I went in to kvetch and accidentally got my boss fired

The last thing I intended to do was stage a coup d’tat. Really. It just sort of worked out that way.

Jack Herlocker
4 min readFeb 13, 2016
credit: https://openclipart.org/detail/140617/under-new-management

During one of my shore postings in the Navy, I was the assistant director in an IT shop (Information Resources Division, Code 73) that supported microcomputers (desktop PCs) for Navy Recruiting Command Headquarters and other offices located all over the country. This was in the mid-80s, when mainframes still ruled and microcomputers were the snotty upstarts that “real” computer users sneered at.

My boss was leaving for another job, so she put me in charge until her replacement showed up. I was not wild about the idea. I was fine being the “boss” in title, but I much preferred being the group techy and messing with the hardware and software. I acquiesced because it was only going to be a few weeks, and anyway, I was the only choice. Unless we put one of the mainframe folks in charge… naw, I could handle the extra “opportunity to excel” for a little while. My boss apologized that I would not be getting the post permanently, but senior management did not feel I had the necessary experience. Hey, fine by me!

My new boss was just finishing her master’s in computer science at Navy Postgraduate School; hence the delay, which ended up stretching into months. I had her arrival marked on my calendar as I had to deal with long days of new equipment rollouts, user complaints, network outages, endless staff meetings, and the personal problems of people who now reported to me.

Finally I got to meet my savior in person. “Sully”¹ was… not the sort of person who made a good first impression. Or second. She could have graced some “Are YOU a nerd?” poster. Her uniform was unkempt at best, and her notion of personal hygiene was appalling. She interrupted people if she found them boring, which was often. As a techno-geek she would have been usable if she was kept in a back room; as the lead manager of a group that had to deal with numerous department heads on occasionally touchy matters, she was a disaster.

Worse, her PC know-how was all theoretical, and mostly wrong. She was enthusiastic about implementing microcomputers, but her background was mainframe. She would have bubbly chats with departments about roll-out plans that had no connection with reality, and I would get confused calls afterward.

After a couple weeks the creeping horror had settled into my brain that Sully was going to be a disaster for my group, and possibly the future of PCs in the Navy Recruiting Command. She was alienating my users and driving my enlisted people nuts. (The folks I had been happily ready to turn over to a total stranger had now become my users and my people.) They needed protecting, and I didn’t know how to help them.

After a month I was ready to quit, kill Sully, or transfer anywhere else.

I really liked being in the Navy, so that was out. Killing Sully was out for the usual reasons: no good way to dispose of the body, hard to fake an airtight alibi, and so on.

That left going to Code 70, the head of ADP (who would a CIO today) and begging for a way out. I requested a short meeting to discuss a “personal problem.” I started with a litany of the things Sully was doing to drive me crazy, which I meant as background before I asked for a transfer. Before I got too far, he started telling me all the things that Sully did that were driving him crazy. While we were commiserating, he suddenly hit me with, “That’s why I need you to take over Code 73.”

Ah. Um. Not where I was going. What about my experience (or lack)? Nope, my weeks as temporary manager showed I was qualified. The users liked me, I was told. (Really? Did he have names he could share?) Nobody wanted to deal with Sully. So he was putting me in charge, effective Monday.

And that was that. There was an announcement. Sully was being moved to “special projects” that would make the best use of her education.

Sully later confided to me that she knew what the whole thing was about. The mainframe managers were threatened by her, she said, so they had conspired to get her neutralized. I made sympathetic sounds.

So I ended up getting PCs rolled out to our regional offices and diffused through headquarters. It really was an opportunity to excel. It was even enjoyable, although maybe more in hindsight than when I was going through it.

But I swear, a coup d’tat was the last thing I had in mind.

¹Short for “Sullivan,” her last name. I don’t know if she actually went by that, I just started calling her that, and the rest of the office picked it up.



Jack Herlocker

Husband & retiree. Developer, tech writer, & IT geek. I fill what’s empty, empty what’s full, and scratch where it itches. Occasionally do weird & goofy things.