The Great Satan
To this point I’ve been sort of beating around the bush. There are a lot of problems in Hell, but issue numero uno is our CEO.
At first I tried to shrug off his aggressive and unpredictable behavior on the grounds that maybe you simply have to be a dick in order to be successful. I searched for the positives. He was dedicated — a hard worker, very driven to do whatever it took in order to make Hell a better place.
But over the months, I’d been amassing a long list of negative data points. It’s time to air some of them out.
Unrealistic Sales Expectations
So my second month with the company, I’m sitting in on a sales meeting. It’s me, Satan, and our Chief Sales Officer (CSO.)
Satan’s got the whiteboard going and he’s showing his two stooges how we’re going to be a mult-million dollar company in just two years.
There are charts and graphs projecting the future. Six months from now we’ll have four clients. Twelve months from now that will double to eight. Eighteen months will result in another doubling and we’ll be at sixteen. The final six month interval will be a quadruple, resulting in a total of over sixty customers, and the expectation of quadrupling is based on the “snowballing” of established businesses. Once the banking industry knows what a force we are, they’ll be lining up to ink deals with us.
I’m absorbing this display of insanity with hardly a comment made. I’m a totally new employee, and I know that my role is to sit and nod through this enormous presentation of bullshit as though he is preaching the New Age Gospel.
Our CSO, on the other hand, is terrified. She’s a woman in her late forties, smartly dressed, a bit chubby but fundamentally attractive in her business suit and pumps. I can see her horror from the way she sits watching the impossible mess being drawn in green dry-erase marker on the board. She leans forward with both of her elbows on the table in front of her with a tight frown, periodically shivering. She’s new too, hired on just this week. I figure that this is orientation of a sort for her.
Unlike me, Mrs. CSO asks questions.
One: “Who do we currently have in our pipeline?”
Answer: “Only one client so far. But I’m confident that you will be able to drum up another three in a month or two.”
Two: “Who am I supposed to use for references?”
Answer: “We don’t need references to start. Our product is so groundbreaking that it will practically sell itself, given a competent sales staff.” (Note: Pre-emptive dig at quality of sales employees, implication that if goals are not met, it is purely the fault of the personnel filling these roles.)
Three: “Who is going to demo this product to all of our prospective customers? Do we have a sales engineering staff to assist?”
Answer: “You will learn the product and be able to provide demos. For very high profile potential customers, we may send an engineering resource on-site with you to provide technical assistance. Perhaps <laf> here can fill in on these trips.”
Four: “Don’t you think these targets are, uh.. maybe too aggressive? I’ve never worked at a place that had goals quite this optimistic. I mean it’d be fantastic if we could hit these goals but, is it realistic?”
Answer: “Believe in the product, and everything will follow. This is a multi-billion dollar idea. If we have the right people to drive it, we will be successful.”
Three thoughts repeat in a tight loop as I watch the presentation and listen to the back and forth between Satan and our CSO.
- This guy is absolutely fucking crazy.
- This guy is absolutely fucking crazy.
- This guy is absolutely fucking crazy.
I Am Never Wrong (Do Not Question Me!)
Developers building software have a tough task. They’re asked to create a framework for data to move around and be displayed to users in very specific ways in order to satisfy business requirements.
To make this readable, I’m going to move to the wonderful world of analogies. Our engineering team has, to this point, been asked to build a corral for dogs and some surrounding support structures to ensure their health — maybe a silo for canine food and an on-site medical expert who lives in an adjoining bungalow.
Suddenly, Satan says: Lets add cats. This creates a lot of extra work; the virtual fences erected to keep the dogs in place are not effective for cats — the felines have fundamentally different attributes; they are climbing up the poles and escaping.
Plus, now now we need cat-food and litter boxes and a veterinarian who understands how to care for this new animal type. Satan doesn’t quite realize that adding cats isn’t as simple as just dumping another animal into our existing pen. There’s a ton of additional work to do behind the scenes. To make things worse, cats and dogs are now fighting with one another — they just won’t play nice. Still, our engineering team persists, and eventually constructs an area suitable for both cats and dogs to co-exist together. The cats are de-clawed, the dogs are muzzled, all animals are spayed and neutered to prevent any inter or intra-species hanky-panky.
On a skype group call, Satan asks why there are no pigs in the corral. Our engineering manager (my old manager from StartupVille) is perplexed.
Namager: Pigs, what pigs?
Satan: The pigs I asked you to add along with the cats.
Namager: You didn’t tell us to do that.
Satan: Yes, I did, I remember very clearly. We need to add pigs and cats. Are you calling me a liar?
Namager: No! Of course not! We must have forgotten!
Me, chiming in: Namager, you didn’t forget. I have the feature requirement document right here. It just says cats.
Satan: The person who typed that doc must have made an omission. I remember saying it. Just get it done, this needed to be implemented YESTERDAY. I told you we needed this feature.
Namager: Okay! Sorry about that! We’ll get on it right away.
This sort of thing happened more often than I care to document in this blog post. Satan would pretend that he asked for <feature X> a long time ago, and then would get upset that it wasn’t already implemented, when the truth was that he never made any such request.
People were deathly afraid to point out the obvious truth: The prince of darkness had a fondness for making shit up in order to put everyone on the defensive and work a billion hours of unpaid overtime.
And so it went.
A Late Night
In Hell, we’re doing application releases every week. Sometimes multiple times a week. Think of a website update, where all of a sudden users can see a new feature that wasn’t there before, or some existing problem has been fixed — it’s like when Yahoo! adds a new link to allow folks to see the hottest new celebrity news. Behind the scenes, some tech guys have programmed this new feature, and some other guys push the updates to the public site. We’re doing the same sort of thing to Hell’s online service.
And we typically do this at night, at ten o’clock, to ensure that our west-coast users aren’t using our stuff anymore. Note that I do the actual release-pushing task as it’s part of my job function.
After the push, we do testing. One particular night, Satan starts clicking around the updated application and he finds an extensive set of issues.
At this point we have two choices: Revert to the original application which we know is working fine (i.e. remove the hottest new celebrity news feature), or do a fire drill and try to get development to fix stuff on the spot.
Satan chooses option B. It takes engineering three hours to fix it. I’m working during this entire period, helping to deploy the proposed fixes to a non-production environment so we can test things. without messing up our live site again.
It’s now 1AM. We make the fixed version of the application available for use. Satan is unhappy. Something is still wrong.
I’m exhausted. I’ve been working since seven AM, nonstop. I missed dinner with my wife. I missed my exercise. When I look at my computer monitor, text looks blurry to my tired eyes. It’s been an intense day. So I make an unpopular suggestion.
Look, Satan, I think we need to roll back at this point. We can regroup tomorrow and people can check out their favorite celebrity gossip some other day.
Excuse me? This is not your decision to make.
Yes, it is. I’m the director of operations and it’s my call.
No. We are going to fix this, tonight.
These issues should have been identified earlier in the day, in the non-live environment. I’ve been lenient as it is to allow engineering some additional time to make fixes. We’ve past our outage window and I am going to roll back to the previously working application.
I don’t see why. We have engineering right here to analyze the problem, find the solution, and resolve it. I need this feature for a sales demo tomorrow.
I’m calling it. We’re not moving forward with this.
It’s not happening. Let’s all get some sleep. I’ll roll it back and do a bit of testing, shouldn’t take me more than half an hour. I’ll send an email when it’s done.
We’re going to have to discuss this tomorrow.
You’re right. We will. Call me after your demo, which, I might add, should go smoothly because of this decision. You’ll be working against a stable product release instead of something that exhausted engineers shoved into place in the middle of the night.
I’m not happy about this.
You will be tomorrow. Just give the presentation without the feature and it’ll go great. It’s not the end of the world.
(Namager, voice heavy with fatigue, pipes up here): I agree.
2AM, I finish the remaining work and slip into bed
In the end, I’m not sure why I went to the trouble of pushing back. It’s not as though I could sleep.
It’s time for me to voice a few opinions instead of tiredly recounting details of disaster in my life.
I believe that these scenarios are playing out constantly across the globe, from tech company to tech company, every day.
People’s lives are being devoted to pushing new applications and features out, at a faster and faster pace.
And for what? On an individual level, people are hoping to keep their jobs. But at higher levels, certain people are counting on eventually cashing in on the backbreaking efforts of their contributing staff.
Greed and the unending quest for positive feedback is ruining peoples’ lives, for essentially nothing.
Do you really think that humanity as a whole is better off for being able to check out the <new celebrity gossip> feature a few days earlier because a group of people sacrificed sleep and sanity for a while to “get ‘er done” as soon as possible?
Is this really improving the aggregate levels of human happiness, comfort, and satisfaction on our planet?
You tell me.