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Minimum Technical Knowledge for IT Suits?

Supposing someone were a non-technical person working in IT to create a very high-profile product for a multinational company. (You work for the multinational company, not for the IT solutions provider.)

Say the product is the usual RDBMS back-end, with a web front end.

What would be the minimum technical knowledge you could be expected to have?

Fernanda Stickpot
Monday, October 13, 2003

Exactly the same as mine if the salary is good enough! I have some very nice bespoke suits.

Being more serious, you really have to tell us what the "suit's" job is.

However I suspect the post is just the prelude to a vent, so why not let fly anyway.

Stephen Jones
Monday, October 13, 2003

As much as needed to get the job done. Why would it be of intrest for a non-technical person, to know the technologies or skills of a technical person implementing the solution. I miss the reason why there should be an intrest ?

Michael Bruckmeier
Monday, October 13, 2003

Necessary IT knowledge? Minimal
BUT that presumes a certain management ability - the ability to hire qualified people, to trust them when they tell you what can and can't be done, and to learn from them.

Philo

Philo
Monday, October 13, 2003

It's slightly the prelude to a vent, but believe it or not I'm genuinely curious.

I'll give you one example. There's someone on the team for said project whose title is "Database Manager". Let's go back to the days, back in 2002, when the team were analysing the original app in order to replace it.

This guy kept asking me to answer questions like how the contents of a text box in the front-end related to a field in the back-end. Now, bear in mind that connecting to the back-end via MS Access, and viewing the front-end with no permission to examine the source code, was the limit of what I was allowed to do with the original app. Given this limited view, all I could do was look through the data dictionary, compare them to the screens on the front-end, and make educated guesses. This was frustrating to me, because at the time, I assumed he had some kind of knowledge of what databases were and, therefore, would have been as capable of reading a data dictionary as I was. But it seems not.

Turns out that this guy did not have then, and still doesn't have, any means of connecting to, or viewing, the old version of the database. Can't even link to it via MS Access - he hasn't got it. When he wants data I have to export it to Excel and send him that.

He thought that, by giving me the .exe file for the front end, I would be able to develop enhancements. When I asked for the source code, he didn't know what source code was.

But here's the thing. I am not prepared to say that the alleged "Database Manager" is incompetent, because I think his title is a misnomer. The role he seems to be playing on the project is more reminiscent of requirements gathering and business analysis, as far as I can tell - not that I can really tell what any of them do from where I sit. But it seems to me that he's performing some other function, which is not database management, but which is at least equally valuable to the business. If I were him I'd lobby to get my title changed, but it's not up to me, and it's probably not up to him either, so whatever.

Now, if one accepts all this and says, OK, he's a business analyst: when faced with a technical question, his answer, like that of the whole team on this company's side, will be "I'm Not A Technical Person".

Yes, well, you're not a technical person but you ARE heavily involved in a technical project. So what is the MINIMUM you need to know as a business analyst? I can hardly believe it's acceptable to know nothing whatsoever, but then I don't know what level of understanding business analysts usually bring to IT projects, which is why I'm asking this question. Maybe it *is* acceptable and it's simply their job title which misled me into expecting different skills from those they actually have.

See, this question ISN'T about judging his worth as a team member, because I don't know what his role in this project actually is, apart from the fact that it's sort of business analysis, requirements-gathering kinda jazz. Now, for all I know, his other skills might be so dazzling that no-one cares if he's a technical person or not.

This question IS about wondering how this compares to the usual expected technical knowledge state for a business analyst.

Fernanda Stickpot
Monday, October 13, 2003

"Necessary IT knowledge? Minimal"

Yes, but what's minimal?

Fernanda Stickpot
Monday, October 13, 2003

I know project managers and product sellers, which technical knowledge is based on general product info + some important details. Usually they get answers from qualified technical staff.

Evgeny Gesin /Javadesk/
Monday, October 13, 2003

I think the problem is the disconnect between what techies think of as a database and what users think of as a database.

Techies: The database is the data files, schema, data dictionary, and any PL/SQL (or whatever lang of choice) embedded within the database.

Users: The database is the data.

Maybe he is the Database Manager in the sense that he is responsible for the *data* and nothing else.  He manages the data.  He doesn't care how big the redo log files are, whether the database is on this machine or that machine, or what the difference between a web browser and a database is.  He just wants to be able to see and modify the data.

When he emailed you that .exe to modify the database, he probably thought that he sent you all the data as well as the application to interface with it.

Over here we recently dealt with a user that could not be convinced that the web page she was looking at was not the database.  It is the only way she works with the data, so as far as she is concerned it is the database.

So anyway, his title is probably right in my opinion, it just doesn't mean what you think it does.

Andrew Hurst
Monday, October 13, 2003

> Over here we recently dealt with a user that could not be convinced that the web page she was looking at was not the database.  It is the only way she works with the data, so as far as she is concerned it is the database.


Well maybe the illusion that is software works.


Monday, October 13, 2003

> Well maybe the illusion that is software works.                     

It seems that way.  Which is a good thing, I guess, but it sure does make the translation a little awkward sometimes...

Andrew Hurst
Monday, October 13, 2003

Now there are secret technical classes available for IT suits who don't want to expose their lack of technical knowledge to their subordinates.

http://www.msnbc.com/news/978871.asp?0dm=C12LT

As if the subordinates couldn't see their bosses' technical inability already.

T. Norman
Monday, October 13, 2003

"Maybe he is the Database Manager in the sense that he is responsible for the *data* and nothing else.  He manages the data."

Yes, now that you point this out, I think that that is absolutely spot on. A light bulb illuminates over my head.

I didn't realize it at first, because when he started the job, he introduced himself as the person to ask when you wanted to be added as a user. What he actually meant was that he could pass requests on to the DBA, not add users himself.

Here's how it works: the old product was developed by a well-known consulting firm, let's call them Rent-A-Geek, or RAG for short.

The product is now owned by a different, and seemingly slightly more up-marked, consulting firm; let's call them Geeks In Suits or GIS for short. Although technically they own it, they don't seem to be able to do much with it because RAG owns the copyright (no, I don't understand it either). GIS are heavily involved in designing the new solution.

The new solution relies on technology from a Latest Big Thing solutions provider. Let's call them The Tragically Hip, or TTH for short.

As for myself, I work for a local temping agency that used to hire me out as a secretary when I still was one, in my callow youth. I'll call them Bog Standard Office Staff, or BSOS. I don't count as permanent staff for the MegaCorp, because they have a policy of total outsourcing. I'm a contractor, but on a sort of inpatient basis, unlike the staff from RAG, GIS and TTH, who come and go as outpatients, and my salary plus agency fees for a whole year would pay just one of them for weeks at best, perhaps only a month. The database manager is employed by another local agency and is heavily involved in designing the new solution.

The team I work for is called the El Cheapo Hackshop Squad, or ECHS, and they come to us when they don't want to pay these others for anything. That is particularly important in the case of GIS. GIS cannot connect to the data source, because it is already owned by GIS... this is where copyright issues come into play. So here's how it goes: if GIS want to know about the data, they have to ask the MegaCorp staff, charging them for asking the question. The MegaCorp staff approach GIS for the answer, which they also have to pay GIS for.  Then MegaCorp go back to GIS who charge them for listening to the answer.

This being the case, they often come to me and ask me to peek at the data using Access, because I don't charge by the hour. Since no-one involved with designing the new product can look directly at the data, you can imagine how this project has dragged on. I believe they've reached a point where they're now allowed to connect to it, but not to run queries against it... The TTH consultant says this is normal and has been the case at every company he's dealt with. Is it?

(That was the vent part, by the way.)

Fernanda Stickpot
Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Oh, you saved the best for last :), I'm one of those morons who slipped into web development cus he liked writing macros in Lotus and Word back in the day and actually likes programming and developing.  I've no degree in anything other than hard knocks. I'll tell you that most suits and even (especially M$ techs, almost always)  techs are usually too smart to know anything. They've gotten their degrees and well, what else is there? My brother (also a moron like me) was laughing about a meeting he was in with 5 phd's who couldn't fathom that 2+2 could equal 4.  Seriously, it absolutely amazes me the absolute ignorance displayed by most people in the IT area.  I've now got about 3 bookshelves with technical books.  A lot of the suits I work with have 0 books, they are smart because they got their degrees (many with masters) but they are not smart enough to understand they might need to "read up" on what they are doing now.

Me
Wednesday, October 15, 2003

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