12/5/2018 08:12

Still Mad After 28 Years

It was back in the misty historic period, a time when computer technology was seeping out from the exclusive domain of the larger commercial, industrial, and governmental entities to become accessible to middling companies and larger non-profits -- but the thought that ordinary individual people might own their own computer (let alone carry it around in a pocket) was only just dawning in the works of science fiction.

It was a time when the acronym "IBM" retained much of its synonymity with the word "computer" and when I was working at a large healthcare corporation.

Our organization was in the process of becoming computationally independent from a local manufacturer and it was my personal mission to increase the competence of the operational staff. They had once been data entry clerks; we needed them to take charge of the in-house computer systems.

One day our IBM representative was visiting our office and offered to help us address some emerging operational issue. I agreed, provided that he not simply make changes to our system but train the computer operators to recognize and respond to similar situations. Today I would say I wanted to empower the operations staff but I think that the idiom was probably different so many years ago.

A short time later I arrived in the computer room to discover my operators standing passively and the IBM rep busily typing commands at the main console.

"Get your hands off the keyboard!" I said. I don't think I shouted. The shock of a customer employee telling off an IBM representative would have been shocking enough without contriving any additional drama.

Whose computer was it? Whose data? Whose revenue was at stake, and therefore whose employees ought to be in control? But also who was charged with running with the processes day by day and who therefore needed the skills to control those processes effectively? To none of these questions is the answer "the computer vendor's representative".

To me it was obvious that the people tasked with operating the computer should be given the ability and the authority to carry out their task. An employee should not be given a job and then kept in ignorance and dependence on the good will of others to do the job. Certainly the employees should not depend on others who are not even in the same organization. If that were not obvious to the clouded mind of a representative of the exalted vendor, and apparently it was not, he still should have deferred to the explicitly stated view of the customer. Instead he positioned himself as the computer god who deigned to solve our problems with a few strokes of our own keys.

I'm still mad at him more than a quarter century later.