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A Craftsman Is Only

Week of March 6, 2000

'Hackers', according to the news, according to such authorities as Steve Jenkins and Winfiles, are threatening to bring down e-commerce once and for all. We all know these 'hackers' are not hackers at all but 'crackers' and take offense at Jenkins' ignorance in this matter, but whoever they are, they are certainly doing their work.

In the past two months two major e-commerce sites a week have been cracked. The cute key to the cracking here is that the perpetrators publish the entire list of credit card information they've found - anyone can go in there and help wreak mayhem and havoc on the world and get some great toys at the same time. CD Universe had 350,000 credit card numbers stolen from its site and posted online. Hey not thirty five or a couple of thousand but three hundred fifty thousand - definitely not your weekend drop in the bucket.

The hole is in Microsoft software. What else is new. As John Walker would say, with any IT disaster Microsoft is sure to be hiding right around the corner. But passing the buck to Microsoft in this case is a cheap way out. There are currents in effect here which have a much greater meaning in this context.

  1. A craftsman is only as worthy as his tools. If Microsoft are morons for producing such junk - and they are - then sysadmins who buy it are just as much morons or more.

  2. Just because the suits insist on Windows so they can play Quake when they're supposed to be at a meeting is no reason to dump the future of the corporation in Microsoft web server software. Although Microsoft's products in this regard are by far the worst available, an industry joke, the best clue any outsider has as to the intellectual resources of a company is their choice of web server software. It takes two dorks to create a catastrophe.

The greatest problem with e-commerce companies of today is their in-house talent. In this regard, the major players are completely impoverished. The people in charge of acquiring and running the software involved are unqualified but ambitious at the best, and gutter quality and lazy at the worst. The problem lies not with the fact that leaky software is available in the market, but with the idiots who run to jump on the Mickey Mouse MonkeySoft bandwagon to get it.

MCP exams have become a joke. Training companies take people right off the street and promise them riches and gold. Sooner or later the luckless get their treasured diplomas and move on to become sysadmins with major companies. Without having any aptitude for the industry. Without even knowing anything about running a part of it. Without even remembering their answers to the questions that stumped them for months on end.

Things are too easy today. There are still a few schools and institutions of higher learning with a 'Napoleonic' attitude towards education, but they are few and far between, finding needles in a haystack is easier. A quick meandering to the Titanium Cranium Awards page will demonstrate just how intellectually lazy people - mostly in the US unfortunately but not only there - have become. Radsoft receives, for example, regular inquiries from American university students who want proprietary software source code so they can cheat on their term papers and exams. People are not interested in learning anything anymore. Exactly what they're doing at a university in such case is a total mystery.

When it comes to the effects on e-commerce, the industry does not measure this incompetence - this intellectual impoverishment - solely or even in significant part by blind idiocy in purchasing Microsoft products. It is measured elsewhere, and with greater efficacy. Corporations are not bending over backwards to acquire top level talent to run their e-commerce shows. They're taking the dime a dozen MCPs instead. The suits with the dollar signs in their eyes and the signs hanging around their necks saying 'I Belong on Wall Street' don't care about sordid details such as these, and they never will. They're only looking at stock options and portfolios and how many more millions or billions they can make by noon next Wednesday. And they never cared and never will care who gets hurt along the way.

In this context, investing in adequate staff to run an e-commerce show is far too costly. Get the site up and running first, and cross these cataclysmic bridges later. That's always been the way marketing has thought, and it's the way marketing will always think. It's a ceteris paribus. It's not a way out either.

The sad fact is that there are too few competent system administrators going who can run these e-commerce shows. It's not easy to become a high level banker. You really have to produce an impressive track record to get that far. Your ability to successfully handle money and people's confidentiality are what make you or break you. Yet in this e-commerce industry, any two-bit loser with a screw driver in his back pocket can be taken on board and asked to help out with financial matters that are far more serious than any single client trying to run a dry cleaners on the corner and asking for a loan of fifty thousand. Hundreds of thousands of people are affected - are hurt - by a single blooper. It behooves the industry to take more pains and take more care hiring on its help in this regard.

The people on the inside will tell you: it's not the software. It never was. Anyone can make a bad product. It's the responsibility of the purchaser to choose a good product and not a bad one. It takes incompetence and intellectual impoverishment to choose bad software in the first place and then moronic mindlessness to go on and use and abuse it. And the fact that most of these morons come to their employers with MCPs assures us that the worst possible outcome is a near certainty.

A craftsman is only as worthy as his tools. Good craftsmen would not have chosen Microsoft web server software in the first place, or, if that were a fait accompli, alerted management to the risks involved. Good craftsmen would have done their best to tap the holes if management did not react. MCPs are not craftsmen.

Without e-commerce, the Internet is simply a bulletin board stuck outside town within olfactory reach of the local dump. Without the possibility of secure financial transactions the Internet might not survive as we know it today. Several European countries have already taken major steps to create their national infrastructures of the future around the Internet and the technology it offers - satisfied that the need for secure transmissions and financial transactions will be met. The cost of the flub-ups we are reading about these days cannot be measured.

Online business suffers as a result. There are many very conscientious e-commerce companies: they will also suffer because the great majority of their colleagues have exposed gross weaknesses in their man-machine systems. As the problem shows no signs of abating - quite on the contrary - the risk is that the whole Internet house of cards will come tumbling down.

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