Gossip, gossip, gossip

Yes, there has been a major excitement at work, and every office is buzzing. Nick has shaved off his beard. It took a little while to percolate, but once people realised, there was a continual stream of people coming to check this, that and the other, and make sure to get a good look at the previously-concealed jawline. Needless to say, it was Jeanette who stepped right out there and asked why he’d done it. And lo and behold, our unremarkable coder has managed to bag himself a starring role in his local village production of The Wizard of Oz.

He explained that some years ago someone had heard him sing, and suggested that he would be an asset. So he had joined the chorus, and stood in the back row whenever possible. Being painfully shy, he had never admitted to anyone he was there, but apparently there is photographic evidence that he dressed as a cowboy in Oklahoma. This year, flu and children and university had struck at the available menfolk. He had boldly stepped into the breach and auditioned. (I would have paid good money – or money with no moral qualities whatsoever – to have seen that) and either due to his assets or the company’s liabilities, he had been given the role of the Tin Man. This is a part that demands a certain absence in the facial hair department, so he had ventured into the local Boots and bought one of those cut your own hair devices to remove all the long hair, and a razor with seventeen blades at different angles (I may be exaggerating slightly for effect here) to create the required metallic smoothness.

I think that it probably, all in all, lost the company half a day’s work as the news was passed from room to room and cubicle to cubicle. Dates were put in diaries for people to go and see the show.

Even better than that, of course, was what the company gained. Enthusiasm, interest, and a better understanding of developers. They were cheered by people coming in to see them. They were happy that people wanted to know what they did. Even better, the people who dropped by to see the amazing, never-before-displayed chin also dropped by to see what was going to be happening and signed up on the “I’m willing to test” sheet.

I think that the person who made a comment about whether Nick really was “a friend of Dorothy” was being a little unfair. After all, a liking for musicals is perfectly possible to combine with a liking of lego. It’s just a little unusual.

Anyway, I’m definitely going to be buying my ticket for the team night-out to watch him saunter down the yellow brick road, singing “If I only had a heart”. I’ll even offer to give other people lifts.

Sorry, I seem rather to have omitted any user interface information at all, but this is seriously exciting news. I’ll be back on the Doctors V Accountants front real soon now though.

Marketing, what marketing?

Someone asked me if there was a marketing department at this company, because they thought it was a bit implausible that there were that many engineers but no marketeers. Well, yes (you know who you are), but I’m not totally au fait with what they do.

Obviously I know about what they do: they redesign the website, they write blogs, they keep up a presence on twitter, they go to shows, they take out advertisements in appropriate places, they check whether it’s worth being in google AdWords, they buy lists of GPs, they talk to previous customers and so on and so on.

But I’m not sure what they actually do. Is this because I’m  incredibly lazy? Or incredibly uninterested? Or because the summaries that appear in the company newsletter are not terribly informative? Or because (whisper it) communication in this company is absolutely dreadful.

To be fair, communication in most companies is absolutely dreadful. People always thinks there are secrets going on behind their back. The urgent strategy planing meeting that had the head of marketing (Jeanette), Gavin and David in it and we never heard what decisions were made. This may, of course, be because no decisions were made, but I know that Jeanette was trying to get GandD to commit to what was going to be in the next product so she could splash out for ads in the Lancet…
And GandD wouldn’t bite.

Jeanette is one of those women who make me feel tired just to look at her. She’s slender and blonde and wears boots and looks amazing at all times. She can sell hot air to Parliament and bull terriers to babies. And she seems to be permanently on a motivational high. “Come on team, let’s see if we can get another ten orders by tonight” she’ll say, “Who’s with me?” And when she has a spare minute she’ll be running marathons for cystic fibrosis research or jetting off for a spa week on a Greek island to cheer up her sister-in-law.

Jeanette is busy seeing how we could alter the product so it would be suitable for care homes and private secure units. She’s looking at what regulation is coming out of the government about what these people will need and she reckons that there’s a huge untapped market.

And David agrees. There’s a whole lot of legislation that needs to be chewed down and flagged up, what your levels of staffing need to be, how many people you have on your books, where you can make things more or less efficient, how you rotate your on-call staff, how you can manage handovers effectively. We could integrate it with a little mobile note-taking system that doctors could carry with them when they go on call so they could…. And so it goes on. Questions of data security and encryption and touch screen infection issues….

And Gavin loves all that. He’s quite keen on encryption and security and new ways of setting it up. And can we get secured prescriptions sent directly to a chemist for an out of hours call… and so forth and so on. I don’t know the ins and outs of it. I would love to shadow a doctor or two and see what they actually did and what was really needed, but we don’t have time for that, says David, we know what they do, we know what they want, we just have to produce it. And if you developers weren’t so inefficient we’d have a product by now. Didn’t you estimate that it would be finished by September so we could test it in time for the New Year and it would be ready to go when people are spending their budgets left over from this tax year?

“Yes” says Ian, “But you’ve changed the spec four times since then.”

That elusive work life balance

I was going to post about all the wonderful people in development in that Suffolk company, but I felt the need to side-track for a moment. Why is it when talking about work-life balance it’s all about picking your children up from school, taking them to dentist’s appointments or watching the little dears at the school play. There’s never trying to get yourself into balance after being told “I wish you’d fuck off and die” by your teenager before they storm off for school and you have to go to work. Everyone else’s children are  amenable little things, who might possibly be ill and need a lovely caring parent to hold their head while they voimited into a bucket, or need to be ferried between their violin lesson, their karate and their advanced programming course.

I look round at the developers and I wonder what will happen to them. Most of them, (four out of six, if you include Gavin), are single. Whether this is because they are painfully shy or whether it is because they have not yet found a woman who is deeply interested in Star Wars X-wings modelled in lego, I have not, as yet, been able to find out. Of course, that might be a hunt for another man who is deeply interested in Star Wars lego. I wouldn’t like to make assumptions about any of these people’s sexuality. For all I know they are secret furries.

OK. Here are the developers. In order of developoriness. Most extreme is Jiri. He is from the Czech Republic. He likes wearing black. There is a rumour that he is from Transylvania and cannot go outside in daylight, but apart from that he has nothing in common with film vampires. To start with, he has bad hair. He loves algorithms. And Diet Coke. He sits as far away form the other developers as he can. This is possibly to justify the way he shouts very loudly when he wants to encourage people into sharing his point of view on such matters as the level of code indentation.

 It’s at this point that I feel that I should point out that the developers haven’t all been men. There have been women. They just leave. Generally after about a year. They come in bouncy and bushy-tailed and confident, and you  can see the sparkle go out of their eyes and the gloss leave their hair. When it returns you know they’ve had a successful interview, and they will soon be moving on.

Then there is Nick. Nick has a beard. It’s not a very successful beard in the world of beards. He’s not going to manage Father Christmas or even Charles 1st. But it is definitely a beard. Nick probably has a point of view on many things, but it is very hard to extract it from him. He has been working for the company almost since start-up, and has found his niche. Extracting him would probably be like extracting an unwilling kitten from a wellington boot; it can be done, but at severe cost to all concerned

The first one in the non-single stakes is Jack. He is still quite young. He roller-blades. And has bouts of enthusiasm for all sorts of things, ranging from software to apple pie recipes. He’s not really a very good coder, but he has a girl friend. And he’s a Christian. I still haven’t worked out what sort, but there is no doubt that he is a firm believer and goes to church.

Jack has the good fortune to sit next to Mr Grumpy. Mr Grumpy is divorced. He has worked as a contracter and resented paying a large section of his pay as alimony, so he has moved into the world of paid employment on the grounds that his ex-wife has no rights whatsoever to his pension contributions and his private health insurance. Mr. Grumpy knows that whatever innovations have been suggested have been tried in one of the other myriad companies that he’s worked in and they didn’t work there. He does at least have a scathing sense of humour and a willingness to do what he has been asked to do (on the principle that it won’t work anyway so he might as well waste his time with that as anything else).

Then there is the lead developer, Ian. Ian is married. And has children. And is calm and competent and willing to try and make things work. Ian is probably the wheels on which this company runs (and I am sure that his children will never swear at him before he leaves for work).

And finally, of course, there is Gavin, he of the fast cars (he has just bought an Aston Martin), high dividends and absolute knowledge that he is the cleverest man in the building. He has a weakness for designer shirts that look like Mao jackets. Because Gavin owns half the company, Gavin’s opinion carries quite a lot of weight. And did I mention that he is the cleverest man in the building? Jiri might fight him for that position, but Jiri is handicapped by not owning half the company.

These are the people whom I must persuade to redesign their interfaces so that they can do simple things easily, instead of complicated things ingeniously.