June 02, 2009, 8:00 AM — "Pet projects": If you're a typical tech toiler, those two words no doubt made your hair stand up on end. How often have you been assigned to labor on a project that you suspect reflects your immediate supervisor's interests or office-politics goals, but does little or nothing for the health and profits of your organization as a whole? We asked some readers to share their own horror stories in this department -- to serve as gruesome entertainment and provide cautionary examples. Note that the names and details in some of these stories have been tweaked a bit to protect the innocent -- and the guilty.
Buzzword compliance, please
A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing -- especially a little knowledge about the latest trends in IT, or just "computers" in general, because then those trends start becoming priorities for front-line workers. A civilian employee on a U.S. military base, who wants to remain anonymous, is in just such a spot. "My boss wants to do Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, YouTube -- 'all that social media stuff' -- and a blog, video, RSS, Sharepoint, 'or some other CMS' -- basically, any of the buzzwords in new communication you can think of. His resources? Me, and a budget of a few thousand dollars."
While you may be sniffing at that list -- "Pssht, everyone wants a buzzword-compliant Web 2.0 site these days" -- you probably aren't facing the same set of troubles that our anonymous correspondent is. Military networks are a quite a different animal than whatever's been cobbled together at your local startup. "What I'm up against is a completely locked-down computer network that prevents access to those sites, and a bureaucratic IT department that doesn't know how to implement VPN or WebDAV for remote access to a Web server, for example," my correspondent writes. You'd think that his manager would see the mismatch, but, as he puts it, "It's been my experience that supervisors in technical fields are promoted to get them out of the way of those who can actually implement, maintain and fix things."
Good intentions gone wrong
Sometimes even initiatives that that start off with valid business purposes can go awry, especially when the requirements haven't been worked out in enough detail and good money is thrown after bad.
An IT architect at a major midwestern university was directed by his boss to help set up a virtual dashboard that would indicate the status of the school network. When users had a problem, they'd be able to see for themselves what isn't working, or why the Internet is slow. "This will make them feel empowered and lend a sense of inclusiveness and transparency to what we do!" his boss explained. Sounds good, right?