More timeless, still-relevant information technology jokes

One of my most visited blog posts noted that certain IT jokes tend to come up again and again. That post covered four such familiar jokes, along with what I felt were some common themes uniting them: IT hubris, narrow perspective, self-righteousness. Each of those jokes contains a “grain of truth” to it that makes it funny, to IT and non-IT people alike.

Along those same lines, here are three more time-honored IT jokes, ones you’ve probably already heard if you’ve spent much time in the industry. Again, take a few moments to revisit them and consider what makes them timeless: how the common situations they describe seem to never quite go away. And then I’ll talk about what I think unites them thematically, and the resulting lessons for IT professionals.

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Bears, hedgehogs, and Gladys Knight: parables of IT leadership

For years, I’ve had two framed items hung on my office wall throughout my various stints as CIO, CTO, etc.  I like to think of them, both individually and together, as reflecting certain truths or ironies I encounter as a technology executive, particularly in the realm of leading others.  They serve as cautions to me of leadership potentially gone awry.  So let’s talk about what they show.

The bear and the hedgehogThe bear and the hedgehog: “Vielleicht kannst du auch mal was machen”

The first is a decades-old cartoon taken from a German calendar, preserved from the years I lived in Berlin.
Two animals are playing on a seesaw. One is huge and bear-like, the other a small critter like a hedgehog.  As you’d expect, the bear outweighs the hedgehog, who dangles on the high end of the seesaw. The large one says to the small one, “Now make yourself heavy.”  The little one says “OK”, and voilà: the next panel shows the seesaw reversed, contrary to gravity and logic, where the hedgehog is now outweighing the bear.

The bear says, “You see? It really does work.  Now make yourself light again.” Whereupon the hedgehog quietly retorts, “How about you doing something once in a while?”

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Some timeless IT/tech jokes, and why they’re still relevant

If you’ve been in the information technology industry for a number of years, certain jokes tend to pop up again and again. Why? I’d say it’s because their underlying premises, the things that make them applicable and funny, continue to occur. So even if you’ve heard these before (and that’s probably the case), it’s worth taking a few moments here to look at them again and consider what makes them timeless.  Remember, even jokes have morals to the story. Sometimes especially jokes.

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CIO pet peeves: small drains on personal productivity

I promised a while back to write more about some of the pet peeves I’ve developed in the CIO/CTO role. So here are a few more.

We all have pet peeves. Working as an executive in IT seems to present a lot of opportunities to develop a long list of these. They’re minor grievances, to be sure, but they also really matter, in that they drain away little smidgens of productivity or create frustration. And most are easy to address, so in the interest of enhancing the world’s productivity, I’d like to list a few of these. I’ll confine myself just to the ones that crop up at least once a week in the course of my workday. Consider fixing these a high priority to show good business etiquette and professionalism:

Pet peeves:

  • Email aliases that aren’t of the form first.last@company.com

Yes, I know it’s rare that anyone has to actually type an email address from scratch. Nonetheless, when you do, you shouldn’t have to guess. Hmm, is Brian Wilson going to be brianw@xyz.com, or bwilson@xyz.com, or brianwi@xyz.com? Every company should standardize on the predictable, canonical form of first.last@company.com, at least as an acceptable alias. A speaker at a conference I just attended told the audience to contact him at kzw@company.com, and everyone actually had to scribble that down! He thought it was simple, no doubt, since it was only three letters. But the point is, you shouldn’t have to remember yet another token about a person. Even Microsoft, for its employees’ email addresses, doesn’t do this email address standardization right, at least not as a standard across the board.

  • Documents (spreadsheets, in particular) that won’t print cleanly

If you make a document, even in this paperless world, assume that someone will probably want to print it, if only to read on the bus or something. Spreadsheets in particular need to be print-previewed and examined to see if they’ll print cleanly. Use the “Fit to” option, and shift from portrait mode to landscape mode where appropriate; use the “rows to repeat at top” option to get consistent headers on subsequent pages. It’s pretty irritating to print a document and discover that its columns are spread across four separate pages, unnecessarily.

  • Documents that don’t have titles, dates, authors identified clearly on every page

Whenever I bring this one up to someone passing around an unlabeled, undated document, I always hear, “Oh, that’s because it’s only a draft, you see.” That’s all the more reason to make sure it’s labeled, since there are bound to be later revisions floating around. Excel and Word both have excellent header/footer functionality. Use it. While you’re at it, page numbers are also nice.

  • Spreadsheets with empty tabs

90% of the spreadsheets I get sent have three tabbed worksheets: one with data (Sheet1) and two with nothing (Sheet2 and Sheet3). I then exercise my unavoidable and infamous anal retentiveness by diligently bringing up all three tabs to view, just to be sure I’m not missing anything (and every once in a while, sure enough, I discover data in one of the tabs I’d assumed was probably blank). Come on, everyone: the three tabs are the unfortunate Excel default (yes, you can and should change this, instantly, with any new Excel installation), put in place by Microsoft marketing, which spent no doubt countless meetings arguing over the best way to make sure people knew that tabs were a feature. (Count your blessings: the default for a previous release of Excel was 16 tabs for every workbook!) Get rid of empty tabs; they add no value. If you need a new tab, add it then. While you’re at it: if you do use extra tabs, please name them something meaningful.

  • Email without clear subject lines

Email is my knowledge repository, often, representing an important trail of decision points and the reasoning/history behind them. I need to be able to find stuff in that haystack. Fill out a clear and specific header! For example, when I’m sifting through that haystack for a particular nugget, a vague subject line of “Question” isn’t nearly as good as “Question on CRM functional requirements deadline”.

  • Email from close business associates (people I see at least once an hour) that still have to begin with “Hi, Peter”.

It’s a business email, not a personal letter. Salutations aren’t really necessary. I promise: I won’t think you rude for omitting one.

  • Email that doesn’t copy the thread of discussion (when germane) at all

See above point about the need for subject lines. When I’m cruising quickly through email, I don’t want to have to pull up other messages to retrace the flow of discussion on the topic.

Little things, minor irritations, all of these… so why not avoid them?

Is there any CIO/CTO out there who is still inclined to answer a desk phone?

Just a quick one, this time, in what may become an ongoing motif of describing some of the pet peeves I’ve developed in this role.

For years now, I’ve been unable to answer my desk phone. Or rather, I’ve been unwilling to answer it, at least for calls that I can tell are coming from sources external to my own company.

Nineteen times out of twenty, any external call is almost certainly a cold call from a software or hardware or services vendor. It’s as bad as dinner hour used to be at home, before the advent of the National Do Not Call list. Sometimes I even detect the telltale blank pause that occurs while the automated outbound dialer, robotically jumping for joy at having landed a live one, is routing the call to a real person. The caller is often obviously reading from a script, rapidly.

They want to impart things along the following lines:

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Nightmares before Halloween: bad dreams of the CTO/CIO

In honor of the season, I thought I’d share a few recurring nightmares, ones that unfortunately don’t seem to confine themselves to the fall time frame. All of these are chronic worries that have truly kept me up at night; most of them stem from actual real-life situations I’ve encountered.

1. Your CEO calls you and asks you why the web site is down… and you didn’t know it was!

When the company’s web site (or any other mission-critical system) is down, escalation mechanisms need to inform you and inform you fast. Of course, the site should rarely / never be down other than for scheduled maintenance, so putting yourself in that notification loop (subject to calls in the middle of the night) shouldn’t be too common and painful. If you’re not informed of these situations, I’d argue that either your team isn’t sufficiently on top of detecting them, or they’re “sparing you the pain” of being told. In truth, the pain has to be spread around. The onus of notifying management is one mighty incentive to make sure that the need to do so arises as seldom as possible. Don’t tolerate being part of (much less at the helm of) an organization that purposely or through omission sweeps things under the rug.

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Watch out: Top 10 statements by IT vendors

Enough serious posts for the moment: it’s time for a little bit of humor, hopefully with a moral or two in tow.

About 15 years ago, when I was still a director and not a C-level executive, I worked a great deal with vendors providing services, project management, software development, and so on. In particular, my company chose to enter an extended and extremely expensive relationship with a well-known large consulting firm, which was given near-total management control over resource allocation (meaning their own resources) and an apparently unlimited budget. For the next three or four years, I worked closely with them, Biedermann among The Firebugs, working to maintain a semblance of integrity and direction for the project and for my company’s financials.

In the course of all that, I heard certain earnest promises repeatedly, and came to regard such statements as canaries in the coal mine when dealing (especially in the early sales cycle) with new vendors. At the time, finding some strength in humor, I dashed off the following list, which I’m repeating here with some commentary. If you hear any of these statements from a vendor (not to mention several such utterances strung together in an elevator pitch), my strong advice is FAV: Find Another Vendor.

In true David Letterman style, here’s the Top 10 List of Vendor Statements, with annotations.
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