The Practical Networker by David Strom

3/22/88, originally appeared in PC Week

If Judith Martin was a columnist for PC WEEK Connectivity, she would probably get the following letters in her mail:

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Our information center wants us to use a particular communications package for all our work. Trouble is, I know how to use another program (I got it to download some non-work related files from a local bulletin board) and feel more comfortable using this alternative.

I want to be a good corporate citizen, but how can I tell the IC to leave me alone and continue to something else?

GENTLE READER: : Contrary to popular belief, Miss Manners believes that everyone is entitled to choose their own software package. But she realizes that corporate realities sometimes transcend even etiquette. You should take pains to distinguish between your personal use of software, such as calling up a local bulletin board for the latest game software, and corporate use, such as to send your spreadsheet to Omaha.

Of course, Miss Manners would like to know why you are downloading games on company time, but she would be rude to pry into your personal affairs.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: You always told me to backup my network, and I have labored to provide my network users with simple batch files. With one keystroke their files are copied safely and, I thought, effortlessly.

Unfortunately, no one uses the batch files, and finally disaster happened. Yesterday the server crashed and lost erveryone's files. No one had made any backups and everyone was screaming for my head first and their files second. What should I do? And how can I make my network users backup more frequently?

GENTLE READER: : Your questions leave Miss Manners perplexed. She wants to ask if you brush after every meal and wear a seat belt, but will refrain since the answers are none of her business.

However, backups are an essential part of YOUR business. Perhaps you and your colleagues can learn from the unfortunate experience and be prepared next time.

As to your second question, you should not try to force anyone to do anything against their wishes. That would be boorish and rude. Your colleagues should see the reason for backups after this last fiasco. If they don't, you still can't force them. Miss Manners realizes that sometimes life can be cruel.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Our mainframe people keep telling me to stay away from their data. They say that distributed processing is hogwash and will never work. They say the only real computers are those that come in air conditioned rooms with raised floors. I seem to be getting deja vu. How should I respond to their remarks?

GENTLE READER: : Miss Manners is also getting deja vu, since this is a common cry from her readers. She can only suggest you try to explain yourself better, perhaps in terms that your colleagues can understand. Use the words "DASD" instead of hard disk, and "IPL" instead of boot. Maybe then they will offer their respect for your endeavors.

She cautions you not to get so caught up in the cause that you ignore your manners. Just because someone uses a mainframe doesn't make them any less (or greater, for that matter) of a person. You should treat everyone with respect and dignity at all times, even they don't do so with you.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: We get computer vendors in here every day selling us solutions. Trouble is, we still haven't figured out what are the corresponding problems. Is it wrong to distrust those salespeople that say they can provide enterprise-wide connectivity? How do I tactfully handle this situation?

GENTLE READER: : Miss Manners always distrusts salespeople. They tend to forget that there are rules of etiquette among those who provide service, just as their are rules for those who pay for the service.

However, you should not confuse a lack of trust with a lack of good manners. Speak politely to any salesperson, and question them carefully. She suggests that you always begin any conversation with phrases which indicate the limits of the discussion: "No, we will not make any decisions this week," "I have 15 minutes before I must go to a staff meeting," or "Anything we discuss verbally will require a written proposal," are all good ones to begin any conversation with a salesperson.

Miss Manners is naturally skeptical when someone promises one-stop shopping for corporation connections, unless they are speaking about purchasing candy for their entire staff. She agrees that you should also approach these particular salespeople with a careful and critical mind. You might inquire about references to customers with similar circumstances.

Sometimes even the patience of Miss Manners is tested in her relations with salespeople. But she is always polite and firm in stating her wishes.