Loose Lips Sink Ships (and Network Credibility)

Stop me if you’ve heard this one… A manager- no a DIRECTOR, or a DEAN, or a CIO, or a DOCTOR, or some other person of title– walks into a bar. She tries to use the Wi-Fi, and it doesn’t immediately work, so she declares that the network sucks. And people hear her. Now, because people tend to listen to authority figures, her words get repeated. Pretty soon the off-hand comment, based in one user’s frustration, slowly becomes reality (well, maybe Kardashian-style not really reality).

But… it does become an accepted “fact” by the Person of Title’s circle that the bar has sucky Wi-Fi. And eventually, someone has to answer for that sucky Wi-Fi. It doesn’t matter that while The Legend of Sucky Wi-Fi is growing to epic proportion, hundreds of other of users are enjoying the bar’s Wi-Fi. They just aren’t talking about it, and they don’t have circles of followers that take their word as gospel and pass it on.

Maybe she didn’t mean to cause a kerfuffle, and maybe she did. For some people, if Wi-Fi isn’t working right, it’s everyone’s fault but their own (or their device’s). Regardless- the damage is done. That network has been labelled as bad, and therefor it IS bad, because of who labelled it. So now someone needs to fix what ain’t broke, even if it all amounts to is re-education and demonstration that the network isn’t problematic. That is- IF the person of title is even willing to be convinced (some are, some are not).

Unfortunately, there’s no punchline here.

If you’re reading this, and you are a leader of any sort (the kind that people listen to), the WLAN community asks this of you:

  • Remember that your Wi-Fi client device is like everyone else’s, even though it’s yours.
  • Wi-Fi client devices don’t always act the same way as you travel from network to network. This includes expensive client devices.
  • Not all Wi-Fi networks are set up the same, and sometimes what you expect based on your frame of reference isn’t what happens,
  • None of this means that the Wi-Fi network sucks or is broken.

At the same time, network problems DO occur. Sometimes they impact all wireless clients. Sometimes they impact just you. There’s no way to tell what’s going unless a system administrator gets involved. So… rather than declaring that the network sucks and invoking The Butterfly Effect From Hell For Wi-Fi Networkers, why not help us to help you? Report the problem, including symptoms and a specific time and very detailed location where you experienced your frustration, and wait to see what the outcome is.

A huge part of being a network administrator is basically proving that the network is OK, and solving client-specific problems. The first part often comes from off-hand comments that are blown up into issues bigger than they are because of who said them, and the second is often the reality behind the first.

So c’mon… give us a chance- before you trash the network.

10 thoughts on “Loose Lips Sink Ships (and Network Credibility)

  1. John

    Seriously…..this basically describes what is almost a weekly occurrence for me. Some instances are worse than others. It’s bad enough to have this happen to the “wired” network where I at least have a team to aid in defending ourselves and the network. As the lead wireless guy (and a lot of this is my problem) I take it very personally when it’s the wireless network under fire. Not that I’d ever wish this hell on anyone else but it is good to know I’m not the only one and it’s encouraging to have people with a loud and respected voice in the industry, speaking out.

    Thank you. (Seriously)

    – John Cochran

  2. Sean Keesler

    This extends beyond just WiFi. With great power power comes great responsibility (to not pollute the confidence in the system and staff that maintain them). It amounts to being able to consider the system from a broader perspective than the impact it has on you. I’ve heard many a new leader or coworker compare the systems at our company with those of “my last company” with a nostalgia and fondness for the way that they interacted with those systems. Needless to say, “my previous company” had a different set of unique challenges than ours which requires a different setup.

    1. wirednot Post author

      Hi Sean! Great to see your name and face. Thanks for reading, and you make an excellent point that I hadn’t considered as I was writing this.

  3. Joshua S. Williams @802.me

    Thanks, Lee! This is a very valid point of frustration for a lot of network admins. In fact, I was discussing this phenomenon with my dad awhile back. He’s a retired neurologist, and I learned he faced the same thing with patients. Every patient is unique, and can react differently or unexpectedly to different treatment regimens or corrective procedures. There are a fair number of complex things in this world that aren’t intuitive, or don’t work the way the average person thinks they should, and you’ve aptly pointed out that WiFi is one of the best examples.

    “If it works brilliantly at home with my $3000 laptop and $60 wireless router, why won’t the same laptop connect to this campus network today? Didn’t we spends millions on it?! What a waste. Maybe should let my nephew, Scooter, look at it. He works on computers and setup my wireless at home.”

    Ultimately, solving this involves re-visiting one of your previous WiFi Questions of the Day: (horribly paraphrased by me) “What can be done to make the WiFi experience better?” It’s challenging. End users don’t want to be “educated” about how it works. They just expect it to work, and I support their position. Perhaps future maturity of client drivers and their management utilities will provide better, more useful connection diagnostics that don’t require user interaction or technical interpretation. Until then, I hope your blog post reaches and resonates with as many people as possible, and that this remains much more a conceptual dialogue than a regularly reality in your own network.

    1. wirednot Post author

      Thanks for reading, and for the thoughtful comments, Joshua. Is nice that Wi-Fi is so flexible with lots of config options, but that also works against us for sure at times. I very much sympathize with frustrated users, but do have a hard time with overblown claims of the sky falling at times.

  4. Jeff Darcy

    As Sean points out, this happens in many other areas as well. Name any large open-source project. You can probably find people who will follow up any mention on Twitter etc. by saying that they tried it once and it sucked. Even if it was several years and many versions ago. Even if their expectations were unrealistic to begin with. Even if the sucking was their fault, and even (especially?) if they were told that at the time. This has certainly happened a lot with my project. Any system that’s more complex than average, or has performance/reliability characteristics different than what they expect from comparing to not-really-similar systems they think they understand – wired networks for you, local file systems for me – seems particularly prone to it. Thanks for pushing back against some of the negativity.

    1. wirednot Post author

      All good points, Jeff. Lots of unwarranted trails of reputational destruction to be found for those of us and in technical fields, for sure. Thanks for reading, and for the comment.



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