Contractor Ringer – Return of the long forgotten IT Contractor beast

Contractor ringer
Contractor ringer

Contractor Ringer

Have you heard of the contractor ringer?

I write to inform you of a much-feared beast once thought dead that stalks unseen among us once more. For those who are too young to remember, I shall explain.

Firstly, here is my confession. I was a scientist or at least a science student (not quite the same thing). The realm of development for me was a clean cut simple place of command lines with no help files, explicit data and unforgiving compilers.

You could tell you done it right if it compiled. This was obviously before the days when all hallowed ISEB consultants and Quality gurus would explain that what we mistakenly thought was just crap software that didn‘t work was actually ‘high bug / line ratio, RAD, early iteration products’, and user interfaces were for programmers. Well what would you be doing messing around with data if you couldn‘t write in Assembler and do long division in binary.

Halcyon Days

Now to my eternal gratitude around the time of my graduation pseudo techno journalists had whipped up frenzy over all things information related. These were the halcyon days of Y2K and dot COM.

Consultants would slaver over you. ‘Keeping in touch‘ meant weekly phone calls if you could bring yourself to scrawl ‘Boolean, GUI and N-tier reactive solutions’ on the end of you skill summery and resist the temptation, as a scientist, to point out that all systems are in fact N-Tier. And clients who knew that shareholders would insist on at least 15% of reinvest going to IT.

Remember those days, they where actually looking to spend money. A promised land where the streets where paved with gold, if you talked the talk.

Lies on CV

Well I went too far, didn‘t I. Everybody tells a few porkies on their CV, I thought. Besides expert it a very relative term. Compared to everybody there I am. Well they have to take all that experience with a pinch of salt. After all that version of VB wasn‘t even out then.

Well I think you can all guess how it went.

So hypocritical it is but I cant help how I am. I needed the money to support my German car / Scandinavian furniture dependency. I am now in group therapy, you know ‘my name is X. It has been Y weeks since my last flat pack MDF wine rack.’

I was one of the loud be-suited arses in trendy bars wearing a £800 suit like a badge. My tie was so fat it looked like a badge. I thought that every penny of this ‘all so easily earned‘ cash was rightly mine by virtue of my sheer brilliance. Well I settled down as did the market and I was forced to develop less expensive habits.

Good Fortune

However I was, at least a subconscious level mindful, of my good fortune. I worked hard out of the office on my development skill set. I made efforts to gain less technical and more stable management skills. Then I duly worked my way up the greasy pole. I managed to secure my first proper management post with a mix of hard work, natural ability, ruthless political backstabbing and truly heroic brown nosing.

Some of my colleges however did not avail themselves of these opportunities. As a project manager I was to become privy to the most horrendous incompetence in HR. The skills of some contractors particularly those brought in to act as ‘technical consultants’ (we called these ringers) was in many cases farcical.


Anecdotes include (but are by no means limited to):- Senior programmers on ‘All technologies Web projects‘ being seen reading Idiots guide to java at his lunch.

‘¦Three weeks into the build phase of a java project. DBAs announcing at board level that Access would be fine as a back-end up to 50 concurrent users! And I swear I‘m not making this up, the senior VB developer at a major bank when asked about API functions declared well I usually just record what I want to do on an Excel macro and see what it writes.

All these came from people charging hourly rates that would make a high class call girl blush. Errrrm ….. so a friend tells me.

I would like to point out that this makes life extremely difficult as a project leader as it is often only after you have wasted time familiarising resources with the project that the true extent of there CV‘s Poetic licence becomes apparent.

A Quandary

This invariably leaves an interesting project management quandary. Do you want a person who knows what he is doing or one that can do it (you cant have both). This was the bane of my working life and every PM felt the same you could move every CV to the fiction section and I know it wasn‘t every one but it didn‘t make it any better at my end.

This was at the time the largest threat to our industry. No deadline was fixable or trusted and investment in IT came in one risk grade higher than roulette.

And you couldn‘t fix it they where by nature good at talking them selves out of blame and you‘d always find it‘s the technical director who hired him/her and thinks the sun shines out of his / her’¦. Well I digress.

Harder times

Well times got harder and pickings got leaner. But on the up side this meant survival of the fittest kicked in and far be it from me to be cruel or judgemental but all those lazy, incompetent, CV doctoring bums got dumped just like they deserved. (not like hard working honest little me of course)

So for the past few years I have enjoyed the cornucopia of working environments in a professional team, where I feel respect for my resources and can take their opinions seriously, quoting deadlines and estimates in good faith with confidence.

I have also been honing and developing this holier than thou attitude (I think its coming on nicely) and reminiscing with others who ‘made it through’ about our little white perjuries’¦

I mean fibs Well this brings me to my point (see, I did have one)

Contractor Ringer – He’s Back

Last week I was asked to take over an end of phase evaluation for a guy who had left just before delivery (for explanation see ‘A career purely based on bullshit’ by Gerry McLaughlin in the archives section) it was here I heard it. It was not accompanied by the stab of screeching violins or the screaming of a woman but it struck terror into my heart.

A ‘Senior Consultant in Microsoft OO development‘ asked me if I knew ‘a good resource to learn more about these Class thingies, I‘ve never really used them‘. The contractor ringer is back and we may not have much time.

By Paranoid Pete.



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