back to article A basement of broken kit, zero budget – now get the team running

Friday is here again, bringing with it the ferreting for loose change to pay the beer bill – and, of course, On Call, our weekly column in which readers tell us how they dealt with a tech support drama. This week, we meet "Hugh", whose tale of "make do and mend" landed in some rather hot water. Hugh worked at a major non- …

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Seems like the boss deserved to drink "funny" flavoured coffee.

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N2
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Indeed

"Seems like the boss deserved to drink "funny" flavoured coffee."

Give the mug a good rimming first.

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Coat

Yep, seems like she'd relaxative a bit and chill out

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I know the answer is probably the PHB but if there was no tech support, who was spending the IT budget?

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I know the answer is probably the PHB but if there was no tech support, who was spending the IT budget?

If an alternative is needed: previous year with no budget spent means budget cut to zero?

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Or was the budget spent on hiring the one person?

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Coat

"Or was the budget spent on hiring the one person?"

Hugh's salary probably WAS the IT budget.

In a previous job, my salary came out of the furniture budget for several months. I had this recurring nightmare of the auditors coming round and the boss-man having to drape a tablecloth over me - "fine, but don't you dare stick that 20" CRT on my back again !"

(Yes, it's the one with the emergency antimacassars in the pockets...)

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I'd agree with you on the PHB. Check for new car, recently remodeled house, or new swimming pool. Maybe a trip out of town regularly. This does have the feel of something not quite right there.

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On one occasion we ran out of toilet rolls so issued some travel expenses to Mr B. O. G. Roll.

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Anonymous Coward

Hugh's salary probably WAS the IT budget.

I'll post this as AC for obvious reasons coming up. One of the very few decent things I ever did in IT was one year-end about 10 years ago, my boss gave me a letter saying I was getting an increase. In the same meeting, he went on to say that I was going to have to tell the IT dept that there wasn't any money for any increases that year. "What do you call this?" I asked, holding my increase letter. "Your salary comes from the Executive budget," he said. "Fine," I said. "Then take back my increase."

A look of panic came over his face when he twigged he would have to go to the CEO to say someone wasn't as greedy as he was, and I relented a little. "At least use the increase I don't really need to fund an increase for the dept," I suggested. "Cant be done. different budget," he said. Eventually we compromised. I'd keep the increase so as not to make waves among the greed-suite, and the team each got a 20% bonus. At least I felt I could look them in the eye later. I know it was only a token bit of resistance, but these things must at least be challenged.

No wonder I made enemies... But I'm no longer involved with any big corporate.

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What budget?

Everyplace I've ever worked, there is an routine that is gone through near the end of the fiscal year wherein any unspent money in better managed accounts is quietly transferred to accounts with pressing needs. But doesn't that largely obviate rational budgeting? Why yes, of course it does. Wherever did you get the idea that budgeting is supposed to be, or is, rational?

Coming into a situation like that described -- were I crazy enough to put myself in that situation, I wouldn't be at all surprised to find that the budgeted funds had been hijacked.

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Re: What budget?

Even worse, when I was in a management position at a university if I didn't spend all the money in my budget it would be CUT the following year - since I obviously didn't need that much money! So what I was told to do by my superiors was to make sure I spent all the money in my budget no matter what, then try to push through a PO with two weeks to go that would put me 5-10% over the limit at the end of the fiscal year. It would be rejected, but it would increase my chances of getting a larger budget in the following fiscal year.

Stupidity.

What's worse, since IT equipment was going down in price and up in performance so rapidly (this was in the late 90s) the difference between buying something in the first month and last month of the fiscal year was often quite significant. And since the fiscal year started on July 1st, it made sense to buy in May and make changes over the summer breaks since you didn't want to try doing it during the very busy fall/spring semesters (and you didn't want to do it over the holidays for obvious reasons)

So on more than one occasion I'd have like 20% of my budget spent with two months left, and then spend 80% of it all at once. I got called to the carpet by the finance people for this on more than one occasion, but after the first tongue lashing I made sure to get quotes at the beginning of the fiscal year and end of the fiscal year for my needs - showing them I could upgrade 50% more workstations by waiting shut them up.

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Anonymous Coward

Almost certainly the angry boss. Setting the new guy up to fail, angry when he succeeds.

I'd say the IT budget was going on new shoes and hand bags. Then, under pressure due to the poor state of IT she's ordered to spend some IT budget on an IT person. She needs this person to fail hard. When they don't, she looks bad. Hence the outrage.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: What budget?

I met the same budget stupidity in Industry.

But that was in my previous job. In my current job (internal part time IT 'expert' to a small medium business) there is no IT budget, or if there is its a secret.

Ditto my actual job.

I really should bring the subject up.

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Re: What budget?

BTDT, including the 5-10% overspend in a previous job . I didn't like being peniless in the two moonths in between the "last" order date on the old budget and when the new budgets were approved so I'd generally hold back ~£1k for emergencies, Outside orders took 6 weeks to come off the budget but consumables would cycle in a day or so, so I'd agree with the department admin to hold back 1K for emergecies until the last possible date at chick point an order for $1ks worth of toner and paper would be squrited into the purchasing system.

Then there was the year that the Uni's coffers were very low and ALL IT purchases had to be countersigned by the HOD, Head of University Information services and a Vice Principal. At which point the CPU fan on our main router died (it was a linux box we were cheapskates). I still have somewhere in my attic a purchase order for a £2.50 CPU fan countersigned by £300k+ salaries which took 3 weeks to be processed, even with me walking it to the relevant offices. At the same time a very similar looking PO for a very similar looking part but marked as "office cooling fan"*, costing £5 and coming from a more generic supplier sailed through the system without a question.

*it's a cooling fan and the router was in my office....

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Anonymous Coward

Reminds me of the time I upset all my colleagues by being vocal and saying that we shouldn't accept our annual pay rise that year. This was during an economic down cycle and I could see what was coming.

Sure enough, the following year the redundancies started. Who knows how many people we could have kept in a job with that payrise money, at least some who had voted for the raise. The company recovered pretty quickly afterwards.

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Anonymous Coward

Similar Story

I was a tech support manager for a public sector body. We had had a pay freeze for several years and it looked like the next financial year was a bit stronger. I negotiated promotions for virtually my whole team, clarified with the admin / finance manager that the money was there and had a wonderful week holding one-one meetings to explain why each of them was getting a substantial increase in salary. We then got called in to the IT Directors office to be told that there had been an error in the budgeting and the funds were not available. My other colleagues all claimed that they had not informed their team members that raises were on the way (liars) but I refused to toe the party line and told the boss that not only had I informed each member formally that they were getting a raise but had been explicit in how much each would get. Furthermore team members had already made significant personal spending decisions (one was finally replacing that knackered old banger with a newer model and another had put his house on the market to up-size for space for his new baby). By making it an issue of personal credibility I was able to force through the promotions for my team members. I did find out later that the 'budget crisis' was actually a request by the CEO to make further voluntary savings, if the other managers had stood firm the raises would have been awarded to their teams too.

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Thumb Up

When you're set up to fail...

...but succeed anyway.

No wonder the boss was upset.

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Trollface

Re: When you're set up to fail...

She had plans to get more budget... waiting for the ultimate clusterFcsk to cry to her superiors. She just couldn't trust the n00b on the team to keep the secret?

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Holmes

Re: When you're set up to fail...

My last couple of jobs could be summed up like this...

Me: Why do I get all the "suicide missions" ?

Boss: Because you usually succeed and manage not to get yourself killed in the process !

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Paris Hilton

Re: When you're set up to fail...

@chivo243

"She had plans to get more budget... waiting for the ultimate clusterFcsk to cry to her superiors."

I think you're really onto something here. In the particular corner of Hell where I'm condemned to work, I've come up with ways to simplify and speed up key tasks. For a while, when we were way behind and had no budget, the PHBs were very happy with me doing this. Then, the budget situation got better or something. When another "big job" came along, I came up with a way to speed it up by at least 4x over the stone-age process they were using - and got a bollocking for "not going through channels" and was told not to use my shortcut methods or give them to anyone.

WTF? I wondered. Only answer I could come up with (other than total insanity on the part of PHBs - which I can't rule out) is that they wanted the project to be a total time soak to try to get more budget/headcount or something out of their PHBs.

Paris because she's fully qualified to be a PHB here.

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Re: When you're set up to fail...

"Only answer I could come up with (other than total insanity on the part of PHBs - which I can't rule out)"

The administrative mind runs on fixed processes. You have this job, you follow this process. It means they don't have to think. Throwing them out of that mode probably causes them the same pain that you and I suffer when deep in a complex problem and someone comes along looking for a time-sheet or progress report.

Insanity is probably close enough.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: When you're set up to fail...

Several years ago, I was looking after an increasingly decrepit billing system, which was slow and crash-prone enough for there to be a risk of it taking longer than 24 hours to run. Which in turn caused issues, as this would mean that the wrong datestamps would appear in various places.

(Old system, I didn't write it, etc etc).

Being a conscientious and industrious little developer, I put together some patches to improve both the robustness and performance of the system.

Oddly, these patches weren't met with unconstrained joy from the billing team, as by improving things - and hence implicitly extending the functional lifespan of the system - my patches were impacting the business case for a new billing system!

Just can't win, some days...

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Anonymous Coward

Re: When you're set up to fail...

"Me: Why do I get all the "suicide missions" ?

Boss: Because you usually succeed and manage not to get yourself killed in the process !"

A bit OT perhaps but my father always said his reward for not getting killed on D-Day was to be sent out East so that the Japanese could try where the Germans failed.

However, it's rarely possible to abort suicidal IT projects with a couple of A-bombs.

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swm

Re: When you're set up to fail...

When I was in college the administration wanted all of the students to fill out detailed time cards. The head of the computation center looked at the form and said, "Cant we just fill out one and duplicate it?"

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Re: When you're set up to fail...

oh my, obvious a number have never worked a typical gummint contract... ESPECIALLY if 'cost-plus', that is the holy grail of billable time ! ! ! the powers that be WANT you to 'waste' as much time as possible parked on these cash cows, logging all of your time as billable to the gummint teat...

gee, wonder why gummint projects always cost so much... herp derp

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Re: When you're set up to fail...

" I've come up with ways to simplify and speed up key tasks. For a while, when we were way behind and had no budget, the PHBs were very happy with me doing this. "

I worked at QVC many years ago, and they had the exact same bulshit with the warehouse staff.

when they had a massive list of orders that all had to be out the door by the next day, they didn't care about rules. I don't know how many times there were two picker trucks in the same isle, while the shit head team leader* was stood at the end of the isle watching, but saying nothing. But the next day, if the rush was not on, the same pickers would be in hr getting a blocking....

*it was a working theory that this particular team leader had something over his boss. The amount of times he was reported for stuff that should get you sacked but like Teflon, nothing ever stuck. He was definitely protected.

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Re: When you're set up to fail...

"She had plans to get more budget... waiting for the ultimate clusterFcsk to cry to her superiors. She just couldn't trust the n00b on the team to keep the secret?"

It's hard to keep a secret when you haven't been told what it is you are not supposed to let people know!

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Unhappy

Go now, go quickly

Sounds like the sort of 'boss' who was on the fiddle. I wouldn't want to be around when the crunch finally comes, and risk having my reputation tainted by such a poisonous person and situation.

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Some managers

simply don't like having their favourite moan removed from under their nose. It has the same effect of telling kids, no you cant have the ice cream. it means that they have to find out what else is happening in the rest of their (dis)organisation.

They'll have a hard time at the next senior managers meeting that will go along the lines of. "Now the laptop crisis has been solved, what are you doing about their end of life, the network performance, the changes in regulations" er er "I didn't know about any of those..."

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Anonymous Coward

HMSO

Started as an admin assistant at HMSO back in 1998. Part way through the year, they moved from the VT220 terminals they had to.... Windows 3.1. Still ran VT220 sessions in windows. But, me being the curious type, started playing with Macros. Soon learnt how to finishing my work by 10.30am

Got hauled into the office one day: Stop doing this. Why? Firstly you're embarrassing the rest of the staff (who somehow managed to make this work last the entire day) and secondly because the IT department don't know what you're doing.

I lasted a year.

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Re: HMSO

I would've commended you for that... and told the rest of the staff to look at increasing their productivity.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: HMSO

Ah, the age old conundrum: how much automation can I get away with before I start making other people unemployed? Is there some way to limit that to the jobs of people I don't like? How does one automate a PHB anyway?

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Re: HMSO

A random bullsh!t bingo generator would probably do the job quite well...

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Re: HMSO

Sounds like a 6 month gig my son had just after leaving school. His job was to set up iPads for use in various schools around the country. Since this was accomplished in bulk by a suitably equipped computer, he managed to get halfway through his 6 month allocation of iPads in about 1 month. His boss told him to slow down or else he would end up finishing long before the end of the contract period and would only get paid for the time he worked. Needless to say he took the advice and stretched the job out to its required maximum.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: HMSO

Reminds me of when I worked producing call stats reports at a call centre for a certain UK white and brown goods insurance company. I'd been offered much mula to work Xmas Day and New Years Day plus days off. Got all the reports done in the first hour thanks to not having my boss constantly interrupt me (to sanity check his work) nor any other managers. Ended up spending the rest of both shifts watching TV.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: HMSO

How does one automate a PHB anyway?

One doesn't, that's a quicklime, shovel and a roll of carpet job!

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Re: HMSO

You are wasting your time with the carpet....

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Re: HMSO

Don't want to get the inside of the van dirty.

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Re: HMSO

Ended up spending the rest of both shifts watching TV.

In other words, exactly like being at home except soberer.

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cd

Re: HMSO

Relatively sincere question: Could the automation be made to take all day, but just do it on its own so that it looks like you're working instead of ordering more quicklime and carpet remnants?

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Re: HMSO

"Don't want to get the inside of the van dirty."

Correct. It's the quicklime you don't need. But you still to clean out the inside of the van to get rid of any carpet fibres.

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Re: HMSO

"except soberer."

He didn't say that.

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Re: HMSO

"How does one automate a PHB anyway?"

Like this?

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Re: HMSO

When I was young I was told once “work is a scarce resource that should be sparingly use. “

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Anonymous Coward

Re: HMSO

how much automation can I get away with before I start making other people unemployed?

Friend of mine used to glaze over when colleagues talked at him, thinking "I can replace you with a script."

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Re: HMSO

"Got all the reports done in the first hour thanks to not having my boss constantly interrupt me "

My experience with out of hours call center coverage was that we could effectivly do nothing all night and still get paid.

We obviously founds stuff to do, mainly going through the day shifts work queues and finishing off jobs that they had logged but not done.

Of course every time we actually did the job we were being paid for, and thus didn't have 4-6 hours of slack time, the day shift bitched at us for leaving them work to do :)

I've also worked shifts, and the 0700 - 1500 that I got 80% of my work done by 10:30, at which point the office was full.

Take the crappy shifts :) plus if you work at Christmas you meet lots of nice Hindis and Muslims who also have many festivals with delicious food. For the BoFHs, all you can eat onion bajis. Certain Indian grandmothers take it as a personal challange that you can't walk away from the table :)

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Re: HMSO - How does one automate a PHB anyway?

Harold Wilson (that Harold Wilson, the PM) had an answer to that. He wrote a paper suggesting that bosses be replaced with a set of traffic lights connected to a random number generator. Red - no; green - yes: amber - resubmit project next month.

The decision process was likely to be at least as reliable as the typical manager and had the advantage that, being so fast, if something didn't work it could be rectified before it became a problem.

He also wrote a statistics paper showing that the result of First Division football matches (in a day before all the computers and money) were indistinguishable from randomness.

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Re: HMSO

"In other words, exactly like being at home except soberer."

Soberer, yes, but much better paid than being at home :-)

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Re: HMSO - How does one automate a PHB anyway?

Obligatory xkcd.

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