Thursday, June 12, 2014

Shards To A Whole: Boss or McGee

McGee-centric character study/romance. Want to start at the beginning? Click here.

Chapter 338: Boss or McGee

Wednesday morning. First day of the new layout.

08:00 everyone is there, front and center, at the new conference table (Showed up last night. Light bulbs they won't give him until February, but a decent sized table and fourteen chairs, that took two hours. He's got no idea what sort of priority list Physical Plant has.) waiting.

He's still making due with the whiteboards. Big screen plasmas are still a ways out and the digital touch screens he's hoping for are waiting for a quarter where he's got more free money in his budget.

"Until now, you've had a system where jobs come in, and each of you took whatever came next, worked it until it was done, then grabbed the next one. We're not doing that anymore. Ten of you are on current jobs, right?"

Twelve heads nod.

"Okay. I want each of you explaining what you are doing. Put it up on the whiteboard. Then we're going to play job swap and team building. I'm sure some of these actually are single person jobs. But a lot of them aren't. By the time we're done with this, all twelve of you will be on active cases, and we'll have a working template in place for how jobs get divided."

He looks to Connon, the tech closest to him and hands him a dry erase marker. "You're up. What are you on?"

"Case for the New Orleans branch…" Tim's listening him explain the case, thinking along, seeing this is a database case. They need to build one, putting facts in, and then use it to find the patterns. Pretty straight forward, not difficult, just time consuming. He's thinking about that when it hits him, New Orleans branch?

His guys are doing cases for the New Orleans' branch? He's temped to ask about that, but they're actually working with each other pretty well, two of the Minions offering good suggestions for how to deal with the data, because Connon isn't a database guy, so he doesn't want to break that up. He'll ask later.

Connon gets done, and Tim says, "Trevet, Manner, good ideas for dealing with this. Congrats, Connon's case is yours now." Connon writes their names next to the case and then hands the dry erase marker to Trevet, who had been sitting next to him.

Trevet isn't looking thrilled about that, and as he explains what he's on, Tim can see why. Connon's job is big and slow. Trevet's current one is a monster. And doing both at once would be a pain in the ass. It's twenty million, at least, lines of code that have to be slipped through to find the way to sneak into a program, but the more he explains what he's on, the happier Ngyn and Dume look. His Code Wizards are ready to hop on this.

So, Trevet hands off his project, and hands the dry erase marker to Patil, who explains what he's on.

And on and on it goes. They get the jobs rearranged and, listening to what everyone is doing, for whom, and why, and Tim's come to a conclusion: Cybercrime has changed since he was down here last. At least, from the sound of it, they're now handling all the cases for anyone who doesn't have a tech on hand, which appears to be every one of the smaller outposts in the western hemisphere and all of the Agents Afloat in the Atlantic.

Once they're all assigned, and they're getting ready to start to work again, he stops them for a last second. "Okay, last thing. My job. Today, I'm reworking the job system. Let me make sure this is right. Anyone who wants our attention logs onto our intranet, write up a job ticket, and then you guys grab it?"

They all nod.

"Okay. That's what I'm on. We're redoing the interface. By the time I'm done with this, the system will triage as well as send us cases. They'll not only tell us what work they need done, but it'll be ranked by how urgent it is. You guys won't be slogging away on thefts while a kidnapping lingers in the background anymore."

They seem to like that.

"Once I'm done with it, cases will come up in order of importance. Whoever's on deck takes the next case and diagnoses it. Figures out what it is, what specialties are needed for it, and then flag it to whomever it's a best fit for. So, say, like what we've got Trevet and Manner on, it's a database case. Trevet, Manner, and Patil will all get flagged on the case, then the three of them will talk about it, come up with a plan of attack, split it up, and get it done. Once it's done, they'll each go back and grab another case. Sound like a plan?"
Nodding and 'Yes, Boss' hits his ears.

"Great. I'll have it done by this afternoon, and then you guys are going to test it. If it's good, I'll send the beta live tomorrow."

They look surprised at the speed he wants to move at, but they don't argue with him. Everyone breaks up and off they go.

He notices, as he's coding away, reworking the Cybercrime interface, that he's getting some emails he wasn't expecting.

As of this point, he's had three different Cybercrime Team Leaders, (Okinawa, Pearl Harbor, and Rota) all send him pleasant emails introducing themselves, explaining what they're working on, how their teams work, and how they used to work with Jenner.

He sends them polite emails back, happy to get to know them, explaining that he's looking forward to working with them, too.

Then he does more coding and doesn't much think about it.

He got the first letter of resignation that afternoon.

He wasn't dismayed to see it, either. Bergener wasn't happy about the range, really wasn't happy about getting hacked, was fuming at being told that she needed to shape up quite a bit to get to the level he wants his guys at, and didn't seem to like this new system, either.

She's exactly the kind of person he wants to see the back of, and in two weeks, he will.

That's one open desk, and he knows who he wants to fill it. He just hopes she's still available.

He kept her contact information, and pulls it up.

"Hello?" Same voice, she still sounds shockingly young.

"Catherine Howard?"


"Hi. This is Tim McGee, you may not remember me, I interviewed you for a position at NCIS."

He felt the pause, then she placed him. "I remember you. What can I do for you Agent McGee?"

"Are you still looking for a job, or feel like getting a better one?"

"A better one?" she sounds intrigued.

"Probably. Where are you now?"

"Homeland Security."

He nods, she would have been a good fit there.

"I'm running the NCIS DC Cybercrime Division now, and I'm rebuilding it from the ground up. At Homeland you're one of what, three hundred techs?"

"Something like that."

"Give notice. Come with me. There'll be thirteen of us, and by the time next year is done Homeland will be asking us for help when they get stuck."

"You sound pretty sure of yourself."

"I am. What could you do with a smallish team of very talented people and an awfully open-ended mission statement, let alone with a Boss who wants you spending no more than thirty percent of your time on the paperwork?"

She sounds very eager as she says, "A whole lot."

He's quiet.

"I've got to give two weeks' notice."

Tim smiles. "Then I'll see you in fifteen days."

It was one thing to say he wanted his guys spending no more than thirty percent of their time on paperwork, it was a whole other thing to deliver on that.

Upstairs, the break down is somewhere along the lines of forty percent of their time in the field dealing with criminals, ten percent on court related work, and the rest is paperwork.

Down here…

Okay, not much in the way of court time. From the looks of it, his guys rarely see the inside of a courtroom, probably because no lawyer in his right mind wants to spend hours digging through tech specs the average juror couldn't make heads or tails of if his life depended on it.

No… as he's looking through what they do, (He sees confirmation that they are indeed handling the casework for every Field Office with fewer than four people, which works out to about thirty offices, and for twenty more Agents Afloat.) close to ninety percent of their guys plea bargain out or plead guilty, and the ones that don't end up in cases where the lawyers try not to do much with the tech work.

Still, looking at the paperwork… God, they've got to be running close to sixty percent of their time filling out forms.

There's got to be a way to streamline this.

He steps out of his office and heads over to Ngyn's desk.

She's got her headphones in, bopping away to something as her fingers fly over the keyboard. He reads over her shoulder, making sure she's not actively coding, (nope, more paperwork) before interrupting.


She jerked at the sound of his voice and stammered through, "Boss?"

"May I?" he snags one of the chairs from the conferance table, pulls it over, indicating he'd like to sit down.

"Uh… sure." She's blushing and not looking directly at him.

He settles in. "I'm looking for ways to battle the paperwork dragon. I was wondering if you could take me through it."


"We don't have 5440s or D-13-67s, or Internal Tracking 44-Cs, upstairs. What is all of this? Why are we doing it?"

"They want to know everything we do, how we do it, and why."


"Just about."


She thinks about that for a long minute, looks at him, like she's testing him, and then looks away. "They just do."

"Who's they?"

She shrugs.

"Okay. So, you fill these out, hit print…" That part's killing him, they're still using actual paper down here, though, in that they're filling out the forms on the computer, they're three steps ahead of the Field Teams. "…give them to me, and then what?"

The look on her face seemed to be saying, Isn't it your job to know that?

"Like I said, we don't have these upstairs."

"I think you file them?"

He looks in the direction of the filing cabinets. He can't see them, but he knows they're there. "Great. So, basically you spend more time reporting what you're doing than doing what you're doing?"

She nods. He makes a mental note to ask legal if they actually need to have physical copies of all of this crap sitting in a file somewhere, or if he can just warehouse electronic copies.

He looks back at the form she's got up on her screen. "You keep putting the same information into the same blanks over and over?"

"Pretty much."

"This the kind of thing where if there was some sort of master database for each case that could then fill the forms out for you, it'd save a lot of time?"

She thought about that for a minute, too. "Probably."

"Okay." He was standing up, getting ready to add building a database for this to his to do list when something hits him, he's the Boss. He doesn't have to build this. He's got people he can delegate this task to. It's a rather novel sensation to realize that the tech problem he's encountering is not one he has to personally solve himself. In fact, given the talent pool in front of him, it's better off that he doesn't actually solve this one, because while he can handle a database, it's not his specialty. "Come join me in the center." He raises his voice, "Hey, conference time. Everyone in the center!" He really needs a call to arms, some sort of Gear Up for the Minions.

He snags a few markers for the whiteboard and begins writing:

Master Case Database:

Takes info as you work
Fills out forms for you
Accessible by all of us
Tracks casework
Shows who did what
Electronic signature
Stores basic forms, print them out only if you need them.

By the time he's finished that everyone else is around them.

"From what I can see, we're wasting way too much time on paperwork down here. So, that's gonna stop. We're going to build a database that'll take information from our computers as we work, store it, and then fill in the forms for us, so all we've got to do is fill in whatever specialized blanks there are, print it out, sign it, and then go send it off to collect dust.

"Manner, Trivet, and Patil… You're the database specialists, right?"

Three heads bob up and down.

"Hepple, Jonas, Chang, you're my programmers, right?"

More nodding.

"Good. You're gonna build it. Roger, Ngyn, Connon, you three are going to test it when the alpha version is done. Allen, Soth, and Sturm, you're going to test the patched up version.

"All twelve of you are going to add ideas to this whiteboard. What does this thing need to do so that when you get to the end of a case all you do is hit print, and then all your paperwork comes out nice and tidy, waiting for your signature?

"The six of you who aren't building, you're taking up the slack while the two development teams work.

"Two weeks I want us on a beta version, which we're all going to work with, probably for a month, and then move onto a production model."

"You want a beta version in two weeks?" Manner asks, an expression between stupefaction and rage on his face.

"Yes. Was I unclear?"

Manner is still glaring at him, beyond angry at what he considers a ridiculously inappropriate request. "Two weeks? You're talking about a system that would take any other team a year to get into place. A year if all they did was work on it."

"Door's over there" Tim points to the elevator. "If you can't or won't do it, Manner."

"No one can do this," Manner spits out.

"Are you resigning?"

"No! I am telling you that you are asking us to do something impossible. We're playing catch up from two days of furniture moving, you've got us all on new cases, you want us testing a new job system, we're already past swamped and now you want us to build an entirely new system in two weeks. It's impossible."

Tim smiles at him, eyes sharp. Manner might be the only one feeling secure enough to say it, but he's fairly sure that at least a few others have to be thinking it, too. So, time for more Hard-Ass, and also an example of what he's going to expect them to be doing down here.

"Get used to it, Scotty. We've been limping around on a rusty warp core for way too damn long. Jenner might have been fine with just getting the job done, but he's gone, and I'm here. And just getting the job done doesn't cut it anymore. Now, you gonna do it, or sit there and complain about it?"

"Just the requisitions alone-"

Tim cuts him off. "Code it yourself or use open source software. You're right, this is impossible if we try to get NCIS to buy us a database to work with. That's why I didn't tell you to go shopping for one. I told you to build one. Mongo is good. Data X is better. And I'm sure that if you spent this much time actually doing some research you could find something even better."


"My office, Manner. Sturm, congratulations, you just joined the Alpha team. Go, build us a database that'll do our paperwork for us and save us thousands of hours of boring, useless, soul-sucking work each month."

Eleven versions of, 'On it, Boss,' echoed through the basement as Tim points to the office door. Manner storms in, and Tim kicks the door shut behind him.

"But, what, Manner?"

"But we are legally not allowed to just grab up software off the internet! Which you would know if you had actually worked down here before. We are required by law to make sure that it's clean, that there are no backdoors, that it's designed in such a way as to not be vulnerable to attacks from the outside. Because of that, we are required to go through certain distributors for our software. We are required by law to-"

Tim stops him dead with a dry, "Bullshit."

"What?" Manner stares at Tim like he had just peeled off his face and is actually a gray alien.

"Bull shit." Tim enunciates both words very clearly. "That is an excuse. You don't want to do the work, fine, but don't give me bullshit about it. First off, if it's open source, we'll have millions of other people also pouring through the code, looking for bugs and backdoors. It'll be way safer than using the same stuff every single other federal office uses. Anyone who's serious about getting into one of our systems knows who we get our software from and is targeting them.

"Secondly, we aren't the NSA, and as long as we stay on the side of the angels and keep our noses clean when it comes to not spying on everyone on earth, no one is going to care if we used an open source database to fill out our paperwork."

Manner's looking furious, trying to get Tim to listen. "But we are-"

"No! We do the job! And, though it seems that you've forgotten this, the job is stopping the bad guys. We do what we need to to do that. And right now we're filling out forms and not catching bad guys, so that stops."

"It's not legal!" Manner says desperately. He's acting like his magic words, that always worked before, suddenly stopped working, but he's got no idea of what else to try, so he keep spouting them again and again.

"That's my job. You think I'm going to leave you out there without cover? You guys build it, and I'll get it squared away. There's only one person who's successfully broken the protections I've got on the NCIS computers, the entirely legal protections that I built myself instead of buying from an approved vendor, and that's me. We've had people break into the building to use our computers because that's easier than hacking them. You think I can't get an open source database fortified to the degree it needs to be to get up to specs?"

Manners had the grace to start looking embarrassed.

"Now. In two months, when we have a fully functional system set and ready to go, Vance is going to be awfully pleased. In four months, when it's so streamlined and functional that we can roll it out to the other departments, he's going to be very pleased. And in six months when the whole of NCIS is saving hundreds of thousands of hours a month on paperwork, he is going to be ecstatic, and in that happy mood, he's going to be making note of the people who made that happen, and do you know who's name isn't going to be on the developer list?"

"Mine." And with that word he sees Manner get it, he's not the Boss, he's not going to be the Boss, and he is not going to be able to get rid of Tim. This is the new reality of the situation because now Vance is going to be expecting things like this out of Cybercrime, and he's not the guy who can come up with them.

"Exactly." He takes a long minute to stare Manner down. "Next time I give you a job, you do the job or you hand me your resignation."

Manner blinks, slowly, and says, "Yes, sir."

"Boss or McGee, Manner. Not sir. I work for a living."


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