When ignorance is allowed to win

Or: When to Say No and Bow Out Ungracefully

A couple of months ago, I stumbled across a local woman who was trying to get her non-profit of 3 years off the ground. She was looking for grant writers, web-ish folks, etc., and her cause was awesome. I was like, “Sweet! I’ll do a website, help with program organization, and either move on or keep helping if there’s room.”
So I linked up with the woman and we had a couple of meetings. Good ideas flew, the resources and contacts were there (even a grant writer for a short minute), everything. Chris leapt at doing the web design and did a gorgeous job.

Then came time to talk about what would be involved in setting up donations. She linked me up with her bank contact, but when she saw things in my email asking for details she didn’t understand — API information, gateway information, etc. — she started asking me questions so that she’d know what was going on. I explained how the two systems would interact as best I could, but she was very worried about making sure no one else could access the bank accounts… including by using an API key.

Repeated explanations of how online transactions worked (and how I wouldn’t actually have account access) using every metaphor I could come up with were met with confusion, and she refused to educate herself when my explanations weren’t enough. I don’t think she was on good terms with our good friend Uncle Google. We reached a breaking point when she told me, “I don’t know what an API is, so don’t use it.”

…Aaaand that’s when I bowed myself out the door.

I won’t work in an environment where someone will (in such a blanket statement) forbid me from doing something because they don’t know what it is. I’m happy to help demystify some of the oddities of web/software development. Even though I shucked my high school teacher hat, I still have some teacher in my soul — her name was Ms. Vamoose, and although I only ate a little of her, she’s stuck around all this time like a good friend — and I like to help people understand things.

I also like to think I can make decisions based on the acceptable security risk to the client (for cases like basic eComm, not like govment super missile work), but this went beyond that. From my perspective as a developer — and as a volunteer developer with a full plate — I’m not going to work in a situation where I’m going to get jerked around like that. We spent hours going back and forth in email, trying to mutually understand what the hell was going on.

Things didn’t end well (that’s the “ungraceful” part of the subtitle). I wish her success because her cause is good, but she lost a web developer (that’s me!) and a grant writer (not me!) in the month I knew of her, so I’m not optimistic in the short run.