Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Editorials: Where I rant to the wall about politics. And sometimes the wall rants back.

A culture of incompetence

Jerry Stratton, September 14, 2006

I just took a two-day vacation because a couple of concerts came up two days in a row I wanted to see (Southern Culture on the Skids, Al Stewart) and I wanted to rest the following days.

After my two-day rest I am a hairs-breadth from quitting my job.

Yesterday afternoon as I’m getting ready for the second concert, I get a call from one of my colleagues. She needed me to re-run a process that runs automatically.

The registrar had removed a student from the “do not display publicly” list and despite that student’s recent request they were now showing on our public directory. The registrar had since moved them back, but our public directory is slow to update, so normally only updates once a day, early in the morning.

My part of this process is taking the input files (such as the “do not display” list) and creating input files for our public directory service. I have an automated process to handle this; it runs several times a day. At the moment that she called me, my part of the process had already completed. The input files for the directory service were waiting for her to copy them over to the server and run the import process.

She just hadn’t checked. When I asked her to check, and she discovered that the files were all ready to go, she was surprised.

This morning, I woke up early (fortunately) to a frantic e-mail from another colleague asking for access to another service. I read my e-mail at 9:15; he’d sent it at 8:45; he needed this done and finished by 9:30.

He already had access to this service—we’d talked about it the day I left, and despite his missing the appointment to talk about it, I added him to the list of those with access.

He just didn’t check.

His case was complicated by his not knowing the URL of the service. But others—including his supervisor—did know. And he knew the location of other services of nearly the same kind. The one he wanted was right there among them with an obvious title.

He just didn’t check them to see if this similar service was where it should be.

I’m not complaining about these colleagues. These are two of the most competent people at the University. There is nobody I’d rather work with when I’m working on a project than these two. But they’ve been acclimated to a culture where everyone knows that things aren’t working, that our system is so bad it doesn’t even make sense to check to see if it’s already working. They know it isn’t. Checking would just be a waste of time. It’s easier to try and call someone on vacation than it is to just check to see if things are working the way they’re supposed to be already.

I don’t blame them. I blame management (especially in the second case). They’ve created a culture where it is assumed that people aren’t doing their jobs. Where it is easier to call someone and ask them to start doing their jobs because you know that they haven’t done it already.

  1. <- Immigration Reform
  2. Save the ACLU ->