I first saw the kid in the corner of a “meeting space” about two months before the end of my contract. Tall, skinny, basement pale, awkward bowl haircut, bewildered look. Polyester slacks. Yellow stripe shirt with these absurd white contrast French cuffs and collar. Two-thirds of a prom outfit from the white-trash site of urban Columbus, really.
The purpose of this particular meeting was to hear a mutual pitch from RedHat and Microsoft, trying to get our department to set up its own little kingdom of servers and “container architecture”. This is a constant struggle in pretty much any major corporation, a battle that’s being fought behind the scenes 24/7. Once upon a time, each company had a mainframe and it was under the direct control of the tech department. Then when minicomputers like VAXen came along, you had individual departments setting up their own systems. When small “servers” came along, the problem got a thousand times worse. Then you got Sarbanes-Oxley and HIPAA and FINRA, laying a complex web of compliance regulations on all those small servers. So the Fortune 500 companies swept everything back up into one central department. This made life much tougher for all those individual departments, who now had to go to corporate IT and wait a year for something they used to get done in a month. So they started… cheating, setting up their own stuff on the sly.
My ex-wife had a job for a while where she would sniff out these “shadow servers” and even the “shadow helpdesks” set up to support their users. Hundreds of $20,000 computers and hundreds of full-time jobs, all shuffled off the books and reported to headquarters as something else just to avoid the hassle of dealing with central IT and their deliberately difficult processes. Once she arrived in a city to find that the department she was investigating had built a whole server room, a million-dollar operation listed as something else entirely. She tore the place down to the ground like Samson. A couple years afterwards, she heard rumors that it was being set up again. The heart wants what it wants, you see.
Anyway. The company for which I was contracting had spent a billion-with-a-B dollars on a central tech architecture and container platform. But that didn’t stop my sub-department from wanting to spend a million-with-an-M dollars on its own private little playground. So the RedHat and Microsoft people had arranged a meeting to show us all the benefits we would get from buying their products. And that’s where I saw the kid, whom I would later come to think of as The Creature From The Tech Lagoon.
I will confess that I was pretty apathetic during this presentation, which lasted four days. I considered it a waste of time. The best case scenario was that we would spent a year building something that would be shut down the minute someone around the C-suites heard about it. But the Creature was not apathetic. He quickly learned the names of everybody in the room. He made sure to shake their hands at the beginning and end of every session. Apparently he’d been shucked off from another department during a reorganization but he’d managed to attach to ours as a “technical resource” for this shadow-server implementation.
The Creature spoke often in the meetings and when he spoke it was as sounding brass or tinkling cymbal, a bunch of sound and fury signifying nothing. He would begin by saying, “I know that Bob and Jenny have conferenced with Pam and Raja about this”, all those names being important people a few layers up in the hierarchy. Then he would say something that sounded like a bit of the product documentation only it was drained of even the slightest meaning. The Creature had a talent for stringing together buzzwords. I got into the habit of ignoring him.
The week after the presentation I started getting emails from the Creature. Maybe five of them a day. Naturally, they were sent early in the morning and then late at night. The Creature was always in the office. Nobody seemed to know what he was doing. But the emails continued to issue from his electronic cloaca.
Subject: New perspective on containerized artifacts
Hey everybody, I’m excited about Platform9. Platform9 Managed Kubernetes is the industry’s only SaaS managed solution that is infrastructure agnostic, working across public clouds and on-premises server infrastructure. SaaS managed delivery enables on boarding in minutes, without the ongoing operational overhead of 24/7 monitoring, troubleshooting and orchestrating Kubernetes upgrades. Can we all get dialoguing on this right away? I’ve set up a meeting invite.
Five of these a day. I ignored every meeting request. Then the Powerpoint decks started coming. Shortly after meeting him, I’d jokingly explained to him how the H1-Bs liked to put five slides’ worth of content on each and every Powerpoint slide. It was common to get PowerPoints from the H1-Bs where the text had been shrunk past the point of readability. They would take a slide they liked and turn it into the upper left hand corner of a new slide, then repeat the process. I’d meant to warn the Creature about that process but instead he took it to heart. His Powerpoints were astoundingly dense, with as many as ten different diagrams per slide. Most of the diagrams were taken directly from the Internet. Sometimes they would contradict each other. Nobody seemed to notice.
There was a snow day. School was canceled. Most people stayed home. I came in the next day to find that the Creature had kept the whole team updated on his work-from-home progress on an hourly basis. There was a new Powerpoint. And a link to an incomprehensible position paper on meaningless technology. Our boss had responded:
There was a reorganization. I was told that my contract was not renewing, which was a relief. The Creature, however, was now assuming a new capacity as an architect of sorts. Could I help the Creature learn something — anything! — about computers before I left? It was critical. He was going to be leading the department into its future shadow-server environment.
I reluctantly accepted a meeting invite. The Creature had invited people from across the globe. Literally. India and Ireland, those two low-cost English-speaking outposts of the tech support universe. The purpose of the meeting was to explain the next-generation architecture as he imagined it. The Creature opened it with a sustained monologue that was a masterpiece of incoherent disconnection. “Any questions?” he huffed.
“Yes.” It was an English accent. “You need to understand that it doesn’t work that way. The connections you’re talking about… they don’t exist. That’s not how we build software. You’re talking about two products that interfere with each other. Would you mind figuring out what’s really going to happen before we have a meeting like this again?” There was dead silence, thirty people all doing a solid impression of a mute button. I stifled a chuckle. I heard the Creature draw breath. His response was calm, measured.
“Well, clearly you need some time to get comfortable with the new ideas. I’ll try to arrange for you to get some coaching.”
“That’s not what I’m saying—”
“Like I said, let’s get you some coaching. Alright, most of us will reconvene next week.” And with that, the Creature killed the call.
Two days before the end of my contract, I saw him in the hallway. He was now dressed identically to the H1-Bs, untucked flannel shirt and jeans. A cluster of them were following him and he was talking nonstop about container strategy container methods java struts spring boots. When he saw me he allowed an imperial nod to tilt in my approximate direction. Later on that afternoon, I found out that the funds had been allocated. A long-term vendor engagement was beginning. It would be supervised by the Creature. Nobody knew exactly what it would be. But it would be expensive and it would take a year or more. The excitement was palpable for this future boondoggle. It was tacitly understood that RedHat would send three people to be “supervised” by ten of our guys. A lot of hours would be billed.
On my way out the door I dropped off my keys to one of the senior people on the team. “We would like to have you back. There will be opportunities on this team thanks to the new engagement. You should talk to…” and here he named the Creature with no small amount of audible respect, “…maybe see if he can envision a role for you in all of this.”
“Thanks but… no thanks,” I replied. “I think it’s all a bit, ah, deliberately complicated.”
“Oh yes, it is very complicated,” came the response. “It is so complicated and it will take so long. We are lucky to have Him.”