If you are a techie, beware of technical requests from nontechnical people.
Be especially afraid of people that have only a partial undestanding of some technology, but that nonetheless manage to sound knowledgeable.
The risk, for you, is that their limited vision can pollute your thought process and limit your options.
And now for the practical example: at the place where I work the leader of a certain group of users came to me asking for 10 unmoderated open mailing lists for some creative writing groups.
Providing them would have been a simple matter of modifying Majordomo's configuration.
But there is a problem: unmoderated mailing lists are a great vehicle for virus diffusion, especially if - like in our case - the lists have naive users.
In fact, in the past, due to a virus outburst, our mail server has been banned from Telmex, which lead to a difficult day for my department (growing mail queues, irate and confused users ...)
So, my system administrator most certainly did not want open unmoderated mailing lists.
But the users needed them, because - due to a rather bizarre software problem on the users' machines - we knew that the moderators would not be able to approve email messages bigger than 50K.
And we knew that messages much bigger than that would be generated (Word documents get pretty big, even for short texts).
Stall, right ? Well, no. Let us attack the problem rationally, from the functional requirement.
The users want to:
- Occasionally interchange a largish Word document
is perfectly fitted to mailing lists (and forum
systems, bullettin boards
Document interchange can
be done via a mailing list, but it can also be done with a document publishing system, like a WWW
site (and in many other ways).
Problem solved: the users will discuss and chat via email, and the moderator of every list will have write access to a directory on a WWW server. Interested users will get the documents from the WWW server.
This also means that the network will be used more efficiently, because onlyinterested users will download the documents (as opposed to the mailing list solution, where everybody on the list gets the documents).
Why didn't I think of this from the very beginning ? Because I was blinded by the technical request. She wants unmoderated lists - I can't grant them - But she needs them - But I can't run the risk of having them - But .. you get the picture.
So, when you get a technical request from a nontechnical person, back off one logical step and ask yourself what does she want this for ? and can it be done in some better way ?.
This is probably a special case of never believe your users.