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Volume 1, Number 3.1
January, 1998

Tales of the Geek Lord
 The Geek's Dilemma

by Pelican Smith

 If you're a geek, you've been there.
 The guys are all sitting around, drinking beer and talking about cars. You are drinking beer, and wishing someone would bring up cable modems. They start complaining about their jobs. Hey, you work too! You share your horror stories with the crowd, and it goes something like this:
 "Well, see, after spending all day looking over some code, I finally found where the error was! The guy I replaced forgot to put a break at the end of a case statement. Uhh, that was really tough. That was hard. Why are you guys staring at me like that?"
 Then the guys call you a wuss and pound your geek ass.
 It's the "Geek's Dilemma". Some people wake up in the morning and shovel vomit all day. Some people wake up before the sun rises and carry around sacks of cement until the sun sets. Some people spend all day donating the flesh off of their knuckles to 1976 Ford Gran Torino starters. You spend all day sitting at a desk in an air conditioned building.
 And yet, you personally feel justified in complaining about how hard your work is. Aren't you tired at the end of the day? Don't you spend your vacation planning for the next one, knowing that it's the only free time you'll get to donate to the project? Aren't you putting in a good 12+ hours a day?
 Are you working as hard as the guy who shovels vomit all day?
 In a word, yes.
 The guy who shovels vomit all day wakes up at the same time in the morning. He faces no new challenges. The vomit will always pour from the mouth and land on the floor. A particularly tricky case will be where the vomit splashes off a wall, or runs down the stairs.
 Meanwhile you have a new contract with a company running an enterprise mail system using Lotus Notes, Unix sendmail and Microsoft Exchange. They have over 15,000 users, varying from brilliant engineers to keypunch dullards. They want to connect their users to an Oracle database housed on a VAX cluster in Germany. The system administrator of the VAX can only be reached at night (our time) and speaks very broken English. The network administrator of the client's company is a moron. The president of the company is a hard driving SOB who will replace you if you fall behind schedule. The fourth floor network needs to be rewired. Your coworkers need training. You've never connected anything to an Oracle database in your life. Your mission, as a consultant is to make real the words of the Chief Executive Officer:
 "Just make it work."
 To continue with my disgusting analogy between you and the vomit guy, all 15,000 of your customers all can't wait to vomit, and vomit gets particularly heavy first thing in the morning and right after lunch. On the fourth floor, vomit is running up hill and shooting out of people's eye sockets. The mop is in Germany and can only be reached at night. All cleaned vomit must be saved for three years, so the users can confirm what they had for lunch on 12 January, 1996.
 Look, vomit, sacks of cement, and Ford starters haven't changed much in the past decade. One bag of cement, three bags of sand and two gallons of water always makes concrete. People have been doing it for over a hundred years.
 We Geeks are pioneers. Every day does not present us with a new challenge - every day presents us with a previously unheard of disaster which must be cured instantly. Further, there is no relief in sight. For our job to settle down to tedium, every software and hardware vendor in the world would have to come to complete agreement on every protocol. Every device would have to be immediately aware of it's entire surrounding environment and adapt to the behaviors of it's users. Every line of code would have to be 100 percent bulletproof. Every user would have to be fully trained on every new product as soon as it is introduced to the market. In other words, it will never happen.
 So be tired after work, and when your neighbor starts talking about how hard it is to mix cement all day, try to keep the smirk off your face.
 After all, not everybody has what it takes to do your job.
 5 Links to Make You Think
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