% fortune -ae paul murphy

Consultant disease: not knowing what you don't know..

Chris handles DNS issues, but she wasn't here and because it had to be on Solaris 10 I said words I shouldn't have. Many hours later I was indeed covered with something, but definitely not glory - in fact, the only thing that saved my butt on in.named and its nefarious colleagues was a FOSS script - the h2n thing by HP's Andris Kalnozols.

In denouement I was painfully reminded of one of my other attempts at being Mr. Helpful - one in which I met the client's EMC for the first time, didn't know it was shared three ways.. and, well, thank God they had good backups.

But, all retrospective humor aside, there's a deeper lesson here: I know all about setting up Solaris Bind/DNS - on 2.5.1 from more than ten years ago. Guess what? yeah; and what neither you nor I know is just how much similar certitudes discolor other judgements about how easy, hard, or even feasible a lot of other things we're supposed to know about really are.

Given that I rant about this all the time - and got caught by it anyway: how do you think the more ego driven amongst the pointy-heads make out? And bear in mind, please, that I got caught by volunteering to do - a mistake most of the people whose experience twenty years ago still qualifies them as experts aren't naive enough to make.

And that signals a real problem: the overwhelming majority of high end IT consultants and project managers carry 20+ page resumes - now it's true that relationship knowledge is forever, but equally true that most of what the expert knew even a few years ago is likely to be seriously out of date: better treated as a guide to where he's going to go wrong than anything else.

Since people adapt, and most experts aren't foolish enough to actually touch a keyboard, the typical corporate consulting scenario combines relationship management among the seniors with the technical skills of a few juniors - and this costs lots of money and must surely lead to some howlingly bad decisions, but on net allows the industry to bump along more or less cheerfully.

There is one arena, however, where reverence for long irrelavant and correspondingly incorrect knowledge constitutes a real threat to progress and that's the legal system.

When a lawyer wants an expert witness, the qualification process focuses on formal certification - and a ph'd granted thirty years ago followed by ten years of teaching and twenty years as an peripathetic expert easily outranks the BSc who actually wrote the code or developed the policies the court's trying to assess.

And the bottom line on that is simple: court decisions often flout age over change - and make absolutely no sense at all.

Paul Murphy wrote and published The Unix Guide to Defenestration. Murphy is a 25-year veteran of the I.T. consulting industry, specializing in Unix and Unix-related management issues.