The Marathon Man

This is the third of my series of ridiculous people and happenings that I have come across in my career.  If you have been following along, you know that my career (at least paid career) started at a large company I refer to as Ubber-IT Company.  My first role at Ubber was in a support group working with jcl mostly but generally performing the tasks that nobody else wanted to deal with.

I had moved into a new role with a group that developed document imaging systems using that crazy new technology paradigm called "Client-Server".  I enjoyed working in this group because everything new in tech was what we were working with.  What also made the role interesting was the group of developers I worked with.  They were real programmers.  I have never had the chance to thank this group of developers for the inspiration they gave me, but I am convinced that I would never have accomplished what I have without working early on with a group like that.

However, my group back then is not the focus of the discussion today.  My team members and I sat in a huge cube farm and a few rows over was a group that worked on a project for Huge Government Agency.  This group was well known in Ubber for working obscenely long hours.  Calling what they did a death march doesn’t seem to capture it well because a march implies that it will end at some point.

There was one individual in particular who seemed to go beyond what the others on the Huge Government Agency project did.  I will call him Marathon Man.

I have always been an early riser, getting in to the office around 6 am.  Back then, with no wife and family, I also stayed quite late.  On occasion, I would even drop by the office on weekends and sometimes very late.  Even at these odd hours, I do not recall every being at the office when Marathon Man was not working diligently in his cubicle.

I came to the office early one Monday morning to find that Marathon Man was not in his cube.  Next to his cube was a window that had plywood covering it.  I walked over and wires were exposed from his desk, where his tube and keyboard used to sit.  I looked out the window (we were on the second floor) and below were parts of what used to be Marathon Man’s terminal.  Ubber maintenance had attempted to clean up the mess but there were far too many small parts to get it all in one pass.

Nobody said anything about this.  A few days later, a new tube appeared in Marathon Man’s cubicle and a new window replaced the plywood.  Still no sign of him.

A few weeks later, I saw one of Marathon Man’s teammates in the coffee room and quietly asked what had happened.  He said, "The guy just snapped.  He had a bug that absolutely needed to be fixed by Monday morning and he wasn’t going to make it.  He finally tore his tube out and threw it out the window.  Nobody has heard from the guy since."

I walked out of the coffee room stunned at what I had heard.  I knew then that Ubber wasn’t the company for me and started planning my departure.

I never saw Marathon Man again.  I think of him every now and then and I envision him at a tropical resort, sipping a drink with umbrellas in it, watching the sunset.

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Opera is bringing an EU antitrust complaint against Microsoft

I read this story on Redmond Developer News this morning.  This quote basically summarizes the complaint:

We are filing this complaint on behalf of all consumers who are tired of having a monopolist make choices for them

I am wondering why these frustrated consumers don’t just use the monopolist software product one last time to google for alternative web browser windows and download one of the options.

This complaint has as much chance of actually working as the whole SCO vs. IBM thing.  My favorite quote is:

In addition to promoting the free choice of individual consumers, we are a champion of open Web standards and cross-platform innovation.  We cannot rest until we’ve brought fair and equitable options to consumers worldwide.

Yes you can, Opera.  You can rest right after you have bankrupted yourself attempting to sue a behemoth company that has more lawyers on its staff than you have total employees.  If you need publicity for your product, it will be much cheaper and effective to place a full page ad in every major newspaper in the EU.

Even though I am sure it is fine product, I have never used Opera.  However, I do share something in common with  them:  It is difficult to get knowledge of your product offerings to the consumers that could be interested in buying those products.  It is much more difficult than most people think.  This is specifically true for software products for the general public.  People want to use what they are familiar with and what is easy for them to obtain.  Contrary to their quote, I believe that the number of consumers that are tired of the monopolist is probably about topped out and those people have made their choice.  Unfortunately for Opera, the choice was some other product.

I recently read that market share for the Opera browser is under 1%, while Firefox is somewhere around 10-12%.  I think Safari was around the same percentage as Firefox.  I am not sure how accurate these numbers are and I can’t even remember where they came from.  However, the numbers seem to reflect my own personal surveys of folks I know and they mean that Opera needs to raise their market share if they do not want to go away for good.  I just don’t think this particular approach is going to work for them, even though the EU seems more sympathetic to these types of complaints than their US counterparts.

Of course, these numbers could also change if consumers begin to try other operating systems due to frustration with windows vista or just due to those funny mac vs. pc commercials.  The numbers say this would favor Firefox and Safari instead of Opera.  This is what Opera needs to work on instead of making sure they use up the legal budget before year end.

I have tried Firefox and I use Safari on my mac.  Both are good browsers but I still use IE when I am on windows.  With IE 7, the product has tabbed browsing and pop-up blocking and those are the killer features for me.  The reality is most of my web browsing comes from my rss reader and not my stand alone web browser.

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You’ll Get a Lump of Coal and Like It

In the spirit of the upcoming holiday season, I thought I would create a series of postings on crazy, ridiculous, and downright scary things that have happened to me during my career as a software developer.  Generally, these are the types of things that you can only see if you have spent your career as a consultant.  It just takes that amount of moving around to see so much craziness.  Many of these situations are only funny because so much time has gone by and the pain seems to be forgotten.  These first of these stories is about the lump of coal.

My very first paid programming job was with a huge IT company that shall remain nameless in the post.  Rest assured, you know them but for our purposes we will call it Ubber-IT Company.  My job involved doing everything the experienced members of the team did not want to do.  Things like being on call 24 hours, making sure dataset compression jobs ran (yes, mainframe stuff), and running reports of the TPS variety.

My team was a support team and one of our customer groups was performing a very large, extremely complicated merge of computer systems between two companies that had undergone a corporate merger.  This team of people that I helped support worked absolutely obscene hours for many months.  I heard rumors of failed marriages, health problems, and other undesirable side effects from such a death march.

This project eventually concluded and the day came for the end of project celebration.  Ubber-IT Company was big on giving project trophies.  Everyone who had worked at Ubber for any length of time proudly displayed their project trophies on their cube desk like badges of a war hero and each team member was already clearing space for a new addition.  The VP of Ubber-IT Company came and gave a speech praising the team for their extraordinary level of effort and assured them that they had made a huge profit for Ubber.  Then the trophy boxes were brought out and each team member was announced by name and came forward to receive their badge of honor.

Later, I stopped by the desk of a friend of mine to see what the new trophy was like.  I looked over his trophy collection and could see no new additions.  Just as I had finished looking, he walked up and said, "Oh, are you looking for this?", as he pulled the box out of the garbage can.  He handed me the box and inside was a nice wooden platform with a lump of coal mounted on it.  Along with the coal, came a small piece of paper with a saying that was something to the effect of every diamond starts out as a lump of coal.

I always imagined that the janitors at Ubber-IT Company could not have been happy to carry all of that coal to the dumpster that night.

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