Monday, November 25, 2013

An I-D-Ten-T problem

Megan McArdle remembers the woes of tech workers trying to bring to reality the dreams of their customers - even if the dreams are beyond current technology.
The policy people handed out impossible orders to the technical staff; when the technical staff couldn’t deliver their impossibility, they decided that the problem was incompetence. This percolated all the way down the line, and quite probably back up again -- why bother explaining things if the people you’re doing the explaining to are idiots? The supercilious tone that Henry Chao, the Medicare agency's deputy information officer, took toward congressmen -- particularly Republican congressmen -- in his recent testimony sounded a lot like I did 15 years ago when I told a client just how stupid they were being. (That was a mistake I made only once, thank God -- and my boss rightly ripped my head off after the meeting was over.) It sounded like a man who was fed up with all the fools who surround him.
But at the end of the day, when people are demanding that you do the impossible, your job is to explain why you can’t. The ability to manage the expectations of nontechnical users is actually an important piece of domain knowledge for technical people; if you flub that, you’ll fail just as surely as if you get the hardware or software wrong.

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