Larry Roshfeld, executive vice president at Sonatype, an open source governance solutions provider, says his team recently worked with a large financial institution to develop custom software for the bank's commercial division. But when the bank's legal team scanned the code, it found hundreds of potential copyright conflicts that would take weeks to resolve.
"The commercial banking team started screaming, 'We need that app now,'" he says. "Another banking team got wind of it and started screaming, 'We need you to work on our app now; stop wasting time on that other app.' The legal team was screaming, 'Nothing gets released until you clean up the license and copyright stuff.' I heard swear words I had never heard before. People were literally foaming at the mouth as they yelled at each other. Last I heard they were all still at war over this."
Brenda Christensen, now director of public relations for Nimble, a Web-based social CRM application, remembers sitting at a board meeting for a software vendor she worked for in the previous century when the company president began throwing objects at everyone else in the room.
"He was a programmer, liked to stay up all night, and didn't care for our 10 a.m. meetings, so he was already surly," she says. "When he found out we were late on a version of the software for Windows 95, he just exploded and started hurling anything within reach. After that, people never knew when he'd go off. It didn't make the culture there very conducive to creative thought."
How to escape: Eventually many hotheads will find themselves forced out of a job. Still, you can avoid most blow-ups by doing a better job of keeping everyone informed at every step of the way, says Roshfeld. "In our example, if the development team had licensing information at the early stages of development, they could have made more informed decisions and averted a crisis," he says. "Learning of critical flaws late in the development process inevitably leads you down the path to the fifth circle."
6th circle of IT hell: Tech-cult heresy
Description: An inscrutable labyrinth where all paths lead to the same destination, lit by the fires of nonbelievers burned at the stake
People you meet there: Apple/Microsoft/Google fanboys, Wikipedians, open sourcers, and any other member of an IT cult
Wherever true geek believers congregate, the rest of the world is cast into the pit of heresy. Open systems versus proprietary software, Apple versus Microsoft -- it doesn't matter what side you support, there's always heresy on the other side, says David O'Berry, a strategic systems engineer for McAfee and liaison to the Trusted Computing Group, a vendor-neutral industry standards organization.
"People who use custom or commercial off-the-shelf software believe open source is heresy, while open sourcers believe closed systems are heretical," he says. "The reality is that the business world has to leverage a mix of custom, commercial, and open source software, all trying to solve various technological problems in support of the real work being done by the organization."
Sandra Ordonez, a self-described "Web astronaut" and external communication lead for Joomla, the open source CMS, became Wikipedia's first communications director in 2005. She says geeks like Wikipedians often turn into zealots out of necessity.