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Saturday, April 21, 2012

Slipping evil in through the back door

Anyone who's working at a company which has had a history of being the darling of the Internet needs to read Coders at Work. It might shut down some of the feelings of invincibility and bring forth a bit of reality.

I am, of course, referring to what happened with Netscape. The timeline moved faster than you might realize. It was founded in 1994 and went public in 1995 with a huge splash. Those days didn't last long, though. By 1998 it was part of AOL. jwz (who was interviewed about this and other things in the book) left in 1999.

That's only five or six years total, and it looks like the usual four-year vesting term played a large part in it lasting even that long.

I would pay particular attention to the part where he first starts talking about Collabra. It's on page 19 of the edition I have here. Notice that Netscape acquired them, but then managed to insert a bunch of their management into the ranks above the people doing all of the work. They "turned over the reins to this company", as he puts it.

He goes on to say that the acquisition started this rewrite of their client product (the web browser itself), and "it basically killed the company". There's also a nice reference to the second system effect.

If pop culture is more your thing, then think back to that one episode of South Park where Trapper Keeper integrates with a certain TV personality and winds up getting sick. It was on track to take over Cheyenne Mountain but in its race to absorb everything, it wound up ingesting something which slowed it down. That was enough to get inside and take it apart.

Put another way, who's your company's Collabra?

See also: Groupware Bad.