Software Development

List the consulting tasks you find stupid and boring

Tell us which menial yet essential consulting chores bore you to tears. Chip Camden's list includes features of system maintenance and network administration.

TechRepublic member and contributor Bob Eisenhardt (reisen55) wrote to tell me that he was spending a quiet Sunday afternoon at one of his clients' offices:

I brought up my Leaf Blower, hooked it to a wall outlet and when done doing an inside AVG anti virus upgrade, carried each machine outside (total of 12) and blasted the hell out of them. Huge clouds of dust out of the fans and the processor cooling towers. This is very important to do but not easy on the back nor technically exciting. It is also repetitive stupid dumb but also great therapy to see years of dust explode out of these systems. It DOES affect cooling though and they will run far better now that all are clean.

It is also a pain to physically disconnect everything and put everything back again and THEN check to see that everything is still working!!!

Stupid stuff, we avoid doing it. We should do it. Another one we avoid is BIOS upgrades, because sometimes it is just a pain to BIOS patch each individual machine if ALL are different, but here at least I have 12 identical GX210L systems I put in 2 years ago so that is one I can do next visit with relative calm.

Wiring diagrams. I did one a few years ago and have to do it again. Important when I need it.

Throw this one out there, let's see what stupid dumb stuff we all share a hatred for!

I have to admit, I don't blow the dust out of my own systems as often as I should. Being a software development consultant, my list of "stupid, boring stuff" includes most features of system maintenance and network administration. Other consultants who specialize in that sort of work (and get paid for it) might not see it that way. I have, on occasion, contracted an outside consultant to perform some of those duties when I had more than enough paying work to occupy my time. Usually I don't have enough of that work to reach the critical mass where it becomes more productive to hand it off to someone else than to do it myself. If I needed 10 systems to run my business instead of three (not counting VMs), then that might be a different story.

Software development itself has its own share of menial activities, even though most of them save you time in the long run if done properly. Organizing version control, maintaining makefiles, reviewing and updating documentation, deploying solutions to clients, updating development tools -- all these activities and more distract from my core mission of designing and writing code. Some might add testing to that list, but I consider that a core component of software design and development.

Even some code-writing activities can fall into this category. Depending on the language and framework used, setting up the scaffolding for the "real" code can be both a time sink and a bore. Bridge software (i.e., software that creates an interface between disparate components) often involves a lot of API mirroring, which means repeating yourself if your language doesn't support reflection.

Larry Wall famously said, "The three chief virtues of a programmer are: Laziness, Impatience and Hubris." Thus, I often try to automate software tasks that I find less interesting -- sometimes with a hubris worthy of Icarus, and results to match. I'd rather spend an hour figuring out how to write a script to do everything in one command than to take 15 minutes of typing similar commands over and over again. Maybe time itself isn't as valuable to me as spending it interestingly.

Then there's the long list of business management activities: bookkeeping, time and billing, collections, taxes, licenses, etc. Marketing also isn't part of software development, but it's an extremely important aspect of doing business as a consultant. Nevertheless, it's one more thing that geeks like me find less interesting than bit-twiddling, and it doesn't yield easily to scripting.

What duties do you find stupid and boring, yet essential? Have you considered any means of automating them?

About

Chip Camden has been programming since 1978, and he's still not done. An independent consultant since 1991, Chip specializes in software development tools, languages, and migration to new technology. Besides writing for TechRepublic's IT Consultant b...

29 comments
JM_Boivin
JM_Boivin

Your comments are interesting but very close to the machine (hardware or software). What kills ME is gathering the bills, receipts and support documentation to give my accountant. (I used to do my own accounting but gave THAT up about 10 years back). And then sending my quarterly government payments. (edit...) just noticed this is not strictly speaking a "consulting" task but part of being a self employed consultant... Does it still fit here?

SensibleSupport
SensibleSupport

It matters not if you???re a programmer of support person. Getting the documentation done is what really gets to me ???

chdchan
chdchan

Writing tedious dBASE programs and travelling around with an ancient 20lbs compaq portable PC as a management consultant in 1992.

mjd420nova
mjd420nova

Far too many installs fall short of cables and few that were made "cut to fit" DIDN"T. Whats so hard about walking the distance and adding ten feet for every floor entered. Simple observations could point out trouble areas and extra lengths must be added to work around obstructions. Estimates must allow for 30% over and unforseen problems. Nothing like trying to track down some added cables on the end to finish an upgrade before their deadline.. The only cut to fit I use are the ones I do. I seldom have any left over, maybe a couple patch cords or so but the limits aren't blown away. A single pace is just three feet, is this too much to figure out. I've seen allowances at first glance were okay, but three hundred feet was estimated/quoted and a bit more than 1,000 feet was required. Nobody taught that clown to look for wall penetrations and ask about any restrictions of spaces. Ended up with three hundred feet where cabling had to be in grounded conduit, the rest was fine pulled with other cabling in the ceiling. Ever hear of "over run" insurance.

apotheon
apotheon

In terms of actual tasks, licensing is the stupidest, most boring thing I've ever had to deal with, no exceptions, hands down, period. When I have to interrupt the actually technical process of doing my job -- stuff like ensuring compatibility, design, implementation, deployment, et cetera -- to determine how to avoid getting sued for using software, it ruins the rest of my day. License server maintenance, licensing compatibility resolution, and scheduling license renewal (complete with reading the new licenses every time renewal is necessary) are all distractions from the actual job of providing the best technical solution to the problems it's my job to address. Outside of actual tasks, there's one thing that trumps licensing in its ability to distract me from doing the best job I can, and utterly ruin my day: office politics.

jefferyp2100
jefferyp2100

Being asked to create requirements after completing the project.

mlush
mlush

i offer IT support to SMEs and during those support tasks you think are in and out in less then 30, users task you to configure internet settings on their smartphones and other devices not so smart. In the spirit of customer care you waste your all afternoon troubleshooting and some of the phones are those cheap china phone. Oh me!

garymander
garymander

I provide IT support to mainly small businesses - three or four man outfits, and I am right this minute sitting here with 30 different invoice templates adding the new company logo to each one. But still, if they want to pay me IT support rates, rather than paying someone else secretarial rates, who am I to complain!

SerrJ215
SerrJ215

I get called in alot to fix printer problems. The problem being that the users can't find the print button in the new version of office. One of the things that fall into my lap is having to teach people very basic computer skills, most of the time trying to explain to people that the software had to change, and no I cant give you back the old software its gone now.

agilebrainz
agilebrainz

'Go around to every pc and (insert any task here)

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

It's an important part of running your business, even if you (and I) hate it.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

If I had, I would have definitely included licensing issues in my article. What a waste of time -- but we can't ignore it.

C_Tharp
C_Tharp

Hey, man. At least you always do a perfect job.

pgit
pgit

It's almost always well out of my purview, I'm 'here' to keep networking, clients and servers, firewalls and other security measures working. But there's a 45 degree upward slope in the number of times someone asks me to do something for them on their mobile device. Primarily this sucks because I don't have any such devices myself and don't know right where to go to accomplish something. I come off as all thumbs. Secondly, I have exactly one user that needs their wireless portable device to access the home office, the rest of them are personal use devices. I often spend up to an hour figuring something out for a customer that I can't really charge them for. Bad all around. The only solution I can see is that I get a couple devices and get familiar with them, which I'd rather not so. (I spend enough time on my current work load) I'd just about be compelled to get a blackberry, iphone and some android device, which would be a lot of $$$ I'm not in the best position to spend. As for blowing out dust, basic network maintenance and related, I love that stuff, it feels a natural niche for me, it took me a lot of years to migrate into the position I'm in and I love my work. For reasons behind the stated purpose of smart phones and the like, I'm not too excited about what mobile is becoming. Seems to me the people gathering information about the user behind the curtains are getting far more out of the devices than any user. For one thing, having a mobile device probably increases your risk of dying in an automobile accident. My biggest beef on the road is people yakking away absent minded behind the wheel. I've seen a lot of near misses that the perpetrator was completely oblivious of. The other 'big use' for these devices seems to be games. The first ten ipads I saw didn't even have any productivity software installed beyond a default calendar, which no one was using. Of course comment to them all was "angry birds," followed by a chess game you can play remotely at any time, the players need not be logged in at the same time. Big whup. Sounds like beta testing of time and location tracking software to me. Unfortunately mobile is where a lot of people are going, like it or not, useful or not I imagine I'm going to end up doing a lot of that kind of support in the future.

xangpow
xangpow

I am a big Microsoft user and supporter but one thing that gets me is where they put the "print" button. Could you make it harder to find? Maybe turn it to an epic film "Raiders of the Lost Print button". Ok, thats is stupid but hey its Monday morning I think Im allowed to make stupid jokes, right? lol

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

... that 90% of users don't want anything to change, because it's working for them and they find learning new things problematic. It's the vocal 10% who drive all new features.

bkindle
bkindle

Could have gone through all the comments and not had to read that. Happens to me about once or twice a month due to changes constantly being made to fix X problem.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

... go around to every source file and (insert stupid legal modification that can't be automated here).

apotheon
apotheon

Maybe you haven't had to deal with licensing issues much, recently. That would be my guess as to why you didn't think of it.

SKDTech
SKDTech

If you can't charge your time for it then you need to find a way to politely refuse them. I am all for maintaining good customer relations, but unless you have time to kill then there is no reason to burn time supporting personal devices which aren't part of your duties. Plus if anything goes wrong with those devices you will most likely find yourself in the crosshairs of blame.

mwclarke1
mwclarke1

Sounds a lot like politics, a minority of the people whine the loudest causing hell for the rest of the majority when stupid laws are passed when no one was paying much attention. PS. I want my old office back too :-(

apotheon
apotheon

> be interested to know what those of you who have to deal with this think of those recommendations. The article contains some information that could easily be compiled into a useful checklist for software policy development. A lot of the information in the article applies to all types of software (not just open source), and some if it is obviously there for buzzword compliance. Some of it is more bureaucratically CYA-related than technically advisable. Some of it might be a good idea but is well outside the range of necessity compared to closed source software, and might give the wrong impression (such as the bit about doing source code vulnerability scanning -- implying open source software needs this while closed source doesn't, when the truth is that it's far beyond what most shops would ever do, it's a good idea for all software, and it's nigh-impossible to accomplish for most closed source software). All in all, I'd say it could be a useful read for people who already know a fair bit about use and management of open source software, but slightly misleading for those who know next to nothing about it. The title (op 10 Tips for Improving Your Open Source Software Governance) is indicative of the article's best use, but unfortunately I do not think readers who need something more introductory that explains the ins and outs of business use of open source software will pick up on the important implications of the word "improving" there (in that it is for people who already know about open source software well enough that this is more of an intermediate reader's guide than a beginner's). I guess, in the end, it's a passably useful article for people who don't have to ask how good an article it is.

apotheon
apotheon

I think TechRepublic's latest vanishing comments problem is tied to simply eating all comments that contain a link using anchor tags. Another response of mine, in which I linked to http://copyfree.org with the words "Copyfree Initiative", was eaten just now. I'll just keep this short and sweet, rather than trying to reconstruct what I said before. Hey, pgit, maybe you should check out the Copyfree Initiative site. The URI is above.

pgit
pgit

You two are coders, I don't do that, but I can sure see your point. That would be a bigger nightmare than anything I have to deal with. I'm anal when it comes to adherence to licensing and EULAs, I'd probably have a nervous breakdown trying to deal with more than one vested interest in a given app. Simplify and clean is my motto. Tangled webs need not apply. :) I've said it before: I'd never make it as a coder.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

Because people tend to assume that copyleft software is free for use in any capacity, not realizing its poisonous effects on commercial software.

apotheon
apotheon

Half the licensing issues I encounter are related to copyleft licenses. That's half the reason I prefer copyfree licenses.

pgit
pgit

I have to chime in here and say it was the whole licensing mess that made me work hard to get as much unencumbered software into the mix as possible, starting around a dozen years ago now. Even then I could see the issue going nowhere but for the worse. Nevertheless it's still a major chore and PITA. The economy being what it has been for years around here, more than half the time I'm the one bringing the matter up... if'n you read between the lines.

pgit
pgit

if there's one thing I have yet to learn it's saying no to a customer. A few of my compatriots seriously berate me, call me outright stupid for how much I give away, and I really can't argue with them. I imagine I'd have to move to another city and start all over with a clean slate if I ever wanted to change that.

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