Jokers on Files.

Joking jokers

After working for Cap Gemini I became a freelance IT specialist in 1997. In 2002 there weren’t any freelance jobs available 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 turned 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 affairs. 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 so finally they were willing to consider my suggestion. Upgrading the database software ended the crisis. This turned out to be a harbinger of things to come.

It was not possible track what access rights were granted and to whom. At the time it was an urgent issue and nobody was taking action. In 2004 I built an account administration system named DBB that 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 stiff 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.

The logo of DBB was a drawing made by my wife Ingrid. It features jokers grinning at a set of file folders, in my mind symbolising bureaucracy. Bureaucrats considered it a rogue system. 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. Indeed DBB made a joke out of bureaucracy so the logo became a bit prophetic.

But DBB was also joking me in a rather peculiar way. 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 ELVELVEN. If you read that aloud, you say eleven elevens in Dutch, a reference to the 11:11 time-prompt phenomenon. Usernames were made up of the first one or two 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 A*******, the lady who appeared to be God. If she had been employed with us, this would have been her username. And her name isn’t common like Jane Doe so this is peculiar, even more so because it was the only username that popped up. It turned out that a guy with the same last name as hers had been employed with us. His first name began with an A too. 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 noticed that I had managed to introduce the account administration system DBB. “You have vision and you make things happen despite all the opposition,” he said and added that he believed I was the best database administrator. Only, 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 down that I could get a minor wage increase, not the promotion he promised earlier. A few weeks later, when he had already left, 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 that evening Ingrid told me that a freelance agency offered me a job. This was the first time in a long time. And I was angry. I had worked hard to get the promise in writing because managers in general and the human resource department in particluar weren’t very dependable, which the incident demonstrated once more. And so I made a rash decision and resigned. But it didn’t take long before I started to have second thoughts. There weren’t many jobs for database administrators near home. There were issues with my son and my condition didn’t allow for long travels. There was a new manager and he accepted my change of mind. After a few years of bureaucratic wrangling, the senior rank was established and I was promoted.

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