Monday, August 25, 2008

Henry Clay and Me

I'd rather be right than president.
--Henry Clay

I'm a software guy. The software that my company sells runs on several different operating systems. We had a request at one point to implement a certain feature on the AIX version of our software. If you're not familiar, AIX is to operating systems, particularly Unix-like operating systems, what Esperanto is to world languages. It sort of does what it was intended to do, but nobody really takes it seriously.

There is a gentleman who works in our main office who is very, very knowledgeable about our product, from the inside implementation to the features it offers in all of its various forms. He is highly respected in the company and is seen as the go-to guy for many issues. He was a proponent of implementing this new feature on AIX. I knew that it didn't work the way he thought it did. After a series of pretty frustrating e-mails, he requested a conference call to discuss this issue.

I was prepared. I had examined the code in question. I had read the AIX man pages on the topic in question. I had closely examined the AIX documentation online. I knew exactly how this worked. Four of us were included on the conference call. He said what he wanted. I explained how it was simply impossible. The operating system, if I may call AIX that, simply didn't provide the information for the software to determine the necessary steps. He indicated that I could do it in this fairly simple manner. I explained patiently that it wouldn't work, and here was why. He said that I could get this information from this source. I told him that the source was inadequate and might mislead us with the information it provided. This was not a difficult concept. I really couldn't understand why he couldn't see the logic. I had never dealt with this guy much, but I knew his reputation. At this point, I honestly couldn't see how he had earned it. The more we talked, the more I began to think that he really wasn't all that bright, but had apparently gotten his reputation through sheer persistence. This was so simple that any dolt with a rudimentary knowledge of the issue should be able to figure out that it simply wouldn't fly. I tried explaining it in a different way. I tried using examples. We walked through it step by step. I showed him the step where it all fell apart. For God's sake, is this guy an idiot? I was forceful. I was emphatic. I was confident in the overwhelming weight of rightitude. Just about the time I was ready to start laughing at the absurdity of it all, the answer hit me:

I was wrong.

I was utterly, totally, inarguably wrong. It would work in exactly the manner he said it would. Dammit!

I don't recall exactly what I said when this realization struck, but I'm almost certain that it was clever and glib and all-around perfect. I'm pretty sure it went something like this:


That's right. In the space of a heartbeat, I went from Daniel Webster to "oh".

The mind races at a time like this. How can I get out of this with a single shred of dignity intact? Maybe I'm not completely wrong. Maybe I can show how my way of thinking was right, but his presentation was inadequate. Maybe I got my information from an older version of AIX and the feature that would allow it all to work was brand new. Maybe.....

Nah. There was no way out. I had to tuck my tail between my legs and admit that everything that I'd been saying over e-mail for the past several days and during the last twenty minutes of highly-paid conversation with massive amounts of brain power was pretty much equivalent to arguing that Paris Hilton is "classy".

I went off and implemented the code. It was easy. Any dolt with a rudimentary knowledge of the issue could've done it. Coding, building and testing took me a total of about two hours. I was able to make an entry in our tracking system that same day that said it was done and worked like a charm.

I still don't know if the other guy was trying to be nice or just turning the screw when he responded with, "Gosh, it took less time to implement it than it did to talk about it!"


Yeah, I'd rather be right.


Bilbo said...

Paris Hilton isn't classy? Ohhhh....

Gilahi said...

Well, we could certainly have an argument about it, if that appeals.

Herb of DC said...

"Gosh, it took less time to implement it than it did to talk about it!"

He was turning the screw, believe me I know.

Gilahi said...

Gosh, Herb, it's really nice to run into someone who's as jaded as I am. We should get together over a few beers and talk about worst-case scenarios.

J.M. Tewkesbury said...

Oh, I hate when that happens! Humble pie is my least favorite.

Gilahi said...

Yeah, especially when it's topped off with dollop of sarcasm and a scoop of I-told-you-so ice cream on the side, and you have no choice but to quietly sit there and eat the whole thing.

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