Sunday, October 07, 2007

The Show Must Go On (Part 1)

For those of you that don't follow the fast paced world of hospital billing systems there are, let's say, three big hospital management trade shows throughout the year. The big one is at the end of August--the Hospital Administration and Billing Software Convention or HospAdminiBillSoCon for short or HABSOC for super short. Our company was going to have a booth at the convention this year which is held in Topeka, Kansas (the hospital billing software capital of...Kansas, I guess). Of course our sales guys were responsible for putting together the booth which was to contain several demos of the exciting functionality in our application.

You have to ship your booth contents to the show a week before the convention. We had to have a manifest for the equipment we were shipping on a Friday, pack the equipment the following Thursday, and ship it the Friday immediately following (to be delivered a week later and set up by the sales guys since no developer would be attending the show). That's one week to get our shit together. The sales guys were adamant that they would handle putting together all of the demos, about five in all. They pissed away a month and had a list of five demos that were pretty much identical to the same shit we always demo. They weren't too firm about assigning responsibility for putting together these demos, acquiring equipment, or even coming up with any kind of a deadline. They did, however, have the list in Excel which made it feel pretty darn official and efficient. Finally with two weeks until the show the development team began to express some concerns. We drew up a list of potential issues and ran them by the head of marketing along with some much better (flashier) demo suggestions. We were assured that no one was interested in our cute little demos. As for the concerns, one by one he "addressed" them by saying that it was being handled.

The only thing the sales guys had done up to this point was get a server. Of course, it was a bleeding edge powerhouse with four 700Mhz processors that our IT guy was trying to sell us from his private collection. Normally I would be worried about a heat problem with a server that has almost as much horsepower as my desktop, but luckily it had a CPU fan that was only slightly louder than a jet engine--sure to be a hit within the confines of our booth. And as another plus, maybe we could hand out free earplugs with our company logo on it. Our company name has a ring to it, just like your hearing. Zing, zap, pow!

The remainder of the concerns were going to be handled when several of the sales guys would sit down on a Monday (the Monday after the Friday when they were supposed to have had the equipment list) with a couple of laptops and throw something together. We'd learn later that our competition showed up on site with carpenters and built a two story booth on the trade show floor but that's only important to illustrate our company's extreme incompetence.

Suddenly it began to feel like a big game of "responsibility chicken." Anyone willing to accept the very real possibility that our company would look like shit at the trade show would be off the hook for doing the work. Development blinked and started putting together the demos from some previous work we had done as iteration demos. One by one each demo became dev's responsibility as a sales guy would mention in passing that they wouldn't be doing one of their demos and that they'd be using ours instead (which they had insisted they didn't need or want us to work on).

Finally we just started putting together the mock up of the booth. We taped off an area the size of the booth and duplicated the booth layout, complete with multiple tables matching those that would be provided at HABSOC. At this point the loudest and most abrasive guy from sales got his weenie in a knot because development was trying to take over his stuff, as if he couldn't do his job. We'll call this sales guy Ike because "Ike" has one good "I", much like the sales guy.

From that point forward, Ike would "help" us out by doing things like changing the VNC passwords on the servers (the servers that had no monitors because he insisted he didn't need them or a KVM (to which he later said he never said that)). Ike was also useful for doing things like taking rack mounting hardware from our production servers to put in the small mobile rack we had for the show--the one we bought from the IT guy from his large collection of surplus Soviet era computer equipment.

Ike was also great in that he tasked us with buying some more RAM for "his" server. A developer paid for it out of pocket (to be reimbursed later) along with another $350 of assorted "oops we need one of those" items. This happened because everyone with a company credit card mysteriously disappeared when it was time to go shopping. The real fun began when the developers installed the RAM and sat the old RAM on top of the server rack. The QA guy grabbed it for the QA lab since it wasn't being used. For the next week Ike would ask several times a day where his RAM was. No one seemed to know. So, Ike waited until one of the developers went on vacation and accused her of stealing the RAM. Yep, that's what happened. She stole his fucking RAM! That was the only logical conclusion. He then went up and down the hall talking loudly (even for him) about how that damn developer stole his RAM. The RAM reappeared after this of course. When Ike was asked about maybe apologizing the response was, "For what?"

"Well, you accused her of stealing when she wasn't even here to defend herself. Where was your RAM?"

"That's what I want to know," Ike replied.

"Don't you have it now?"

"Yeah. Exactly."

There you go. In all fairness, he thought she was a dirty stinking thief. Why would you apologize to a thief?

So ends Episode I (maybe I should start with IV) of the great HABSOC debacle.


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