The IT horror story you’re about to read is true.
Only the names were changed to protect the innocent.
The Banker and Larry Ellison
I worked for a credit card-issuer based in South Dakota. This was a larger business than it sounds. I occasionally heard the weekly net bandied about. It was at that point I realized that there are businesses so profitable and with a clientele so locked-in that they don’t need to care about burning money on IT nor anything else.
It was a privately-held company, and the President was fabulously wealthy. He’d hob-nob all over the country, and this occasionally put him in company of IT industry leaders.
Enter Larry Ellison.
Ellison and the company President got to talking IT. The President, of course, was an ignorant 1D10T error who wouldn’t know a USB port from a hole in the ground. Ellison, of course, wanted to make as big a sale as possible for Oracle.
Ellison wove the President a fantastical, whimsical tale of beautiful unicorns and enchanted Princes that excreted gold on command, if only the President would buy his stuff. It would be easy and secure. He could fire half his IT people (who knew what the hell they were doing anyway?).
So the President returned to South Dakota, called an all-hands meeting, and told use we were going to revolutionize everything by using Python and an Oracle server for our entire business.
Everybody looked around. Who was going to tell him he was full of crap? Our auto-dialers alone were a pair of dedicated AIX boxes.
“Ah,” someone asked nervously. “What … uh … what do you mean, exactly?”
“Well,” the President said, “I was having dinner with Larry Ellison on his yacht and he told me that’s all it would take.”
“Uh,” a voice from the back said. “Er … did you tell him what we did?”
“That we’re a bank in South Dakota.”
“See, um, the thing is,” another voice quietly said to the floor, “did you tell him our weekly?”
“There’s no way I’m going to tell anybody about anything we earn,” the President said menacingly.
“Hm,” another voice. “He might have gotten the wrong impression about our size.”
That earned a look. Realizing they’d just made the fatal error of suggesting that the President might not have all the information, there was the sound of shoes scuffing nervously. Then the voice piped up:
“I mean, we’re making a ton of money. This place is more successful than anywhere I’ve ever worked!”
The President glowered in the direction of the voice. The poor IT wonk knew they’d overplayed. There was an uncomfortable silence.
After several moments, I couldn’t stand it any more. I heard the emotional part of me blurt out:
“Well if Larry Ellison thinks it’s something we should look at, who am I to second-guess him? I think we should get together a team, a couple of people from Dev, a couple from Infrastructure, a couple from Support, a couple from Security, somebody from Management. We get on the horn with Oracle up in Sioux Falls and see what they think they can do for us?”
There was a brief moment of silence while the rational side of my brain asked the emotional side what the frak it had just done?
The President nodded, and there were all manner of agreements that I had a good idea. It particularly came from my manager. He’d wanted to say the same thing but had been terrified beyond the capacity for rational thought.
We could easily buy ourselves time to put something together as to how Python and an Oracle box couldn’t possible handle our volume. Just putting together a voluntary team of at least nine would slow the whole idea to a crawl. At any time, a manager could grind it to a halt by citing lack of personnel. Did the President want them to stop what they were doing to come over to the Oracle project? If so, fine, but it will slow down this other project.
In any case, the President’s attention span was notoriously short. By the time we got a meeting set up and held a couple, he’d probably have moved on to badgering some other department. In six months, he wouldn’t even remember sipping drinks for ten minutes with Ellison.