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Ask Slashdot: How Do You To Tell Your Client That His "Expert" Is an Idiot? 384

Esther Schindler writes "It's a danger for any consultant, and for most inter-departmental internal project staff: To get the work done, you need to work with someone else who supplies expertise you lack. But when the 'expert' turns out to be the wrong person how do you tell the client (or boss) that you just can't work with that individual?"
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Ask Slashdot: How Do You To Tell Your Client That His "Expert" Is an Idiot?

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  • by alphatel ( 1450715 ) * on Wednesday February 12, 2014 @08:20PM (#46234023)
    Many years back a CEO of a subdivision of a company wanted to know why his email service was disrupted. I told them that it was because their idiot webmaster took control of their DNS and did not copy the MX record. The webmaster defended himself claiming that a document was not in place explaining how to handle the client's DNS. This went back and forth a bit between the three of us, and ended with me calling the two of them incompetent and irresponsible. I never spoke to the webmaster or the client CEO for better or worse.

    A few years later, the CEO of the parent company called wanting to know why his network was suffering intermittent downtime and demanded it be fixed immediately. I explained that his outage was caused by antiquated equipment that could not do debugging, and there was a proposal already on his desk for replacement gear. He was in a huff, but he knew I didn't mince words or advice, and that quote was signed in minutes.

    While you can't always directly point to a net gain after a net loss, your experience and attitude will help define how other perceive you. You can go in quite politely, or you can be very blunt. I have been both depending on the situation.

    Either way, if you can't call out losers, you'll wind up being one.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 12, 2014 @08:55PM (#46234341)

    Well, I have worked with a complete idiot. However, he was very good at buttering up the boss. His mode of operation was to get you to do the work with him, and then see the results. If it was successful, he would be in the boss's office claiming the success. However, if it had issue(s), you got blamed for any issues occurring, and somehow, the boss would be blind to what was going on.

    Working with this person started me on learning about office politics, and peoples personalities. In terms of how to handle the situation, I had to divorce myself from the project, taking on different responsibilities, and then allow the idiot to unambiguously fail on his own (so it couldn't be blamed on me). Many years later, I ran across the wikipedia definition of a sociopath, and decided that a sociopath was what I had been working with.

    Fortunately, he was the exception to people I've worked with.

  • Re:You Don't (Score:5, Interesting)

    by hermitdev ( 2792385 ) on Wednesday February 12, 2014 @09:42PM (#46234669)
    At my last job, we brought in consultants to implement a "workflow" solution for tracking trading agreements. The system was to leverage our internal systems for reference data that would be tracked in a third party document storage platform. The primary user of the system was our internal legal team. The consultants refused to design or implement the system with real-time connectivity because of an uptime requirement. They claimed a "5 9s requirement". They insisted on dumping, en mass, data from our primary store into their system. I knew straight off it was a joke, because they were pulling the data from a core trading system that was required to be available for all but 2 hours over the weekend (even then, we only had 15 minute outages maybe once every 6 months for deployments). And, having recently retired a process that synched data between two systems (migration from a legacy to new system), in real time, I had all sorts of horror stories and cautionary tales to share. It all fell on deaf ears. I took concerns to my management and said I would not implement their solution and outlined why. Their response was to pull me from the project and put in a yes-man that would do whatever he was told.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 12, 2014 @10:08PM (#46234855)

    You're facing a problem here:

    Your boss hired this person, most likely for a lot of money. He has to justify that expense. Admitting now that he fell for a snakeoil peddler is not something that will further his career.

    Right, and for that reason asking your boss to choose between yourself and golden boy (aka, 'the expert') is a loosing proposition. If you feel you absolutely can't work with the new guy under any circumstances find a new job and then quit your current one. Be polite about it and don't tell them it's because of the expert if you can at all avoid it, just give them some blurb about 'personal reasons' or that you feel 'your career is stalling but that you have grown as a professional at this company... blah blah blah....' management loves that sort of verbal diarrhoea. Leave your boss to fall on his face with the new guy or succeed (it is after all possible that you are wrong). One thing is for sure, nobody will derive any advantage from an acrimonious dissolution of your employment relationship, least of all you. Another poster here suggested being blunt about your gripe. I have to disagree since I have always thought that making an angry speech where you go into details about how you feel other employees or management are a bunch of morons when you quit your job is a bloody stupid idea since I am generally not in favour of burning bridges. Of course other people's experiences with bridge burning may be more positive than mine.

  • Job interview (Score:4, Interesting)

    by EmperorOfCanada ( 1332175 ) on Wednesday February 12, 2014 @10:31PM (#46234981)
    Years ago I interviewed for this hot up and coming company. Their stock was on fire and after a series of interview with all the top guys they had me in a meeting where they presented a pretty damn good offer. But in that same meeting they finally dished on their "secret weapon" Lotus notes. I just about threw up. They had this PhD CS guy who was their "Expert" I basically said, using Lotus on a project of this nature is like building a car out of sand. In the first few hours you might make something that looks like it is going to be a car but you will never drive it one inch. Their "Expert" made a face like I farted and told me that I knew not of what I spoke; even though I just just finished a project that required digging the guts(business logic and data) out of a lotus notes database and making it actually work in a sane development environment. So they basically said that it didn't look like it was going to work out and I said something like, even without me rethink your choice of Lotus.

    About 2 years later they flamed out in a huge stock and legal disaster. The lawsuits and criminal investigations are still moving along after many many years. A critical part of their disaster was their complete inability to deliver what they promised to their biggest customers/investors. Not that they were unable to deliver exactly what was promised but basically deliver anything.

    Another PhD CS "Expert" I later dealt with was a fan of some stupid browser and insisted that any development be done for that browser and not others.

    But my favorite PhD "Expert" shoot down was one that worked for a company that I worked for, she was an expert in DSP. But after years of working in a dark room somewhere basically everything she knew could be purchased in a chip. In the end she was doing paperwork audits.

    I am not saying that PhD CS people are all useless. I know many who are damn good and doing cool useful things. Just that many people in the business world are blinded by a PhD, they assume that the person has some sort of magical ability to make things happen. A PhD basically indicates that they know a whole lot about some certain thing at a certain time. If your business is that thing and their knowledge is recent then great. The reality is that things move so damn quick in the CS world that anyone who is good is always keeping up to date and doubtfully has any paper to show that.
  • Oh Hell (Score:4, Interesting)

    by digitalhermit ( 113459 ) on Wednesday February 12, 2014 @10:55PM (#46235111) Homepage

    This happened to me. The boss man had "taken the initiative" and brought in a new consultant. The guy was an idiot. He opened tickets with the software vendor asking things like how to set the date on a Linux system. He told one of my co-workers that if the root password was lost, he'd need to boot with a rescue disk and do some trickery with /etc/shadow. Tasked with building a cluster, he failed miserably blaming it on poor documentation and other nonsense. I tried many times to tell the boss man that his consultant was an idiot but was told I was being "combative" despite the guy's obvious failings.

    It all worked out though. As this guy's contract was being renewed, we asked him to show what he'd done. All the lies he'd told the boss man evaporated when it was revealed that his cluster was just a cluster fuck, his vaunted "remote management" system was really just a "yum install webmin" (left unconfigured), and he'd informed another co-worker not to reveal where he was sitting.

    Even years after, the boss man still insisted that the contractor "had fooled everyone."

    So no, if the boss is an idiot, you may as well just distance yourself from the idiot. Let him dig his own grave.

  • by Marful ( 861873 ) on Wednesday February 12, 2014 @11:25PM (#46235261)
    My best advice for anyone in this situation is to document everything .

    I spent a few years working customer service handling orders for manufacturing company. One particularly customers was a consistent problem. This company believed one of their personnel shat gold bricks, but I realized right off that they were incompetent and used lies & intimidation to cover this up.

    This person would routinely fax their orders at the end of the day (right before they would leave) without confirming that they actually sent me the files necessary to start their order, and that their orders were almost always "rush" orders with very very short turn around times. Another thing this person would do, would be to call me up, tell me they had an order and ask me what the latest day they would need to receive the order by a specific date and time. I would tell them, then they would wait well past this final submittable date, submit their order and then claim that I had promised to turn around the product by that time. Over the years, the turn around time necessary to complete their orders shrunk to impossible expectations and their customer began getting upset as my customer started blaming me personally for the delays.

    The irritating part, is that whenever I some how failed to live up to this person's errors (i.e., I was unable to cover for them), they would call up my boss and complain about me. My boss only believed half their bullshit, but it was still enough to impact my career.

    Unfortunately for them, one of their customers wasn't an idiot, and had remembered me when he came along to our plant for a facility inspection prior to us beginning production of their product. This customer set up a meeting between our companies and asked me point blank when I received the purchase order, when I received the files and when I delivered the product. Thankfully, I had records of the time and date of every purchase order that company had ever sent, along with records of the time and date of receipt of every file to begin production, as well as the delivery date of the product to their warehouse.

    It turned out that the end customer was sending the purchase orders to our problem person up to three weeks before the problem person would send me the PO and files. The problem person would sit on the file for weeks before submitting it to their production and farming out our part to us. The problem person ended up losing their company around $2million in sales yearly when they lost their client.

    We ended up being directly contracted by the end customer to continue manufacturing our part of their product.
  • Re:You Don't (Score:4, Interesting)

    by TrollstonButterbeans ( 2914995 ) on Wednesday February 12, 2014 @11:30PM (#46235291)
    I've been in the above situation 7 or 8 times. Sometimes writing these off as an impossible task is the right thing to do --- but usually it is a little late for that if the situation wasn't detected early. I personally have usually just toughed it out --- sometimes the "idiot" gets fired, other times the idiot gets busy and offers less resistance and/or listens better if you invest the time to explain or lay out options.

    Sadly, educating the "idiot" often is part of the "job description" -- wanted or not --- and with enough patience or tact, you usually can prevail.

    If not, the old adage applies: beware of what you ask for, you might just get it!
  • Re:You Don't (Score:2, Interesting)

    by scottbomb ( 1290580 ) on Wednesday February 12, 2014 @11:58PM (#46235449) Journal

    Structure contracts, fees, tangible goals so if the "expert" slows you down, you get paid more.

    How very ethical of you. Someone caught doing that should be sued.

  • by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Thursday February 13, 2014 @06:58AM (#46236623) Journal
    Often, he knows just a little bit more about the subject than the person hiring him and that's enough to convince them that he knows a lot more. From there, he's in a position of authority and so people believe whatever nonsense he spouts, because they don't know enough to contradict him. I've seen this in quite a few small businesses whose core competence is not computer related - they hire someone to 'do their IT' at a rate that is close to what they pay secretaries, they get the only kind of person willing to do skilled work at that kind of rate (i.e. someone who isn't very competent), but that person knows more about the IT stuff than management and so they assume that he knows a lot. It usually isn't too big a disaster, until you find out that they've been keeping their entire dadabase (which isn't even in first normal form) of all customers and orders in a single Access DB, which isn't backed up, is stored on a USB stick 'for security' and the manager who just quit took it with him...
  • Re: You Don't (Score:4, Interesting)

    by MillerHighLife21 ( 876240 ) on Thursday February 13, 2014 @04:55PM (#46240849) Homepage

    I think I speak for everyone here when saying...I would really like to read that report.

"For a male and female to live continuously together is... biologically speaking, an extremely unnatural condition." -- Robert Briffault