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Gov't employee acting crazy.

I know a state government employee (not contract) that has been maintaining and developing a database for the last 20 years in some archaic architecture. (I think it is called Prime or something like that).  A second governmental agency wanted to utilize this data.

Well this special state employee, codename Bob, has absolutely refused to give ANY information on how the database is done. That means no schema, no server names, no logins, and no passwords. Bob insists that all work on this database must go through him.

The real kicker is that his bosses want to get rid of him, mostly because he is a cantankerous pain, but also because he refuses to cooperate. So Bob is deliberately blackmailing the agency to keep him on staff by withholding information.

I would like to advise the agency on what they could do to mitigate his departure and somehow recover his work.

What would you advise the agency to do?

My only other comment is that this problem largely exists for two reasons.  One is that nobody who supervised this clown had any idea what he did for 20 years. That frightens me, because I am in the same situation. Second, the programmer knows that he has his bosses by the short hairs, and will stop at nothing to keep his job. Either way, Bob is giving all of us a bad name. Let the rants begin.

eclectic_echidna
Thursday, September 18, 2003

I can't believe management cannot outright fire him for insubordination.  He does not own the code, nor the data in the database

Yes, I realize that the database might be unmaintained while a replacement gets up to speed, but terminating him (IMHO) is the only apparent solution.

Good luck from another gubment programmer.

Mark Roddy
Thursday, September 18, 2003

They should take his stapler.

Cubist
Thursday, September 18, 2003

First step - contact the database vendor, see what they say about admin accounts, default passwords, etc. There may be a back door left open.

Next, order Bob to give it up. I'm certain that, if the manager is serious about this, Bob's cooperation can mean the difference between Bob getting a pension and Bob being fired.

Finally, consult a lawyer - look into getting a court to force him to divulge the necessary information. If he refuses, he can be put in jail for contempt until he complies.

Obviously, document every single step of the way.

Philo

Philo
Thursday, September 18, 2003

Cubist - funny!

eclectic - Contact the DB vendor. See if you can get:

1. A means to recover the root or sa password.

2. A consultant to help in the transition. Maybe like two months to document the mess or something. During that time the agency can hire somebody and information will be prepared for that new person.

Have fun!

m
Thursday, September 18, 2003

How large is the database installation and how critical is it to being 24/7?

At my last employment, HR did a bunch of layoffs and got rid of some of our database folks. Unfortunately there was a lot of bad blood due to management promises not kept etc.

Two of us were given the unenvious task of accessing and migrating our home grown HR and scheduling software. Most of the Logins/Passwords were not up to date.

It was on Oracle 8i and we contacted Oracle customer service that allowed us to bypass the SA settings. As they were charging big $, we had to limit our consultations with them.

We migrated all data to another database cofiguration and started from scratch - including changing of the data access codes. It wasn't much fun.

Ram Dass
Thursday, September 18, 2003

what genreally happens in such cases is, Bob gets fired > bob works as a consultant doing the same thing on the same project 2 weeks down the line > bob is probably making 3 times the money as a consultant doing the same thing....:-)

Prakash S
Thursday, September 18, 2003

LMAO Cubist!

Mark
Thursday, September 18, 2003

"It was on Oracle 8i and we contacted Oracle customer service that allowed us to bypass the SA settings."

Hmm, I always suspected this was feasible with Oracle, although I'm suprised it's possible to bypass their security.

Or, do you mean they found some "other way" of getting at the data, rather than just telling you what sys password to use ?

Steve Jones (UK)
Thursday, September 18, 2003

How could anyone live with themselves with this type of behavior?  I would feel guilty everyday I showed up to work.

christopher baus
Thursday, September 18, 2003

Christopher-  One word: entitlement.  Bob probably feels he's owed something for his 20 years of loyal service.  Never mind that that service has apparently been to himself.

Sam Livingston-Gray
Thursday, September 18, 2003

"Bob probably feels he's owed something for his 20 years of loyal service."

...maybe he is...

FullNameRequired
Thursday, September 18, 2003

If he's been there twenty years and he's gpt tenure, you're not going to sack him easliy anyway.

Now, all you need to do is to make him know that his boss knows that and you can slowly get him to start co-operating.

Stephen Jones
Thursday, September 18, 2003

No wonder programming is in the state it is, with clowns like you guys so roundly condemning this guy.

Why exactly is it bad for this guy to want to keep his job, and to use his bargaining power to do it? This happens every day in every other occupation, and generally for a lot more money.

I bet Bob does a good job and is probably paid about half what an equivalent employee in another professional role would be paid after 20 years. I bet his managers are paid more than him.

Go Bob.

Bill
Thursday, September 18, 2003

There's a fine line between negotiation from a position of power and outright blackmail.

I have little sympathy for Bob here.  I wouldn't expect that Bob be required to train his successor, but a few simple things like divulging the root login and password for the database are simply a matter of professionalism and not acting like a 2 year old.  That's like refusing to give up one's keys and badge and screaming "THAT'S MY MOP!" as they drag you out.

This sort of thing is like ripping off a bandage.  It's generally best to just get rid of the dude and legally/fiscally compel as much information as possible out of him now, instead of just letting the problem compound.  It's going to be worse the longer you wait and give the impression that it's OK to be like Bob.

Flamebait Sr.
Thursday, September 18, 2003

Is there any option to offer him a severance package (basically a bribe) in exchange for the passwords, documentation, etc.?  (Along with a standard release so that Bob won't sue?)  Unfortunately, a government agency may have less latitude here than with a corporate employer. 

If I were in you friend's position, I'd definitely consult with a lawyer.  Depending on what level of government it is, there's probably someone available.  (City attorney, etc.)  If Bob's so cantankerous, he might also be litigious.  (E.g., age discrimination laws.)

Robert Jacobson
Thursday, September 18, 2003

I have also say that without more details, it may not really be a case of him not cooperating.

Further, with a system that is 20 years old, you are UN-likely to have a nice set of ER diagrams sitting around.

In fact, sql was not even widely adopted back then. That system likely does NOT have SQL. However, it does have a query language called “Recall” or often called “English”.

If I walk into a company for a consult, and the VB developers on staff can’t even produce some ER diagrams from the sql server, then we have a VERY VERY  serious problem. In fact, the last time I did this the developers were NOT even using the sql server for business rules. They for some strange reason were scattering the referential integrity in code!. I was beyond shocked. Of course, the system was only two years deep into development!

I really wish that programmers would spend some time learning about databases, before they jump in. Good coders don’t necessary make good database people. I seem to run into too many horror stores these days.

For something designed and developed in the last 5 years, there is ZERO EXCUSE to not to have ER diagrams of the data structures. And, even worse to not use the RI features of the server. The tools today let one graphically define RI, and really are fabulous. I mean after using tools to help you define RI...you get a way cool diagram that is invaluable. Talk about killing two birds with one stone. There is no reason not to use these increadable database tools we have today.

However, with a old prime system (which by the way is a multi-valued database like pick/d3), you are NOT going to find any ER diagrams. The software process was not that nice back then. Further, the system does not have any tools built in to display, or show the relationships between data files. Like many old  dbaseIII  systems etc, they have been cobbled together over the years without a formal design process.

However, if you understand how the prime system works, then you can in short time display all the data files and then start listing out the dictionary of each data file. That is system is like pick, and I will say that the learning curve is quite steep. It is also complete different then the relational data model you are used to.

You REALLY need to get someone who has pick/prime experience. You essentially have to learn something on the level of learning Unix, and then also learn a complex database system also. That is one tall order. You are not going to be able to move around that system in a day. You need someone with the skills who knows how to operate that system.

It is un-likely that you have a ODBC connection to the data. No doubt a terminal emulator like Via-Duct is used to grab data into spreadsheets etc.

I can see the person not coming with the data designs. Up to that point, I have no beef with that person. However, not coming up with passwords etc is a TOTALLY DIFFERENT matter. That is a complete different situation.

While that person may have a great glee because he has knowledge of such a strange system. No doubt that person thinks that this system is so strange and different that NO ONE will be able to figure things out.

This is totally wrong!...I would bring in a good MV developer. A good MV developer  will find their way around that system in no time flat. Also, having someone with good knowledge of the prime system may very well scare this person into cooperating.

If the business processes used on that system for the data is not too complex, then I would suggest moving the data right out of the system and replacing it.

Albert D. Kallal
Edmonton, Alberta Canada
kallal@msn.com
http://www.attcanada.net/~kallal.msn

Albert D. kallal
Thursday, September 18, 2003

Call in counselors and lawyers and tribunal commitees, examine his employment contract and whatever you do don't walk past his desk too loudly, tip toe, he might become uncomfortable and take you and your parents to the United Nations.

The Americans on this board sure come across as a bunch of big girls blouses. 

Either :

Wait till he leaves, break into his system and in the morning when he panics because his system is gone tell him about the security audit you were asked to preform, it failed, you will be taking care of it now.

Purchase some backbone on Ebay, talk to his boss, or his bosses boss, whomever, then go and talk to the guy and tell him point blank with no equivocation that you need complete admin access to the system. 

Has anyone even told him point blank to come up with the access details of the system yet ? 

In any interaction determined by the actions of two people the one with the strongest belief in what is going to happen is usually the one who gets their way.

This jackoff is able to behave anyway he wants because he is more sure of himself than his boss, or you are.  Why are you worrying about all the bad things that might happen ? isn't there a much stronger list of bad things that might happen to him ?  Why isn't he posting to this board asking for advice, in fear of his job and possible legal consequences ???

braid_ged
Thursday, September 18, 2003

Bill,

Thank god I don't work with you.  You see companies (obviously this is the govt so they play by made up rules) exist to make money, not entitle Bob to nurse a 20 year old database system.  But as a tax payer I'm pissed that Bob is wasting my money.  I think this everybody owes me something mentality has no place in the U.S.  They owe you a salary and you owe them the system.  Nuff said.  If Bob had half a brain he'd learn an RDMS and convert the system, not wait until someone is forced to have him removed.  I can not believe anyone would condone this behavior in the technology field.  Just because some lame ass does this in another profession, it DOES NOT make it OK.  Do you think VB programmers at MSoft should go on strike because C# is the hot thing?

christopher baus
Thursday, September 18, 2003

Regarding the refusal to divulge the sa password for the system:

One possible scenario is that some time in the past Bob, at the request of management, gave root access to a developer who mucked around in the database and royally screwed things up.  Bob got stuck with cleaning up this developer's mess.  Having been burned in this way, Bob resolved never to give the sa password to anyone until they'd proven to his satisfaction that they knew what they were doing and could treat the system with the care and respect required.  If this is the case, then you need a veteran guru sysadmin on your team that knows this database program in and out.  This person will quickly earn Bob's respect and Bob will grant him/her root privilege.  If, on the other hand, Bob is truly just a selfish bastard holding the database as a hostage to keep his job, then you're going to need the veteran sysadmin anyway to maintain the system and reverse engineer it after you fire Bob.

Matt Latourette
Thursday, September 18, 2003

That is a pretty interesting situation. Regardless of wether Bob is rightfully pissed off or not, he has something that you want :-)

I don't think threats are the way to go, since he can probably do a lot of unrecoverable (and undetectable!) damage.

You'll have to try to negotiate, or to trick him into telling you what you need to know. That ain't easy, but worth a shot. Read "Social Engineering" or some other good books.

Alternatively, try to learn more about the system from other sources, perhaps, some other government installations are using it as well? There must be somebody somewhere that can know this system.

Be creative!

Mr Curiousity
Thursday, September 18, 2003

the situation you describe is very typical in government jobs, not something out of the ordinary. do you actually have to work with "Bob?" if not, i would just ignore the situation altogether, there is not much you can do. if you don't like this type of social situation, i would recommend trying to find a way out of government work immediately, because one day you too will become "bob" if you stick around long enough.

rz
Thursday, September 18, 2003

Hi Christopher,

<g> thank god neither of us know the real situation...we can henceforth read anythign we like into it.

"Thank god I don't work with you.  You see companies (obviously this is the govt so they play by made up rules) exist to make money, not entitle Bob to nurse a 20 year old database system."

seems to me bob has existed for the last 20 years to ensure the database system runs smoothly, if they are only just looking into upgrading a 20 year old system my bet is that he has done a hell of a job.


"But as a tax payer I'm pissed that Bob is wasting my money. "

as a tax payer I can think of many people more deserving of your anger than bob.  Lets start with the army and $780 toilet seats.  (ok, I pulled that figure out of my ass but the point is the only thing any government does well is waste taxpayers money and picking on a programmer to bear the brunt of your ire seems a little cruel).

"I think this everybody owes me something mentality has no place in the U.S. "

LOL.  I hate to say it but you are fighting a lost cause there.

"They owe you a salary and you owe them the system.  Nuff said.  If Bob had half a brain he'd learn an RDMS and convert the system, not wait until someone is forced to have him removed."

maybe he does and they never gave him the chance :)  maybe his boss has decided to give him up the ass for being older and more experienced.
<g> maybe hes just an old cantankerous bastard who knows he has the company right where he wants it.
...or maybe he is a scared old fella who is looking at true uselessness for the first time in his life.

either way I like him :)

"I can not believe anyone would condone this behavior in the technology field.  Just because some lame ass does this in another profession, it DOES NOT make it OK.  Do you think VB programmers at MSoft should go on strike because C# is the hot thing?"

if the VB programemrs were being fired I suspect going on strike wouldn't help a lot...
Lets turn it around, if MSoft had information that...say...Linux desperately required to continue how quickly would they hand it over?  how much would they charge for it?

FullNameRequired
Thursday, September 18, 2003

or, too put the entire thing into perspective....if you were about to be executed, and the executioner explained that you had to give him your name and password before he could continue, how quickly would _you_ hand it over?

FullNameRequired
Thursday, September 18, 2003

Christopher, I was commenting on the extraordinary willingness of so many posters here to agree that an employee is in the wrong and should be condemned and undermined.

There are always at least two sides to any issue. In every other occupation, profession, job, you find co-operation and helpfulness, and willingness to assist co-workers. This includes supporting them against possibly one-sided attacks from managements or political interference.

I say again, no wonder programming is in such a pathetic state, and no wonder so many intelligent people increasingly question where it's going.

Bill
Thursday, September 18, 2003

"or, too put the entire thing into perspective....if you were about to be executed, and the executioner explained that you had to give him your name and password before he could continue, how quickly would _you_ hand it over?"

How about a different perspective?

For example: if your continual refusal to hand over the password (and actually do your job as if you were an intelligent human being and not a cabbage) is the reason for the executioner being there, why should you expect sympathy?

It's not his own password, after all - it's the password to a database owned by his employer, containing data owned by his employer, who has every right to have ful and unlimited access to this data.

If he was a responsible and professional developer who was worth keeping, then the wouldn't be any need to force him to hand over the passwords to the system, would there?

Although I'm sure there's a manager or two who should have made sure that this critical information wasn't locked up in the head of one developer, anyway - that's just stupid. Even if he was a great guy, he could be a great guy run over by a bas, and that would be the end of anything that's only stored in his head.

andrew m
Friday, September 19, 2003

"run over by a bas"

I'm sure you meant "bus", but I have images running though my head of Bob laying helplessly under a very large fish.

Marc
Friday, September 19, 2003

Hi Andrew,

"For example: if your continual refusal to hand over the password <snip pointless comment> is the reason for the executioner being there, why should you expect sympathy?"

? And the reason that you believe his refusal to hand over the password is the reason for the executioner being there is....what?

Sounds to be as if its the other way around, alhough rereading the post shows its definitely not clear on that particular point.

"It's not his own password, after all - it's the password to a database owned by his employer, containing data owned by his employer, who has every right to have ful and unlimited access to this data."

quite true.


"If he was a responsible and professional developer who was worth keeping, then the wouldn't be any need to force him to hand over the passwords to the system, would there?"


hmm...I think the answer to this depends a lot on the whole situation.  The original post is lacking in some key points, but the way I read between the lines, it has been the intention of management to fire this old bugger for a goodly while now, and this is providing a convenient excuse.
Seems to be its neither professional or responsible to have made a decision like that without looking at alternatives and without talking him through the process.  After 20 years the odds are good that he has been socialised into that company to a large degree, and also that the company has encouraged that process because of the obvious benefit to itself.
Expecting to just be able to fire him now because he has become an inconvenience is the mark of a bloody poor employer.

" Although I'm sure there's a manager or two who should have made sure that this critical information wasn't locked up in the head of one developer, anyway - that's just stupid. Even if he was a great guy, he could be a great guy run over by a bas, and that would be the end of anything that's only stored in his head."
yep :)
and to me thats a very telling point, the way I read this story it sounds like a bloody stupid management behaving in a rather bloody minded fashion and (rather unexpectedly) discovering that the employee is equally bloody minded.
The programmer is obviously not a heroic figure, but I have a lot more sympathy for him than I do for a department that has (I strongly suspect) shown little or no compassion toward an employee that has worked for them for the last 20 years.

FullNameRequired
Friday, September 19, 2003

Maybe the reason employers keep taking our jobs overseas is because of Bobs.  If Bob is really trying to protect the department from what he perceives as certain doom by giving away the root password, then he needs to make that point.  I'm sorry, but any other scenario is nothing other than good old fashioned blackmail.  How can anyone condone this?  Again how much does this cost me as a tax payer? 

christopher baus
Friday, September 19, 2003

"Maybe the reason employers keep taking our jobs overseas is because of Bobs. "

LOL

actually I suspect you are correct.  Management has looked at the salary they pay bob and realised that for the same money they could hire 2 young keen programmers.
Some salesman has also convinced them that XML and INTERNET are important 'features' for any database solution, so the new, young managers (prolly appointed within the last 6 months is my guess) have decided to dump bob the programmer and replace him with similarly young, keen men with a good understand of XML and INTERNET.


"If Bob is really trying to protect the department from what he perceives as certain doom by giving away the root password, then he needs to make that point."

did he?  lets face it, neither you nor I actually know WTH the story is here.

"I'm sorry, but any other scenario is nothing other than good old fashioned blackmail.  How can anyone condone this?"

condone it?  not really, but I _do_ understand it and I _do_ have sympathy for bob the programmer.
However you look at it the management has been appallingly incompetent in a number of ways, personalyl I suspect they will have to pay bob just to shut him up and cover over the fact of their own incompetence.
<g> I have very little sympathy for incompetent management.

"Again how much does this cost me as a tax payer? "

ye gods.  Blame the cost of this on the incompetent management that allowed all the passwords etc to be held within the brain of one man in the first place.
Assuming that there is a court case or that he extorts money from management because of this, lets say it costs  ~one million dollars.
Divide that by the population of america and Im guessing approx 0.0001c

<g> I suspect you can afford it.

FullNameRequired
Friday, September 19, 2003

ee,

seems pretty clear to me this agency is stalling you with some crazy Bob story because they do not want your agency to get to this data.

Just me (Sir to you)
Friday, September 19, 2003

Bob doesn't own anybody anything.  Why is it ok for employers to apply capitalistic attitudes with regard to their employees, but any employee looking out for themselves is considered communist trash?

Stop sucking up the bs corporate world propoganda.  The average CEO would shoot Bobs mother in a minute, if it crossed his cost/benefit ratio.

drones.r.us
Friday, September 19, 2003

Bob's quite clearly a terrorist. Put him up against the wall and shoot him.

Bob
Friday, September 19, 2003

Why not just install some keystroke-logging software on Bob's PC when he's not around and get the info you need that way?

The Orifice of Cool Farts
Friday, September 19, 2003

Call me crazy, but I just don't understand how you guys can support someone who protects his job only by holding information hostage.  I'm sorry but the information has been paid for.  Did they tie bob up for the last 20 years and tell him they'd pay when the database was done, and now are refusing.  I think not.  This is insane.

I hold root on several production systems.  Does that mean if management asked me to give them to another admin that I wouldn't.  No. I was paid a fair market rate to set those systems up.  My employeer OWNS the systems.  If they had only said they would pay me at completion, and now failed to pay, then I would be pissed.  As much as the thought of loosing our jobs scares all of us, I could not do this and feel good about myself.  period.

christopher baus
Friday, September 19, 2003

Put one of those USB Key logger thingies on his machine

R T
Friday, September 19, 2003

Bob is my new hero! Go BOB! BOB!

-
Friday, September 19, 2003

Bob is NOT my hero! Give it up, BOB! Give it up, BOB!

-
Friday, September 19, 2003

I don't have the heart to tell you guys that Bob wasn't his REAL name.

D'oh...I guess I do...

--
ee

eclectic_echidna
Friday, September 19, 2003

"Put one of those USB Key logger thingies on his machine"

This organization may very well have a policy against such things.  It may or may not even be legal to do so (wiretap laws?).  That sounds like a great way to give Bob ammunition to sue the pants off his employer if they do this and then fire him, assuming Bob finds out about the keylogging device (and he undoubtedly will find this out if any of his coworkers consider him to be a friend).

Matt Latourette
Friday, September 19, 2003

I would tell the agency to f off.


Saturday, September 20, 2003

Office Space and UHF references in one discussion.
Cool thread.

Matt Foley
Saturday, September 20, 2003

Christopher, you've got it around the wrong way when you say the behaviour of "Bob" is why managements are sending jobs overseas.

Managements are sending programming jobs overseas because programmers are the only group that would stand by and let it happen. Most other professions act exactly the way Bob is acting; the protect their own interests.

When the film industry started shifting films overseas, the Screen Actors Guild forced agreements to pay American rates or near American rates for crew. They didn't say: "Gee, we should be nice little patsies and surrender the password."

analyst
Saturday, September 20, 2003

"They didn't say: "Gee, we should be nice little patsies and surrender the password.""

Just for clarification - the system belongs to the company, right? I mean, it's not Bob's personal machine that he bought and paid for?

I'm trying to picture a chauffer who's been fired refusing to give back the keys to the company car he's been driving - all you "good job, Bob" guys think the driver honestly has some kind of "right" to keep the keys? Do you think the situation would last longer than about the fifteen minutes it would take to get a cop to arrest the driver?

Presuming that the company owns the system and the software on it, Bob is absolutely and completely in the wrong here. In addition he's being unprofessional and acting like a spoiled child.

I'm pretty much in shock that anyone can support his behavior.

Philo

Philo
Saturday, September 20, 2003

The issue isn't withholding the password; it's that the original poster popped up plotting to undermine someone and lay the groundwork to get him sacked.

From the description provided by the original poster, it seems there is some conflict situation involving management. The fact that erstwhile colleagues of that person should unthinkingly join in a plot to eject him is what's extraordinary. You just don't get that in teaching, nursing, the Army, accounting or the law. In those fields, people would step back and ask for the full story.

analyst
Saturday, September 20, 2003

I can see distinct similarities between Bob's behaviour and software companies holding patents.


Monday, September 22, 2003

Bob is a state employee, right?
Then he has a huge, fat pension awaiting him at retirement, no doubt. Figure out a way to put his pension in jeapordy (with his insubordinate behavior that shouldn't be too hard, should it?), and you'll have all the leverage you need to make Bob sit up, beg, or roll over, if that's what you need him to do.

Ayn Rand
Monday, September 22, 2003

Dear Ms Rand, we are are a global Fortune 100 company looking for a new HR director, and you sound terrific.

(We sacked the last one on Friday. You should have been there. He didn't have a clue. Went round to his desk at 10 am with the security guy and walked him straight out of the building. You should have seen the look on his face.)

I so love trampling people.

MD Of BigCo
Monday, September 22, 2003

Steve,

>Or, do you mean they found some "other way" of getting
>at the data, rather than just telling you what sys
>password to use ?

Probably it involved creation of a new database, with known sys and system passwords, and migration of the tablespaces to that new instance, along with some serious control file hacking to get the new instance to recognize the old tablespace files.

Moving a complete database like this to a newly created instance can be done.

Patrik
Monday, September 22, 2003

MD:

Get with it, man. Walking people out at 10am is soooo 1998. My policy is to wait for the day after they return from vacation, or it's their birthday, or, best of all, their wedding anniversary. <shrug>

Ayn Rand
Monday, September 22, 2003

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