Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Truth and the DBA

I don’t tolerate lying at all.

I don’t even want you to spin the truth. Give me the whole truth and nothing but the truth and we’ll be fine. An article about conducting business in an ethical manner by Bud Bilanich at Trump University got my attention. It’s worth a good read.

When I first moved up the ranks from a team member to a team leader, I had somebody that worked for me that skated on the edge of the truth quite often.

“How’s project the upgrade project going?” I asked.

“Fine. I’m right on schedule”, she answered.

“Last time I did an upgrade, the JServ configuration gave me problems. How did that go with this upgrade?” I countered.

“No issues.” She replied.

OK, I guess they fixed that.

Two weeks before the big upgrade, I asked again if we were on schedule and she replied “Oh yeah, probably be done in a week.” So I sent a note to the users about the upgrade and how we’ll need people here to test on Sunday to make sure everything is fine. The users got their army ready for Sunday, upper management was notified since they had been breathing down our neck for getting this project done as well.

Monday before the conversion came and I ask for the new URL so I can look at the new software.

“Not quite done yet, definitely this afternoon.”

Hmm, something is sounding fishy here. I looked at the machine and the database wasn’t even up yet. I poked around some logs and saw that certain pieces were failing to come up for various reasons. Did a quick search on Metalink and saw a couple resolutions to the issues so I didn’t think they were too serious.

Tuesday and Wednesday I was out for training, but left explicit instructions that if progress wasn’t being made I was to be notified.

When I got back Thursday, I went to get a quick status.

“JServ doesn’t work, the Concurrent Managers keep dying, and Apache dies when you hit the login URL” was the reply.

Needless to say, the upgrade was cancelled. Upper management was steamed and since I was the project leader, it was my fault. That person no longer works for me.

Granted, it was my fault for not asking the right questions. However, if they had been truthful about their progress and struggles they would have garnered much more respect and I could portray an accurate picture of the progress to upper management. Their spin on the truth (or outright lies) caused my group to lose a lot of respect from the powers that be.

That’s one of the many reasons I manage the way I do today. As Tom Kyte puts it, “Trust, but verify.”


Thomas Kyte said...

I stole that from Cary Millsap... He closes his emails with:

Nullius in verba

Sometimes the "lying" isn't necessarily lying (well, ok it is, but lying with reason) but rather a fear of admiting "I be in over my head by about six feet (2 meters for the rest of the world...)"

That you sometimes have to feel sorry for - as long as it happens only once, and never again.

depending (on if you catch it early enough :)

David Aldridge said...

n a more general sense of business rthics, the best material I have ever seen on it was from IBM UK. I don't recall whether it was part of my employee handbook of a sepreate publication but it went into very great detail about the dos and don'ts. the long-story-short version was "Never do anything that you would mind reading about in the newspaper the next day".

For the kind of situation that Jeff describes I like to assume that there are or have been problems, and phrase the enquiry as, "please give me a list of all problems encountered and any solutions/workarounds you've got". It tends to at least get the issues out in the open and allows the subject to show off a little.

OracleDoc said...

I sat here for about 20 minutes trying to put into words a reply that would attribute to your post and make people think twice before lying or manufacture miniature horse manure. But, then I decided it wasn't worth it because, there will always be stupid people and they make the rest of us look good.

Jeff Hunter said...

That you sometimes have to feel sorry for - as long as it happens only once, and never again.
Sometimes people don't know their in over their head until they're burried. In this case, it was the beginning of my awareness of a pattern of cover-up that had to cease.

please give me a list...
That's what I do now and try to guide the person to the right answer.

there will always be stupid people and they make the rest of us look good
That's true, but you don't want them on your team, right?

my word: dxfyroox - a new muppet?

Doug Burns said...

I love this blog and have had some similar experiences over the past few years.

The single most important factor that makes it unacceptable is when I have repeatedly said 'are you sure?', given someone lots of opportunity to tell the truth and they *still* don't come clean.

Anyway, I agree so much, I've linked back to this.

Pete_S said...


There is no shame in not succeeding, all the shame lies in hiding the fact.

I guess I am lucky, in that I trust all the people on my team - but then if I didn't they would soon not be on my team

Joel Garry said...

I saw a similar situation, where the worker was a good, honest (and quite religious) person, but had come out of a CYA environment. The manager was a smart, but old-school manager, who can be quite intimidating, so it can seem not-true when he states he wants people to 'fess up. As a friendly-to-both contractor, I felt bad I couldn't mediate the situation (I tried). In the end she was dumped, and wound up quite happy somewhere else. Sometimes you just have to chalk it up to personality clashes. Or maybe it was just because she would clip her toenails at her desk.

I do believe a manager must be able to deal with grey areas, and that includes the various motivations that can cause people to only want to talk about positive results. Rigid iron-clad rules are often misapplied to complex situations, and that is an attribute of bad management.


David Aldridge said...

>> but had come out of a CYA environment ..

Federal government, eh? The only crimes there are in saying "I don't know" or "I made an error".

Joel Garry said...

>>Federal government, eh?

Actually, no. I've been in fed environments, so I take your point. She had just been in a tough commercial environment.

In one fed environment I was in, I got dumped for saying "no, I won't come out of the hospital where my wife is having a baby, just because your 'lead dba' doesn't know how to read the log of his own test db load." It actually is against federal and state law to dump someone for that reason, but there you go. Thought I had won the lawsuit lotto with that one, for a brief moment. Paperwork uber alles, you know.