Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Computer Consultants -- Ick

This details of this particular blog entry may escape you if you are not familiar with TCP/IP networking. Sorry.

May God have mercy on me and never have me deal with a stupid computer consultant again.

I'm a computer guy by trade. I work approximately either hours a day with computers, five days a week. OK, I get paid to do that five days a week, and sometime I work on computers on the weekends on a charitable basis.

My job invovles working with clients and often a client's consultant to implement some new equipment or Internet connection. There is nothing that annoys me more than a consultant that spends pretends to know what they are doing.

For example, I had a "consultant" who was "helping" a cliet set up their DSL connection. The client had a Netgear Firewall/router and a DSL connection. They wanted us to connect with pcAnywhere over the Internet. I asked for their IP address and he gave me the server's LAN IP. I knew I was in trouble then. He wasn't asking for help; he sounded like he knew was he was talking about, although I got the feeling he was talking loud enough to try to impress whomever was listening on his side of the phone. I was feeling mischievous that day, so I figured I'd hand him the shovel he was asking for and let him dig himself into a hole.

For the next couple of hours, the consultant would call back and tell me to try pcAnywhere. It would fail to connect. I'd give him a couple of pointers ("so, are you using port forwarding?"), and he'd muttle something about checking on a setting, and then tell me he'd call back.

Finally, the consultant called back with a note of triumph in his voice, "Try it again!" he said. "I've enabled remote administration!" I asked him to go to www.whatismyIP.com and read me the number, then I connected to the firewall with the default password and configured the firewall for him. I connected with pcAnywhere, then showed him what I did on the screen. I advised him to turn off the remote administration, and showed him where to do that.

Ironically, the client appears to have liked the good job their consultant did. *sigh*

As another example, I had not yet been chemically altered this morning when I had to work with not one, but two, "technicians" that a client had hired to provide an Okidata PM4410 network-ready printer. That is a 92-pound beast of an impact printer. I have a difficult time imagining many of my clients needing a 35k duty cycle (the period for which it may be operated without deleterious effects) but if you have the $3000 to spend (or as low as $1400 refurbed), I suppose this is a decent mid-range printer to get.

Anyway, you'd figure that a multi-thousand-dollar printer delivered by not one, but two, technicians would be professionally set up, right? After all, you did spend good money, and there are _two_ techs delivering the 92lb beast.

I have found that, when I'm out of my depth, it is best to just say, "I haven't done this before; I'll need help." This is especially true when I am talking to someone who supposedly does know what they are doing and can help me. It saves sooo much time for the person helping you. When you don't speak the truth, transactions such as the following inconceivable conversation take place.

Client: Hi Lee. We've got our new printer. The techs are here.
Me: Techs?
Client: Yeah, there's two of them. What do I do now?
Me: Well, let's assign it an IP address. Since the techs are there, let's just have them do it.
Client: <pause> they say they can't do that.
Me: huh?
Client: <muffled conversation> they want to talk to you
Tech: hi. What do you need?
Me: I'd like you to set the IP address to
Tech: It's not plugged in.
Me: OK, so plug it in.
Tech: We're not allowed to do that.
Me: You're not allowed... to... OK, never mind. I'll just have the client plug it in.
Tech: ok
Me: what's the MAC address?
Tech: it doesn't have one, the cable isn't plugged in
Me: ??!? <sputter> ... uh... it has a network interface, right?
Tech: yes, it does, but it's not plugged in
Me: Right... but I just need the Ethernet hardware address.
Tech: the cable's not plug in, there's no address.
Me: I'm asking you for the Ethernet hardware address. It has a network card, right?
Tech: yes, but it's not plugged in!
Me: I know that. That doesn't matter; the Ethernet interface on the printer has a MAC or hardware address. Just give me that and I'll take it from there.
Tech: hold on... <muffled talking>... here
Tech 2: hi, what do you need?
Me: *sigh* Can you set the IP address?
Tech 2: no sir, I can't
Me: OK, can you at least tell me the MAC address?
Tech 2: well, no... the network isn't plugged in, so there's no address
Me: ... never mind, I'll do it myself

At that point, I gave up. It made me want to be mean, and I don't like to feel that way.

Here's some advice: if you want a computer consultant, or if you're going to pay somebody to do computer work for you, at least interview them over the phone first. Naturally, you should try to determine what experience and skill they have; references wouldn't hurt, either. If they spend too much time trying to impress you or if they make you feel stupid, move on.

Gah! I'm getting IM'ed by another "consultant" again. Gotta go...

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