Our new self-proclaimed "data expert"

She’s just been on the job a month ago, and her facade is unravelling quite a bit. We hired Madame X (my favorite pseudonym) as a “program assistant”, a catch-all term for a receptionist/administrative assistant. She seemed quite overqualified for the job, but several of the applicants did. She was one of two applicants with a Masters in Library Science. She owned a small business. She called herself an “expert” in MS Access. “I’ve built my own databases for my company.” She said. She was confident she could do whatever we needed.

We hired her because she was a good schmoozer, much better than the other MLS applicant (who also had a BS in electrical engineering, and who I voted for, but was outvoted due to the schmooze factor). And she IS very good at that; she’s very good on the phone and with in-person customers, even though she hasn’t been here long enough to have a lot of answers to give them. I could tell she had a talent as I heard her describing the courses we offer, providing “information” about our classes that I’d never heard before, and I’ve been there a year to her 2 days. She can weave a tale. One of her constant refrains is, “Maybe I’m weird, but I LOVE databases, and organizing information.”

But her MS Access expertise… is a pretty complete sham. To be more generous, she may have believed she was an expert, because she never had to work on a system created by someone else. Did I mention she’s somehow made it to age 34 without ever holding a full-time job?

A while back, I created a small Access database to track deposits, which we don’t send to a bank, but elsewhere in the hospital. The whole database is just 2 linked tables and about a dozen data fields. All it does is sum up the individual transactions (cash, checks and credit card slips) and assigns the money to about a half dozen revenue categories. The other office decides it needs the details, rather than just the summary, of our revenue categories. So yesterday I ask her to make a copy of the deposit log report, and put the details back in. I remembered when I created the report with the friggin’ Wizard, it was kind of hard to get the details OUT of the report. Within ten minutes she’s told me she can’t do this, because the way the report is written makes no sense. Okay, just create a new report from scratch, and use the Wizard, I say. Another half-hour, and she’s saying, “I know a lot more about queries than reports,” she says. Fine, I sez, make it a query. Another hour goes buy, and she actually produces a query that works for about half a dozen checks and credit cards she input, and then she shuts it down and puts it away. This morning, for the other user, her query simply operated as an endless loop prompting for today’s date. Because she gave it almost zero testing.

Also this morning, my boss and I talk about the need for another database to track our purchases, and billing. (Yes, it boggles my mind too that neither our finance department nor our IS department can provide us, a department in a HOSPITAL, for Christ’s sake!, purpose built tools for these jobs, but then again we’re not involved in patient care.) The present system is ENTIRELY paper based, onion skin check requests, purchase order requests, and invoices. How to we track expenses? We sort our copies of these forms in folders and add up the amounts with a calculator, and throw those numbers onto a spreadsheet for storage. Rrrrrrrrrr…. we need some serious modernization.

And I say, Liz, let’s just put Madame X on it. She doesn’t have much on her plate yet, this is just the kind of thing she’s been asking for (which she has). So I little later I lay out the general parameters of the database we need, these tables, those reports, etc. She listens intently and asks some questions, reasonable ones.

Another half hour goes by and she comes up to me and says, “I don’t want you to think I was misrepresenting myself. I can make up a really nice marketing database,
but a financial database is out of my range of capability.” Marketing database?.., I think, oh… she can print out mailing labels! But she can’t add up numbers.

What bothers me most is that she gave up so quickly. She had an “Access Step by Step” training manual to refer to, which is pretty crappy but does have loads of code in it relevant to the kind of basic programming we need. Nobody gave her a deadline. We wouldn’t have expected any usable results for weeks and weeks. Given the work load on us, I wouldn’t have been surprised if it took two or three months to get something just ready to try out, let alone switch over to. I figure it would take at least that long for ME to do it, and I consider myself a fairly half-assed Access programmer.

But now Madame X is kind of freaking out. “Guys, I’m really overstressed. It’s been a really bad day, my husband’s out of town, and I’m really tired. I really need to take tomorrow or Thursday off if that’s ok.” Privately she said to me, “Jim, I’m really concerned that you might feel I misrepresented my knowledge of Access (which I do feel).” Now she knows that I know that she doesn’t know much at all about her self-proclaimed specialty, and I think this is contributing substantially to her feeling of unease.

I suppose I need to talk this over with my boss, in that I am (on paper) Madame X’s supervisor, though I not even sure Madame X knows that, and my boss and I had already agreed to put Madame X to work on this task. Madame X may now actually be fearing for her job, as she’s till on probation.

That will be my boss’s call, but I won’t recommend getting rid of Madame X. She wasn’t, after all, hired as a computer specialist, but as a customer service specialist. The other was, in our minds, just gravy. I had just really hoped that we would have a better programmer than ME around, ‘cause I pretty much suck, and we have so FAR to go in modernizing our office systems.

Since I’m reasonably sure that my boss wouldn’t get rid of Madame X unless her coworkers and I really pushed for it, how to I pass the message along to her that though she either lied, or deluded herself, about her computer expertise, her job is not in the balance over this?

Should I pass that word? I don’t want her taking time off because she feels threatened and stressed.

I’d pass the word on. There’s nothing worse than spending a weekend at home, worrying about whether your job will be there when you walk in on Monday.

Is htere any possiblity that she could be sent to some training? If she shows interest in Access, maybe she could learn enough to do the jobs you give her. After all, like you said, they’re not horribly complicated.

Why not send her to a class? She probably DID think she was good at Access, since it makes it so easy to create databases with the nice wizards it provides and all. She sounds willing and bright, and this could be a good solution. It sounds more like a misunderstanding then a misrepresentation to me, and that might be a good, diplomatic resolution for you.


Agree with the training class idea. In fact, to save her some face you could suggest that you both attend the class.

I vote with the encourage her to engage Access crowd. Perhaps you can grow your own gravy?

The training idea sounds good, if it’s feasible for where you work, but if you’re mostly concerned about reassuring her right now (i.e. before this weekend) about her job security, approach her about training, even if it’s not necessarily available. This’ll tell her that A) you know her computer skills aren’t up to snuff and B) you value her other skills enough that you’re willing to work with her on her weaknesses instead of shitcanning her outright. If your work doesn’t offer any training programs, tell her later that the training thing isn’t going to work out. Hopefully by that time she’ll have found her footing in the office and won’t be as worried about losing her job.

She might also be reacting to the belief that you expected the database up and running by the end of the week. If it is a low-priority, get-it-done-when-you-can project, it might be helpful to tell her she has four weeks or so to show progress. (Then follow up with the suggestion of training.)

Screw MS Access. Get yourself a SQL or Oracle database and do it right the first time around, instead of implementing an Access database and finding out in a year that it’s underpowered and too confusing to be used.

If money is a concern, check out MySQL.


It’s an open source, free, and has fairly good 3rd party training books. Set that sucker up on a Linux box, whip up a quick web based front end, and you will be the darling of your dept.

When I started on a job out in the Real World ™ the client database was in Access. I had never even heard of this program before. I’m pretty good with programs though so I went through it, figured out the coding, and was creating new documents in no time.
Self teaching isn’t the solution for everyone, though.

I did find out that nearly every important function that we needed in Access was easily duplicated in Excel. Not only that, Excel was much more user friendly and data could simply be transported from one spreadsheet to another.

So that’s my recommendation. Let her learn Excel, learn enough to transfer the necessary data over to new spreadsheets from Access, and see how she goes from there.

Excel is a horrible database application if you need more than one way of viewing data.

The training would be a good idea, but make sure to explain to her the relevant parts of what you’ve told us. Mainly this:

"She wasn’t, after all, hired as a computer specialist, but as a customer service specialist. The other was, in our minds, just gravy. I had just really hoped that we would have a better programmer than ME around, ‘cause I pretty much suck, and we have so FAR to go in modernizing our office systems. "

Followed by

Yup, and she sure as hell wove one for you guys :smiley:

If she was such a fan and knew so much about DB work she would have taken the opportunity to dig into the help files and manuals to expand on her knowhow in Access, one of her relevant questions about the project should have been, “How soon do you need this?”

She should feel threatened and stressed, from the sounds of it she flat out lied in her interview. Why should you have to train her? If she has a basic working knowledge of Access most of what you asked for is basic stuff. Even with some icky many to many relationships I would guess I would need more like 3-4 weeks to do what you implied in the OP and I am not an access guru. I have no formal training beyond a copy of Access97 for dummies that I bought on my own because I wanted to learn,

yojimboguy, any database “expert”, especially of the self-proclaimed variety, would NEVER, in a million years, brag about knowing Access. S/he would let you ask, “Do you know Access?”, the better to say “Yes, but it happens to be crap. If ya’ll can’t at least give me MySQL, you’ll have to supplement my salary with painkillers and good, dark rum.” (Reference what Anonymous Coward said).
On the plus side…if you folks consider hiring a new person to do your in-house dev stuff … I could use the work. :smiley:

D & R

I actually prefer Access to MySQL if it’s not going to be web accessible. But neither of them can do stored procedures or triggers.

Anyway, this makes me angry. I’m unemployed and she’s not getting fired. I won customer service awards, too.


Access does stored procedures; it just calls them “QueryDefs”.

heck, man, I would start out a conversation with her along the lines of “I know setting up a database yourself based on what you want to accomplish is a lot different than having to follow someone else’s specs. I would like to encourage you in programming, maybe we can help finding a class…”

If she can’t figure out how to create a report, I doubt she’d be suitable for getting good at access, but you never know.

A QueryDef isn’t much of a substitute for a real stored procedure.

It is so far away from it you can hardly use the word “substitute”

I agree, get her trained, but she don’t know crap about RDBMS…

If the decision is your boss’s I would strongly encourage you to keep your mouth shut. If she sweats, she sweats, but you don’t want to be in a position where your boss says “Um…I didn’t consider the programming stuff gravy…” and she responds “But yojimboguy said my job was safe!”

I’m not saying she should be fired, but even if you’re 99% certain that your boss’ll keep her on, I’d still say: don’t take a chance of undermining him/her.


I think yojimboguy can easily find the middle way between offering reassurance and making declarative statements about her job security.

“Relax, you’ll probably be able to get through this if you don’t panic,” is a long way from “Your job is as safe as houses.”