Suck Factor

During my brief stint as a security lead at an ancient and venerable computer company, I was formally reprimanded for using the following phrase in an e-mail sent only to my own sysadmin team: "The upcoming security audit will suck, but I'm going to work hard to keep the suckage down to a total suck factor of fewer than 19 ISUs (International Suck Units)." Okay, so I was off my meds that day. My manager -- who incidentally is one of the best managers I've had -- printed that e-mail and brought it to me with the offending word circled. She told me sternly that the term was inappropriate for written communications and that I would not be using that word again during my time with the Company. I just nodded, stunned.

It's ironic that it was that particular e-mail that got me chewed out, because let me tell you: that audit sucked long and hard. Months before, one of my teammates -- a really nice guy, I assure you -- had written a slightly flawed procedure. The faithful and unquestioning execution of this procedure by the rest of the admins resulted in the unchecked growth of a security hole of truly epic proportions: severe in the extreme and trivial to exploit. The audit team didn't even wait until the kick-off meeting began; they confronted me during the introductions. I ran to my office, found the hole they were talking about, and within five minutes had fixed the issue and developed an action plan to prevent it in the future. We passed the audit. I got a little Lucite award for that. I use it to scrape snow off my Jeep. When I asked how the procedure had come to be, the author said "It was 4:30 on a Friday afternoon. I didn't have time to figure out every little detail." I wigged out. I went to my boss and told him how we'd almost been nailed to the wall. He said "Hey, now... I approved that procedure. I use it myself. It's not that big a deal."

The reasons for my decision to quit were myriad, but central to the decision was the realization that there are two kinds of companies:

Good ones ask you to think for them.

The others tell you to think like them.

Once you see that, it's easy to tell whether you're in the right place. The people involved in that episode I described above -- they aren't bad or evil or dumb. They just know how that particular company wants things done, and they do them that way. It's not an uncomfortable way to work. It's really pretty easy, once you relax into it. It's a lot like freezing to death.

Consider this: how does your employer use you? Are you a cog in the clockworks, useful for your precise performance of a tightly-defined role? Or are you an intelligent agent in an open system, developing and manipulating resources and methods to meet goals? Which would you rather be? And what are you now? Think about it: Does your job suck?

Next: Peep Protocol

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Copyright 1999 Benjy Feen /

Unauthorized publication prohibited.