Waiting for the Terry Childs verdict

It’s been almost two years since Terry Childs' odyssey began. Will justice be served?

Sometime this week -- perhaps as early as today -- a jury is expected to decide the fate of Terry Childs, the so-called rogue administrator who refused to give up the passwords to the city of San Francisco's network.

InfoWorld contributing editor Paul Venezia has been dogging this story since it broke in the summer of 2008. At first, the case was a swirl of accusations and innuendo, but a revealing piece of evidence emerged some months later: Childs had been asked for the network passwords in front of an open conference line and refused to give them. (Finally, in private, he gave the passwords to San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom.)

[ Read InfoWorld's jailhouse interview with Terry Childs. | Follow the Terry Childs saga in InfoWorld's special report: Terry Childs: Admin gone rogue. ]

That was almost two years ago. Since then three of the four charges aganst Childs have been dropped. On the remaining charge, illegal denial of service, Childs has been sitting in jail awaiting trial, which finally began last December. It's anyone's guess what the verdict will be after months of mind-numbing testimony, much of it apparently over the juror's heads.

Childs is not a hero -- when first asked for the passwords by his boss, he should have coughed them up -- but for better or worse, he has become a symbol of the misunderstood IT person.

All the elements of an IT melodrama are here: Childs's geeky allegiance to technology (that is, the new fiber network he designed) rather than to his boss. The wide gap between Childs' specialized understanding of that network and, apparently, anyone else employed by the city of San Francisco. The fact that Childs was on call 24/7/365 and no one else had the passwords. And the ridiculous overreaction by the city in slapping him with $5 million bail.

No matter what the jury decides about Childs, mistakes were made by the city. And then an unfortunate dynamic appeared to kick in, where the overreaction had to be justified by hanging onto the serious charge of denial of service, when in fact the network never went down. I personally do not believe Childs deserved to have the full weight of the law come crashing down around his ears, as if he were a terrorist bent on destroying the network he had so carefully constructed.

No, Terry Childs is not a hero. But his case does highlight the extreme isolation experienced by some IT people, who are so deep in the details of a technology, and so burdened by maintaining it around the clock, that catastrophic miscommunication with laypeople is a disaster waiting to happen.

This article, "Waiting for the Terry Childs verdict," originally appeared at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Eric Knorr's Modernizing IT blog and Paul Venezia's The Deep End blog at InfoWorld.com. And get a digest of the key stories each day in the InfoWorld Daily newsletter and on your mobile device at infoworldmobile.com.

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