Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Dancing Bear

After the HABSOC booth setup shipped we had a week of time to actually work as developers. Or so we thought. Since the CEO had said that he wanted a duplicate of the booth demo in the board meeting room someone had to put that together. Sales hadn't really participated in the construction of the demos or configuring the equipment for the booth so they didn't really know how to set up the board demo. That meant that it would likely fall to development again. Which again meant that some of us wouldn't be programming for a little while longer. The secret codename given to this demo by our architect was "The Dancing Bear." The idea being it doesn't matter how well the bear dances, it's a miracle it's dancing at all.

Another developer and I along with a sales engineer (we'll call him Blinky since he has a nervous twitch that causes him to blink almost constantly), Fredo (my boss), and the CEO all had an impromptu meeting to iron out the details. We need a nickname for the CEO who happens to be from Norway (as far as you know). Fenrir seems good enough. Descended from the god of mischief and strife, bound by the gods (the board members), but is ultimately destined to grow too large for his bonds and devour Odin (our company). Yeah, that paints a pretty accurate picture. Fenrir tasks Blinky with putting together the board room demo. Since Blinky simply can't do it, it's understood by all that the other dev and I will do the work and show Blinky what we did after the fact so he can maintain it and improve it. Of course, Fenrir doesn't really want a duplicate of the booth, even though that's what he said.

To get to the bottom of what it is we'll be doing, I ask Blinky to rank the seven demos in order of importance for the board demo. That way, we can work in priority order and we are more likely to successfully deliver the most important items. This is called "common sense" in some circles, but not this one. Blinky takes the out of date Excel spreadsheet with the list of five demos the sales guys were supposed to deliver (and didn't) and begins working on it. After a few minutes he says he thinks he's got it. He proudly explains, "I've marked these demos with a check and these other ones with a check plus. This one is a check minus."

I look at the other dev who looks right back at me. We both look at Blinky. I look at Fredo who smiles and nods with satisfaction. Although I'm very impressed at this new "base check" numbering system he's invented, I try again by saying, "Okay. Oh, those demos are out of date. Here's a list of the seven demos that are going to HABSOC. Just number those one through seven with one being something you feel you must have for the demo. Item number seven is something you would still like to have but is less important than the numbers that come before it."

After a few more minutes I get, "These three are number one. And this other one we really need. And I'd like the other ones."

"Great. That's a very good start. I'll just go ahead and number these in the order I think is most important. We'll go through them one by one and you can let me know if it should be higher or lower." I figure this is close enough to The Price is Right to make sense. I'm just hoping he doesn't make the connection and mysteriously bid $1. We finally get through the list and determine that we are on the hook for delivering items one through four. The rest can be done later but they don't have enough "sizzle" to be high priority. That's their word. I'm sure they had a meeting and agreed to begin working it into sentences because I heard it roughly ten times over the next five minutes.

The other dev and I pounded out an equipment list over the next fifteen minutes or so. Since we'd depleted our stock of "extra" stuff (also known as stuff we stole from other less important departments--like QA) while building the HABSOC demo, we felt we would need to buy this stuff. We all looked at Fenrir who smiled and said, "Of course. Money is not an object. Look guys, this is something we can show that people will say, 'Fuck! Look at how fucking good this is!' That's something. Let me tell you." Apparently he loves to swear when he's making up dialog for fictional people. Plus English is his second language (at least) so I think the swearing has less impact for him than the people he's talking to at the time. It doesn't bother me personally since I love to swear but I could see how it might not be a great trait for a CEO.

Blinky was tasked with getting us the necessary equipment. A fact that he was quite happy with since it meant he could rack up some airline points with his personal credit card. Before the meeting ended Blinky turned to the other developer and I and asked, "So when will you guys be able to get started?"

"We can start doing something when we have the computers. When will we have the computers on the list?"

"That's what I want to know," Blinky responded.

"Dude, you're the one buying them."

"That's right. Okay. Like I said, I can have the stuff by Tuesday." I guess if something isn't actually on fire it's very hard for some people to pay attention. Go figure.

We all ended the day feeling like we had made the best of a bad situation. Dev would create the demos in priority order, buying equipment as necessary, and the other groups would stay out of the way this time.

In the morning Ike, the head sales engineer, came in and once again got his panties in a knot over development trying to steal the show. He nixed everything on the equipment list and determine he could do nearly everything with equipment borrowed from other departments. He then stole the card reader from the HABSOC demo (see previous post) with the intention of using it for the board demo and smuggling it onto the trade show floor. The only item that had to be bought was the special printer we needed for one of the demos.

Next, he added the only HABSOC demo he actually worked on back onto the list of priority board room demos. So now there would be five demos. We could work on them all simultaneously to save time. He explained how this wouldn't add to the risk since we had already cobbled together the demos for HABSOC. This time it "should be easy." The other dev and I washed our hands of this and told him to go ahead and let us know when he needed our help.

This was on a Friday. The demos needed to be done by the following Thursday. The IT guy spent most of Tuesday getting the new printer working. It was a later model than what we sent to HABSOC so he had to figure everything out again. Late Tuesday Ike discovered that he needed to buy a bunch of equipment from the original list. Apparently we didn't have most of the stuff he thought we did. He seemed mildly confused at how the other developer and I had missed this fact. He finally got the equipment together and working on Wednesday. He was still having problems with his extra demo but he was now ready for the other dev and me to go ahead throw together our four demos. We put our stuff together and walked him through using them. He managed to get his stuff working and the demo was ready for Thursday.

Fenrir made the little bear dance for everyone. Happiness ensued, despite everyone's best efforts.


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