Calculus and STAtistics / Mr. Hansen
5/12/2006 [rev. 5/17/2006, 4/26/2007, 8/20/2010, 12/7/2016]

Name: _________________________

Lessons from the Pentagon



Dear Students:


     It has been my privilege to be your teacher for a small portion of your life. Now it is time for me to bid farewell to most of you. I thought for a long time about something that I might be able to give you or say to you that would be of some real value to you (not that the theorems and mathematical principles we have learned are of no value, but you know what I mean).
     As you know, I spent about 12 years working in and around the Pentagon in a variety of software consulting roles. I still have a consulting business in the summer. Here, boiled down for your benefit, are a few dozen precepts that I think may have some usefulness to you as you pursue a white-collar career. Nobody gave me a list like this—I had to assemble it painfully over a period of years, often by trial and error. Some of the lessons, such as #21, are extremely hard to learn. There are a number of items on this list that I have still not fully learned, even though I am consciously aware of them.
     There are two items that I left off this list—both of them from the Bible—that are more important than any of these, but they weren’t necessarily lessons from the Pentagon. Those are (1) if you have a complaint about a person, always start by taking it directly to the person, and (2) treat others as you would wish to be treated. I also omitted advice such as “brush your teeth and comb your hair” and “always check your spelling” because you have heard them from many other sources. I wanted to focus on nontrivial suggestions you might not have encountered before.
     In five or ten years, I would love to hear if you have personally confirmed any of these, or if you have items to suggest as additions to the list.









E. M. Hansen




Bad news never gets better with time.


Return markups.


System maintainability is critical.


Version control and configuration management should be easy, but they aren’t.


Close the loop.


One “aww ____” wipes out ten attaboys.


Impressions count.


Timeliness, format, content, in that order.


Cost, schedule, quality: choose any two.


A demo must be preceded by an exact dry run.


Made-up examples are far more convincing than placeholders.


However, make sure fake data are clearly fake.


Everything takes longer than it should.


(Crowley’s Law) The person whose job it is to know the answer—doesn’t know.


(Crowley’s Corollary) Keep asking the question until you get the answer you need.


(Crowley’s Quotation, possibly of Einstein) Teaching by example isn’t the best way—it’s the only way.


(Crowley’s Obsession) Write a date on every piece of paper that crosses your path.


(Crowley’s Conviction) Deadlines focus attention. Leave promptly at the end of the day.


(Grace Hopper) It is easier to get forgiveness than permission.


Limit pride of authorship. EVERY product is edited. Ignore the “happy to glad” changes.


Humor is dangerous.


E-mail is dangerous. If you’re upset, phone—or better yet, wait a day.


Humor in e-mail is extremely dangerous.


Always dress better than you think you need to.


Be careful about volunteering too much information.


CYA/check 6. Keep records so that you know what you said.

However, there are times when the knowledge that you are right must be kept to yourself.


Be careful what you wish for.


Manage expectations, and be careful what you commit to deliver. Any product that exceeds expectations is better than an excellent product that falls short of expectations.


Make a single horizontal tear immediately on any imperfect original. If you need to use it later, you can salvage it with tape, but you won’t be using it accidentally in the final master copy.


It matters what you name the baby. Names shouldn’t matter (“A rose . . . would smell as sweet”), but they do. Reason: They affect expectations. See #27.


Never yawn openly in a meeting of two or more people. If you’re on a dais, you can’t even cover the yawn; you’ll have to stifle it.


Landscape-formatted sheets in a report must be stapled or bound in such a way that they are readable when the report is turned clockwise.


Always be friendly with people you meet on airplanes or while standing around waiting for a bus, etc. You never know where the connection might lead.


Always stand up when a general officer enters the room.


If you feel that your boss, client, prospective employer, etc. is doing something stupid or is backing a policy that is really stupid, you can’t openly voice your opinion in a group meeting where that person is present. You’re going to have to couch it in other terms, or if you can’t do that, you need to keep your mouth shut. You might be able to persuade the person in a one-on-one meeting, tactfully and respectfully, to consider some other ideas, but saying or muttering “This is stupid” in a group meeting is never going to work. (Why not?)