back to article We've found it... the last shred of human decency in an IT director – all for a poxy Unix engineer

Welcome back to On Call, The Register's weekly trip down memory lane with those poor buggers who have to deal with whatever lurks on the other end of the phone line. Today's tale takes us back to the beginning of the century and an IT director, who we will call "Alessandro", tasked with serving the needs of the pharmaceutical …

  1. Oh Matron!


    There's no beer worthy enough for this chap. Has made my day...

    1. Phil W

      Re: Beer...

      As laudable as it is for Alessandro to take the heat, I would be reluctant to blame the "junior Oracle DBA" guy anyway. Sure he might have pulled the trigger on the wrong command but the bigger questions of responsibility are

      Why did the senior DBA let him do it if he was really looking over his shoulder? If he wasn't really looking but was supposed to be then some of it is on him.

      Who let the junior DBA have access to do this on the most important live databases if they weren't sure he knew not to do something like this and why?

      1. Chris G Silver badge

        Re: Beer...

        Alessandro's action, although increasingly rare these days was the corect one. As a boss, you appoint people to their positionsand you direct and are responsible for their actions.

        It is also your responsibility to be sure they are able to carry out their duties or need supervision and training to be able to do so.

        Every boss should have a buck nailed to their desk.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Beer...

          In a somewhat related situation, also in France, it was the customer's engineers who took me out to lunch. Because they appreciated managing from in front and knew any one of them could have made a mistake. And they detested their boss.

        2. Rameses Niblick the Third Kerplunk Kerplunk Whoops Where's My Thribble?
          Thumb Up

          Re: Beer...

          Alessandro's action, although increasingly rare these days was the correct one. As a boss, you appoint people to their positions and you direct and are responsible for their actions.

          Absolutely this, I couldn't agree more. Yes, the employee made a mistake, but who put them in a position to make that mistake? The senior DBA? Who put the senior in that position? Ultimately everything comes down to the manager, otherwise, what the hell are you there for? Things may go wrong, people may make mistakes and it's your job to see that is handled appropriately, but when higher-ups are asking for who is responsible, well that's the manager. As the manager you have to hope that they trust that you will resolve the situation appropriately.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Beer...

            It's not uncommon for workers at the coalface to complain about how "overpaid" those higher up the food chain are for how little they do. However, when push comes to shove they do earn it.

            I can think of a few projects that I've been on when, on the face of it, the project manager well above my pay grade pushed some paper around, did a few reports...all the usual PM sort of stuff. But when something went wrong, he was the one who had to sit in a meeting (where tea and biscuits were certainly not offered) and explain to the customer why we were running late because of some technical snafu.

            1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge
              Thumb Up

              Re: Beer...

              I remember one director who showed up on site during the commissioning of the first installation of a new environment at a high profile customer. When asked by someone on the team why he needed to be there, he replied "I'll be holding the umbrella if the shit starts raining down".

              1. wyatt

                Re: Beer...

                We've a few PMs who will come to site to allow us to work whilst managing the customer, especially if stuff is going wrong. Not many though, most manage from afar.

              2. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Beer...

                I worked for a certain TLA global IT company where it was standard practice for the partners and account executives to book leave for major go-live dates, presumably because they had complete confidence in the team they left behind.

                1. Anonymous Coward
                  Anonymous Coward

                  Re: Beer...

                  If its the Two Letter company that split into two TLA companies, the emerald one of which spun off a turd, I mean "third", that I know, that's still the norm around major product launches for the one with the old logo and stock ticker symbol.

                2. Diogenes

                  Re: Beer...

                  The day the DataProcessing departments promotions/increment jumps was announced was a well kept secret in a certain organisation I worked for, until an analyst noticed a pattern, that it always occurred at 5pm on payweek Friday( and most of us would be on a flex day, or POETS) that our PHB would always be on leave from the following Monday.

                  One of the maintenance programmers looking after the leave system wrote DB trigger on the leave DB on PHBs staff number. The year I left, the PHB eas still there at 9pm dealing with the complaints

              3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

                Re: Beer...

                I'll be holding the umbrella if the shit starts raining down"

                And not just in that one instance I hope. Holding the umbrella over the rest of the team should be day-to-day because in a large organisation it's a fairly steady drizzle.

              4. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Beer...

                Indeed. When it starts raining excrement, OUR managers use one hand to hold firmly onto their brolly, whilst using the other to shove one of us sacrificial lambs under a speeding Routemaster.

                Anon for obvious reasons.

            2. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Beer...

              "It's not uncommon for workers at the coalface to complain about how "overpaid" those higher up the food chain are for how little they do. However, when push comes to shove they do earn it."

              You must have worked at some rare places then. Or you're a Manager. In my experience, in both private and public sectors, most managers are more interested in covering their own arse and dropping their underlings into the fire when the smelly brown stuff hits the fan. There have been a few who have stood up for their staff, but they are in the minority and seem to have traded their loyalty to their underlings for any real hope of advancement - other than sideways, and preferably all the way out the door.

              It seems to be part of this new tendency amongst managers to think that anyone who stays in one place too long cannot be capable of finding another job, rather than accepting that sometimes people can be happy doing the same things for years...

            3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

              Re: Beer...

              It's not uncommon for workers at the coalface to complain about how "overpaid" those higher up the food chain are for how little they do. However, when push comes to shove they some of them do earn it.

              FTFY, and it's great when you get one one who properly takes responsibility :-)

            4. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Beer...

              > However, when push comes to shove they do earn it.

              Not quite. Some of them have the opportunity to earn it, precious few these days actually do.

              It's been at least a decade (probably 2) since I've had a manager at any level who I believe might have taken the same path as the supervisor in this story. I'm fairly certain none of the current lot would even consider it, particularly the CEO e.g. who has been seen to publicly blame Sales, Marketing, et al for his own lack of direction, guidance, indecision, and so on.

            5. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Beer...

              > all the usual PM sort of stuff. But when something went wrong

              .. the PM threw the a junior under the bus? Quite a few of the PMs I've had the displeasure of working with have had that attitude.

              To be fair, I've also worked with some very, very good PMs - people who work hard and treat people as people, not as replacable Resource Units.

          2. NogginTheNog

            Re: Beer...

            Yes, the employee made a mistake, but who put them in a position to make that mistake? The senior DBA? Who put the senior in that position? Ultimately everything comes down to the manager, otherwise, what the hell are you there for?

            I have to disagree with this to a point. You appoint people and give them responsibility, and that means owning their own mistakes. The senior DBA I'd say had the responsibility to ensure the junior was up to the task, not the manager. This is also what Change Control is to protect against: mistakes being made, and when they are to provide a) a route out of them, and b) a clear indication of where responsibility lies.

            Saying that what the manager did is definitely going above and beyond, and all credit to him, but he did it at least partly for his own selfish reasons (keeping his team together).

            1. doublelayer Silver badge

              Re: Beer...

              I think you have a point, but it doesn't get to the point of your extreme or the one you responded to. The mistake wasn't really the manager's responsibility, unless the manager decided the person should admin without assistance despite knowing or being told that the person would not be capable. In this case as stated in the article, the manager put the senior admin in control and trusted them, and unless the manager had a reason to believe the senior admin would not be capable of preventing the junior admin from messing up, the manager acted correctly when setting up those roles. When it later broke, the manager didn't have any reason to think that was at all likely.

              Simultaneously, it wasn't a selfish move by the manager to save the employees. True, it would have caused problems for him if the team lost one of its members, but most teams would have problems if they lose one of their members, even the most annoying or useless one, because now there's one fewer person to do the work and a replacement probably needs hiring*. The manager didn't give out the name because the problem was not worthy of firing someone who, seemingly, made an honest mistake and didn't get caught in time by the person who was in a position to do that. A manager is not automatically responsible for anything and everything that happens below them on the organizational chart, but neither are they free to let subordinates take consequences they don't deserve because someone said so.

              A good manager makes the decision about what happens to their subordinates based on facts, not the demands or unsubstantiated statements of someone else. That means a manager will keep someone even if somebody doesn't like them, and may fire the person who doesn't do very much work even though some clients might like them.

              *Unless the most annoying member of the team is someone who doesn't do any work, in which case everybody's happy when they go.

              1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

                Re: Beer...

                My reading of this story is that if the junior DBA was only a junior DBA then Alessandro might have given them up. Or given the name and then fought to keep them from being fired, if it came to that. But it's also their senior UNIX person, who they couldn't afford to lose or risk losing.

                You can say that everybody makes one great big mistake on a computer system, so replacing them just means you get someone whose great mistake is still to come. On the other hand, no one has a guarantee of just one.

          3. heyrick Silver badge

            Ultimately everything comes down to the manager


            And there I was thinking that the only qualities a manager had to possess was the ability to assign blame to anyone and anything other than themselves.

          4. ThatOne Silver badge

            Re: Beer...

            > Ultimately everything comes down to the manager, otherwise, what the hell are you there for?

            Why, to scoop up bonuses, and look out for any chance of promotion. A "manager" is called that because (s)he manages his/her career.

            Which is why it is indeed refreshing to hear about one who still adheres to the quaint old values of integrity and duty. Almost restored my faith in humanity (almost)...

        3. ChipsforBreakfast

          Re: Beer...

          That's the definition of a *real* manager.

          I have before and doubtless will again before I finally decide to hang up my keyboard and go do something sensible instead sat with customers and told them bluntly that the buck stops right here. No, I didn't do the work and I didn't make the mistake but my team did and that makes it my problem.

          I've faced down angry CEO's more than once and told them that if they want the head of the engineer then they'll get mine too. Nobody's ever taken me up on it and to be honest if they did it's not a place I'd want to work anyway.

          I've also never,ever, hung a member of my team out to dry for a mistake no matter how serious. In fact, we have a very clear policy on mistakes - when you make one, be honest about it up front. You won't get disciplined bot you'll clean up your mess. I'll help you if you need it but you're doing the donkey work. Just don't make the same mistake twice......

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Beer...

            "In fact, we have a very clear policy on mistakes - when you make one, be honest about it up front. You won't get disciplined bot you'll clean up your mess. I'll help you if you need it but you're doing the donkey work. Just don't make the same mistake twice."

            Yep, mistakes happen, learn from them, find what can be done to prevent them and move on.

            The only unforgivable sin (or at least sin you'll get major shit for) is trying to cover up your mistake rather than admit it, especially if it results in your boss being caught out unaware of the issue. Never seen a colleague fired for making a mistake, but have seen someone fired for lying about it.

            1. teacake

              Re: Beer...

              This, totally and completely.

              And having got your team working that way, it cuts both ways. You can't in good conscience hang them out to dry when things go wrong. Mistakes are shared and collective.

              I did have a somewhat similar situation to the one in the article. In my case, the identity of the team member in question was known to the senior management, and they wanted to dismiss him for something they knew he had done. In that situation, and knowing *why* he had taken the action they were unhappy with, I felt it better to tell them that I took full responsibility, and that if they pressed the issue I would claim the action had been taken under my direct instruction alone. That was enough to stop them. In this instance, though, it wouldn't have helped the team member to know how close they'd come to being dismissed, so I never told him, just quietly changed procedure.

          2. Mark192


            "we have a very clear policy on mistakes - when you make one, be honest about it up front. You won't get disciplined bot you'll clean up your mess."


            Any other policy results in problems being hidden and blowing up, much later, and with a bigger bang.

            Everyone makes mistakes and if they know they'll not be punished for honest mistakes then they'll report those mistakes.

            Any other policy and the business will create unnecessary problem for itself.

          3. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

            Re: Beer...

            Just don't make the same mistake twice...

            There's another saying: "There is no such thing as a stupid question unless you've already asked me the same question twice before and not bothered to learn the answer"..

        4. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: Beer...

          "Every boss should have a buck nailed to their desk."

          They'd just prise it off.

        5. Intractable Potsherd

          Re: Beer...

          A buck nailed to the desk! Wouldn't that get a bit smelly?

          And what about the antlers?

          1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

            Re: Beer...

            And what about the antlers?

            They can use them to help dig the quicklime pit out the back..

            (Antler picks are surprisingly durable)

        6. ShadowDragon8685

          Re: Beer...

          Pretty sure the local whatever society for the prevention of cruelty to animals would have you burnt at that stake for nailing a buck to your desk.

          I mean, unless it's dead, of course, but I think your coworkers will then be the ones lining up to light you up like Savonarola, without any white-robed guy to murmur a comforting "Resquiescat en Pace" and put you out of your misery before the flames can torment you too much.

          ... I mean, unless it's dead and taxidermied, in which case... Uh, go you?

        7. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

          Re: Beer...

          It is also your responsibility to be sure they are able to carry out their duties or need supervision and training to be able to do so

          My attitude as a manager was always "praise in public, correct in private". That and it's my job to stop the crap flowing downhill to my team - unless they really, really need to know what is about to deluge them..

          (Add in responsibility to mentor - no-one starts out with the skills, experience and attitude needed to do the job and part of the managers job it to teach and encourage their staff - even if it means those staff end up with the skills and confidence to leave for a better job. I don't subscribe to the "the good of the company always comes first philosophy" unless it's in the sense that encoraging people to grow into their jobs helps both performance and morale.)

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Beer...

        "Alessandro" here. As to the "why:" The real mistake had to do with bash history and an up-arrow up-arrow up-arrow enter instead of an up arrow enter as the history file was copied from DEV to PRD.

        A few of the mitigating actions for the future were to replace the junior's keyboard and run scripts in production instead of copying a history file..

        Anonymous coward for obvious reasons.

        1. tfewster

          Re: Beer...

          That's understandable for a junior DBA, but he was also a senior Unix engineer, carelessly following an obvious bad practice.

          Anyway, kudos to you for taking responsibility for your team and making improvements to the procedure.

        2. Venerable and Fragrant Wind of Change

          Re: Burnout

          This was a Unix person. So presumably someone who believes in always scripting a job? Yet here he didn't until after the incident had happened. Is that not utterly out of character?

          Possible diagnosis: burnout. A Unix engineer who is a pale shadow of his former self. I know all about that - at first hand.

          I'll raise a pint for rescuing the situation.

        3. Androgynous Cupboard Silver badge

          Re: Beer...

          Anonymous you may be sir, but a coward you are not.

          (Shitting yourself later doesn't count)

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Beer...

            Well, if you post anonymously here, El Reg changes it to "Anonymous coward", so that's where that bit comes from... ;-) :P

        4. keithpeter Silver badge

          Re: Beer...

          Clueless end user here

          Is copying bash history to different accounts a normal procedure?

          Just thinking of some of the jolly japes I have perpetrated with Ctrl-R and Up-Arrow over the years. Blast radius one recycled laptop, not anything important.

          @Alessandro: see icon

      3. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

        Re: Beer...

        Why did the senior DBA let him do it if he was really looking over his shoulder?

        More to the point, why did the senior DBA teach the junior DBA to use TRUNCATE, especially on live data.

        If you know you're on a database which is definitely not a production one, preferably on a server that definitely isn't a live one, and you've made sure that you don't have another session open on any live server anywhere that you might accidentally type a command into, then maybe you might use TRUNCATE, but even then, you'd probably DROP or DELETE FROM instead, unless the table in question was huge, or the hardware very slow, because typically, if you're doing something on a test system, you'd want to replicate what you'd do, and the way you'd do it, on a live system.

        Typically, if doing anything that involves deleting data from a live database, the very first thing you'd do is make a copy of the data you're about to operate on. The senior DBA should have been teaching teh junior that as a matter of course. If not making a copy of the entire table, then running your DELETE statement as a SELECT first to copy that data somewhere else.

        Then, of course, you'd check for any cascading delete constraints...

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Beer...

          TRUNCATE is very badly named.It doesn't help.

          Thank non-existent-deity I only learnt the lesson on a development database.

    2. macjules

      Re: Beer...

      Seconded. One of the best On-call stories.

  2. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

      Gracias. :-)

  3. Blofeld's Cat

    Ah ...

    "For when the One Great Scorer comes to mark against your name, he writes - not that you won or lost - but how you played the game".

    Grantland Rice, Alumnus Football, 1908

  4. cookieMonster

    And that ladies & gentlemen

    is how you lead a team.

    He's a bloody hero.

    Have a pint !

    1. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

      Re: And that ladies & gentlemen

      As a boss, you have to stand up and take the heat when your team screw up, and step back and let them bask in the glory when they seemingly perform miracles.

      1. BebopWeBop

        Re: And that ladies & gentlemen

        That is what you are meant to be doing - after all you get the big bucks (as o one of my very decent managers sadi in the long lost past when HP was a decent company)

    2. Pascal Monett Silver badge


      Too often these days a boss takes the paycheck and skirts off when the fallout arrives.

      This one had the balls to stand up and take responsibility for his team.

      I would have been proud to work for a guy like that, and made every effort to ensure that he didn't need to stand up for me.

      1. Anonymous IV
        Thumb Down

        Re: Indeed

        > Too often these days a boss takes the paycheck and skirts off when the fallout arrives.

        Did you really mean to say that? If yes, one presumes that the boss was done for sexual harassment quite rapidly...! :-)

      2. Unicornpiss

        Re: Indeed

        The best leaders are those that don't yell, threaten, and bluster when someone screws up, but quietly make you feel like you've disappointed your parents without having to say anything. You can't make people loyal, you have to inspire loyalty.

  5. Richard_Sideways

    Lets see... I had them take the credit, take the overtime, take liberties with the truth, take a sizable bung from a vendor, and generally take the piss throughout... but take the heat?... Oh - I did have one take the cool, when he demanded we turn off one of the AC units down in the datacentre as it was FAR TOO COLD. The other unit then froze up through overwork and pee'd all over the floor.

  6. N2


    A pint of, for you Sir.

    It takes real courage to stand up like that.

    1. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Re: Champagne

      Many people dont realise that a bottle of champers can be poured into two pint glasses with relative ease and this means you dont have to get out of bed to refill quite as often. Flutes are for people who are too tight to drink it proper,

      1. N2

        Re: Champagne

        Ah, I open mine with a sword and down it straight from the bottle

        Perhaps you acquire it 'sans ticket' to consume in such quantity?

        1. BebopWeBop

          Re: Champagne

          My hat goes off to you, I always find it difficult to wield a cutlass while in bed and my missus gets nervous if I suggest it

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Champagne

            I just suggest a big chopper

          2. smudge

            Re: Champagne

            Traditionally, it's a sabre. One of my wife's colleagues, a French lady, learned in secret how to do it, and the scared the shit out of everyone at her wedding reception - especially her new hubby - by whipping out a sabre and opening a few bottles of bubbly.

            In actual fact, it's not as spectacular as it sounds. You don't swing the hardware around. You slide the blunt side of the blade up the bottle and hit the weak spot where the seam meets the top part of the bottle. With sufficient force the top of the bottle comes off, with the cork still inside it. You lose a bit of champagne, and everyone should check their drinks for shards of glass.

            1. sandman

              Re: Champagne

              Worried about glass? Pour the bubbly through a cheap plastic tea-strainer to add a bit of class.

          3. Venerable and Fragrant Wind of Change

            Re: Champagne

            Let your missus wield it. Ditch the champagne for some real pain.

            Go on, downvote me. I've never seen the point in champagne: there are so many drinks I'd rather have.

            1. ibmalone
              Thumb Up

              Re: Champagne

              Upvoted as I thoroughly approve of this attitude.

              It means more for me.

          4. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge

            Re: Champagne

            Funny the Still Not Ex Mrs OncomingScorn got annoyed when I suggested playing around with a cute assed cute lass in bed.

            Joke alert - but fully expecting the downvotes.

            1. ICPurvis47 Bronze badge

              Re: Champagne

              That's called having a Continental Breakfast - a roll in bed with a little honey.

          5. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

            Re: Champagne

            I always find it difficult to wield a cutlass while in bed

            No, no, NO!

            Not a blunt and crude cutlass[1] - you need a proper cavalry sabre[2], sharpened until you can shave with it!

            (And the technique is, apparently, to strike just where the neck flares out into the thickest area just under the cork on a slight upwards trajectory. Which pops the cork and the top of the neck off by cracking the glass and not by splintering the glass. I've never had the courage to try (or a suitable sabre).

            [1] Cutlasses most often had a straight blade since you tended to be not moving quickly when you are using one whereas cavalry sabres were (almost always) curved so that slashing whilst moving past the target meant that the blade didn't get stuck. Cavalry sabres also tended to be lighter[3] than cutlasses as the speed of the horse acted as a multiplier

            [2] Don't try this with a fencing sabre. It really, really doesn't work..

            [3] Except for some of the heavy cavalry sabres - those were more akin to heavy basket-hilted broadswords. The heavy cavalry types tended to be a lot more slow-moving than the standard light cavalry.

      2. Peter Ford

        Re: Champagne

        My wife and I once drank a magnum of Moët from pint glasses because they were the first glasses we found after we had just finished unloading the removal van. We didn't get much further with the unpacking...

        1. Venerable and Fragrant Wind of Change

          Re: Champagne

          When I moved (about three months ago), the agent gave me a bottle of well-chilled prosecco along with the keys.

          Quite apart from having lots to do, it was too early in the day for booze. I just put it in the corner of the kitchen before returning to my old house (where all my stuff still was for another week or so before the actual move). It's still there, awaiting an excuse to open it. On a couple of occasions I've had dinner guests and served them something better, such as regular wine suited to the dinner.

          Maybe I should take it to the next bring-a-bottle event where I can offload it anonymously?

          1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

            Re: Champagne

            well-chilled prosecco

            .. which bears the same resemblance to proper wine[1] as US Budweiser[2] does to proper beer..

            [1] Defined as 'decent flavour with a proper amount of alcohol'. Can be red or white.

            [2] Like Leffe Blonde or a decent German Weissbier. British Bitter tends to give me hangover symptoms even after only one pint..

        2. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

          Re: Champagne

          drank a magnum of Moët from pint glasses

          Just bought myself a proper German beer stein (OK - it was on special in Lidl). I now realise that I can fit a whole bottle of decent red wine and cut out all that tedious topping-up-the-glass nonsense..

          (And no - the wine won't stay in the glass long enough to go off. And, if you are reading this My Dear [or my GP] I'm not serious.. Honest..)

  7. MiguelC Silver badge

    I've had a boss like that

    He was hard working, severe and challenging, and would give us the worst bollocking if we fucked up, but never, ever, in front of anyone else, much less any client. When facing customers, we were a team and the only head on the chopping block would be his.

    I appreciate how lucky I was and today I try to act toward my team(s) like he did.

    1. KittenHuffer Silver badge

      Re: I've had a boss like that

      I left my last role after being berated by a mangler in front of the client for nearly, but not quite, miraculously resolving an issue that was not my fault, and had been initiated before I even joined them.

      I had actually managed to fix 99.5% of the problem in what to them was an impossibly short period of time. But I was still told off for that 0.5%!

      A new job, more money, and a shorter commute! Sometimes you actually have something to thank useless, stupid manglers for!

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: I've had a boss like that

        I hope you quit in front of the client, explaining in precise detail why.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I've had a boss like that

      It's a shame that quite a number of managers never learned that simple adage: praise in public, "discuss" in private (with "discuss" having values ranging from "ask questions" to "give a right Royal b*llocking").

      I've had the pleasure of some very good examples, and they stay with you when you get to that position yourself (at which point you should have also encountered examples of what to avoid).

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I've had a boss like that

        I've worked in a lot of educational establishments (mostly as an outsider - specialist consultant). And in slightly more cases than not the unofficial policy of the headteacher seems to have been praise in private "discuss" in public. These were not the happiest of schools to visit and unsurprisingly, the ones with the most problems compared to similar schools in the area. I'd 100% say that the management attitude had a negative effect right down the school. But too often these same rather bullying heads were favoured by the local authority or OFSTED as "strong management".

  8. Tom 7 Silver badge

    I admitted to a rather costly mistake that was all down to me

    We had a meeting of about 40 engineers and execs as to why a certain test transistor was the wrong way round on a chip, costing some £50k to overcome and repair and in preparation for the meeting I found a slip of paper in my desk coal layer that instructed us to put all the test transistors on a set of around 12 chips in the same orientation and I'd forgotten to do this on one. About 10 minutes work for me to fix but new masks and the test procedures would be disrupted until the new devices came through production, FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK. Sweating more than a dozen princes whipping boys as the meeting started I jumped in and fessed up and apologised and sat back waiting for my chair to tip me back into the fires of hell beneath the meeting room.




    Nothing. The remaining 2 hrs of the meeting wandered aimlessly around trying to pin the blame on someone else, some procedure or something as I sat there with the loud buzzing in my ears quieting slowly until the meeting finished and I went back to my desk, added a couple of lines to my tick list, went to the CAD system and put the transistor the right way round, ran the enhanced check, ticked off the checklist and sent the tape to production and no-one ever mentioned it to me again and I never had the courage to ask why I wasn't shot.

    1. phuzz Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: I admitted to a rather costly mistake that was all down to me

      Fair pay for 'fessing up, but they were right to look for a procedural problem.

      If it was so important there should have been two sets of eyes (at least) on that transistor, not just yours (not blaming you, we all have off days).

      1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

        Re: right to look for a procedural problem

        Very much so!

        I have made similar simple mistakes (although not costing anywhere near as much) and the real point is to find out "how do we stop this happening again?". Having a different reviewer helps a lot (as you read what you think you wrote, etc) but also looking in to the choice of component, etc, to try and make things unambiguous. For example, I always try to use SOT-23 (3-pin case) style diodes even though they take up a bit more board space so they can't go in reversed during assembly, etc.

    2. paulf
      Thumb Up

      Re: I admitted to a rather costly mistake that was all down to me

      @Tom 7 "sent the tape to production"

      Not just respect for fessing up, but also that this was long enough ago that "Tape out [from a semiconductor project]" actually meant sending a tape of the design to manufacturing and not just uploading it to TSMC/GF/etc.

      1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge

        Re: I admitted to a rather costly mistake that was all down to me

        Not my story from my friend from college, Plessey Swindon late 80's.

        Contract worker who was a bit of a liability comes up to the shift manager with a broken slice of wafer.

        "Errrrr Can you fix this!"

        "No dont worry about it, I'll amend the production numbers this time"

        "OK Thanks.....err what about these other 10"

        "Get your things together, get yourself out you are done working here"

        "Errr I thought you said you could tweak the numbers"

        "Yeah for one, now I'm looking at 100K worth of destroyed Mil spec chips that I now have to explain to my bosses, you won't want to be here for that!"

        Contract worker vacates the site....numbers are tweaked accordingly.

        Icon - Closest thing to a slice of semiconductor.

  9. ColinPa Silver badge

    The senior manager wearing a mob cap and apron

    This was 40 years ago when I had been with the large multinational for under 1 year. These were the days when we had a tea lady who had a tea trolley who brought you the morning gossip, a cuppa, and a biscuit.

    We had all been asked to work on Saturday for the final push to get the product through the door. We were pleasantly surprised when the senior manager (responsible for 150 of us) came round with the tea trolley, wearing the statutory mob cap and floral apron to serve all tea and biscuits. He said that as he had asked us all to come in, he thought what could he do, so came round with the trolley. He went round and round the building and was one of the last people to leave. He said it was a great way of meeting the team.

    Would it happen these days? - No we lost the tea trolleys 30 years ago.

    1. Wellyboot Silver badge

      Re: The senior manager wearing a mob cap and apron

      >>>we lost the tea trolleys 30 years ago<<< And with it went the soul of many large companies.

      This service probably cost about the same as one minute of time per employee, but it was on the beancounters balance sheet unlike the time (nearer ten mins?) it will take everyone to go and make their own individually with all the attendant 'Who's used the last of the milk' & 'Where's my mug'.

      1. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Re: The senior manager wearing a mob cap and apron

        I did a study of certain aspects of office efficiency and the tea trolley was by far the most cost effective 'extra', Without is people get drinks when they feel like it and drink more - as a result they need the loo more, As such people are a way from their desks more and harder to contact. for quick chats/updates etc and office rhythms are thrown. The important thins to remember, however, is beancounter's ideas are always right even it the balance sheet proves otherwise.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: The senior manager wearing a mob cap and apron

          Still got the tea trolley at our place, twice a day. Though biscuit is only on Friday afternoons. I WFH on Friday's now, but she saves mine for Monday! :)

          1. paulf

            Re: The senior manager wearing a mob cap and apron

            Friday afternoon biscuit sounds like an euphemism!

            1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

              Re: The senior manager wearing a mob cap and apron

              Is it timer for Tiffin? <Sid James laugh>

        2. Anomalous Custard

          Re: The senior manager wearing a mob cap and apron

          On the flip side: it generates more interdepartmental communications, ensures staff get up from their desk and move around for a bit (which should help them stay focused), and you can make tea the way you like it. It can also generate in-team good will if people take turns in getting all the drinks.

          1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: The senior manager wearing a mob cap and apron

            "you can make tea the way you like it. It can also generate in-team good will if people take turns in getting all the drinks."

            A bit of a contradiction there.

      2. paulf

        Re: The senior manager wearing a mob cap and apron

        It's an interesting one - time and motion study with respect to total overall cost, or saving £1 in one go but costing £50 in a thousand instalments.

        At "paulf&co" we used to have our mugs collected from our desks in the evenings by the cleaners. They'd be put through the dishwasher in the evening with a cupboard full of clean mugs ready for use the next morning.

        Then the property management department decided to cut this to reduce the cleaning bill. Now everyone has to take their own mug back to the kitchen at the end of the day. Those leaving in a rush either don't bother or leave their desk 5 minutes to leave via the kitchen because the kitchens are at the other end of the building to the only exit. As a result many mugs don't return to the kitchen until the following day resulting in shortages. This means even more people hang on to their mugs each night to avoid spending ages trying to find one the next morning (another cost!), perpetuating the problem.

        So having saved the equivalent of one slave wage cleaning contractor for the evening, it costs the company at least 5 mins * 400 people each day in lost productivity. As hard as the cleaners do work, they don't put in 5*400 minutes each night.

        I tried to explain this to HR in an Employee Council meeting and just got blank looks as their limited brain power struggled with the concept that the saving now may not be an actual saving....

        Where's the rocking back and forward quietly weeping icon.

        1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

          Re: The senior manager wearing a mob cap and apron

          Same at my previous university. They decided to "save money" by not having cleaners empting the office bins. So staff had to do this sort of thing to centrally located places in each building. So, as you say, a couple of hours per week for a near-minimum-wage person being replaced by at least the same time (if not more due to them not being organised, as fit, etc) of folk on 3-10 times the salary doing that work.

          1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

            Re: The senior manager wearing a mob cap and apron

            not having cleaners empting the office bins

            We've gone the whole hog and dispensed with traditional office bins completely. We now instead have recycling bins at either end of the office (one for general recycling and the other for non-recylable waste).

            Seems to work fine - we certainly generate less waste.

        2. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge

          Re: The senior manager wearing a mob cap and apron

          The tea ladies at the National Rail Enquiry Service were a godsend.

          I'd be deploying a PC to a cluster of desks in two rows starting at one end (Deploying to empty desks mostly - Users off-shift so not to disrupt workflow\call volume) & working my way down to the other end...

          I found myself drinking tea every 10 - 15 minutes as the tea ladies were in very close proximity to me as I worked.


        3. David Hicklin

          Re: The senior manager wearing a mob cap and apron

          "It's an interesting one - time and motion study with respect to total overall cost, or saving £1 in one go but costing £50 in a thousand instalments."

          It depends on how your place is organised but most office based staff are salaried and hence a "fixed cost", so the bean counters don't see any difference on the bottom line, however the cleaners cost does appear.

          hence the blank looks....

  10. chivo243 Silver badge

    Love a team player

    My boss shielded me from the higher ups during a disaster of my own making. He asked how long until we were operational, and keep them at bay until we operational again. I don't want to be in that situation again, but if it comes to pass I want him to have my back. I still get the stink eye from one of the D levels...

    One for Alessandro and my boss!

    1. red floyd

      Re: Love a team player

      Been there, done that, as the underling.

      The situation was procedural, thank heavens, not anything to do with a major foul-up. We needed some software (InstallShield -- this was around 1992 or 1993), and we needed it YESTERDAY. Going through normal channels would have taken about two weeks, so my manager authorized me to use petty cash to pay for it. So I did, as did two co-workers in similar situations.

      Unbeknownst to us, a new VP had decided to make his mark by reducing the use of petty cash -- I'm sure you can see where this is going. The VP already had our names, as they were on the vouchers. The manager did his best to shield us from whatever consequences this tin-pot dictator VP was going to rain down upon us. He pointed out that what we had done was under his express orders and approval.

      I think we still got some flak, but nowhere near as much as VP wanted, And he wound up getting some of the flak, too.

      I was very lucky, this was the first manager I ever had. I wound up working for the gentleman for 17 years.

      Thanks, Dwight.

      1. Terry 6 Silver badge

        Re: Love a team player

        Ah. Contradictory demands. My favourite type of (mis)management.

        It always takes the form of "You must do x but you must not do any of the things that would make doing x possible". .My favourite of these is from a good few years back.

        I was told that I had to contact all the senior staff in a bunch of council departments about something or other. But at the same time the top brass issued an edict that (we slightly junior) staff weren't allowed to contact senior staff in other departments directly.

        I can't remember, but I think I got round it by drafting the message and getting my boss to email it to their boss.....

        It took a few days for something that needed doing urgently - and not everyone actually got it at all. But I had the original email and an attached list of who it had to be sent to, so.......

  11. steviebuk Silver badge

    Very rare

    To find managers like that. Our Head of is just like that, she's great. It makes you want to come into work every day. And are direct manager is just as good.

    When will managers learn, if you treat people normally, they'll want to actually come into work every day. If you treat them like shit, they'll be off "sick" more than in the office, giving you even more of a headache finding people to cover.

    1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

      Re: Very rare

      To find managers like that

      My boss 3 companies ago was like that - an American guy who taught be a lot about how to be a proper people manager (rather than just a task manager).

      Unlike my time at Motorola which taught me everything about how *not* to do IT and how *not* to be a manager. Outright lying to staff isn't a good policy (and neither is promising what you can't deliver and then trying to blame the employee for your failure to deliver).

  12. sandman

    Shock tactic

    I used to work for a US company that had the worst blame-avoidance culture I've ever met. Anything that went wrong was always someone (or something) else's fault. We had a minor snafu one day and a meeting was held to deflect responsibility. I just opened my mouth and said "Yep, my fault, I screwed up, I'll fix it" Absolute silence, apart from the sound of jaws hitting the table and brains gently frying. :-)

    1. smudge

      Re: Shock tactic

      Many years ago, I worked in a security assurance role on a contract managed by IBM. I very quickly learned that I could instantly reduce a roomful of senior IBM managers to complete silence, by the simple question "Who's going to pick this one up?".

      1. CujoDeSoque

        Re: Shock tactic

        I used to have weekly meeting with many members of a certain consulting company that basically was an excuse for billing the customer for a free breakfast while trying to get the newest customer member to volunteer for things that nobody else wanted to do.

        My director sent me with an express order to not volunteer for anything and to ask for anything in writing. I stopped being invited rather quickly. The food was delicious and not a scrap was ever left. Meetings lasted just long enough to polish off the fare.

  13. IHateWearingATie

    I refused to give the name

    Someone working for me caused a data breach incident once - I didn't name them in the ensuing shitstorm as it was a mistake borne of too much work, too little sleep and lots of pressure.

    I figured I was going soft that day, as my usual approach is not just to drop them in in it, but randomly ensure the blame lands on others as well a a bit of collateral damage. Always helps to keep the troops on their toes.

    I don't just climb the greasy pole, I attach landmines to make sure no one else follows me up it :)

  14. OGShakes

    I would not believe it if I had not had a manager like that

    I worked for a MSP where the if one of us messed up it was all about how we as a team avoid doing it again. I could have wiped customer data and the boss would have stood by his team. His name was on the company so it was his issue to fix and his mistake, helped by the fact if something went wrong he had engineers like me who would not stop working till things were sorted. I saw him give big refunds to customers for things that were not our fault, just to make sure everyone was happy and got a fair deal.

    The only time he was truly angry was when we had an engineer send a email to others in the team taking the piss out of one of the junior engineers for his ADHD. The engineer was out the building by the end of the day and told he was lucky to be being paid his notice.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Having been at the other side...

    Think 2 weeks into a new job on a big website (I mean one of the top 10 websites in the UK) and I managed to commit to a 'frozen' branch. As in it was considered a release candidate earlier in the week but the squad forgot to tell me... Wouldn't have been an issue and would have passed unnoticed if not for an emergency patch taking a new cut of the code from the branch.

    New bugs sprouted over my unfinished code, questions asked and to his credit my manager fully acknowledged the fuckup. He explained to higher ups how the issue occurred, the fix being tested and pushed out ASAP and what steps were being taken to prevent it. Never once giving my name up despite being asked, then demanded to hand over who did it.

    We talked, processes got changed and improvements made to communication. 3 years and a promotion later I'm still grateful for him not tossing the FNG under the bus at the earliest opportunity as other employers had done in the past over far more minor things.

    We're all human and mistakes can be made, but always remember who has your back when you're honest about your mistake.

    Anon because I still hold the record for shortest time from employment to code in prod of any of our developers and I don't want to encourage competion....

  16. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

    There's bosses and there's leaders.

    One's to leave the company for, the other one's to go through fire for.

    Coat = Pub o' clock!

    1. Venerable and Fragrant Wind of Change
      IT Angle

      Pub o'clock?

      You must be a lunchtime drinker. Or does the phrase mean something subtly different in .za?

      (Looks to me like pubtime for east Asia and Oz timezones).

  17. an_it_guy

    Rare breed

    This is like the current sr. manager (#2 in our organization) I have - be honest when you eff up - and she will have your back.

  18. juice Silver badge

    Old managers and bold managers...

    (Mentioned before, but this seems like a good place for a retelling...)

    Way back when, a friend worked for an ex-public company, which was still staffed with large numbers of ex-public employees who were perhaps a bit more obsessed with their employment grade than they should have been.

    My friend and another employee had been tasked with doing some work at one of the company's many buildings. Up pops a local manager, who first demanded to know what they were doing and then attempted to boss them around, on the grounds that he was a higher grade.

    Along comes my friend's manager, who sees this little spectacle and intervenes. The local manager then tried to pull rank again, only for my friend's manager to reveal that he was actually two levels higher than the local tinpot dictator. Who was then doubly dismayed as they were told to both stop getting in the way *and* to go get my friend and his associate a cup of tea, since they were too busy working to make their own...

    OTOH, I have seen protective behaviour taken too far. In another time and place, someone from another team screwed up in a fairly major way, despite the fact that they should have just followed the process documentation. Numerous people reviewed this documentation and came away agreeing that the process documentation was clear, simple and entirely fit for purpose.

    Cue a phone call to discuss the debacle, which this person's line manager joined. And I'd never heard such a hairsplitting analysis of the English language - it was a performance that Bill Clinton's defence lawyers would have been in awe of. And so no action was taken, as he was able to successfully defend his belief that the person involved had no responsibility for the failure.

    To be fair, it's possible that the manager just wanted to keep things "in the family". But I strongly suspect it was more about the potential splashback on the manager's reputation than anything else...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Old managers and bold managers...

      > attempted to boss them around, on the grounds that he was a higher grade

      This would not be tolerated at the public body I work for. It has many failings but trying to be run like a military organisation isn't one of them..

      (Respect is earned, not automatic based on grade. Especially when that grade is sometimes simply because someone was there a long time ago..)

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    We're not all always bad

    I'll post this anonymously, if you don't mind.

    Some years ago I worked at, well, it doesn't matter where. The year had gone well, and the IT department had handled a lot of additional, and sometimes ticklish things, with aplomb. I looked forward to being able to reward them come year-end, especially one or tow stars who really made the department purr.

    I was called in to my boss around salary discussion time. He gave me an envelope with my generous increase, which was nice. Then he said "I'm afraid there is no budget for any increases for your department." I said "What's this then?" brandishing my letter. He said "You're paid from the executive budget. That's your share." I pushed the letter back to him, and told him there was no way I would accept any increase if my department weren't going to be rewarded as well. He started going white.

    It seems the executive increases were OKed at Board level, and my cat among the pigeons would have meant answering questions the C-suite really didn't want asked. Eventually I compromised. I agreed to accept the increase, provided every one in my department got a bonus equivalent to two months' salary. The more I thought about it, the more angry I got. I was well paid, and while more is always nice, if you have less, a little more is even nicer. Yet the greed of the "executive budget" meant the ethics of the issue simply did not occur to them, or if it did, they overcame their concerns pretty easily.

    This may have been the start of the hatred the CEO built up, and which eventually meant I left that company for a more sane existence.

  20. LeahroyNake

    It goes both ways

    I manage a small team of engineers that occasionally screw up monumentally. On one occasion £1500 of damage to a part while installing it and bending a minute copper spring plate slightly too much. They turned on the machine and there was a very worrying screeching noise as the plate scraped a perfectly straight line across the new unit turning it into scrap metal. Questions were asked later that day about why the machine was down.... Ummmm damaged in transit. Nothing more said and the engineer got away with nothing more than 'You plonker don't do it again,next time RTFM'! from me.

    On the flip side I was once at a customer meeting with my boss and of all their senior staff discussing an issue with their document management system. Now I pride myself on keeping my cool and it always winds up ass hat managers.... MD of the customer point blank called me a liar. I produced paperwork supporting my position assigned off by their staff. I remained quiet and let my boss give it straight back with both barrels then we got up and left. He is not always that great but remembering it has stopped me from hanging in my notice a few times over the years.

  21. CujoDeSoque

    A simple "create table as select"[1] is all you need to do first. At that point truncate or drop doesn't matter unless you're in an HA/DR or replication setting. If you don't want the backup table in your database, you can use datapump to export it to a file.

    Truncate is helpful is the case of a table that you don't care if you recover and is very large or allocates a lot of space. In some cases the space claimed by a table is many empty extents while the actual space used is minimal. "Drop table including contents" will allow you to recover. "Delete from table" will not reclaim the space.

    All of this presupposes the table had no constraints.

  22. IT's getting kinda boring

    Been there too. As a shift leader many moons ago - and a young one at that - one of my team did something a little stupid (logging into a mainframe with a rather salty session name). It was picked up by Security, and I had the head of the Security team in my face demanding to know who was responsible. I refused to give any names, and said I would deal with it as it happened on my watch.

    I also had a team member turn up drunk - I sent him home, covered his shift, and told him not to do it again. He'd had problems in his personal life and made a bad decision to come in that day. He didn't do it again.

    On the other hand, I've had people both above and below me try and drop me in it. Cue the carefully saved emails and dated documentation....

    1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

      Cue the carefully saved emails and dated documentation..

      One of the (many) self-protective measures I learnt at Motorola was the keeping of the CYA documentation..

  23. Trollslayer


    ladies and gentlemen, is leadership.

  24. Unicornpiss

    I had a couple of managers like that..

    I've had a couple of good bosses like that over the years. Unfortunately my current manager will say "I've got your back", then a day later will stab you in it.

    1. baud

      Re: I had a couple of managers like that..

      He needs to have your back to stab you there

  25. Shane Lusby

    This is how you build a loyal team. If there is praise, spread it to the people under you, knowing you will still get credit for running the team that got the job done. But blame? You take that and shield the people below you and do what you can to keep your crew solid. Will lead to a few suck moments, but in the long run your people knowing you have their back is worth it.

  26. doke

    This is what "BEGIN" is for

    This is why databases have BEGIN, ROLLBACK, and COMMIT. They would have saved me from some of my own mistakes. :-)

  27. ExpatZ

    Most at the Director level that I have worked with (all very very large companies) were of two types:

    The clueless self promoter with side deals and things that look like CoI's but are just shy of being legally so

    And the abusive stress ball that also displays less competence than the title would suggest.

    To have a guy like this one at that level would be a major change for the better at most companies.

  28. ChrisBedford

    It was my fault - I took the blame...

    I was a lowly "IT Co-ordinator" (effectively just the guy the operators reported to), having spent a couple of years as operator myself. So, when I was elevated to the position, we got a new trainee operator who had zero knowledge of minicomputers or anything much beyond basic DOS commands (DOS 2.1, probably, in those days). I worked a week or two on shift with him and then left him alone to run the overnight batches, which consisted of (1) run backups (2) run day-end (3) print the invoices, then take them downstairs to separate and burst, ready for the day staff to stuff into envelopes.

    All appeared to go well, at first. Then after his 3rd or 4th solo run, the sales people came to me about halfway through the morning to query why there were duplicate invoices (if memory serves, one duplicate of each invoice went to them for checking - turns out with good reason). Oh sh!t - dear Nicholas (his real name, why not, it was a long time ago) had seen me "BREAK" and "ABORT" running jobs, and decided to do the same with the day-end batch (a couple of times) because... who knows why, it probably seemed like a legit reason at the time. Entirely my fault for not explaining when I did it that some jobs can be re-run from scratch, others not so much.

    We restored the backups and I think that instead of re-running the batch which would have taken the best part of the rest of the day we left it for a 'double day' run that night. Leaving the staff to re-capture the morning's sales orders and the mail room guys to stuff a double batch of envelopes the next day, but more importantly the company head office had to restore their backups from last night and re-run *their* day-end because our system had of course uploaded a munged version which they then processed. I didn't get much of a bonus that year.

    1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

      Re: It was my fault - I took the blame...

      Well done, thou good and faithful master.

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    That happened to me at the local council.

    One of my staff had missed a major problem even though I had specifically addressed him about it and received assurances that all was OK.

    He revealed the issue at a commitment meeting, leaving us no plan B.

    As I was the manager, I took the responsibility, even though he had not revealed the problem as soon as he found out he had been "misled" by the salesman.

    Our "new" management team were complete idiots compared to the recently retired team, who knew how I worked, so they took everything at face value.

    I was elbowed out in a restructure and the worker who made the costly mistake was given my responsibilities, though not my role.

    Apparently the place was a shambles for many years after!

  30. Snipp

    My SQL may be rusty

    My SQL may be rusty, but couldn't the DBA just roll back the open transaction on the TRUNCATE command?

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    > who we will call "Alessandro",

    whom.. come on. It's not that hard, is it?

    1. Terry 6 Silver badge


      It probably is hard if you don't have an ear for it. Because the rule isn't too obvious. And the consensus is if you're not sure don't use it.

      And since it's so often omitted or misused not too many people will have an ear for it.

      It's easier of there's a clear preposition first - of whom to whom with whom etc.

      This works, but note the comments at the end.

      And yes, I know I started some sentences with and.

      Because I wanted to.

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