% fortune -ae paul murphy

Separating the bigots from the sheep

Last week's IT architecture challenge drew quite a lot of comment along the lines of this advice from frequent contributor nmh

Find a third candidate

preferably one who doesn't follow the cult of any one particular OS.

I thought the comment appropriate because the characters in that episode are strictly one dimensional advocates for opposed positions. The resulting discussion raised, however, a question I've been unable to resolve since: would a real person placed in this type of position think differently, or just act differently?

I've met rather a lot of people placed in exactly this position - job applicants asked for opinions in the absence of sufficient information - and the rule, in least in my experience, has been that the fancier the footwork, the shallower and more predictable the actual opinion.

In other words, the more practiced the candidates are at appearing to want to objectively judge organizational needs before coming to a recommendation, the more likely they are to recommend that existing organizations continue whatever they're doing and that new organizations adopt local majority practices.

There are two opposite ways to interpret this: you could argue that most organizations evolve the IT organization they need and a majority of genuinely objective reviews will therefore bless what's in place for existing organizations or recommend majority beliefs to new ones. My bets, however, are on the contrary proposition: that seeming to objectively bless group opinion is simply the easiest route to selling yourself as an expert and both reflects and leverages the power of membership as a sales tool.

My rule, therefore, is to assume that someone who won't clearly state, and doesn't want to defend, a general preference for one technology over others is either lying to me or incompetent with respect to at least one of the technologies at issue.

So here's my question to you - given the information available to "Paul" and "George" - basically this bit:

Challenge: pick the right information architecture for a 10 to 15 FTE research foundation. The operating budget runs around two million per year, the mandate is to hand out about one hundred million per year in health care related research grants, the scope is nominally worldwide with preference given to people working in Alberta, western Canada, Canada, and the United States in that order. The executive director is a former provincial politician, the board a legislative committee.

The primary work process for the non administrative staff will consist of vetting, approving, tracking, and supporting health care related research. Thus these people will spend most of their time talking to researchers, most of whom are professors and graduate students, and be judged on a combination of paperwork and the results achieved by the research they support.

what could an "objective" candidate say that neither cops out nor begs the question? i.e. that answers the challenge while demonstrating both objectivity and multi-platform expertise?

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.