Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Show Must Go On (Part 2)

One of the demos we decided to send to HABSOC involves a special printer for printing things related to hospital billing stuff. I know that may be getting a little too technical and may even be giving out some of our trade secrets, but I think it's important to the story. Development had seen the need to get one of these printers about a month out from the trade show. No one had gotten this printer to work with our system to date. No one had really tried. It was a big unknown.

Every time we brought it up though someone would say that it was covered. One of our executives has a demo unit on loan from the company. We can just use that one. We just need to flash the firmware and do some special configuration magic. And then, no one would do anything about it. When confronted with the fact that we'd never tried to get the printer working the response was, "It should be easy." Of course, it actually won't be since it's not a normal printer.

It went on this way until the week we were supposed to pack stuff up and ship it to HABSOC. Finally, one of the sales engineers starts looking into it. She prints out 17 pages of instructions on how to get this thing up and running. When she gets all the way to page 2 she comes to get me to let me know that she doesn't know what the fuck is going on. Luckily for her neither do I. When I bring this up with her boss he assures me that she's on it and that "it should be easy."

Finally the IT guy stepped in to get the job done. In order to do this he needed to get on the exact machines that the demos were on. Now. Right now! He needs on the machine!! Not a machine like it, THAT MACHINE!!! MOVE!!! This derails devs' work effort of putting stuff together for a day and a half while he gets this printer working. When he finally has it working he let's me know that it was easy. You know, once he got past the day and a half of the hard stuff.

At the end of the day on Tuesday (we have to pack on Thursday, ship on Friday) we are done. We hand it off to Ike the sales engineer who then does his dry run for the first time in front of the executives. He stumbles through the demo, but overall it comes off pretty well. At the end I can hear everyone present saying sentences that begin with, "You know what would be cool..." Yeah, I do. It'd be cool if you had paid fucking attention a month or two ago when we were talking about these demos. Then we could implement some of these ideas. Hell, I'll even say that it's hard to know what you want until you see a first draft. In that case we should have worked on these demos a month ago and gotten feedback then. Bringing it up now is pointless.

Finally, the CEO begins rambling incoherently about how this is a world class demo. He should issue a press release. And he wants the exact same demo set up in the conference room so he can demo it to the board exactly one week from that day. He also wants to have an "always ready" demo of all of this cool stuff. This whole adventure warrants its own post and will be seen at a future point on this blog. I mention it here because a one point will become important for HABSOC in a short bit: he'll need special card reader we use in the billing software. It's a simple reader that we can order from a variety of vendors and get well within the week if we expedite it. Total cost would be $2,500. However, we've really needed another one of these for some time as we only have one in house. The CEO says it won't be a problem because money isn't an issue.

The booth setup is proclaimed as done. We begin packing things up on Thursday as per the schedule. At this point Trent, the sales manager, wanders in and says, "Um, did we remember to get screen shots of everything?" You know exactly what that "we" means, don't you? All the developers point out that it wasn't on the schedule and that today is the day we are supposed to tear it down so it can be packed tomorrow. He wanted screen shots in case the board room demo didn't get done in time. He just either expected us to guess that and do it for him or he didn't pay attention to the fact that there was a schedule. At this point he starts strolling around the area while talking loudly on his cell phone. It's obvious that we're intended to overhear that he's tattling on us to some unknown party. When this fails to elicit a response he gives up and wanders off.

The thing to realize about HABSOC is that the equipment delivery and setup is a very tightly controlled union job. You aren't supposed to bring in equipment from the outside--it has to be delivered in the crate(s). If they catch you bringing stuff in they apparently get very angry. Originally we were scheduled to deliver one crate of stuff. This was estimated from when the sales guys were in charge of the demo. When dev got involved and found out how much equipment it would actually need we found out it would require two crates. Not a huge problem, just a pain in the ass for our operations guy. The fun part comes into play when he starts packing things up on Friday and I notice that the card reader is missing.

Someone swiped the card reader from the HABSOC pile so they could use it for the boardroom demo. HABSOC is once a year and is very important to our industry and therefore our company. The boardroom demo happens once a month and in my opinion could have waited. The other option was to spend money and buy another reader (which we need any way). All of the sales guys and their managers assured everyone this would be the best way to do it. This way we don't have to spend the $2,500. Do the boardroom demo next Thursday, then smuggle the reader onto the trade show floor and wire it up. I bitched about this as a wildly unnecessary risk to my manager, Fredo. He's been looking for an opportunity to prove his worth. Fredo, puffed up and "confronted" them. After the confrontation he assured me that it would be best this way and that it actually made sense to take that great of a risk with the trade show. You see this way, we get to shop around for a better price than the $2,500. Hell, maybe we'll find a coupon or something. I finally let it go, comforted only by visions of sales guys getting their fingers smashed by hammer wielding teamsters. A vision that sadly didn't come to pass.

Be sure to join us for our next and final HABSOC installment. I'm desperately trying to catch up to the present here so please be patient.


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