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Make PowerPoint Illegal

Entry 1452, on 2012-10-23 at 22:34:20 (Rating 4, Computers)

It's common for people to defend their profession: lawyers tell us they do a useful job and that they can be trusted, police say they are just enforcing the law and keeping us safe, even used car salesmen say they provide a service which we need. And politicians? Well I suppose some professions are just indefensible!

But what about IT (information technology or computer) experts? Many people are a bit distrustful of technology and the "geeks" who support it. Most don't understand computer technology very well and can easily be persuaded to do the wrong thing by "experts". And many of those experts don't actually have a particularly high level of expertise, although it is usually higher than the average user. Plus there's the all to common problem of IT professionals charging too much simply because the customer has no idea of what might be really involved in a project.

And then there's the (to use the technical term) major cock-ups! A large proportion of the technical/professional disasters we have heard about in the news recently have been related to computer problems. Just here in New Zealand there is the Ministry of Social Development public computer kiosk security fiasco and the Ministry of Education payroll disaster. But these are just the tip of the iceberg. Every day I come across examples of poorly designed and dysfunctional web sites, overpriced and poorly performing internet services, unnecessarily complex and unreliable software, and many other computer-related issues.

As an IT professional myself you might think I would defend my profession and I do to a certain extent. Many of the problems I know some of the details about aren't really entirely the fault of the IT geeks who are implementing them. More often than not the problems arise because the technical expert isn't listened to and is overridden by the client or by management, or the programmer isn't given a proper specification for what is required to be done, or a senior management decision means that the system has to be implemented with serious and unnecessary compromises.

Interestingly, the compromises are often not related to cost. Sometimes the exact opposite is true in fact. Often management insist on using "industry standard" solutions based around Microsoft (or Oracle, or Cisco just as examples) technology which is not only slower and less secure than many alternatives, but is also a lot more expensive! Why do they do this? Because they are too ignorant to make real decisions based on the facts and instead resort to "best practice" which, as I have said on past occasions, is generally a formula for mediocrity at best and disaster at worst.

I know it is easy to be critical, and I'm sure people could find fault with my work if they looked hard enough, but the poor standards seem so unnecessary to me. I see web sites created at great cost by large teams of professionals which are far less flexible, reliable, easy to use, and elegant than stuff I have created as a single programmer. Of course we all know that sometimes a single person can do more than a team which might spend more time in meetings and creating business plans than actually creating the required solution.

Let me cite an example (I'm going to be deliberately vague here because obviously I can't reveal any of the parties involved). There was a project I was involved with a few years back which the client initially contracted out to an IT company who put a team on to the task and created a web-based solution for about $40,000. I had quoted for about an eighth of this price. The company created the system which also required expensive hardware and hosting and it was used for a few months before it was realised it was unusable. So I was asked to look at the issue again. I ended up building something ten times better (in my opinion and according to feedback from users) at under a quarter the cost and it ran on a basic Mac which required no specialised hosting.

But why was the expensive option selected in the first place? The client threw away tens of thousands of dollars when they could have had the whole job done for a few thousand. No one could really say but I suspect it was because of the "suits". I'm sure the representatives of the IT company came in wearing their expensive suits and gave a very professional (and meaningless) PowerPoint presentation before being awarded the contract. The client wouldn't have known any better and many people would choose that over an individual enthusiast wearing an Apple t-shirt. But they would be wrong.

There are two types of IT professionals out there: those that work in IT because they love it and the pay is just an added bonus, and those who do it for the money and see computers as just a means to an end (making more money). Guess which I am and guess which the suits are. And guess which will almost always get the better result. But guess which usually gets the work!

I'm sometimes asked why I don't adopt a more "professional" image and turn up at meetings in a fancy suit and with a meaningless PowerPoint presentation. Well it's because I have too much self-respect to do that. And if the client can't see through the fake professionalism of the others then I really don't want them as a client anyway. Now you might be able to see why I am primarily an employee of a large organisation and only do part time private consulting! My personality is not exactly well suited to working in the business world - I'm just too honest.

So my solution for most of our IT problems, and for most of our other problems today, is this: first, get rid of all the managers; second, get rid of all the suits; and third, make PowerPoint illegal. Yeah, that should do it.

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Comment 1 (3355) by Anonymous on 2012-10-24 at 19:13:37:

Agree PowerPoint should be banned. Disagree with the rest.

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Comment 2 (3356) by OJB on 2012-10-26 at 08:10:53:

Yeah well my lack of respect for the business world is no secret. I realize this is more a political view than a strictly scientific or logical one so I accept that a lot of people will disagree. Fair enough. I still think I'm right!

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