Tech Tip

By Paul Murphy, author of The Unix Guide to Defenestration

Sometimes I think the person who writes the Dilbert cartoon is unreasonably generous about non technical management. Just a few minutes ago, for example, I got a worried sounding call from our finance guy, could I please come up to Purchasing right away?

Since the order for my new V880 was due to go out that day, I assumed that purchasing was throwing up last minute roadblocks -the director had earlier tried to insist that an Intel server would cost about $100K less than we were paying for the Sun box- and expected to find the Finance VP running interference for me.

Instead, I found him panicing under a deadly attack by the purchasing director - the same one who'd lost the battle for the mythological $3K Intel server. The nominal cause of her hissy fit? The DVD-ROM included by default on all V880s. As she so eloquently put it:

We're not paying for those prima donnas you love so much to watch movies on our time!

When Mr. Finance uses your first name it signals, like your high school vice principal's use of your last name, both smarmy hypocrisy and bad news. "Paul", he said, "I supported you in committee on this purchase, but we can't be buying DVD players for employees.

So I did the mature thing: I lied. Specifically I told them the DVD drive was for watching training films, added that I'd find out what the printed manuals would cost instead, and promised that Sun would refund our DVD purchase if we sent it back later.

Of course when I got back to work I had to explain this to my Sun sales guy. When he quit laughing he did what I asked and sent me an email, which I promptly forwarded to cover my tail, offering to print the manuals at cost and committing to a $60 reduction on the server if we returned the DVD drive.

Not so long ago I would have jumped in with both feet, and probably won the argument but delayed the P.O. and therefore the project, while giving the purchasing director an incident on which to hang her dislike of me and further weakening the Finance's guy's already lukewarm support for IT. Instead I offered them a reasonable out, humbly shuffled my feet, and conscientiously followed up the discussion with an email.

Really, of course, a couple of Dilbert's finest were left in the dark and I did feel mildly guilty about the bad joke; but that's just between you and me, certainly they'll never figure out what I really said.

The bottom line is simple: I don't suggest you make a habit of it, but sometimes a little dishonesty can go a long way.