobody seems to know how to get good search engine results for their sites without advertising.  Well, Mr Angry is here to help.

Of course, it wouldn’t have to be solely for commercial purposes.  I could post personal messages that people wanted immortalised in Google or simply support worthy causes (like friends doing shows that need some publicity).  Although I’d probably have to be careful of encouraging stalkers.  Some careful wording in the contract about consent and withdrawing the post would be required.

Another potential issue I thought of is people screwing me out of money, essentially not wanting to pay me after getting their result.  Then I realised this would be a very dumb move on their part when I could easily change the post to read “what’s the best pub in Melbourne? Certainly not Jim Bob’s where the beer has a high content of rat’s urine and the owner is a child molester.”  Or, possibly worse, change the link to point to their competitor.

I have no intention of plastering ads all over this blog in return for a couple of hundred bucks a month (this level of return seems to be what a lot of blogs sell their soul for.)  I’ll have to do some sums because I’d really love to blog full time.  I’ve pulled the rather arbitrary figure of $50,000 per year out of the air as an acceptable amount to make me quit my day job.  It’s a lot less than I get as an IT contractor but it seems quite a decent amount for being able to do what I love.  Plus, that would definitely only be the starting point – I plan to build an empire!

At first I thought this was too easy but then my girlfriend pointed out that I only get these results because I’ve been keeping the blog updated daily for more than six months.  Not many people are willing to put that much effort in – maybe I deserve to cash in!  :D  So, all aboard the Mr Angry Google juice money train!

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Fun with traffic accidents

There was a car accident just in front of me on the way to work this morning.  Not too serious fortunately – I’d hate to see a major pile-up with fatalities.  Despite appearances to the contrary, I actually have a rather low tolerance for suffering being inflicted on other people.  It’s higher than my tolerance for suffering inflicted on me, but I still get affected when I see other people suffering. 

It was a fairly standard sort of accident; one car turning right when the lights turned orange and another car then ran the red (a taxi – big fucking surprise) and smacked into the turning car.  He didn’t hit the turning car too hard – his bumper came off and there was a lot of crumpled panels on the car he t-boned but no major wreckage.  The taxi driver pulled his car off to the side and the other car stayed sitting in the middle of the intersection.  This was a busy intersection in the middle of morning peak hour traffic.

This is something I’ve seen a few times and I’ve never been able to work it out: why, after an accident, do some people have a tendency to leave a perfectly driveable car where it is BLOCKING THE FUCKING ROAD?  Are they expecting the CSI team to come along and so they need to “preserve the crime scene”?  Not gonna happen, people.  In this case, I give the driver a little benefit of the doubt.  First, there may have been sufficient damage to her engine and/or wheels that she couldn’t drive it (this didn’t look likely but it’s possible).  Second, she may have been too traumatised by the crash to drive.  I can sympathise with this, although it wasn’t a serious accident, getting whacked broadside would be pretty freaky.

Having said that, I’ll now abuse this person for making a dumb decision.  Because that’s how we do things in Angry Town – fuck your feelings, you wimp.  Leaving your car in the middle of an intersection is stupid for at least two reasons above and beyond the fact that CSI aren’t arriving any time soon.  First, this was peak hour.  Although the road wasn’t completely blocked, traffic flow was seriously strangled and, being peak hour, the build-up of traffic would get significantly worse by the minute.  This is the selfish side of me speaking but why the fuck would you make peak hour so much worse when there is no sensible reason to do so?

Second, people are stupid.  There were at least four people standing around this car with a huge amount of traffic swerving around them.  The probability that at least one of these drivers was a fuckwit who was likely to hit them is pretty goddam high.  The way people stand around on roads like nothing bad will ever happen to them never ceases to amaze me. 

But I’ll reserve my real anger for the fucking idiot who was two cars in front of me at the intersection (I was three cars away from the intersection when the accident happened).  This person was now first in the right turning lane but they chose not to turn.  They got out of their fucking car and decided to console the traumatised driver of the car in the middle of the intersection.  Thus completely blocking the right turning line.

Yes, this genius decided they had to get out and comfort someone who they didn’t know and wasn’t injured.  Their actions may possibly have helped the driver but at the expense of significantly (and absolutely unnecessarily) worsening the traffic problems and increasing the chance of another accident by about a factor of ten.  Particularly from idiots like the driver of the extremely large 4WD directly in front of me who decided to pull onto the wrong side of the road despite the fact that there were clearly two full lanes of oncoming traffic.

All in all, the inconvenience to me was very close to zero so that’s not what I’m angry about.  What makes me angry is people reacting in precisely the wrong way to a traffic accident.  Oh no, I’ve been in an accident!  I know what to do now, I’ll piss off lots of people and see if I can get killed while I’m at it.  And I really reserve my bitterest bile for the fucking moron who decided to get out of their car and block a lane to console a complete fucking stranger who wasn’t in a particularly bad situation anyway.

I call this sort of self-indulgent shithead a grief junkie (because they are indulging themselves, it’s far more about their gratification than the “victim’s” suffering) and I think I’ll devote a whole rant to them another day.

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Chris Masters outs Alan Jones – He’s a classic bully

For those who don’t like to read, jump straight to the video at the end of this piece, it essentially covers the same territory. 

Remember how your mum used to always tell you that bullies were really cowards and if you stood up to them they’d run away?  Well, I’ve been beaten up by enough bullies to know that this isn’t universally true but it certainly seems true of Australian radio “personality” Alan Jones.  Jones fits the standard mould of a bloviating, egotistical, right-wing talkback radio shock jock – he’s never happier than when he’s talking about himself.

Unless it’s one of those occasions when he doesn’t want to take responsibility for his actions.

Jones suffers from problems common to narcissists – most notably he seems unable to come to terms with the fact that when the rest of the world conflicts with his views, it’s just possible that it’s his views that are wrong.  He made an astonishing blunder recently when he pressured the ABC into dropping a planned “unauthorised biography” written by respected journalist Chris masters.  It’s a tribute to his arrogance that he couldn’t see the only possible outcome of this action: another publisher picked up the book and Jones essentially gave it an enormous amount of free publicity.

The book was published on Monday and by all accounts it’s flying off the shelves.  It seems now everyone is keen to find out exactly what Jones wants to hide.  A lot of hoo-ha is being made about the book finally confirming one of the worst kept secrets in Australia – Alan Jones is gay.  The book actually explores this topic far further than I expected it to – read an extract here.  I really don’t give a crap about his sexuality but it is interesting to consider why he’s gone to such lengths to hide the fact.

For my money, the obvious answer is that he’s spent a lot of time cultivating a fan base of rabid rednecks and whipping them up against easy targets like refugees, migrants, Muslims generally and Lebanese Australians specifically.  Our boy Alan might be vain and shallow but he aint completely stupid.  He’s got to know that the average knuckle dragger who hates the wogs, lebs and ragheads don’t got a high opinion of no fags neither.  He’s been playing with fire for years and he’s way overdue to get burnt. 

But all that makes him a jerk, not a cowardly bully.  My evidence for this assertion is his consistent behaviour every time he is put on the spot and might have to answer for his behaviour: he runs away.  His behaviour with the publication of Masters’ book “Jonestown” is simply the latest example.  The book came out on Monday and Jones is conveniently on holiday so he doesn’t have to face any questions.  The staff at his radio station have even used the intelligence-insulting tactic of saying his holiday is nothing to do with the release of the book, he had planned the break ages ago.  Guys, the publication date was known “ages ago”.  It might serve you well to realise that we aren’t all as stupid as your target demographic.

Jones’ standard behaviour to difficult situations has always been to run.  Way back when he had his most notorious misadventure in a London public toilet in 1988, he dodged ever discussing in detail what he was actually doing that caught the police’s attention.  Maybe he stayed silent to avoid telling a direct lie (although he did promise to tell his faithful listeners the full story when the court case was over – not following through on that constitutes a lie) or maybe he felt he had the right to avoid further persecution based on an unjust law.  We don’t know because he won’t talk about it.

More recently, there was his involvement in the Cronulla riots.  In the week leading up to the ugliness on Cronulla beach, Jones was whipping his listeners up into a fury.  He was proudly proclaiming his leadership role in organising the upcoming demonstration on Cronulla beach and made no secret of his feelings towards the “outsiders” who were causing problems.  To be sure, it seems there was a serious issue with some aggressive young men, most of whom (if not all) seemed to be of Lebanese or Arabic background.

But the big day got a bit out of hand.  Racist signage and slogans were everywhere.  If that was as far as it went, it would have been an ugly display but I strongly suspect Jones would have strongly applauded it.  But then drunken idiots in the crowd started attacking anyone brown skinned they saw, going so far as to jump on trains and attack people who happened to be travelling while brown.  If all they had done was beat up males I wouldn’t be surprised to hear Jones say it was a justified response to previous violence perpetrated by Lebanese youths.

But then they started targeting women.

Traditional Muslim headwear makes women easily identifiable and several young women were assaulted by crowds of drunken young men.  A real proud moment for white Australia.  I have trouble imagining even Jones would applaud this behaviour.  But it went further than that.  The drunken crowd was whipped up into such a frenzy that they started to attack police and ambulance officers who were trying to protect brown skinned folk who were outnumbered about 100 to 1.

That’s downright “unAustralian” (oh how I hate that phrase).

So what did Jones do Monday morning?  Did he castigate the crowd and condemn their actions?  Did he say the excesses were regrettable but the previous provocation from Lebanese youths was the real issue?  Did he applaud the actions of the crowd?  None of the above.  The gutless wonder disappeared from the air so he wouldn’t have to answer questions.

So it’s hard to avoid the obvious implication.  Alan Jones is not only a loudmouth bully, he’s also a coward who will run when put on the spot.  This is an important point that some politicians should wake up to.  This seems to be one of the main goals Masters has with his book – it’s a clarion call for people to stand up to Alan Jones.  The available evidence certainly suggests that Jones will run away from anyone who challenges him.

Here’s my video editorial on the subject (warning, this is longer than my usual pieces – about 12 minutes long):

I’ve used the audio of Jones before to have a bit of fun:

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Some people wonder how this audio got out “into the wild”.  It’s really pretty simple, Jones is a jerk and his staff hate him.  The tapes were deliberately released to make him look bad.  Some of the extracts from the book that I have seen contain some very specific information that I suspect Masters was able to find for basically the same reason.  When you are as abrasive as Jones, there is no shortage of people who want to spill the beans on you.  God forbid I ever gain any sort of fame.  There will be a long line of people waiting to dish the dirt on me.

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When is workplace discretion the better part of valour?

Here’s the most common question a Business Analyst (BA) is ever asked: “What does a BA do?” my standard answer is “It depends who’s employing me and what stage a project is at.” A slightly better explanation of what I do is a combination of translator and problem solver. The idea is that I understand both the business side and technical side of projects well enough to translate for each camp because in my experience, both the IT group and the business group have trouble communicating their issues in a way the other group understands or finds useful. I usually find that part easy but the problem solving side can present some prickly challenges.

Perhaps the most obvious reason problem solving presents challenges is that the problems are often quite difficult ones – otherwise they wouldn’t be problems, right? The second, and usually thornier, issue is that problems often morph from being technical problems into being political issues. For programmers who don’t understand why you need BAs, this is their main service to you: they’re a shield against the idiocy that threatens to destroy your working days. If all a BA ever does is come up with creative ways to say “You’re an idiot, we’re not doing that,” then that BA is your best friend. Because no matter how much an idiot deserves to be told “You’re an idiot,” it’s rarely a good career move to put it so bluntly.

That brings me to the title of this piece: although “discretion is the better part of valour” is a well known saying, I often find myself struggling with identifying the boundary between discretion and wimping out. Bowing to pressure every time it’s applied is a recipe for disaster but continuing to argue way past the point of productivity is also destructive for all concerned. Unfortunately, solving this is more art than science – there is no single equation that can be applied (this might explain why, in my experience, many programmers have trouble dealing with this issue.)

You have to take into account the importance of the person who may be demanding a particular solution, the cost (in both time and money) of going along with a demand, the potential long term impacts of both resisting and going along with a demand, the technical feasibility of a demand and how your recommendation is going to affect your standing in the organisation (or marketplace if you are dealing with customers) among other factors.

So, having said there are no hard and fast rules to govern this situation, here is my number one rule to apply when you find yourself being pressured to do something you think is wrong. Avoid saying one proposal is wrong unless you can put forward an alternative that you think is right. I learned this approach from an old boss of mine who had two sayings “Don’t tell me I’m wrong unless you can tell me what’s right,” and “Don’t come to me with problems, come to me with solutions.” Now, she was one of my best bosses but she could be a bit hard-headed this way. You literally couldn’t go to her and complain without offering a viable alternative – she simply wouldn’t listen.

This approach is good for forcing you to think but it doesn’t really fit situations where you just know a proposal is wrong but you haven’t yet come up with an alternative. Sometimes stopping forward momentum is as important as providing an alternative trajectory. This brings me to my second rule: if you can’t offer an alternative at least clearly articulate what your problems are. Simply saying “it won’t work,” isn’t good enough. Even if you’re right.

Because human nature is an unpredictable thing, sometimes even bringing up a list of logical flaws isn’t good enough. People can be so pissed off at you for questioning their vision that what you see as logic, they see as picking a fight. And some people are always ready for a fight. One way I’ve found to defuse this mindset is to not put your problems forward as problems – ask them as questions and articulate what you think a negative consequence could be. Keeping your responses open-ended can be a very powerful ploy.

When your antagonist says something along the lines of “You always say we can’t do things,” respond with “I didn’t say we couldn’t do it, I asked if you had considered that doing that would have the consequence of…” When you’re dealing with a really belligerent workplace bully (and we all have to deal with this type at some point) who refuses to back down no matter what, get it in writing.

It’s amazing how many bullies fold when you say “OK, we’ll document that I raised issue X would have consequence Y and you said that wasn’t a problem and we should keep going.” A paper trail is a good defence against being blamed for someone else’s mistakes. Even if they are so intransigent that a paper trail won’t make them back down, at least you’ll have the evidence if worse comes to worst that you voiced your concerns at the appropriate time.

For me, that’s the last garrison, the “Alamo” moment.  If you retreat from that point you may as well cut your wrists.  I don’t believe in wasting too much effort on a losing battle but if you don’t at least ensure your voice is heard and documented, all you’re doing is setting yourself up to be the patsy.  If some idiot with an MBA is trying to shout you down but won’t commit it to writing, it means they don’t have the courage of their convictions and they’re deliberately leaving a back door open to blame you if things go wrong.  If you let them get away with it then you’re the idiot.

If you find yourself in this situation and you aren’t given the opportunity to have your objections recorded, you need to do one of two things: quit or accept that your working life is going to be miserable.  When it gets to this point, discretion is no longer the better part of valour.  If you wimp out this badly, you pretty much deserve to be the office whipping boy.

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Filed under Work

Some old school angry behaviour

This video is my post to The Blogging Times for this week.  I think this is the angriest I’ve been in a video for a while – it was easy to get angry given the subject matter.  Some moronic judge thinks he has the right to pass a sweeping judgement against anti-spam outfit Spamhaus including suspending their domain which would give spammers everywhere a free ride.

If there’s any common sense in the world, this would be overturned.  But any regular visitors here would know my opinion of how much common sense there is in the world.

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Filed under Video Blogging