Friday, 11 September 2009

Suffering with Delusions of Adequacy

Some years ago, I came across the phrase “Suffering with delusions of adequacy”. It was used in a contemptuous way to describe the attitude of some people working on a major project – the people concerned hadn’t bothered to check their work as they knew that what they had done was totally perfect because they had done it. In fact their work was severely flawed and as a result, the project delayed whilst the problems were fixed.

It’s possible to see this attitude on many different user forums. Someone will pose a question, and another person will then post a response belittling the first person for their lack of skill. However, the individual leaping to criticise the other may not have taken all of the factors into consideration and as a result, the comments may be completely inappropriate.

I had a situation like this some years ago – a frantic sysadmin posted a comment on a forum about a problem with an ERP package that wouldn’t startup. One of the forum moderators responded with a confident assertion that the person had a virus and would have to completely re-install the OS and ERP package. I posted a comment that I had the same problem myself just 2 days before, and that it was solved by one of the run time elements being restarted – perhaps they should look at this first. When this was suggested, the moderator posted a major rant that newcomers should keep quiet!

In another incident several years before, I worked with a programmer on a large software package. I was running some tests using a manual script to check the functions of the software after a number of changes. I came across an unusual error which I reported to him – his response was that the software worked fine and it must be an error in the data that I was entering. I sent him copies of the data, screen shots of the process, yet he still refused to acknowledge there was a problem.

This went on for 3 weeks – eventually I spoke to another programmer who checked the code and found the error. It subsequently turned out the the first programmer hadn’t even bothered to run the checks – if he had, he would have seen the problem for himself as every other programmer did when I checked with them. This was extremely annoying as the wasted time could have been saved for more important issues and the faulty code had been issued to customers and had to be replaced.

Of course this is not specific to programmers (although they can be bad!) I’ve had discussions with networking technicians that refuse to accept that they could have made a mistake in setting up a routing table, and DB admins that can’t accept that their precious database is flawed. And don’t even get me started on consultants! As for the linux lovers and mac fanboys with their “my OS is better than yours”, they can be a real pain at times.

It seems that there are a lot of people in the IT world that suffer with delusions of adequacy. I’ve long felt that we need to try to improve the professionalism of the people that work in the industry, and this is one particular area that needs looking at. It seems to me that there are just far too many people that think they know the answer to every single problem, but need a large serving of humility. Whilst people act as if they are the fount of all knowledge when they clearly are not, it will be difficult to persuade others that people working in IT really are professionals.

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