% fortune -ae paul murphy

In remembrance of scoundrels past

I had a conversation with an old friend recently that eventually turned to people we had both known and whom we thought had exerted considerable negative influences on a client we'd both worked for.

One of these was a guy who worked for the client for more than twenty years - and who had obtained his qualifications, a Ph'd in Statistics, by the simple expedient of marching into the registrar's offices at the University of Minnesota, showing his passport as identification, and requesting that they mail a copy of his transcripts to a place he said he was staying at prior to taking a junior faculty position at Indiana State. From there he went to the University Library and paid them to copy, stamp, and mail his doctoral dissertation to him.

How you ask? Simple, he found a real Ph'd graduate who shared his name, his ethnic heritage, his middle initial, and had moved away - in this case from St. Paul to Urbana. That, coupled with nerve and a couple of hundred bucks, got him his Ph'd documentation, complete with high marks and a verifiable record of attendance at two important American Universities.

The other scoundrel we had in common was a consultant; a person I initially took to be just a liar for his habit of serially agreeing with opposite sides of the same argument. As it turned out, however, his problem ran deeper: he is (or was, neither of us know) an extreme situational ethicist completely unable to tell the difference between truth and power and therefore always sincerely in agreement with whoever he saw as most powerful in the room.

What brought all this up was that the client's recent decision to launch yet another re-org and systems redevelopment appears to have been the first one in twenty-five years in which several senior executives in the organization having moved on, these gentlemen are not involved - and my former colleague's firm is therefore free to bid on a big chunk of both the HR and IT work triggered by the re-org.

As a result he was hoping I'd have insight into the hot buttons of the organizational survivors now nearing the top of the executive there and therefore ran tighter qualification controls up the flagpole to see what I thought.

My comments, (and, obviously I'm looking for your comments on this) were that the departed tended to hire or propose in their own images: meaning that the client organization is probably internally in a "same mess, different scum" situation - and, by corollary, that offering to check credentials and performance histories for employees and favored consultants would probably trigger outsize defensive reactions somewhere in the decision process and thus be self-defeating for his firm.

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.