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Why Your IT Department Needs To Staff a Hacker

samzenpus posted more than 2 years ago | from the fox-in-the-hen-house dept.

Security 241

First time accepted submitter anaphora writes "In this TED Talk, Rory Sutherland discusses the need for every company to have a staff member with the power to do big things but no budget to spend: these are the kinds of individuals who are not afraid to recommend cheap and effective ways to solve big company problems. This article argues that, in the IT world, this person is none other than a highly-skilled hacker. From the article: 'To the media, the term “hacker” refers to a user who breaks into a computer system. To a programmer, “hacker” simply means a great programmer. In the corporate IT field, hackers are both revered as individuals who get a lot done without a lot of resources but feared as individuals who may be a little more “loose cannon” than your stock IT employee. Telling your CEO you want to hire a hacker may not be the best decision for an IT manager, but actually hiring one may be the best decision you can make.'"

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Quite obvious for security reasons (2)

Life2Death (801594) | more than 2 years ago | (#40286445)

One cannot fix what they do not know how to break, or how it breaks.

Re:Quite obvious for security reasons (5, Insightful)

SomePgmr (2021234) | more than 2 years ago | (#40286861)

It doesn't sound like that's what they're talking about.

I think they're talking about the "I'll just get shit done where it needs doing, by whatever means I feel most appropriate" type worker. In my work experience, that guy is usually the one that is just an OK programmer, but the only one in the building that actually knows how to work on his machine, too. He probably also doesn't much mind office politics because he'll blow right past it and deal with any fallout when the problem is solved. He may or may not have read the manual. He's the practical person more than the academic, if you're brave enough to stereotype like that. ;)

You wouldn't believe the supposed "really great programmers" I've seen that just throw their hands up when something goes sideways on their workstation, or sit on their hands for days over a management dispute. They're there for one job, to write textbook quality code for a single project, collect the paycheck and be out the door at 5:01 unless someone insists that he stay. That's it. If anything else happens that complicates that arrangement, it's like a train derailment.

I know, I'm being a bit obtuse about the difference where there's a million shades of grey... but it's something I've seen a lot and I agree with the general point.

Re:Quite obvious for security reasons (4, Insightful)

St.Creed (853824) | more than 2 years ago | (#40286973)

True enough. If you really want to hire one, though, replace the name "hacker" with "troubleshooter" or "all-round developer". Management can understand why you would want to hire a troubleshooter, as opposed to a hacker who "just makes trouble".

Re:Quite obvious for security reasons (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40287165)

What you describe is what I call the "Just get it done" attitude, and it's one I've personally had for a very long time. People with this attitude sometimes do get themselves in trouble (I know I have) but they're also the guy who can pick something up and poke at it for an hour or two and produce a result, which is a useful skill to have, particularly if the shit hits the fan.

I've worked with guys with a similar attitude, and I've also worked with guys at the opposite end of the spectrum: the ones who'll say "I don't know what that is so I'm not touching it".

An effective organisation needs a mix of people. You can't have all hackers: nothing will ever got documented (or even possibly finished). You need some forward looking academic guys to do the planing, and you need process-and-document guys to hold everything together and reign in the hacker types. Oh and you certainly don't want too many of the "It's not my job guv" types.

Re:Quite obvious for security reasons (1)

Tough Love (215404) | more than 2 years ago | (#40287053)

Didn't bother even to read the summary?

Re:Quite obvious for security reasons (1)

Arancaytar (966377) | more than 2 years ago | (#40287175)

You're thinking of the wrong kind of hacker.

On Staff? (5, Funny)

WrongSizeGlass (838941) | more than 2 years ago | (#40286459)

I don't need a hacker on staff. I'll just leave a few ports open, like FTP, Telnet, HTTP, RDP, etc. They'll find me and I won't have to spend a cent on payroll! ;-)

Re:On Staff? (1)

virgnarus (1949790) | more than 2 years ago | (#40286583)

That's right, you won't! Someone else that's filling your shoes will, as you're busy at home updating your resume.

Re:On Staff? (0)

girlintraining (1395911) | more than 2 years ago | (#40286801)

I don't need a hacker on staff. I'll just leave a few ports open, like FTP, Telnet, HTTP, RDP, etc. They'll find me and I won't have to spend a cent on payroll! ;-)

That's like expecting your car's security will be improved by leaving the windows down in a well-visited parking ramp in an area with no security cameras. No, you'll just get robbed, and likely the inside will be trashed because if there's one thing criminals love more than a free lunch, it's shitting on someone else's hard work for thrills. There aren't many real hackers left in the world... it's all assholes looking for cheap thrills or cash. Those of us who still do it to teach ourselves about how these amazing little boxes of wires and boards work and make them do nifty things for us are about as plentiful as 20-something aged stamp collectors.

Re:On Staff? (5, Insightful)

N!k0N (883435) | more than 2 years ago | (#40286867)

I don't need a hacker on staff. I'll just leave a few ports open, like FTP, Telnet, HTTP, RDP, etc. They'll find me and I won't have to spend a cent on payroll! ;-)

That's like expecting your car's security will be improved by leaving the windows down in a well-visited parking ramp in an area with no security cameras. No, you'll just get robbed, and likely the inside will be trashed because if there's one thing criminals love more than a free lunch, it's shitting on someone else's hard work for thrills. There aren't many real hackers left in the world... it's all assholes looking for cheap thrills or cash. Those of us who still do it to teach ourselves about how these amazing little boxes of wires and boards work and make them do nifty things for us are about as plentiful as 20-something aged stamp collectors.

I believe "woosh" is in order.

Re:On Staff? (2)

virgnarus (1949790) | more than 2 years ago | (#40286929)

So the moral of the story is: don't leave your lunch in your car, and keep the windows up so some jerk doesn't come around and leave a complimentary air freshener in your car's interior.

Why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40286469)

Because someone needs to real world fix the broken shit so we can keep making money.

And those guys reading facebook all day can't do it.

Things must be slow at TED (4, Insightful)

Animats (122034) | more than 2 years ago | (#40286479)

They must have had a slow day at TED and needed a talking head.

To some extent, yes (2)

Thyamine (531612) | more than 2 years ago | (#40286487)

I can agree to a point. I certainly know people/places that just throw money at a problem. And I know that when systems and down and the customer is starting to panic, that I've come up with some interesting and very good solutions. However there are problems with always trying to solve solutions with 'hacks'. They become unsupportable, they fail in unexpected ways, and they make it harder for you to get a budget to do things you simply can't/shouldn't hack a solution together for. 'What, why do we need a SAN? Remember how you wired those netbooks together for our web farm! Figure something out for us. KTHXBYE.'

But I do agree you need someone who can think creatively and not be locked into marketing speak anytime a problem comes up.

Re:To some extent, yes (5, Insightful)

godrik (1287354) | more than 2 years ago | (#40286553)

I think teh point of the original article is not to build your IT staff out of hackers-that-don't-shave-and-keep-swords-under-their-pillow. But having one in the corner that will recall you periodically that "we don't need a supercomputer, we can do it in excel" is sane for a team.

Re:To some extent, yes (5, Insightful)

war4peace (1628283) | more than 2 years ago | (#40287437)

There's just one problem that comes with that, and it's called management expectations. I've been doing that sort of hacks for a while. Management says "we need an automated reporting application that gathers data from 5 different sources and displays nicely formatted reports on a web page, 24/7, every 15 minutes, but we don't have a budget for that sort of thing". I got an old desktop, installed Apache, installed an Office suite, created some VBA code that did all that. The reports were displayed best in IE only; under FX, the colors were a bit garbled but oh well, it was a quick hack. Right?
Wrong. Management wanted FX compatibility. I talked them out of it, but it took me longer than actually writing the damn code in the first place. Then they wanted historical data, so I expanded my script to do that. Then they wanted e-mails to be sent to them automatically because they were too fucking lazy to check the damn webpage. Then they wanted 2 more data sources included in the consolidated reports. Then they wanted reports customization.
We have a saying here in my country which sounds like this: "You can't make a whip out of shit and expect to crack it". But management expected just that. There's a pretty thick line between aiming for more and being flat out ridiculous. And needless to say, I am not a programmer and never been one, my job was different but I took this project to see what could I accomplish.
That's the problem right there: you do something with nothing and then they expect you to do just that and more of it indefinitely. So good luck in hiring a "just get shit done" guy. It's good to have one. But the temptation to abuse him is high and most management level dudes have no clue when they cross the line.

To another extent, no (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40286585)

Where I work "hacker" is a derogatory term for coders who write non-maintainable solutions. We consider hacks to be bugs waiting to cost a customer money, and we try hard to prevent coding them.

Of course, we must also deal with management that isn't particularly disciplined on this point and sometimes forces us to write hacks in order to meet a deadline, and then later holds us accountable for the bugs. They then wonder why it is hard to find and retain good talent.

Some days are definitely better than others.

 

Re:To another extent, no (2)

Tough Love (215404) | more than 2 years ago | (#40287073)

Where I work "hacker" is a derogatory term for coders who write non-maintainable solutions.

Must suck to work there.

Re:To some extent, yes (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40286615)

Agreed. Quality work is made by following processes and using checks and balances, not by trying to patch holes with someone who doesn't understand the whole picture.

Re:To some extent, yes (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40286921)

Agreed. Quality work is made by following processes and using checks and balances, not by trying to patch holes with someone who doesn't understand the whole picture.

...Wrong. I was called in as a hacker to a fortune 500 (at the time, but no longer) manufacturing company that had an emergency. Their WAN connection was down which took out their VPN connection to their corporate offices which housed a lot of their IT equipment. It essentially left them dead in the water. To the tune of losing about $100,000/hr (not including employees lazing about with nothing to do). Their proprietary firewall failed. The cold spare turned out to be dead. The firewall vendor said they could have one next morning at 8 AM. I told them I could have them back up in about an hour.

One pfSense install later (and a call to corporate) and they were back up and running. Was it done with checks and balances? Approval all the way up the chain of command? A plan? A review? No. They simply said "Do whatever needs to be done and get it back online as quickly as possible." Done. At the next maintenance window, the pfSense 'hack' was replaced.

In the context of the article, the 'hacker' needs to be your 'go to guy' when you are looking for a brilliant solution to a tough problem. (And I'm not saying pfSense was some sort of 'brilliant' solution--I'm saying that it was 'brilliant' and a bit 'magic' to the IT-types at this company....which is why they are no longer Fortune 500)

Re:To some extent, yes (4, Interesting)

crazyjj (2598719) | more than 2 years ago | (#40286637)

I become very wary when the higher-ups start talking about fixing problems without spending any money. It's usually corporate-speak for "Do everything for nothing." Some things are WORTH spending money on. Some things you absolutely NEED to spend money on. And hacking together cheap solutions only makes it even more problematic when one of these situations arises (Expect to hear "Hey, why do you need a budget bump now? You did fine last year on next-to-nothing"). Corporate culture almost demands that you spend at least enough money each year to not shock the hell out of the boss when you really NEED it one year.

Not to mention that hacked solutions tend to be a fucking NIGHTMARE to maintain over the long-term. Think about the day your "hacker" leaves and his replacement has to come in and try to figure out his predecessor's jerry-rigged mess.

Re:To some extent, yes (1)

mcmonkey (96054) | more than 2 years ago | (#40286823)

Not to mention that hacked solutions tend to be a fucking NIGHTMARE to maintain over the long-term. Think about the day your "hacker" leaves and his replacement has to come in and try to figure out his predecessor's jerry-rigged mess.

QFT. While hacker != cracker, the submission is incorrect to say a hacker is a great programmer.

A hacker may or may not be a great programmer. What a hacker is, is clever. A hacker can get systems to do things they weren't designed to do. A hacker can repurpose tools to achieve novel results.

What a hacker does not do, is produce a solution that will be easily maintained.

Re:To some extent, yes (2)

Tough Love (215404) | more than 2 years ago | (#40287229)

What a hacker does not do, is produce a solution that will be easily maintained.

Wrong, that depends on the hacker. To qualify as a great hacker, the hacks have to be good by this metric too. A lot goes into being a great hacker, but this much is always true: greatness is on more than one level.

Re:To some extent, yes (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40287321)

A low-maintenance hack is a lot like a low-maintenance girlfriend.

There are very few, and once you start investing in one she becomes high-maintenance pretty quickly.

Re:To some extent, yes (1, Troll)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | more than 2 years ago | (#40287349)

What a hacker does not do, is produce a solution that will be easily maintained.

Wrong, that depends on the hacker.

Also depends on who's following along afterwards. Even the simplest hacks will quickly confound pedigreed ponies who only know how to follow directions.

Most of the hacks I've managed over the years would (by design) be fairly simple for another hacker to figure out, but those MBA's running the department? Yeah, good luck with that, Chuckles.

Re:To some extent, yes (1)

a90Tj2P7 (1533853) | more than 2 years ago | (#40287245)

What a hacker does not do, is produce a solution that will be easily maintained.

This. A thousand times, this.

A well-rounded IT staff would be better off with more money for staying up-to-date with training and new technology than having someone dedicated to hacking together ductape solutions and bandaid fixes because the business doesn't want to spend the money/time on the right tools to doing things the right way.

Hackjobs are a nightmare to maintain, inherit or scale up, and they're usually a bit shortsighted when it comes to conditions the hacker didn't expect or think about. You should think outside the box, but you need to need to make sure what you're making will fit back inside it. The approach and the knowledge you gain from it can be really useful, but I don't want to have to do something like find a way to force an insufficient PBX to meet a company's needs any more than I want to hold my car's bumper on with bungee cords.

Re:To some extent, yes (1)

sl4shd0rk (755837) | more than 2 years ago | (#40287297)

Corporate culture almost demands that you spend at least enough money each year to not shock the hell out of the boss

This is the kind of mentality that makes management keep cutting IT staff, and budget, annually. If you're dumb enough to let one person "jerry-rig a mess" that's the fault of management.

Always, always have at least two people on a project. Documentation should be reviewed for accuracy on a regular basis. Have people design a plan on paper first before any hardware purchasing happens. Have them stick to it so you have an idea what's going on. If they need to change paths, the paper plan should be updated first.

You don't need to run to EMC everytime somone needs a bigger hard drive or test server.

Re:To some extent, yes (3, Insightful)

sjames (1099) | more than 2 years ago | (#40287409)

That's why you don't want only hackers. Just one or two. When they create the amazing solution, then you get the other staff involved in documenting it and creating procedures around it so that it becomes a formal solution. That's also where you decide if it's a stop-gap, a prototype, a permanent solution or an abomination to be replaced yesterday.

Re:To some extent, yes (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40287001)

I agree with the original article, but not with the previous post. It's responsability of the head of IT to bring stuff under the manegable, standard umbrella. The hacker would be able to give you a solution where usually the traditional one isn't available, expensive or long to obtain/implement.

I consider myself one of such people. Many times i find an alternative solution or i suggest some other to tryout.
One day for example the gateway mail appliance (commercial, by the way linux powered but with proprietary engine) got it's antivirus down for a wrong update issued by manufacturer. While awaiting their support to fix things up, i quickly powered up a vm with linux, clamav, postifx, spamassassin and some RBLs.
Email flow started again in about 30 mins, internal users were happy and i was able to wait support to fix things without worrying too much of lost emails.

Another time we got our central storage overloaded by an unexpected load which was generating a lot of cache misses.
Well, powered a spare machine and installed freenas and used ZFS with snapshots and lately activated the replication on a similar machine (vm actually) on the DR site. Spent a bit more time in this case, but users were again happy.

Now we have more time to evaluate the storage to upgrade to.

Re:To some extent, yes (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40287211)

IMHO, the right model is to find one really good, practical hacker, who understands that even though he can hack up cheap solutions for virtually everything, it's not often worth the complexity to the company versus using something cheap off the shelf. Then promote that guy to be the technical lead / manager of your group, over the other guys that tend to just buy into whatever vendor solutions. Then you have someone in charge that can cut through the bullshit and knows when to reject and expensive vendor lock-in over something homegrown.

Just one? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40286515)

Staff just one hacker? Companies would fill every position with a hacker if they could find the right people...

Re:Just one? (1)

ThorGod (456163) | more than 2 years ago | (#40286697)

The concept kind of negates itself. So even if you have no real use for a top of the line programmer ("To a programmer, “hacker” simply means a great programmer"), you should still hire one and have him/her sit around all day looking for exploits on your network?

1.) I'm not sure that hacker great programmer.
2.) Anyone ranking very high on competency for a specific field is going to be hard to find, let alone hire.
3.) Once you've expended all of these resources finding a laborer...what's their day to day task? nmap all the machines on the network and look for outdated software? Sounds like an IT job...

Caveat: i make no claim to be an IT expert, but this sounds like poor planning or hiring.

Re:Just one? (1)

ThorGod (456163) | more than 2 years ago | (#40286711)

edit: "I'm not sure hacker = great programmer"

Just don't call them a hacker (2)

crazyjj (2598719) | more than 2 years ago | (#40286519)

To the general public, the term “hacker” refers to a user who breaks into a computer system.

FTFY.

Best not to go to your boss asking to hire a "hacker." And I sure wouldn't use that term in writing.

Re:Just don't call them a hacker (1)

chispito (1870390) | more than 2 years ago | (#40286641)

To the general public, the term “hacker” refers to a user who breaks into a computer system.

FTFY.

Best not to go to your boss asking to hire a "hacker." And I sure wouldn't use that term in writing.

To be fair, I find the general public is often more informed than the media are.

Re:Just don't call them a hacker (3, Insightful)

SJHillman (1966756) | more than 2 years ago | (#40286729)

That's because the general public informs the media. It's like a game of Telephone, in which each link further from the source is more convoluted than the previous link.

Subject Area Experts >> People that work with the experts or have intermediate experience in that field >> enthusiasts/hobbyists >> selective public that will read an article on the topic from time to time >> general public that "knows a guy" >> media who gets it from a "guy who knows a guy" or reads a blog by "a guy who knows a guy" >> ... ad infinitum ... >> politicians

Re:Just don't call them a hacker (1)

Nidi62 (1525137) | more than 2 years ago | (#40286717)

This is what I was going to say. What I can think of is to basically call him a MacGuyver. I mean, that's basically the role Southerland is suggesting the guy plays, right? Plus this term comes with a more positive connotation than "hacker" would.

Re:Just don't call them a hacker (1)

crazyjj (2598719) | more than 2 years ago | (#40286955)

I like MacGuyver, though it might become anachronistic as more young people grow up in the post-MacGuyver era. I was actually shocked the other day to learn that one of the new hires was born in the 90's. I guess it had never occured to me that someone old enough to work could have grown up completely in an era I consider so recent.

Re:Just don't call them a hacker (1)

Nidi62 (1525137) | more than 2 years ago | (#40287099)

I like MacGuyver, though it might become anachronistic as more young people grow up in the post-MacGuyver era. I was actually shocked the other day to learn that one of the new hires was born in the 90's.

That's a good point, but if you think about it, you're trying to sell the hire to management, right? Management at this time, especially at the department level, should still be old enough to recognize the reference.

Re:Just don't call them a hacker (1)

St.Creed (853824) | more than 2 years ago | (#40287025)

You're right. Telling management you want to hire a McGyver, troubleshooter or "general all-round developer" is fine. But announcing you want to hire a hacker is just a dumb move in any company.

Re:Just don't call them a hacker (1)

I_am_Jack (1116205) | more than 2 years ago | (#40287223)

This is what I was going to say. What I can think of is to basically call him a MacGuyver. I mean, that's basically the role Southerland is suggesting the guy plays, right? Plus this term comes with a more positive connotation than "hacker" would.

I've worked some places where it wasn't MacGuyver, but B.A. Barabbas, as in "..get me a BBQ, a trash can and a tube radio, 'cause I'm going to make a server!"

Re:Just don't call them a hacker (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40287185)

Also, note the closely related term "hack", meaning someone who uses the wrong tools for the job and thus doesn't know what they are doing. This is the original meaning, as far as I can tell, that the media attempted to use to insult pay phone thieves. Those "hackers" turned the concept into, instead of using the wrong tool, using all tools until they find the one that fits, as in though an innovative effort. Much like the black community now uses the n word to self identify proudly.

I have seen pointy haired bosses listen to one dev call another a "hack", and thought they were giving a compliment by saying "hacker". It made me sigh.

The term hacker is a slang insult. Don't get childishly proud of such a label.

Re:Just don't call them a hacker (1)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | more than 2 years ago | (#40287419)

What term would you use, then? How do you distinguish someone who considers programming their day job from someone who loves to program regardless of whether they are being paid to do it (which is not to say that hackers do not care about getting paid)?

I can't be the only one... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40286533)

Who read that as "Why Your IT Department Needs To Staff a Hooker".

A bit crazy, but it just might work.

Re:I can't be the only one... (1)

Monsieur Canard (766354) | more than 2 years ago | (#40286565)

*raises hand*

That definitely would've made those debugging sessions a lot more fun.

Re:I can't be the only one... (2)

YodasEvilTwin (2014446) | more than 2 years ago | (#40286627)

It might result in a lot more "debugging" than you want. STDs are bad, mmkay?

Re:I can't be the only one... (2)

St.Creed (853824) | more than 2 years ago | (#40287037)

Always use antivirus and firewall while debugging :)

Re:I can't be the only one... (1)

nedlohs (1335013) | more than 2 years ago | (#40287143)

Is that your way of volunteering for the role?

Re:I can't be the only one... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40286665)

"Why Your Department Needs To Staff a Hooker".

always worked for house

Re:I can't be the only one... (1)

crazyjj (2598719) | more than 2 years ago | (#40287275)

Why Your IT Department Needs To Staff a Hooker

Now *that's* thinking outside the box on employee recruitment and retention!

Who would want that job? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40286587)

Spend your day arguing with a PHB trying to get a project funded.
No thanks.

Guess I am a hacker then (1)

smudj (1983234) | more than 2 years ago | (#40286591)

If a descriptor is "recommend cheap and effective ways to solve big company problems" then that's me. My company is dirt cheap and the CFO signature is required for any IT purchases over $1000.

I don't know about you, but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40286605)

one of the two definitions of a hacker is wrong.

1) Person with malicious intent who breaks into systems

2) Someone who can 'program' but doesn't understand theory or good programming concepts. They can get it to work (sometimes), but it ain't gonna be pretty.

Re:I don't know about you, but... (1)

Tough Love (215404) | more than 2 years ago | (#40287271)

Both your defintions are wrong, nice going.

False (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40286611)

Corporate environments are openly hostile to cheap and effective solutions. The various funding and approval departments all want justification and forms filled out in triplicate any time a package is deployed for which a license was not purchased. FOSS is a four-letter word, and will get you on the shit list in a big, big hurry.

In the rare case where a "hacker" has been given leeway to get things done, s/he is often given a nearly unlimited budget and virtually no oversight, which leads to obscene expense over-runs and a further tarnishing of "out of the box thinking." Once a "hacker" is done waxing philosophical with management for a couple of years, your company will be completely by-the-book in the whiplash that ensues.

You know it's true. Most of you have probably seen this happen in your own department, or even caused it. Corporate IT is simply not flexible enough, nor is it savvy enough, to deal with the "hacker" arch-type on his/her own terms.

Re:False (1)

MickyTheIdiot (1032226) | more than 2 years ago | (#40287237)

One of the problems I have come up with it that most microserfs believe that "you get what you pay for" applies to everything in the computing world. It doesn't. Some of the best solutions to everyday problems are the cheapest ones, and some of the shit that people like TrendMicro puts out are the worst and the most bloated.

There's a balance (4, Insightful)

grasshoppa (657393) | more than 2 years ago | (#40286651)

I'm a big fan of standardized solutions from a name big enough to provide consistent support. That said, sometimes 2 hours spent writing a script is cheaper than 20,000 spent to your vendor to accomplish the same thing.

It's a balance, and it's up to the manager to determine the best financial choice.

Re:There's a balance (1)

serviscope_minor (664417) | more than 2 years ago | (#40286907)

I'm a big fan of standardized solutions from a name big enough to provide consistent support.

If by standardized solution, you mean a piece of utter piece of shit and if by "name big enough to ptovide support" you mean Oracle, then sure.

Though you might want to add a few zeros to your figure of 20,000 if you want a big name.

Re:There's a balance (1)

s.petry (762400) | more than 2 years ago | (#40287195)

Nah, I can't say I agree with you. The problem we have now in IT is that we have really only given ourselves 2 possible solutions, unlike what grasshoppa suggests as a third alternative. It currently goes like this.

Big contract houses and huge pay outs for everything. This could be Dell or HP, with full board support, iLO licenses, insight managers, etc... Oracle and IBM have the same thing. It's a fixed price for everything, and you have to order from the catalog for them to support you. Need a 1 off for something? 1 year and a million dollars later you may have a new set of reports on utilization. Yes, things that simple are horribly expensive and lengthy to get done when they are not in the catalog.

The only alternative I see outside of the above in big companies, is the "FFFA" method of IT support. Yes, a horrible Fucking Free For all, where every admin does their own thing. Guy 1 installs Gentoo on everything, someone else loads Ubuntu, some Windows admin gets everyone hooked in to using AD for Auth and $HOME dirs, another guy loads Fedora, another guy loads Suse. Every time a person quits to go fuck up a different site with the same mentality, things just get worse. A guy gets hired that does not know anything but NetBSD, and has a fit over all the disparate components. He builds an APT server and starts pushing NetBSD as the savior for the company. Meanwhile, a few other people left and now nobody knows what the fuck is going on. Someone suggests getting everyone on RedHat for standardization, but the Engineers and developers cry foul "My stuff won't work on anything but !".

New people come in and try to support the mess, but generally they last a few months at best.

Look, if it's your site and 20-30 machines who gives a shit as long as it's all the same. In a large environment where you have to have many people supporting all kinds of products and programs the rules have to change.

The best places I ever worked were places that had standards yet allowed deviations by good people that know the company, products, and hardware they are dealing with. I have personally hacked many solutions for people, and worked with some other exceptional people as well. All the while, we had hardware, OS, and software standards that we all agreed to follow. I have worked in a total of 2 places like that in the last 20 years, the last of which was 4 years ago. Now all I find are option 1 or option 2. Big companies generally have option 1, and start ups have option 2, even when they reach the several hundred server mark.

Re:There's a balance (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40286933)

Sometimes?

For 8 of your "hours" from vendors, I can employ a junior administrator for a year. For a week, I can have an entire team of people with a reasonable level of internal redundancies.

Seriously, some large IT departments have serious issues understanding capital costs. It's easier to spend 500M in capex than it is to spend 50M in opex.

Re:There's a balance (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40287041)

Hacks are just another tool. Use them when needed, at the right time.

Bullshit (5, Interesting)

holmedog (1130941) | more than 2 years ago | (#40286725)

One of the most annoying things I deal with at work is people who think they are "hackers". The best and brightest people follow the rules - that's why they are the best. They break the rules in great times of need. When a project blows up on the weekend and we are going to miss an SLA, etc.

The idea that you want to work with someone who spends their time trying to half-ass things to save themselves time is not only stupid, it's completely the opposite of what you want in a professional environment.

"Hack" in your spare time. Enjoy it, have fun. I know I do. My home-grown projects have none of the constraints my work does. But, don't do it on my company time.

Re:Bullshit (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40286993)

The best and brightest people follow the rules - that's why they are the best.

Really? Maybe where you're from the "best and brightest" aren't very bright.

Re:Bullshit (3, Interesting)

Bob9113 (14996) | more than 2 years ago | (#40287027)

The best and brightest people follow the rules - that's why they are the best.

Following the rules is orthogonal to greatness. Joan of Arc, Steve Jobs, Richard Feynman -- not big on following the rules. Alan Greenspan, Warren Buffet, W. Edwards Deming -- big rule followers. Each extraordinary in his or her own way.

Re:Bullshit (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40287243)

This article describes me really well. I work in a University IT group, and I have a reputation for solving the problems that others can't or won't, because I won't give up when I hit a roadblock. I've also got a wide range of skills with everything IT related, so I sometimes see things that people more narrowly focused miss. I also don't have a life, and IT is a hobby for me, so that helps, too.

But, related to your point, I'm classed as an ISTJ (Inspector) in most the situations, I follow the rules, I make sure others are following the rules, etc The IST part is at the far end of scale for each of those types. But my J side is closer to balanced, and I occasionally switch to ISTP (crafter). When does this usually happen? When I'm in a comfortable situation, and that means around computers. I regularly solve problems by a sort of intuition, and I'm willing to break the rules if the rules don't make any sense. To a certain degree the rule of getting something done outweighs the rules of a particular task. And, no, I'm not killing baby orphans to make things happen, but I will occasionally work without a helmet.

Re:Bullshit (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 2 years ago | (#40287285)

One of the most annoying things I deal with at work is people who think they are "hackers". The best and brightest people follow the rules - that's why they are the best. They break the rules in great times of need. When a project blows up on the weekend and we are going to miss an SLA, etc.

Congratulations! You've just described the majority of hackers I know. You do things "right" when you have time, and when the chips are down you just do whatever will get you limping down the road. This becomes a problem when you're not given time to do the job right to begin with, which is pretty typical of any job really. Then you have to get hackish. That's when you REALLY want that guy, because instead of just failing, he keeps you going until hopefully you get out of the hole you're in and can afford to give him the resources he needs to do things right again. Or, you know, you pull your head out of your ass and start giving him that time in the first place, if we're talking about a typical IT job that would be a more accurate description of what could happen.

Re:Bullshit (1)

Maximum Prophet (716608) | more than 2 years ago | (#40287323)

The best and brightest people follow the rules - that's why they are the best. They break the rules in great times of need. When a project blows up on the weekend and we are going to miss an SLA, etc.

The best and brightest don't follow the rules, they make the rules. Their projects don't blow up.

Where I work, the challenge is to take a $20 million project, and make it work for $10 million. Blowing up is not an option.

Re:Bullshit (1)

Tough Love (215404) | more than 2 years ago | (#40287359)

Why didn't you just write "I disagree with the entire premise of the article", because that is what your words mean. And in the process you redefined the definition of "hack" to mean "write crap code". As if you didn't read the article, or have never met a real hacker. I hope you don't consider yourself one at this stage. By all means continue with the home-grown projects, but keep in mind that just being home-grown does not mean it has to be crap.

Re:Bullshit (1)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | more than 2 years ago | (#40287509)

The best and brightest people follow the rules - that's why they are the best

I think you are confusing "best and brightest" with "most conservative."

BURN THE WITCH! (5, Interesting)

girlintraining (1395911) | more than 2 years ago | (#40286727)

You're joking, right? A hacker is, by definition, someone overqualified for every job where the dress code includes the word "business" in its description. Why the hell would someone like that want to work for peanuts, creating miracles out of thin air with no budget? Because they find it challenging? Bitch, please -- we want to get paid, and if I'm working for a place that values IT so little they can't even come up with a budget for things that would (by your own definition!) render improvements to their infrastructure, what are the odds of promotion? A raise? Benefits? Answer: Zilch. Nothing. Nodda. Zero.

I know it's an unrelated field, and some of you will probably laugh, but when I was in school for graphic design (I already know enough for a degree in IT), one of the things my first teacher told me is: Don't work for free. You're not going to get any exposure, leads are worthless, and charity work doesn't get the bills paid. As a graphic designer, most of us are self-employed and it's essential we know to the nearest half-hour mark how long a project is going to take in billable hours. We need to make our own budget for every project, and everyone and I mean everyone is looking for free work or thinking they can do it themselves with photoshop.

IT is approaching the same commoditization of labor -- Many of us are "contractors" already, but eventually people are going to wise-up and become self-employed because contractors are paid shit and treated as such. Be ahead of the curve people: Don't work for peanuts, and if someone says "there's no budget for what you do," take the hint and move on.

Re:BURN THE WITCH! (1, Offtopic)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | more than 2 years ago | (#40286981)

You're joking, right? A hacker is, by definition, someone overqualified for every job where the dress code includes the word "business" in its description. Why the hell would someone like that want to work for peanuts, creating miracles out of thin air with no budget? Because they find it challenging? Bitch, please -- we want to get paid, and if I'm working for a place that values IT so little they can't even come up with a budget for things that would (by your own definition!) render improvements to their infrastructure, what are the odds of promotion? A raise? Benefits? Answer: Zilch. Nothing. Nodda. Zero.

Oh, in the name of all that's Holy, this.

I've been that guy - tasked with the nigh-impossible, no budget to speak of, and oh yea, paid $10/hr to make it happen.

I got the job done every time, often doing more than was required, and typically for even less money than the meager pittance I was given for the project. Did it make an appreciable difference regarding my employer's attitude towards IT? You be the judge: I got fired for asking for a raise a week after finishing the most elaborate project ever for said employer (Totally automated, solar powered, Wifi enabled outdoor camera system, one I was quite proud of considering I literally cobbled 90% together from parts laying around the shop).

I am a hacker in the classic sense, in that I make shit work, but not for what these asshole employers are willing to pay. Not anymore.

Re:BURN THE WITCH! (1)

girlintraining (1395911) | more than 2 years ago | (#40287459)

I got the job done every time, often doing more than was required, and typically for even less money than the meager pittance I was given for the project. Did it make an appreciable difference regarding my employer's attitude towards IT? You be the judge: I got fired for asking for a raise a week after finishing the most elaborate project ever for said employer (Totally automated, solar powered, Wifi enabled outdoor camera system, one I was quite proud of considering I literally cobbled 90% together from parts laying around the shop).

I assume you've learned your lesson then. I feel for you, I really do. I've had similar experiences; I once saved a Fortune 500 company from hiring about 50 people at $14 an hour to retrigger deployments by writing an application over a few lunch breaks that automated the process. Another department became so worried about this development they agitated with infosecurity to change the policies to prevent its use, and then fired me for violating said new security policy. As a society, we lose hundreds of billions yearly because of this kind of political gameplay and a lack of understanding or awareness by management of the actual value of their labor resources, the policies that constrain them, or the budget for various things. Everyone here that's got a shred of professionalism and talent has a similar story. Everyone.

It's a hard lesson to learn, but as a professional in this industry, it is not your job to fix these problems. Your job is to do the best you can with the limited resources given to you. If, in your professional estimation, you feel your work is undervalued, the budget is insufficient, or management lacks the necessary leadership qualities for you to do your work with a minimum of hassle... then do the minimum amount of work necessary to keep suspicion away and spend the rest of your energy finding another place to work. Some dumb 20-something kid with his degree from "PC Tech" college will be happy to slave away at it for peanuts -- and when that fails, they'll just import a billion dirt-poor workers to do it.

Those kinds of employers are predatory, and they get their business karma returned to them eventually in the form of high labor costs, low efficiency, and tiny profit margins. Eventually, they strangle themselves... but it takes time, sometimes decades, before the economics of the situation can no longer be ignored. The H1B visa program was designed to give extra life to these otherwise dying predators... and even that's running out. India has its own infrastructure right now, and they're giving a hearty "F U" to labor exploitation... many such employers have "in-sourced" and discontinued the practice, and the rest have moved on to exploit the Phillipines.

I'm only explaining this because if you are a hacker, you won't be content with just knowing what to do, you'll have to know why. Well, now you know. So don't concern yourself over-much with this state of affairs; Just focus on getting slotted in with a company that doesn't engage in exploitative behavior, and trust your instincts about it. If something doesn't feel right, it's because it isn't -- if you get that vibe, don't drop anchor there.

Re:BURN THE WITCH! (1)

MickyTheIdiot (1032226) | more than 2 years ago | (#40287503)

One of the major problems in I.T. is that when you work your ass off and perform a miracle that usually your employer is not smart enough (about I.T. or just plain dumb in general) and the very next day they ask you for an even BIGGER miracle instead of patting you on the back. Since everyone is human its not a cycle that can last for all that long.

I too have worked in areas like that. To be any good and have any longevity you've got to be mediocre.

If your're good at something.. (1)

xtal (49134) | more than 2 years ago | (#40287373)

Never do it for free.

http://youtu.be/uYMnAUGFuG0 [youtu.be]

Sage words.

Re:BURN THE WITCH! (1)

Tough Love (215404) | more than 2 years ago | (#40287447)

Why the hell would someone like that want to work for peanuts, creating miracles out of thin air with no budget?

The article did not say anything about working for peanuts, just not having resources... that is, not being in a position to command a dozen code monkeys to go write crap code based on specs concocted on powerpoint slides and design documents not worthy of the name. I am not sure I agree with the premise that a great hacker cannot be even greater by being able to farm out some of the work. But that is not the main point.

On the contrary, great hackers usually become widely recognized as such, to be in demand, and to come in at the top end of the salary scale. If they chose to work for anyone that is.

Every IT department needs an English major, too (4, Insightful)

sandytaru (1158959) | more than 2 years ago | (#40286739)

Someone who has coding chops but whose happy place is 50 pages deep in documentation.

yes tech writer but don't make the techs do the (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | more than 2 years ago | (#40286895)

yes tech writer but don't make the techs do the documentation. Let the tech guys do the tech work and the writer do the documentation work.

Re:yes tech writer but don't make the techs do the (1)

sandytaru (1158959) | more than 2 years ago | (#40287029)

Well, not all technical writers are created equal. Someone who was trained to write grant requests for the school's horticulture department may not be the best fit for an IT department. You still need to have someone who can recognize an SQL query and point out that you forgot to include a unit test for one of your classes.

Just call him a programmer instead (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40286751)

Management will have a lot less difficulty funding him/her if he/she is not called a 'hacker'. Educating them about the word won't help. Managers come and go.

Me? (2)

SJHillman (1966756) | more than 2 years ago | (#40286755)

I suppose I'm my department's hacker. One of the more fun things is I've begun repairing touchscreen wallmount PCs in-house rather than sending them out for repair at $350-$1000 each. A shame the money I save likely won't be rolled back into my salary.

You! (1)

freeze128 (544774) | more than 2 years ago | (#40286865)

The skills you get from that activity have a value all their own. You could become proficient enough to start your own repair company. It's like kickstarter for your hobby.

Re:Me? (1)

smudj (1983234) | more than 2 years ago | (#40287177)

I'm sure management will thank you for the extra money they can spend on extra booze and food for the mgmt meeting!

Sometimes its the only way. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40286777)

Yes sir I know its only 50% likely to save us £5000 but I can have a demo of that in 30 mins to see if it works
vs
Its going to take me 2 months to develop and do the QA and its got a 50/50 chance of saving us money.

Doing it the "proper" way can make it dead in the water before its started. How many ideas have NOT been done because of this !

But their salaries are usually too high to afford! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40286779)

By the time I have them trained in programming, graphic design, hardware, sound, writing, producing, and directing their salary is usually 1-2m per year, that's just much too expensive!

Re:But their salaries are usually too high to affo (0)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | more than 2 years ago | (#40287031)

By the time I have them trained in programming, graphic design, hardware, sound, writing, producing, and directing their salary is usually 1-2m per year, that's just much too expensive!

WTF are you on about? Hackers, by definition, don't need training, they figure shit out - often, in my experience, much faster than the pedigreed ponies.

You don't 'train' hackers, you give us a problem and we solve it, either through finesse or brute force - whichever is most effective at the time.

Hacker (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40286839)

Best definition and most simply put: A hacker is a person who engages in playful cleverness.

IT Department needs to staff a hooker (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40286847)

Because it aint gonna suck itself.

hack repairs / MacGuyver fixes can end up down the (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | more than 2 years ago | (#40286883)

hack repairs / MacGuyver fixes can end up down the road being a big issues or just become some leftover thing that no one know why it's there and keeps it there even after what it was trying to fix got fixed so now it's just setting there doing nothing.

This can be even worse in places with lot's red tape where so one puts something in with little or no docs on it to get the job done.

Re:hack repairs / MacGuyver fixes can end up down (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40287281)

That's not the kind of hacker you want anyways. You're not looking for a guy who strings up bullshit fragile cheap solutions that cost more in long term complexity. You're looking for the guy that will say: "Oh, you wanted to spend $500,000 on a commercial firewall solution to solve problem X? We can do that on a cheap Linux box with iptables for $2,000, and it will be automated via puppet and well-documented".

we don't have $500,000 or even $2k so the hackjob (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | more than 2 years ago | (#40287391)

we don't have $500,000 or even $2k so do the hackjob and I will be golfing with a vender the rest of the day.

Re:hack repairs / MacGuyver fixes can end up down (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 2 years ago | (#40287319)

This can be even worse in places with lot's red tape where so one puts something in with little or no docs on it to get the job done.

Documentation is always the problem. Have a policy that says all changes must be documented, and fire with extreme prejudice if documentation is not kept, because it's really all you have after the code, and we all know how that can go. Fine, or really really bad and wrong. This is probably MORE important where there is great secrecy involved, because if someone leaves you'll never be able to talk to them about the project again :p

Not on my watch.... (1)

erp_consultant (2614861) | more than 2 years ago | (#40286923)

I can how it might be fun to be the "hacker" in that scenario but if I'm the IT manager there is no way I'm going to let some code cowboy run around doing this and that without any oversight. Sure, in the short term you can get some problems fixed quickly but in corporate IT all the I's are dotted and all the T's are crossed. You've got to follow procedures and get the proper authorizations and buyoffs for things otherwise you (the IT manager) will get hung out to dry if anything goes wrong.

Re:Not on my watch.... (1)

Maximum Prophet (716608) | more than 2 years ago | (#40287215)

... but in corporate IT all the I's are dotted and all the T's are crossed. You've got to follow procedures and get the proper authorizations and buyoffs for things otherwise you (the IT manager) will get hung out to dry if anything goes wrong.

In some shops, you'll get hung out to dry if you don't meet your deliverable date. You might have 6 weeks to deliver, but following process will take 6 months. Sometimes it's damned if you do, and damned if you don't. Your choice.

Ed Yourdon describes this in "Death March". Usually, if you get one of these projects, the only thing to do is polish your resume, you're going to get canned. Ed's advice is for the *next* manager. Before taking the already behind project, get firm commitments to bypass red tape that can be bypassed, get extra budget, and extra time. Get all this *before* taking the job.

Instead of a highly skilled hacker (2)

houghi (78078) | more than 2 years ago | (#40286975)

why not go for the socially skilled hacker? You know, one that is not thinking that the company is there so the IT department exists.

I know, many will say that without IT the company would not exist. Well, that goes for any other department as well. If the company could do without them, they would not exist.

Dumb idea (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40286999)

Dumb for employer: don't make a hire you'll have a tough time explaining if that employee goes rogue

Dumb for employee: don't take a job where you'll be first out the door after the next corporate reorg

Sad, but true (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40287017)

The dangers of employing a hacker (as per meaning of article).

I go off ill suddenly and quite unexpectedly for a week, at some point, the big boss wanders in, sees a bunch of the non-windows machines I use on a daily basis (Debian boxes, with Windows XP running in virtual machines) and have been doing so for the *past two years*, freaks, gets someone else to pull the plugs on them, come back to find all the linux boxes (and, amusingly enough, the Macs as well) pulled from the network as if they're some sort of threat..

Admittedly, the one I use as my desktop was unlocked and had ssh sessions open in terminals to about three other machines, but, hey, it wasn't MS Windows (apart from the copy running in a VM with an 'in-progress' CAD drawing up), I must be a hacker (in the sense of the more 'common' usage today) and must be up to 'dark and terrible things' (tm)

Maybe I should point out the firewalls are linux boxes, and the thing running their expensive Cisco telecomms crap is a linux box..

(Scenario above simplified to protect the guilty...there is a lot more braindeath involved than I'd care to go into, really)
 

lol (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40287279)

I think the word you are looking for here is a badass, not a 'hacker'. But the problem is that most big organizations dont want to spend the money to employ someone who is a badass.

home grown (1)

rapell (2448492) | more than 2 years ago | (#40287313)

hackers are home grown experts. If IT didn't keep sending baby boomers away in favour of gen next, we wouldn't be reading this post. Better still outsource the whole dept.

Joel On Software (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40287407)

Joel On Software had an article on this some time ago calling them duct tape programmers instead of a hackers.
http://www.joelonsoftware.com/items/2009/09/23.html

Heaven protect me from the rainmakers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40287425)

I like hackers too. As a consultant who comes in and repairs the damage of renegade rainmakers, they are a steady stream of income.

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