Thursday, December 07, 2006

If this is what we have left, we are in trouble

So my company has this vendor we use for monitoring traffic on our web site. We'll call them "Fred" for purposes of this discussion.

It seems that Fred has the ability to get us real-time data about our web site in an industry-standard format, and they talk a big game in their documentation about how we could use the data to display up-to-date metrics about the site to our users. In other words, it sounds like we should be able to get that data any time we want in a split second, and our users would thank us for it.

However, after fiddling with it for a week now, I've found that isn't the case at all. And, to make matters worse, it's probably my fault.

You see, I take things literally. Like just about every other computer geek I know, written instructions are gospel. If it's on paper and the source is deemed reliable, it's as good as if Jesus himself had written it down. In my life, this is a gold standard, and I operate daily with complete faith in my library of O'Reilly, Sams and SitePoint books so that I can achieve my objectives.

And when Fred came along, with his twenty-page API on exporting data in real-time from his database, I was positively giddy. Just the thought that I could bypass his sluggish-ass GUI interface and provide a comprehensive "dashboard" application to the boss was just, well, delicious. I'd be like Scottie on Star Trek...providing the impossible in a crisis situation, and my boss would love me. Chicks would dig me. A general sense of well-being would ensue.

But no! It turns out that Fred's export mechanism crashes my browser or returns data in wildly different formats each time I refresh the page. There's nothing more infuriating than getting exactly the opposite of what your documentation tells you to expect, so my next trick is to call Fred's technical support and give them the big WTF. Here's how that went:

Me: Hi, I'm having trouble with your export mechanism.
Fred: That's a shame. Tell me about it.

Me: Well, you see, there's this page, and it has these nodes on it, and...
Fred: Sorry, you'll have to back up. What's a node?

Needless to say, I was nonplussed. I had called technical support, but had apparently reached a clerk instead. I went on:

Me: The data I'm expecting is <this> but I'm seeing <that>.
Fred: I'm seeing <that> too. Are you sure you have the right address?

Me: Yes, I'm positive. It came from your documentation.
Fred: Okay, let me try a couple things here.

The sound of keytapping emanated from his end of the conversation. This went on for about five minutes, during which time we said nothing to each other. It felt like a marriage, but I didn't remember getting to dance or even consummate. And then:

Me: So do you see what I'm talking about?
Fred: Yes, it all makes sense now.

Me: So what do you think is the problem?
Fred: Well, I'm not really up to speed on this product, so I'll have to elevate this to level 2 support. In the meantime, you should understand that you share our databases and hardware with all of our other customers, so issues like this will arise from time to time.
Me: I understand that, really I do. However, we pay you $x,xxx per month to supply these services to us. If this is how it will perform, I don't really feel like we're getting our money's worth. Would you?
Fred: <Silence>

And so our conversation ended after some assurances from Fred that he'd get working on the problem and that I'd hear from him soon, but as I hung up the phone I was struck with the feeling that I'd accomplished nothing, and that I could expect no solution to my problem. This frustrated me, and colored the rest of my day in that shade of light blue that has MALAISE written all over it.

And so I sit here, waiting for an answer, or at the very list commiseration. I'll update you when I hear something from Fred.

Oh yes, the whole point of my discussion. As America transitions from industrial powerhouse to a service-based culture, one can assume that this sort of so-what-ish attitude will become more prevalent with every passing day. Eventually you'll call 911 and get the exact same sort of response that I did today. Of course, your house will have burnt to the ground, but at least you'll feel safe knowing that Level 2 Support will be there shortly.

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