Jokers on Files.

Joking jokers

After working for Cap Gemini I became a freelance IT specialist. A few years later there weren’t any freelance jobs available. And so I started as a database administrator at a government agency near home. Most people in the Netherlands know about the agency because it processes traffic fines for the police. It didn’t take long before I was seriously tested. Already on the second day one of the main systems crashed, leaving a corrupt database. After two days of research I realised that the exact cause might never be found so I advised to upgrade the database software to see if it solved the issue.

Instead management decided to turn it into a crisis and to set up a multi disciplinary task force to deal with it. They decided that the cause of the crash should be found. Every day at 10 AM there was a meeting of the task force to discuss the state of affair. There was no progress so every day I proposed to upgrade the database software. And every day my proposal was brushed aside. After two weeks of investigating the cause had yet to be found and managers were getting desperate. Upgrading the database software ended the crisis. Knowing the solution matters more than knowing a lot of other things like for instance the cause. This was a harbinger of things to come.

There were some serious issues with access rights in the main systems so in 2005 I built an account administration system named DBB to solve these issues. DBB automated granting and revoking access rights for all the main systems based on job roles. Nobody ordered me to do it but I expected that it would be appreciated. Instead DBB faced opposition and red tape. In 2005 I introduced it in a sneaky way with the help of the people who wanted to use it. After DBB had been installed, there was no way back because DBB solved a pressing business problem while there was no alternative.

The logo of DBB was a drawing made by my wife Ingrid. It features jokers grinning at a set of file folders symbolising bureaucracy. Bureaucrats considered it a rogue system but it worked well. DBB made a joke out of them so the logo became a bit prophetic. For more than ten years they were busy scheming and devising plans to replace DBB. Two projects were started to this aim. The first one was halted prematurely because the complexity of the matter had been underestimated. In 2016 a new project team realised that it was pointless to replace DBB. After eleven years the main systems of 2005 had become of age and it was expected that they would be decommissioned within a few years, so that DBB could retired together with those systems.

DBB was also joking me. In June 2010 someone requested me to drop a user. This was an unusual request as normally DBB took care of that. In fact, this hadn’t happened for several years. The username I had to drop was rather peculiar: ELVELVEN. If you read that aloud, you say eleven elevens in Dutch, a reference to 11:11. Usernames were made up of the first one or characters of the employee’s first name followed by the last name in full. To me 11:11 signals a combination of two related unlikely events that are related. And indeed, the joke had a part two, and it was even more peculiar.

In 2014, when I was testing an improvement to DBB, a test signalled that an illegal account had sneaked into our systems. The username was the first character of the first name followed by the last name of the lady of the dormitory. If she had been employed with us, this would probably have been her username. And her name isn’t common like Jane Doe, so this is peculiar, even more so it was the only username that popped up. It turned out that a guy with the same last name had been employed with us. His first name began with the same letter as hers. The account wasn’t illegal but I had mixed data from two different dates for the test, which made it appear that way.

In 2005 my manager promised me a promotion. He believed there should be a senior rank for experienced database administrators. He didn’t take a lot of action so I tried to make him put his promise into writing. Just before he left, he wrote it down, but he only gave me a minor wage increase, not the promotion he promised earlier. A few weeks later I was summoned to the human resources department. A bureaucrat had come up with a technicality so I couldn’t even keep the minor wage increase. Having it in writing didn’t help. My manager had left and his temporary replacement didn’t care.

When I arrived at home Ingrid told me that a freelance agency offered me a job. This was the first time this happened after I had stopped working as a freelancer three years earlier. That was a peculiar coincidence as I was angry because I had worked so hard to have the promise in writing, because I didn’t trust the bureaucracy but that didn’t matter because I was right. And so I made a rash decision and resigned. It didn’t take long before I started to have second thoughts. There weren’t many jobs for database administrators near home and my physical condition didn’t allow for long travels. There were also issues with my son so working far from home wasn’t an option. There was a new manager who accepted my change of mind. And after a few years of bureaucratic wrangling, the promotion to the senior rank came through.

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