'Just fix it' is not viable for complex problems

In recent months, my job -- working overseas for an international stock trading/brokerage house based in Zurich -- has started to feel a lot like being dropped into the middle of a gangster movie in which dangerous racketeers plot and scheme to kill one another. Or maybe it's more like a Shakespearean tragedy in which all the characters are dead at the end of the play. Either way, you need to watch your back.

The job started out well enough. I managed to implement cutting-edge technology with a fairly small staff, saving the company a ton of money. But then a palace coup toppled the old CIO, and a new CIO was brought in. Unfortunately, the new CIO turned out to be a golden boy of modern management, with zero IT background.

To do his dirty work, he hired a slightly more knowledgeable middle manager who would do anything to make his master happy. He reminded me of Igor in the old Frankenstein movies, but maybe that's one too many film references.

One by one, Igor fired my staffers, replacing them with consultants whose not-so-secret agenda was to make their jobs look harder and more demanding so they could bill more money. As time passed, their mistakes became harder to sweep under the rug.

The Dynamic Duo's favourite phrase was, "I don't care, just fix it." I quickly came to despise that tagline. For instance, I was using Postfix instead of sendmail to forward mainframe SMTP traffic to its final destination. Unfortunately, at times the array of sendmail processes in our main Zurich office would refuse to sync among themselves, causing the system to reject e-mail from the US. Because the problem was intermittent, it required careful thinking about SMTP, external DNS, internal DNS resolves, and other technical issues.

We were working with Zurich IT to find a solution that both parties could live with, but Igor decided the process was taking too long. He called me into his office one day, gave me a withering look, and declared, "We don't care, just fix it."

I knew what that meant: time to hire more consultants, which he did. Sadly, the consultants he brought in didn't even know what Postfix was. So they charged us 20 grand for a nice diagram of e-mail flow and recommended they be given more time to study the problem. Igor thought that was great and gave them the green light. As a result, these bozos are currently burning through the company's money at an impressive clip.

When I hear someone say, "I don't care, just fix it", my universal translator converts that to, "I don't know what the problem is, and I don't have the ability to comprehend it anyway; so don't bother trying to explain it. I have money, I have power, I'm the boss."

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