I grew up in New York, where giant alligators -- sometimes more ornately described as albino alligators -- were rumored to roam the city’s sewer systems. According to legend, vacationers picked up the tiny crocodilians in Florida, brought them home to New York, and eventually flushed the little buggers when they grew too big for the local concrete jungle.
It’s sheer mythology, of course -- a classic urban legend with virtually no basis in fact. But it certainly scared the bejesus out of me as a kid and kept me from playing near sewers and even manhole covers.
A meeting earlier this year put me in the mind of those alligators once again. I had just sat through a somewhat uninspiring vendor demo, and the product manager, who shall remain nameless, was trying to explain why every corporation in America needs his company’s software. “You know,” he said, trotting out one of the most commonly accepted tech truisms “that 70 percent of all IT projects fail.”
Now, I had heard that assertion many times before and all but accepted it as fact. I even knew the most likely source, an oft-quoted, 1990s-era report from The Standish Group that looked at success and failure rates and drew some highly discouraging conclusions. Vendors, developers, C-level execs, and IT managers have been quoting it for years. But is it true, or just one more gator tale?
In a staff meeting later that week, I issued a challenge: What are the urban legends of IT, those articles of faith that are too often accepted without challenge? In short order, our columnists, beat reporters, and Test Center analysts assembled a list of 15 potential myths, and our writers (a self-styled “debunko squad”) headed into the field to dig deeper. The results of their investigations, whittled down to a few key issues, make up this week’s cover story.
Some of the most provocative myths from our initial wish list proved hard to track down. For instance, my personal favorite, “No one ever got fired for buying IBM,” does not appear here because we could never get anyone to own up to the contrary. We almost got the break we needed when Editor at Large Ed Scannell heard rumors of someone who had purchased and installed a slew of IBM MicroChannel PS/2s in the late ’80s and was fired for it. Ultimately, though, we were unable to track down the poor soul. Other tales proved similarly slippery, though the six myths presented here eventually yielded to our fearless sleuthing.
And now, it’s your turn. I’d like to hear from you about the classic IT myths you’ve encountered over the years, statements of fact that may not be all that factual. Send me an e-mail with your favorite IT tall tales and I’ll print the best ones in an upcoming Editor’s Letter.