Thursday, January 14, 2010

Why You Should Always Hire Professionals...

It's a lesson that it seems that someone (usually a businessman who should know better) always needs to re-learn.

I have a friend. This friend is a CPA. He has his own firm, and has approximately five other CPA's working for him. These six CPA's use a server system which controls all of their PC's, internet access, and which stores and manages all of their business records on great big, networked hard disks. Why, it does this so well, that they barely use paper in that office anymore, what with writable CD's and so forth being so much cheaper and easier to store.

Which is their first mistake. Because when your computers go Ka-BLOOEY! (that's a technical term which translates, loosely, to "Tits-Up"), you should have some paper files to lean on. See, paper doesn't need electricity, and it doesn't break.

Unless you've decided that buying and storing paper is a hassle and expense that you can safely dispense with it because you've been smart enough to put everything on cheap, writable disk media...that you've stored someplace else. Like in another state. Because you don't want to keep it around in case of fire.

In which case, you should have both the person who knows how to run the server, and who knows how to fix it, recover data, and how to retrieve disks from off site storage as part of the usual backup regime, on site. Unless he happens to be your son, and is away at college, and he set up your office automation project for free... and he's an archeology major. Computers are just his hobby, not his job, see?

So, you need help, ASAP, right? And who do you turn to? A guy you know who's a computer whiz who just happens to have all the time in the world on his hands, and because he's a friend, will give you a break on the bill. So, you call him.

And this friend gets there, and discovers that not only is your server a piece of shit that somehow survived the Triassic Period, it's carrying the disease known as Linux (an operating system which gives old-time, professional programmers more fright than the word "proctosigmoidoscope"), with several Linux-based knock-offs of commercial software (because they're free, you know. Downloaded right off the internet from the Archives of Joe Schmo, whoever he is...) as it's operating system instead of something commercially-viable-and-supportable, like a Microsoft product, have to actually pay for those.

So now your computer-whiz friend gets there, and he's looking at a system older than his own mother, running software that was written by an exceptionally-bright-8-year-old with no formal training whatsoever, and very poor documentation skills. He can't talk to the guy (the son who actually put the system together with bailing wire and spit, but who is now away at college, or to the guy who wrote the software) to ask several simple, but pertinent, questions that might get to the heart of the matter immediately. So, he has to do some serious research, trying to read program files that are available only intermittently, because the fucking server keeps crashing every 15 minutes, or so. No one knows how to recover the data that was shipped off site the week before, because they've never had to actually do that before, and customers are calling with all sorts of questions and concerns about their finances, which can't be answered because there's no computers. The boss is tearing what little hair he has left out, and the Computer Guy you begged to come fix your problem threatens to shoot anyone who comes within five feet of him asking "Is it done yet?"...every 45 seconds.

Eventually, your computer-whiz friend fixes your problem. After 14 hours, and $2800, of debugging. The issue is with an automatic updater written into one of the myriad piece-of-shit Linux programs that tries desperately to "phone home" to receive periodic updates, but which doesn't know how to stop trying after 155,362 times (most likely because Linux Geek who wrote this particular app either got a real job, found a girlfriend or just got bored with constantly having to write updates for something he wasn't getting paid for in the first place), and so crashes the entire system...and continues right where it left off just as soon as you reboot. A simple matter of "commenting out" that portion of the code, so that'll it never run again. But, you get what you pay for, and in this case...the desire to work cheaper/faster/better/smarter became very expensive, indeed.

Because not only did you lose a day of productivity and piss your clients off because you couldn't get any work done, and not only did you have to pay a guy $200 an hour to fix a problem you wouldn't have had if you did the right thing and stuck a crowbar in your wallet in the first place, but now you have to pay the computer-whiz an even bigger shitload of cash to replace the system your idiot, non-professional son built with his erector set, chewing gum and free software of dubious origin and value, with real professional-grade business shit.

I can tell you this; I'm glad he's not my accountant.

I can also tell you this: he probably won't be my friend after he gets my bill, either. Still, I'm probably cheaper than Geek Squad, and better-dressed, I reckon. I really don't want to redesign and rebuild his officer server system, but in this economy who can turn down work?

Let this be a lesson to you: cheaper is not always better. Always hire a professional when you need one.

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