We have two new co-worker, Tom and Mark. They joined us from another department of our company several weeks ago; a department which did the same that we do. Someone woke up and figured out that this is a bit redundant (it only took them three years). And as we seem to be showing much better numbers on our balance sheet, their department was dissolved and whatever productive rests of it remained were integrated into ours.

About two weeks ago Mark was assigned to a new project involving setting up a small number of web servers for a migration. He had been a bit confused about various issues, but nothing really “suspicious” until he asked me on Monday:

“How do I do such a migration?”

I was taken aback a little; after all this guy has been with the company for several years. And how do you answer such a question in any reasonable amount of time? It is a complex topic, and in my experience there is never one true way of doing migrations; you always play it by ear, as it depends on the customers, on the systems and documentation you have of the previous landscape, and whatnot. I tried to answer his question in a generic way, figuring he surely needed only some pointers as he didn’t know our specific customers and projects. Afterwards he did acknowledge the answer and didn’t have follow-up questions or other concerns and went back to his office.

Yesterday, our boss forwarded an email Mark had sent as a reply to a status request. I’ll have to paraphrase; but basically he complained that he doesn’t have any knowledge of http or ssl or apache, and that he has been asking his colleagues for “1-2 weeks” for help on those matters. He explained that he has started “reading the apache documentation” and “learning html” but that so far the only thing he managed has been to change the document root. He further explains that it is absolutely impossible how he gets thrust into such a complex project without any help, and that he feels “fooled” by the rest of us for being sent off without answering his questions.

To quote Marcus, “I don’t quite know what to say”. Or even where to begin to comment on this.

First of all, it is a little strange to me that a “Unix engineer” with at least several years experience does not only have no Apache knowledge, but that he does not even know what SSL is, let alone can distinguish between HTML and the protocol that delivers it.

I find it also quite strange that such a person has not learned to ask precise questions. And I am annoyed that he is complaining to the boss and blaming the delays in a project on his co-workers. I am not even going to get worked up over how I was talking to Tom the other day when Mark was not in the office yet, and found Mark’s console unlocked and a big fat icq running in the foreground.

But had Mark come to us and told us: “I need an introduction course to Apache web servers, can you please explain the configuration file to me” or even “How does a web server works?” then that question would have gotten answered. With a strange look, yes, but answered nonetheless. This way he comes across not only as incompetent but also as a backstabber. I will go so far as to say that had I known either of these facts, I would never have recommended that we take Mark over into our department. I had not known him nearly as well as Tom, and I must admit that my impression of Mark has evidently been very wrong.

The end result is that I have now blocked my entire day to give an introductory course of web server engineering, focused on Apache. I have my doubts that a day is sufficient to impart the knowledge you normally gain over several years. I hope that Mark simply needs a framework and some good pointers on what to do where; the alternative is that one of us others does this migration project and quite frankly I don’t see how any of us could fit this into our schedule on top of things.

And though it was not directed against me specifically, I will certainly not forget Mark’s email to the boss. Don’t mess with me – I am as loyal to other people as they are to me and their other peers. I sure hope Mark will redeem himself but so far that was a perfect example of how not to gain my trust, favor, friendship or respect.

Continued here.

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