Monday, March 5, 2012


I spent a great deal of time last week trying to get various problems resolved which were not my fault but were nonetheless my problem. (I’m tempted to say I spent a disproportionate amount of time on these issues, but I don’t know that any other scheduling proportions would have been terribly likely; the attempts at resolution took up most of my time but as usual I didn’t have a ton of other things to do.)

The crux of the problem is that I’m nominally responsible for several custom web programs built back in the early days of this contract, which means I didn’t assemble them myself but I’ve familiarized myself with them enough that when something goes wrong with them I can generally determine the nature of the problem and (in theory) the solution. But sometimes the problem turns out to be not a snippet of data entry that doesn’t play well with the underlying code, or a corrupted file that someone has tried to upload, or anything like that which I can actually fix remotely. Sometimes the problem turns out to be a symptom of a larger problem with the physical server that contains the program, and there’s nothing I can do about that except contact the help desk and ask them to forward a request to the folks at the host facility who do have direct access to the machine. Yes, you read that correctly, I do not even have the ability to reach out and contact a specific person and say to them, “Hey, you have admin rights on the box where my program lives, can you look into this error message I’m getting and, since I don’t want to tell you how to do your job, do whatever you deem appropriate to make it stop?” I have to send an e-mail to a generic black box account and eventually, hopefully, it will be read, passed along to someone who can do something about it, acted upon, and then finally thrown back over to me as a completed task. It is highly enervating.

All my life's a circle
But given my position, I can’t simply pass the buck; I’m expected to be the one who makes the request and the one who follows up and nags and pesters (as much as a black box generic e-mail account can be nagged and/or pestered) until action is taken and a solution manifests. And that in itself gets tiresome when the problem stretches out for three or four days and no one is getting back to me with any new information at all, which of course pretty much sums up last week.

Things also got compounded by the fact that two of the web programs started acting up at the same time. They reside on different servers and were experiencing different problems, but I had to try to get traction on both problems at once. One of the programs has problems with its server all the time, and was experiencing more of the same, so at least I knew where to start. The other one almost never has problems and lives on a completely different network, so for a while I was wasting time simply trying to find a help desk address that wasn’t a dead end. And I never quite succeeded at that, either, but ultimately I threw myself on the mercy of a real live person who has frequently helped me out with the problems-all-the-time server and asked him if he happened to know anyone responsible for that other network, and miraculously he was able to hook me up. Of course my helpful acquaintance had extra time to make inquiries on my behalf because he wasn’t doing much to resolve the problem which I had brought to his direct attention in the first place, thanks to my irrational insistence that he not bring the entire system down during working hours (bringing the entire system down of course being an indispensible part of his usual methodology).

Last night my wife asked me if I ever think about changing jobs, and I answered her honestly that I really don’t. Either a new job offer would have to come out of nowhere including either an impossible-to-pass-up opportunity or (I won’t deny that this would work) a significant pay increase; or my current job would have to become truly and untenably dreadful. So that is the weird, leveling thought to take into account with all of the above: last week was kind of dreadful, but not in a truly untenable way, just in a way I’ve come to expect every now and then. I should probably find that a little bit worrying, but as always I’m mainly grateful to have a gig that pays the bills.

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