Lusers Extraordinaire



  • I have this one particular customer agency who never ceases to amaze me at how stupid they are.  We don't do consumer software, it's local government.  Over the past 5 years this one customer has really pushed me to the edge of sanity.  They're personally as sweet as candy, and just as incompetent.  They think they know how computers work but clearly don't.  Oh, this is the tech dept at said customer.  Over the years they've finagled me and my project manager into writing programs for them to do everything short of wiping their bums when they potty. And rewriting them.  And tweaking them.  And rewriting them again.

    I got fed up and told the PM that I wasn't going to put up with it anymore, effectively pushing most of the work onto him.  He's a softhearted guy, but even he's reaching his limit.  We've both been amazed that this customer screws up some data processing they're doing - over and over and over.  they never seem embarrassed or impatient or annoyed that they are screwing up.  It's just like another day at the office, we have to process this file for the 80 zillionth time, isn't this business as usual?  Personally,  I like to do things right the first time, but... well, that's me.  Whatever floats their boat as long as they keep me out of it.

    Oh, I've long stopped answering emails from them asking me how to edit a file or how to copy a file.  They have their own IT dept for such things.  Eventually they may realize that.

    These past few weeks I've been tasked with updating a software package for them - one of our applications that interfaces to a 3rd party package.  Should have been simple.  Tested it to death on my machine, works great.  Even sent it to two other customers, works great.  Can't get it working for these guys, though.  After weeks of back and forth, I discover that they've purchased some PC utilty that locks application windows onto certain screens in a quad-video configuration.  The kind of utility that preempts the shortcuts and uses it's own.  Nobody knows how it works, even when looking at the target in the shortcut.  So we tell them not to use that utilty.

    Still not working, different symptoms.  Today I'm tag-teaming with a coworker who happens to be onsite.  As we're going over the configuration, we discover that they're missing the batch file that our app uses to launch the other app.  It's nowhere to be found, gone zip nada.  there's no way this thing is working even from step one, but that's not the symptom they reported.  I'm told  that they launch the 3rd party app separately. 

    So now they're ignoring our required configurations and using their own, but not telling us even when things go bad.  They make me have to DIG the information out of them.

    About this time somebody's going to post the comment that at least I'm employed.  Right, there is that to be thankful about.  But customers like this make me wish I was employed as axe murderer.  Might not pay as well, but it sure would be gratifying! 



  • @jetcitywoman said:

    customers like this make me wish I was employed as axe murderer.  Might not pay as well, but it sure would be gratifying! 

     

    Better benefits package too. 



  • Ugh, i know just what you mean. I've got one of those types myself. Guy had a great "internet" "web 2.0" idea, and deep pockets to keep my boss happy.
    This guy who's a computer illiterate for the most part, now got talked into "learning php" so he can "fix little things" on the website, even though he has a CMS system in which he can edit like 95% of the content.

    But i'm guessing your annoying customer is worse, so that makes me at least a bit happier about it. (That is until mine calls that he "fixed" something and the site isn't working) 


     



  • Wow.  This seems to be proof that if you make it idiot-proof, they'll make an improved idiot.

     Just have them sign a support contract and be happy with the billables!

    1. Idiot Customer + Support Contract
    2. ???
    3. Profit!

     



  • Yep, these guys picked up on the fact that sometimes if it's easier just to to it myself, they'll get some free work out of me.  So then they kicked it  up a notch by playing even dumber.  They also  have the irritating attitude that they're my only customer.  They will pick up the phone and call me before calling each other.  They will hang up and immediately pick up the phone and call again with another question they just thought of....  until before you know it 5pm rolls around and I haven't accomplished squat.  Once when I was too busy to deal with their problem, I told them to log a call with our help desk.  So they did, telling them that I was the last person to work on their system, conveniently neglecting to say it was almost a year prior, promptly getting their call forwarded back to me.
     
    I think every single bad thing a customer can possibly do or be, these guys have embodied it.   I'm on to them  now, though.  They have to call the project manager and if he really wants me to do something for them bad enough, HE can ask me.  He knows I'm fed up, though, so he handles most of it himself.  I figure if he gets fed  up enough, then maybe he'll stop giving them free work and put his foot down.



  • @Maz2331 said:

    Wow.  This seems to be proof that if you make it idiot-proof, they'll make an improved idiot.

     Just have them sign a support contract and be happy with the billables!

    1. Idiot Customer + Support Contract
    2. ???
    3. Profit!
     

    Yep, that's a logical and workable idea.  With the only exception being that we'd have to hire a full-time on-site person to support them, because it's NOT going to be me.  They already do have a support contract with us, the standard one that all of our customers have.  Problem is, it's not designed for full-time, year-round dedicated support.  They're supposed to have their own people for that.  

     



  • Reading your story I'm not quite sure who is to blame. 


    Slapping together a bat file has never been an acceptable solution for anything - even back 20 years ago when it was occasionally done. Calling that "integration" is outward fraud. Testing that something "works on my machine" or asking your paying customers to do beta testing as if they give a shit sounds like a real good quality control process too.

    Users are never stupid - programmers who fail to understand users are stupid. Users are often ignorant and they have every right to be so, that's why they pay for experts. If what they get is what you describe, they have every right to be pesky.



  • @JvdL said:


    Users are never stupid

    You have obviously never been a sysadmin. It is rare that users are anything else. 



  • The thing you apparently didn't pick up on was that my story was simplified so that I didn't have to reveal names or bore you guys with the nitty details. The bat file just launches the other app, there is more to the integration than that.  And sure, users are users.  Am I wrong to think that an agency's "tech support" dept should have some technical expertise themselves and not be a bunch of Lusers, because that's who I'm dealing with, not the end-users.
     



  • I've been in an almost identical situation before with one difference: the other company worked in the same building, on the same floor, separated from my office by 2 doors and a hallway. So when they had a stupid question, the owner, who's extremely irritating, would walk over and hover.



  • (in response to asuffield) 

    A lot of good things came to this world because "stupid" users refused to accept their teacher/preacher/sysadmin/vendor telling them "that can't be done".

    Systems that refuse to subordinate to the human mind are evil.



  • @JvdL said:

    (in response to asuffield) 

    A lot of good things came to this world because "stupid" users refused to accept their teacher/preacher/sysadmin/vendor telling them "that can't be done".

    Systems that refuse to subordinate to the human mind are evil.

    I rather doubt that users who can't remember how to copy files or send email are going to be starting any revolutions in software design.



  • @asuffield said:

    @JvdL said:

    (in response to asuffield) 

    A lot of good things came to this world because "stupid" users refused to accept their teacher/preacher/sysadmin/vendor telling them "that can't be done".

    Systems that refuse to subordinate to the human mind are evil.

    I rather doubt that users who can't remember how to copy files or send email are going to be starting any revolutions in software design.

    Steve Jobs is just that kind of user who couldn't remember shell commands, was never able to program his VCR, and couldn't work out how to use his cell phone.
     



  • @JvdL said:

    @asuffield said:
    @JvdL said:
    (in response to asuffield) 

    A lot of good things came to this world because "stupid" users refused to accept their teacher/preacher/sysadmin/vendor telling them "that can't be done".

    Systems that refuse to subordinate to the human mind are evil.

    I rather doubt that users who can't remember how to copy files or send email are going to be starting any revolutions in software design.
    Steve Jobs is just that kind of user who couldn't remember shell commands, was never able to program his VCR, and couldn't work out how to use his cell phone.
    Not very smart then, was he?



  • @Welbog said:

    @JvdL said:
    @asuffield said:
    @JvdL said:
    (in response to asuffield) 

    A lot of good things came to this world because "stupid" users refused to accept their teacher/preacher/sysadmin/vendor telling them "that can't be done".

    Systems that refuse to subordinate to the human mind are evil.

    I rather doubt that users who can't remember how to copy files or send email are going to be starting any revolutions in software design.
    Steve Jobs is just that kind of user who couldn't remember shell commands, was never able to program his VCR, and couldn't work out how to use his cell phone.
    Not very smart then, was he?

    Well he started a few revolutions and made several billion along the way so he isn't that stupid


  • @JvdL said:

    @Welbog said:
    @JvdL said:

    Steve Jobs is just that kind of user who couldn't remember shell commands, was never able to program his VCR, and couldn't work out how to use his cell phone.

    Not very smart then, was he?

    Well he started a few revolutions and made several billion along the way so he isn't that stupid

    Yeah, and Al Gore invented the internet.

    Jobs didn't start revolutions, he was just at the helm while people working for him did it. Furthermore, his limited talent for using complicated equipment was not of any particular benefit to running a company (he mostly did financial and marketing stuff). You're probably confusing him with Steve Wozniak.

    You do not need to be smart to run a successful large business. You just need to be an evil bastard. It's not about what you know, it's about how many people you can stab and use their corpses to build a ramp you can climb.



  • @asuffield said:

    @JvdL said:
    @Welbog said:
    @JvdL said:

    Steve Jobs is just that kind of user who couldn't remember shell commands, was never able to program his VCR, and couldn't work out how to use his cell phone.

    Not very smart then, was he?

    Well he started a few revolutions and made several billion along the way so he isn't that stupid

    Yeah, and Al Gore invented the internet.

    Jobs didn't start revolutions, he was just at the helm while people working for him did it. Furthermore, his limited talent for using complicated equipment was not of any particular benefit to running a company (he mostly did financial and marketing stuff). You're probably confusing him with Steve Wozniak.

    You do not need to be smart to run a successful large business. You just need to be an evil bastard. It's not about what you know, it's about how many people you can stab and use their corpses to build a ramp you can climb.

    well aren't we cheerful, although your probably right.

    However, the search for a user interface that the simple man/woman can use isn't one that is found by simple people. It's found by smart people who watch the simple people. (for lack of better terms at the moment) 

    Also while usability of user interfaces may look like a revolution most of the time it's just developers waiting till hardware/software catches up to the ideas  some people have about usable software. So i would say it's a bit more like evolution with the occasional mutation along the way.

    Good examples of those leaps would be the CLI shell, the graphical shell and perhaps that new Wii type interface might be worth something in terms of usability.
    But there's also the bad leaps, most noticeably the VR headset, or the 3d desktop (not talking pretty effects)  

    But most of the time, it's more gradual then that. currently i would say the re-invention of the CLI for the graphical interface would be a good example of a gradual evolution of usability.
    implementations of that would be: google, gnome deskbar, that mac silversumthing and i'm sure vista/xp has it's own version.
    Of course it's still pretty new and people have only started experimenting with it, but i think in a few years it will probably (partially) replace the current <font size="-1">hierarchically</font> based input systems we have now. (like menu and file system views for example)

    One could argue that it already does, but apart from perhaps google , it isn't used much yet by common people. So i would say that it's not here yet.



  • Come now, Steve Jobs is far too twisted a character to use as a simple example like this. Yes, the technical hard work was Woz's to begin with, but Steve Jobs was able to recognise what Woz was doing and support him. Too often, the hard part is getting anyone to recognise good ideas or help out.

    If you read the history of the Macintosh you'll get a better picture of Steve. It's a very fascinating insight into how the Mac got to be as sick and twisted yet addictively brilliant as it was, and for me as a former Mac junkie, quite emotional. Steve is definitely a visionary, and not the sort of person to settle for the cheap and nasty way out. He's been wrong on plenty of occasions (like the insistence that the Mac have 5.25" floppy drives instead of 3.5") but also great -- authorising employees to smash up a security alarm in a building that was troubling them, and owning up to it to the building staff like a real man. (See the Mac history site for all the stories.)

    It's very hard to tell what Apple would be without Steve, but in the years of his absence it was falling to pieces! Steve went off to form NeXT and if you learn abouit what NeXT was up to, it's very impressive. To have a leader who's with you all the way in terms of innovation and quality is worth a lot, even if he is a tyrant and a raving nutcase with it.

    Great people though do all tend to be raving nutjobs. I am not sure there's any way out of it...


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