The Secret IT Manager: Festive planning

The Secret IT Manager

Thursday 18 December 2014

The Secret IT Manager turns his attention towards the festive break and the difficulties posed by end-of-year boozy lunches and stressed management.

“Write drunk, edit sober”

This quote, popularly misattributed to Ernest Hemmingway, is a useful reminder of the perils of working over the festive period. Once the year end Change Freeze begins to bite and the Christmas tree is has been installed in the pub opposite the office, the temptation grows to forgo the anodyne delights of the office canteen and opt instead for a liquid lunch.

Small cabals of IT workers will slope off to the pub, trying to look inconspicuous, and return somewhat later having bested their usual lunch break by at least an hour. The usual rituals ensue: praying that you don’t have a face-to-face meeting, drinking copious cups of coffee, eating what you can to soak up the alcohol and, most importantly, finding something to do that you really can’t mess up…

Last-minute panic

Although December means an increase in lunchtime drinking, the oncoming holiday break also precipitates a last-minute rush to get important work done. Delivery dates will have slipped and the implementation plan will have changed several times. Development teams will be desperate to get that project out the door and managers will sign off risks around untested configurations going live.

On implementation weekend, the Project Manager will go without sleep for 48 hours as everything overruns, spending the entire time staring at an online chat room that updates every 10 minutes. I’ve seen this happen first-hand, and the poor guy, right at the end of his stint, couldn’t even form a coherent sentence. The same can sadly also be said for me, along with countless others, as it turns out I possess a vital piece of information that somehow got missed during the walkthroughs. Cue a 30-minute monosyllabic phone conversation at 1am on Sunday, standing in a smoking area outside a bar.

Amazingly, these implementations seem to always go live without any real problems. Support may get a couple of ‘early Christmas presents’ in the form of a few emergency fixes to do. The customer will be delighted with the result and Senior Management will reward us with some mince pies.

Yes, Christmas isn’t all it used to be in the world of IT. Budgets have been squeezed and the ostentatious work parties are a thing of the past, having been replaced by a meal in a chain restaurant that you have to pay for yourself. The budgetary squeeze has even pushed the department lunch into tea time to gain a couple of extra hours work, and the traditional midweek fixture has been replaced by a Friday event to prevent the dreaded office hangover. One year, after a Christmas party, I completely failed to make it in the next day – even though I was on an hourly rate at the time!

The Millennium Bug – Round Two

Unfortunately for me, I missed the biggest Christmas bonanza of all – the Millennium Bug of 2000 – as I was still in the final throes of my university degree. To post Y2K baby boomers like myself, it has taken on an almost mythical significance, a time when IT contractors and consultants embarked upon a financial feeding frenzy, stripping budgetary corpses to the bone. As we didn’t all perish in a byte-saving apocalypse, I can only conclude it was a job well done. It certainly does show what can be achieved when everyone’s minds are focused on a single problem, throughout the whole organisation. Maybe we should generate a mass media driven Armageddon scenario more often?

Is another, similar event likely? The next key date is 19 January 2038, when Unix time runs out for systems using signed 32-bit integers. This shouldn’t pose a massive problem to Enterprise systems as everything should be 64-bit by then, although legacy code does have a funny habit of turning up in the most unlikely places. Anything from gadgets to cars to aircraft are expected to be affected. Who knows what trouble lies in store?

Most of all, it’ll be interesting to see how the industry responds. Will we play it down after the relative non-event of Y2K, or will we go for the monetary jugular again? Selfishly, I’m hoping for the latter as a nice windfall to see me into my retirement wouldn’t go amiss!

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