Do we really want to be hiring Narcissists?

As part of my doctoral research in techno-ethics, I am in a running dialog with some excellent students involved in PhoenixConnect’s Information Systems and Technology Community. PhoenixConnect is the the University of Phoenix’s social network.  The branch of the discussion that follows is from a thread I started on Ethics and Technologists. The subject revolves around the debate as to whether or not to hire former hackers as security consultants. I have seen the devastating affect that pathological narcissists have in companies, families, and society in general. The following is a response to a person’s questions related to the issue of the notorious criminal, Frank Abagnale, Jr., being a free man that is a multimillionaire in his post crime life.

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Standing in the stead of God

Technology has given us the ability to breathe lifelikeness into a person whose soul has long since departed. God knows the paths we walk and when we are to walk no longer. Whenever we stand in the stead of God, no matter how innocently nor unawares, we simply prove that He is and we are not.

These are the words of Qoholeth, the Preacher,

Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them”
before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds return after the rain,
in the day when the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men are bent, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those who look through the windows are dimmed,
and the doors on the street are shut–when the sound of the grinding is low, and one rises up at the sound of a bird, and all the daughters of song are brought low–
they are afraid also of what is high, and terrors are in the way; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags itself along, and desire fails, because man is going to his eternal home, and the mourners go about the streets–
before the silver cord is snapped, or the golden bowl is broken, or the pitcher is shattered at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern,
and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.
–Ecclesiastes 12:1-7

Desire can make the clock run faster

I was discussing Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software with a fellow student in a grad school class.  The discussion revolved around the professors question, “how might an ERP system help Harley-Davidson improve its position in the market?”  My first thought was an ERP system could help Harley reduce its perpetual two-year backlog on the delivery of certain models.

After some more thinking, I decided this would actually hurt Harley’s position in the market because while an increase in the number of bikes on the road might seem like the way to improve market share, it neglects to take the psyche of the buyer into account.  Part of what makes a Harley-Davidson motorcycle such an object of desire is the fact that the streets are not lined with Harleys.  Harleys are special; so special, that you have to wait two years just to get one.

There is another special thing about the waiting period; money cannot change it.  The working-class guy that saved 38 years to get a Harley Blackline with the black Screamin’ Eagle  pipes, the ThunderStar custom wheels, the Sundowner deep bucket seat with the sissy bar, and the HD Orange and Vivid Black tank has to wait two years for it just like the first year lawyer that is buying one with his first annual performance bonus check.  If the lawyer shelled out an extra $20,000, all he would get is two bikes with the same two-year waiting period.  All men wade through the waters of time at the same rate.

A production increase would most assuredly result in a brief bump in sales, but all too quickly, what was special and hard to come by would soon be commonplace.  Prices would drop and then sales would decrease because the new commonplace Harley was more expensive than the equally commonplace import, so the average motorcyclist would go back to buying the cheapest solution.

My classmate just didn’t get it.  She wrote, “I guess to each his own, but I do believe that some of the people that would have bought HD’s would go to another company just to get a motorcycle, because sometimes waiting for something can make you lose interest. Look at how many companies are selling motorcycles now. Of course, they do not have the ALLURE of a HD, but if you’ve dreamed of reading a bike through the desert, or some other dream location, and you can’t get it for 2 years, then I think your attitude and circumstances will dictate that you buy something else and get on with your LIFE.”

I feel sad for her and other members of society that have assuaged impatience with compromise.  Desire is what drives the man that has saved 38 years for his dream Harley to wait another two years for delivery.  I explained desire to my impatient classmate.  I told her about a man named Jacob that loved a woman named Rachel.  He had to work seven years for her father before she could be his bride.  As the story goes, “Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her” (Genesis 29:20, New International Version).  The point of the story is simple; desire can make the clock run faster.

Grad School Can Be Fun

I’m working on my second Master’s degree.  I’m an academic at heart so I enjoy the disciplines of study and writing papers.  I’m also a storyteller.  Instead of taking school so seriously, I’ve chosen to have fun.  University of Phoenix is where I study so our classroom is an online threaded discussion.  Each week, the class is given two to four discussion questions.  Some of these are based on scholarly articles and others on research.  Combining answers to the discussion questions with short story writing is my way of having fun.  I guess it works for the professors because I’m carrying a 4.0 GPA.

My current class is in IT infrastructure.  One of this week’s questions was as follows:

As a manager, you are responsible for making sure the technology you use meets standards for communication and connectivity. What are some of the standards that you should be using for purchase decisions, and why are they important?

I started out answering like any other student:

These are some of the communication and connectivity-related standards I’ve been involved with:

  • IEEE 802.11b/g/n – Wireless routers in the 2.4, 3.6, and 5 GHz range must be
    certified to comply with the appropriate sections of the Institute of Electrical
    and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) 802.11 standard.
  • TIA/EIA-568-C – This standard written by Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) and Electronics Industry Alliance (EIA) establishes the standards for Ethernet
    cable, most significantly Category 5e (10BASE-T and 100BASE-TX) and Category 6
    (10BASE-T, 100BASE-TX, 1000BASE-T/1000BASE-TX, and 10GBASE-T).
  • NFPA 90A – Network cable that runs through plenums (ventilation spaces) must comply with this code published by the National Fire Protection Association. The code
    identifies the standard for how cable in plenums must react to fire.

When it came having to explain why standards conformance was important is when I got into storytelling mode.

Let me start out with a ficticious startup company, Kentucky Fried Tofu. KFT, headquartered in Sausalito, California sells cryo-packed, wing-shaped, beer-batter breaded tofu with free electric mini-fryers. They market the product to people that hate the idea of killing animals and eating them but really crave the experience of good-old fried food. The owners, Geno and Herb, rented some first floor office space on 2nd St. They were cheap, so when they bought the computers for KFT, they didn’t hire a consultant. They went to Best-Buy in Marin City.

When they got there, they split up. Geno went to get laptops and Herb got the printer and three routers. Geno was really excited because Best-Buy was selling Acer Aspire TimelineX laptops for $729 a piece and they had built-in 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi. He didn’t really know what that meant, but he heard that it was really fast. Herb’s shopping cart had three Netgear Factory Refurbished 802.11g routers and an HP 8000 OfficeJet Wireless printer. Geno was not super techie, but he figured if the laptops were 802.11n and the routers were 802.11g, that the routers wouldn’t keep up with the laptops because “n” is higher in the alphabet than “g.” Herb thought that was stupid so he grabbed some kid in a Best-Buy blue shirt named Chuck. Chuck confirmed that the laptops and routers could talk to each other but only at 802.11g speed, about 54 Mbps. Chuck recommended the Cisco Linksys E2000. It was $35 more than the Netgear router but because it was 802.11n compliant, it was able to transfer up to 300 Mbps. Chuck also told them it could handle Gigabit Ethernet. Geno and Herb didn’t really know what that was but it sounded cool.

They got things with KFT running pretty quickly. It turned out there were lots of people who cared more about not lopping off chickens’ heads than they did about cholesterol. To bolster business even further, Herb started a blog called Chix Dig Kentucky Fried Tofu at (go ahead, try it, I know you want to) that had business up to almost $18,000 per week. The boys needed to add five more employees which meant getting five more networked computers.

They were learning a little bit more about computers. One of the things they discovered was the Gigabit Ethernet that Chuck from Best-Buy told them about was network cabling, and it made accessing the Internet faster than that 802.11 Wi-Fi stuff. Geno went to to “get me some of that Ethernet.” He loved to say Ethernet. For some odd reason, it reminded him of his favorite group, Blue Öyster Cult.

Geno called a company in Corte Madera by the name of The Cable Guyz. Charlotte, one of the techs answered and asked Geno what he wanted. Geno said, “dude, I want Ethernet. Do you have any?” Charlotte said, “sure. Want me to come by and figure out how much you need?” Geno, who hadn’t quite figured out how a Cable Guy wasn’t a guy, made an appointment with Charlotte. The next morning, she rolled up in the Cable Guyz Land Rover. It was converted so the back was open to expose four huge rolls of cable in cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. Charlotte came in and introduced herself to Herb and Geno. Herb showed her around while she measured the amount of linear feet of coverage KFT could need.

She went out on the front porch of KFT with Geno and Herb and sat on the Adirondack chairs painted with pictures of bright yellow banana slugs. Charlotte had to ask, “what’s the deal with the yellow thingies on your chairs?” Herb told her that he and Geno met at UC Santa Cruz and the banana slug was the school mascot. Charlotte, originally from Poughkeepsie, NY, chuckled in her head, “only in Cali!” She took out her laptop and fired up her job estimator. Her first question was “how fast do you want your network to be?” Geno and Herb looked at each other and said “gigabit, dude!” Charlotte said, “OK, so that’s gonna be CAT 6.” The boys clearly had no idea of what she meant. Charlotte explained that there was this group of people in Piscataway, New Jersey called the Aye Triple-E (IEEE) that came up with standards for all sorts of things including network cables. “Gigabit Ethernet cable is called CAT 6.” The boys thought that was the coolest name for cable. Geno got CAT-6 as his vanity plate the following year.

“Floor or ceiling?” Geno looked at Herb and then Charlotte with that kind of head-cocked-to-the side-look that Welsh Corgis are known for. “Do you want your cables in the floor or ceiling?” clarified Charlotte. Herb explained that the office was on a concrete slab so the cables would have to be in the ceiling with the HVAC ductwork. Charlotte said, “OK, then you’ll need plenum grade cable. It’s twice as expensive as standard CAT 6.” Still corgi-like, Geno asked “what’s ‘plenum grade?’” Charlotte pointed to the yellow spool of cable. Herb said, “why does yellow cable cost more than magenta?” Charlotte went to her truck and brought back this thin book marked NFPA 90A: Standard for the Installation of Air-Conditioning and Ventilating Systems. “Fire Code” she said. “The space in your ceiling where the air flows is called a plenum. Cable that goes up there can’t catch fire until it gets to be about 700 degrees and when it does burn, it can’t give off toxic fumes.” “Dude,” said Geno. “but if it gets that hot in here we’re all gonna leave before it gets stinky.” Herb, who got it, took the $1,315 estimate from Charlotte and set up an installation appointment.

Charlotte drove the Land Rover north on the 101. There was a rib-joint/Internet café called “Meat, No Potatoes” with a sub-floor that needed 96 meters of magenta.

Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. (2009). 802.11n, IEEE Standard for Information technology—Telecommunications and information exchange between systems—Local and metropolitan area networks—Specific requirements: Part 11: Wireless LAN Medium Access Control (MAC) and Physical Layer (PHY) Specifications. New York, NY.

National Fire Protection Association. (2011). NFPA 90A: Standard for the Installation of Air-Conditioning and Ventilation Systems, 2012 Edition. Quincy, MA

Telecommunications Industry Association. (2009). Commercial Building Telecommunications Cabling Standard Set (Contains: Tia-568-C.0, Tia-568-C.1, Tia-568-C.2, Tia-568-C.3 And Tia-568-C.4 – With Addendums And Erratas). Arlington, VA.

You see, I look at it this way: My pedagogical model contains the idea that if you can present a concept in a story, you truly understand the concept. I hold storytelling in high esteem. It’s part of my heritage. I have actually refused to hire Java programmers because they could not pass the first test in my interview; storytelling. The test is based on Bruce Eckel’s seminal Java programming book, Thinking in Java. The test is simple: explain object oriented programming to a five-year-old. Some passed, others failed. True story.