Weekend rant: The gaping void between IT and business

Profile picture for user gonzodaddy By Den Howlett April 26, 2014
When communications go pear shaped, it can lead to some very poor outcomes.

Every now and again, the geeks v suits argument rears its ugly head. For those unfamiliar with this discussion, its roots go back many years and are best encapsulated in The Geek Gap:

Talk to any technology person about his or her business colleagues, and you'll hear the exact same sentiment. Business people ("suits") consider technology workers to be oddball misfits who care only about the latest and coolest devices. Technology people ("geeks") think business executives are soulless and only care for the bottom line.

I well remember the first time I was invited to a hackathon, initially refusing but ultimately giving in when the magic words: 'We haz beer' came into the conversation. Why was I refusing? In part it is because I do find the coding world very different to that which I am used to. That makes me an outsider looking in and that's always uncomfortable.

I need not have feared because the people at that session were more than welcoming and helpful. It was a magical experience and ever since then I've thoroughly  enjoyed spending time with coders. I've learned a great deal along the way, some of which I've been able to put into practice here. Such cameraderie is not universal.

In recent weeks we've been attempting to implement some new functionality that goes beyond the usual plug and play (with tweaks) associated with our platform. This comes with fresh challenges, not least the incredibly poor communication coming back from the developers who not only avoid answering questions but also behave like we're a bunch of idiots. Maybe we are in their eyes but that's not the point.

Code comes over that doesn't work, in part because it turns out to be sample code although that's never properly explained at the time. Instructions are vague and confusing. Things we were told would be take days end up taking weeks. The list goes on.

After two months of back and forth I finally ran out of patience, setting out a series of things that needed to happen. The response? 'We can't go forward when you're being combative.' Well excuse me but when I'm paying the bill I reckon I have a right to call at least some of the shots and if you're going to continue behaving like assholes then sure - I'll be more than combative if that's how you want to play the game.

What was more annoying than anything else was the fact the suppliers have already implemented on the same platform for their own use. Logic told me that there must be a simple way to get the job done. Clearly, they'd never created a set of instructions that set out the steps needed for the platform.

Upon reflection, I made a big mistake early on. It should have been clear to me that despite assurances to the contrary, the skills needed to get this particular functionality running were beyond my level of competence since there was a lot of assumed knowledge. I was kidding myself in part because some of the instructions were pretty routine while others were far from clear.

Rather than soldier on, I should have deferred to someone who 'gets' what's needed more ably than I and who can interpret for my benefit. We finally did that and are a considerable number of steps further forward.

But it all begs the question - why do we still have this communication problem? Last week we were within a hair's breadth of pulling the plug on the project, purely because we couldn't get a straight answer to questions and were increasingly going down rabbit holes that led nowhere. No-0ne had ever said from the outset: to get this done you need some pros on the job - enthusiastic amateurs need not apply.

I'm guessing but suspect there's a great deal of truth in the need to always be cognizant of another's understanding on any topic. We were struggling and despite the fact that must have been obvious, the suppliers continued with their approach of: 'it's your problem, get on with it.' For our part, we should have called for additional resource much earlier than we did.

The big question is what happens next? It looks like the functionality we need will work as we want it to so this project will get done. But I also think we need to provide sensible feedback that helps the supplier in handling the next one who come along. There's a number of simple steps they could take. Whether they will heed that counsel remains to be seen.