The boss who thought he knew it all

A meddling and demanding boss complicates an installation -- and angers the techie and customer alike

Sometimes the hardest part of a job can be dealing with a poor boss, especially one who feels they know more about the tech work than you do and lacks basic management skills.

I once found myself working for just such a person. "Ben" had opened a consulting business after deciding that he knew everything there was to know about technology, based on tearing apart and building machines at his dining room table. He assembled some employees, acquired some customers, and started the business.

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All might have been well and good if Ben had focused on running a solid business and let us do our jobs. However, he was convinced that he knew more about networking and PCs than anyone else and would routinely interfere in sales agreements or open technical contracts, resulting in hours or days of additional work.

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We were hired for an installation at a brand-new building, with brand-new computers and a dedicated server closet. It was supposed to be a simple job.

I got started with the plans and agreement, but Ben "helpfully" intercepted my order for cabling and replaced it with something cheaper. Little did I know that was only the beginning.

Normally a new site installation is a breeze, but the company had scheduled everything for the same week, turning it into a nightmare for everyone involved. On the day of the install, I arrived at the customer's site and worked into late afternoon putting down cable, servers, and workstations while dodging electricians, painters, and drywall installers. As a result of the subpar cabling, I was having trouble getting the workstations to even see the server, let alone do anything productive.

At some point, Ben showed up to check on me. His idea was to help me by standing there and yelling the same set of commands over and over again, while I tried to remind him that the version of the software we were using didn't take those commands. Everything had changed in the four years since he had last peeked at Novell servers.

This was to no avail. Eventually he dismissed me from the site and decided to fix it all himself. After months of working for Ben, I was fed up, so I let him take over as he'd demanded and went home.

Two hours later, he called to tell me that he was at home and had given up -- and I needed to go back out there the next day to fix it.

I listened to him rant for a bit, then passed along the call I had taken an hour before from someone at the customer's company who did not know that Ben was the owner of the consulting firm they'd hired: "They said they were really displeased. They wanted me to tell you that whoever that guy with the salt and pepper hair was, they don't want him to come to their site anymore. He was rude to everyone and disrupted what was going on."

"We don't have any employees with salt and pepper hair," Ben said.

"Look in the mirror" was my reply. "They specifically requested that you never return to their site ever again."

He was taken aback at first, then let me have it. I listened to another of his lectures on "proper Novell setup procedures," despite his being completely unaware of the new server's requirements and configuration.

It wasn't too long after this incident that Ben's poor business and people skills caught up with him. Customers bailed, the money dried up, and his business failed. His technicians found work with the customers, his salespeople left for greener pastures, and I started interweaving management jobs with IT jobs to get better experience -- and better ideas on how to avoid working with such a person in the future.

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