On competence

Today was a day of competence – in its pure and inconceivable form. The first 8 hours of my 5.5 hours working day I have spent with a “Senior Consultant”. To shorten the story: after four months working overtime, I have finally reverse engineered enough information to be certain that the product we bought just isn’t going to do what it is supposed to. Instead I have to put up with approx. 10 fully committed days to compensate all flaws and inabilities – only to lessen the gap between what has been promised and what will be possible. Notice that “what has been promised” should have been done in about a weeks worth of work and that this week has lasted approximately four months now. Reasoning, I guess my position is save for yet another week*phew*

On the other hand I just had a soothing conversation on the phone with the astonishingly unfit almighty administration of the university I used to go to. As always they didn’t fail to surprise me once again in matters of stupidity, regression, unfriendliness and a relentless misperception/misapprehension of their own job.
Probably I shouldn’t go into detail too much, but let’s assume a situation where you wanted to send an application for something that is perfectly reasonable, what would you do? Also consider the fact that you already consulted the dean of your faculty and that he confirmed your thesis about the application being not only reasonable, but perfectly valid. What I did was to go the the universitiys’ website, get the form, filled it out and send it to the fax number I found on the application which should have been the last pro-active part of mine in this matter. Six weeks later, I’m still not done. What went wrong? It’s easy to figure.

You probably knew it all the way when I mentioned the fax machine. I have used moderately modern and therefore too complex inadequate technology during the first contact; I even went so far as to use an e-mail address I found under “contact -> administration for students -> computer science department” to send an inquiry on whether my former request has been received. Today, when I called and asked for a confirmation of receiving my application, this most certainly hilariously ugly woman spontaneously burst into shouting. I immediately felt as if I had shot her baby. Turns out I was head-wrong. In the next 15 minutes I came to realize that she doesn’t hate me for personal reasons, but she still behaved as if I were claiming she never has paid taxes and I came to get them from her all at once. Certainly understandable – I wanted to know whether my application has been received and probably is being processed already; that could certainly be considered a matter of existence for her.

In the meantime, she taught me a great many wise things. For example I would be half a year behind. Behind what she didn’t tell. Plus I couldn’t do any exams. Which exams exactly, I also don’t know. When I asked her, the shouting resolved in angry yelling – stressing her vocal cords to a level close before the point where I might have considered it unfriendly. She repeated the upcoming facts that I would be behind and that I couldn’t do exams, because there would be no sixth semester. Never again, I thought? Great! I heard that one stinks, anyways. Then I made my first mistake – I tried to outsmart her. That’s something people usually don’t like very much. I told her I could take courses from the seventh semester. Oh, baby. She didn’t like that too much. After a long and shiny tirade I thought to myself “So what? Couldn’t hurt to tell her a little about her job, could it?”. I told her that it is possible, that I have colleagues doing something similar, that the examination regulations allowed me to do courses whenever I see fit and that I planned everything in full agreement of the dean of computer science. What I should have known is that everyone’s colleague is only telling him lies, that taking courses was not as simple as I think it is(yeah, probably she didn’t bother graduating from knitting school, because taking courses has been just too much a grind..) and finally that the dean simply had no say in these things at all.

Her fury began to annoy me a little by now, but when I tried to tell her that I only wanted to know about the status of my application she told me to shut up and wait. What followed should be considered the greatest accomplishments of mankind – complete and utter disregard for humbleness. She asked her colleague(remember; those are the guys always lying to you – so better don’t ask them too important stuff) whether it is possible to officially be in one semester, but take courses of another. Surely she was determined to start whatever she tried to do to me all over again after hearing reassuring words. Well, she didn’t. The nice, and officially most intelligent person in the bureau, told her that I’m in the main course and that I could do whatever and whenever I wanted to. Hearing this, I expected anything from a sign of insight to an apology of some sort. What I didn’t take into account was that her life already was very confusing and not that pleasing. So she went on hating the phone, me and herself. However, I had enough of this senseless waste of time. I gave her my best wishes and hung up.

What I still don’t know after having to put up with this miserable performance of a bureaucrat is whether my application will ever be processed at all. Today I even received a mail from a professor. He told me that “he heard” I would be taking his classes – he already designated me into a group and told me that next Monday would be a mandatory kick-off meeting. Well, I guess, I won’t pay the semesters’ fee and then I will be banned anyway. That’s what I wanted from the beginning, I think.. And if one thing is for sure: I won’t be in Stuttgart next Monday; for whatever reasons. Apart from the mail from the professor, I am very glad that I had this experience on the phone. It proved once more that just about any random person living in Stuttgart is miserable, unfriendly, conservative, boring and dumb – a combination of attributes I simply don’t want to face in aggregated form. How I miss Stuttgart! not.

Coming home, I realized that my fellow housemates were meeting with the landlord. The last months we were living like insects in a more cold than warm and more stone-age-ish than electriced cave(well.. it has walls and a ceiling of stone, at least). We were told that the house would be torn apart after we leave; granting us the choice whether or not to clean, to fix stuff and to let all the garbage obsolete furniture just inside. Today everything changed. The formerly liberal and avuncular landlord turned into Satan himself; demanding unscrupulous things like painting the tainted walls. Of course they were as stained when everyone moved in as they are now, but I guess that’s no argument to make. There’s more, of course, but it’s probably best not to think of it right now. Having rent apartments for the last years, I know a little about rights and responsibilities in this area – and I just spent my evening funnelling those insights into my fellow housemates.

All in all, I’m pretty impressed. I didn’t even bother to mention that I have been at home tonight for just about six hours before moving back to work; even though I have been there for 14 hours straight yesterday. Well, I even had darn good reason for that. I found code that locked itself out in not less than four places – giving my middleware a little bit of trouble. I also won’t go into detail that I found out about databases that have configuration tables for transcription tables which lead to statistics tables – only to never be read, but to be redundant to other configuration tables for another transcription table leading to its own statistics table. Since none of the tables have any keys or indices and there are lots of statistics to be saved, one of the tables has outgrown the state where queries going in will bring back a result different from a timeout. The most obvious part here is that both tables are never being read in a meaningful way. There is only one daemon process(the same that’s been filling these tables all along), reading one column of only one of the tables, sorts it and writes the top result in a third table. There the data will finally be read from a program and translated by a third transcription table. Apparently it proved impossible to fill these 4 bytes of information in the third table skipping the overhead before. And good for me I had to reverse-engineer all that great business logic; it’s not as if my todo-list is giving me any trouble recently; there’s still some space on the monitor that I can read in between the piles of notes.

I could go on, but then it might seem to you, my dear and noble reader, that I am a bitter old man having a hard time keeping my heart from exploding due to too much pressure. But the truth couldn’t be farther apart. In fact, I don’t think of myself as a truly smart man – I mean, I have my good parts that I have worked pretty hard for – and I am proud of them. But I’m no genius and as it seems never will be. On the other hand, being confronted with those massive amounts of stupidity in the world, I feel pretty neat about myself. I am deeply grateful for what I have not become.  Others missed out on that opportunity and are now stuck in a demeaning life of sluggishness. I look forward to the great journeys of tomorrow, they undoubtedly will be fun.

Category: personal | Tags: , , , , , , 3 comments »

3 Responses to “On competence”

  1. Tanja

    Good God. Ich glaube, jeder Versuch, einem frustrierten deutschen Beamten in seiner festgefahrenen Meinung zu widersprechen – auch mit noch so begründeten und überzeugenden Argumenten – ist von Anfang an zum Scheitern verurteilt. Die Dame ist bemitleidenswert aber leider kein Einzelfall…

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