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Friday Philosophy – The Worst IT Person I Have Met October 15, 2010

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy.
Tags: , , ,

A couple of weeks ago I extolled the virtues of someone I felt was a great person to work with. This week I’m going to do the opposite (and it will be interesting to see which posting gets more hits).

The worst person I have worked with in IT is Mick. I’ve only known a couple of Micks {and if you are one of them, but you don’t know Barry, you are not the Mick}. In an ironic twist of fate I met Mick at the same time I met the best person I have worked with, Barry. We were all in the same team you see, a UNIX sys admin team I got parachuted into. Maybe the vast difference between the two help make them so distinct in my mind.

Mick was very knowledgable and technically very capable. No, that is not fair, he was extremely good. He actually knew all this system admin stuff and several variations of shell programming, perl, C and a few other two-steps-from-assembler type languages. And he was an absolute and utter pain in the behind.

Barry and I did not know much (or in some cases, any) of this sys admin stuff. If we needed to do something and did not know how, Mick was supposed to show us. It worked something like this:

“Mick, I need to copy all the files that were changed last week from this directory on box X to box Y, keeping the directory structure – Can you help?”. Mick would not hear. He suffered from “intermittent deafness” – though he never missed any announcements about free food. You had to go and stand by Mick and wait for him to deem to notice you. If you actually interrupted him he would swear at you and utterly refuse to help, you had to wait quietly. If it was a good day he would deem this acceptable after a minute or two, but he would do his utmost to convey the impression he despised your lack of knowledge and your concerns were beneath his talents… but he would stoop to help.

You would repeat the task you were trying to do and, pausing only briefly to pour scorn on such a trivial thing, he would turn his back and start typing. He’d write a script to do it. “no, no, don’t write it, just tell me the basic commands and I’ll work it out!” No, he insisted on writing the script.

The script would be a thing to behold. Mick would write it in as few lines as possible and the least number of letters. For ages. Oh, he would have a working version in about the time it took Barry or I to explain the task, but he would not give you that version, oh no. He would ignore you until he had made all variables 1 character, took out all whitespace, replaced anything obvious with something obtuse, replaced a small chain of simple commands with one or two arcane commands. Every script was an attempt to win an “obfuscated code” competition. If we waited for the end result, it was impossible for Barry or I to decipher. The only benefit to the process was you would see the commands he was using and you could wander off and start with the unix Manuals yourself and get the job done.

He had other methods with which to demonstrate his greater worth.
Mick would agree to help (under duress of the boss telling him to do so) with an urgent task, but keep asking you to wait all day – then go home without doing his bit.
He seemed to love to intercept anyone coming to you for help, tell them he would sort out the problem for them – only to not. And then tell the user the next day that it was Barry or My problem to sort out. Correct, Mick would not have mentioned this to us.

Mick was fair though, he would treat everyone the same. With scorn. Any expertise in a field he did not know was unimportant and anyone with skills in his field was just competition to be shown who was best. Sadly, he usually was best, if best means biggest smartass.

Over time, as Barry and I learnt stuff (almost never from him), Mick became redundant. Not because we caught him up, not by a long way, but because no one else in the department would ask him anything. They would come to Barry and I. We might be slow and we sometimes screwed it up but we did not sneer and we fixed the problem in a way they could understand.

The reason Mick is the worst person I ever worked with is, unlike people who simply break stuff or lie about their skills or are stupid, he was actually very talented and capable – and yet took a perverse pleasure in not doing so. Mick would put effort into the art of maximizing his unhelpfulness. It was the difference between his potential to help and his drive to not do so that made it so hard for me to deal with him. I’d rather work with a talentless, idiot liar because at least you don’t need or expect much from them.




1. Tony Sleight - October 15, 2010

I’ve worked with a few like Mick in my 30 year career in computing. Mainly insecure people who needed to feel important and secure their position. Quite a few were contract staff, but the majority were employees building and securing their empires. In my first full time position in 1980 one person I worked with never wrote anything down or created documentation for the projects he was involved with and also encouraged his team to do the same! One advantage of working with the Mick character type is that it motivates you into finding things out for yourself. It’s a painful and long task to learn, but you certainly gain a secure understanding and capabilities of the technology you work with.

2. mwidlake - October 15, 2010

Hi Tony,

Yes, you are forced to learn a lot – A nice, positive spin on what can be a very non-positive situation.
(BTW should I not mention I had only just started “big school” in 1980? 🙂 )

3. Tweets that mention Friday Philosophy – The Worst IT Person I Have Met « Martin Widlake's Yet Another Oracle Blog -- Topsy.com - October 15, 2010

[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by OraNA.info, Alan Nolan-Davies. Alan Nolan-Davies said: RT @orana: Friday Philosophy – The Worst IT Person I Have Met http://dlvr.it/73MRn […]

4. MegaMick - October 15, 2010

How naive!
Humans suck in general.

Computers are much better – they are logical, predictable and getting cheaper, faster and smarter every year.
People have their pet peeves, days off, birthdays, lunches, and, thank you Lord, funerals.

If I cared about people I wouldn’t work in IT.
I would work in health care, church or a porn magazine.

IT industry is a wrong place to look for warmth and human touch.
That’s why robots will take over soon!

mwidlake - October 15, 2010

Thanks for the input MegaMick….I think

piontekdd - October 15, 2010

Nice Knowing ya MegaMick.

5. Casey - October 15, 2010

It is a sad truth that there are some in the IT field that have made it their life’s purpose to prove the deserve to be treated like a “prima donna”. More unfortunate: it is not limited to the IT field.

But, to Tony’s point, we humans find our way and learn the skills without those small-minded ogres. Eventually the day comes when our knowledge and experience and people skills are far more desirable than the Micks of the world.

I often enjoy graciously taking a backseat to a pompous twit who is certain their idea is superior, then – after they fail – providing a solution of my own that I quietly developed while the ogre was bragging about themselves to management. That is, the management that happily let the ogre go find new employment then expressing appreciation for the humans that worked together to make a project successful for the good of the team/company/industry.

6. MegaMick - October 15, 2010

Too bad that business owners care only about the profit/cost ratio.
So do their reps in the IT department – the management.

If an antisocial ogre is cheaper and more productive (honestly, not all the ogres are as lame as you describe them) – the ogre will be chosen over a meek food / photo / blog loving wetware.
As we know, it is more profitable to outsource the production to Ogreland – it will go there.

Is it truly humane to use failures of others (even ogres) to promote yourself?
Wouldn’t it be more compassionate to lend him a hand and a friendly advice?

What if an ogre is suffering from ADD / ADHD / Aspergers /PMS that make it impossible for him to appreciate the simple pleasures of manly workplace friendship?
Isn’t the forgiveness is the greatest virtue of civilized men?

(NB: Tagged as Humour)

7. Friday Philosophy – The Best IT Person I Have Met « Martin Widlake's Yet Another Oracle Blog - December 7, 2012

[…] enough , the worst person I ever worked with was already in this team. Maybe that is why the others left and Barry and I were pulled […]

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[…] Need PL/SQL Skills? The Small Issue of Planes, Trains and Coaches The worst Thing About Contracting The Worst Person In IT I Have Ever Met The Best Person in IT I Have Ever […]

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