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Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Feedback: canaries, bad managers, pranks, and book 3?

More feedback means more responses. Thanks for writing in!

Simon asks:

Hello! Just discovered your blog and am excited to read through it. I'm curious if you've considered an updated ebook covering more recent posts? Would be great to go through on Kindle.

Amusingly enough, the reason for the first book was that someone wrote in and said "you write too much, so can you batch it up so I can read it on my Kindle?"... and the rest is history.

Book number two happened because as 2013 dawned, I looked back at 2012 and said "there sure is a lot of stuff since the last book", and decided it was time to fflush() it, so to speak.

But... what about the things since then? Despite working a "real job" from 2013 to 2018 and having output drop off to zero for weeks at a time, there are still 404 posts from that six year stretch. By way of comparison, 2012 (book #2) was 493 posts, and 2011 (book #1) was 294. It stands to reason that there's probably enough stuff to roll up into a third volume to make people happy.


In responding to the Canary Macguffin, Julius says:

for me (when I'm the adventurer) it's because i can never properly estimate how long my current quest will take that must complete before i can begin the new quest. and i'm pathologically optimistic when i talk about my schedule with the person that's hired me for the new quest.

I don't think that's quite the same thing that I was getting at with my post. The original problem stemmed from making a request of another team, and then during periodic updates, receiving news like "I'm on it" and "right away" and "top of my list" and "sure thing, working on it now".

The problem was that they couldn't have possibly gone anywhere with it, since the "CM" had to be tackled first. I'll use another analogy to try to make my case better.

Let's say I go to someone in my company who is on a team that produces drawings for folks like me. They are willing to make anything that involves putting pencil to paper. I hand them an oddly-shaped object and ask if they would be willing to trace its outline onto a piece of paper and then fill it in with a gradient. They agree, and accept the job.

Weeks later, I hear they are still working on it. But then, one day, I realize they couldn't have done the work with the normal overhead lighting at their desk. They'd need an actual desk lamp of some sort with a bright enough bulb to cast a nice shadow onto the paper. I look at their desk, and there's no lamp, and people confirm there never has been one.

Worse still, I don't see any pending orders for lamps from this team, nor do I see any evidence of research being done into what might be good for this particular task.

The reality of the situation is that they haven't done one thing to the project. I don't know why. The exact reason isn't even important at this point, since it's being overshadowed (sorry) by their updates which are obviously falsehoods.

Projects sometimes turn out to have milestones you didn't realize would be there at the point you set out. Those milestones can be a good indicator of progress or the lack thereof. Those indications can then see if you are getting honest feedback or not when asking for status.

I can handle things being slow up to a point. What I can't handle is something made up out of whole cloth seemingly to "keep me from getting angry". I wasn't angry with the slowness, but watch what happens when I find out about being lied to. Yeah.

Be honest about your status. If it gets you in trouble, you probably don't want that person as a boss or customer, anyway.


Kurg replied to the age discrimination in the Valley post from about two weeks ago:

The amazing thing about the manager asking the question, "Why are you still working?" is that it can be turned around at the manager. If the manager is such a shining light, why hasn't *he* cashed out yet? Being a developer of intermediate wonderfulness should be appropriate at any company where the managers are still working.

I guess my friend could have turned on a dime and said "yeah, well, why are YOU still here?", but it wouldn't have actually worked in practice. The manager in question was approximately 25, or roughly half the age of his report (my friend).

The manager could just as easily fired back with "I haven't been in the biz long enough yet", which has an implicit continuation of "but YOU HAVE", and thus they dig the hole deeper.


An anonymous reader writes, referencing "ATDT relief" :

I have yet to see a post where you used your powers for evil. I mean, not outright illegal but like giving someone grief or playing a prank etc. I know you have mischief in you. So share please. Loved the AT-DT post!

I guess pranks aren't really my thing. If you remember when the Jerky Boys were going around doing prank calls, or Crank Yankers later, my response to that was nothing but cringing and avoidance. I'm not a fan of messing with people like that.

With respect to the post where I would dial that one person's phone to get him to leave me or my friend alone, there's an important part you might not have noticed: I never did it any other time. I could have totally wired that thing up to ring him randomly during the day, even when I wasn't around. Or, I could have done it by hand when he wasn't bothering us. But, I never did.

My brand of humor in a work environment of late has typically involved recycling meme pictures. There's a scan from a comic book of a giant chicken (rooster, whatever) who's doing the "two-fingers look-at-me, I'm looking-at-you" also known as "I'm the captain now" thing. This is split across two frames of the comic with speech bubbles, one being "BUH..." and the other being "GOK!". (Because, you know, chicken noises.)

I used to post that to a group called "Overheard at (company)" when people would relay something they overheard which went like this:

A: You get that thing done yet?

B: Just about. Need to write tests.

A: Eh, test in prod!

B: Woohoo!

That's when the giant chicken would pop up. I posted it a few times, and then once when another "overheard" post came up, someone pinged me and I popped up and posted it again. Then, some days after that, yet another "test in prod" type post went out, and I wasn't available, so another person posted it for me.

That's when I created a new oncall rotation and added them to it. I just replied and said "welcome to the oncall!", and they got the joke.

I never actually explained how it would work, but people are smart and understood right away. The idea was: a bunch of volunteers join this "chicken" oncall list. Then, when someone posts something in that group which needs to summon that meme image of the chicken, someone else pings the oncall. The oncall shows up, and they post the meme.

The whole thing is funny because it's ridiculous. The person who's pinging the oncall could totally post the pic themselves, but it's far funnier to tag a third person in the post, who then shows up and "does the needful", so to speak.

The best part is that while I put myself and this one person on the oncall rotation, once it became known, a whole bunch of people added *themselves* to it. They basically signed up to possibly post a meme picture as a reply in a group if someone summoned them.

I also set up a wiki page for it. The contents were just the words "BUH" and "GOK" in descending HTML header size: H1, H2, H3, and so on, followed by a list of links to times when it had been invoked. The idea was to not explain the joke and let people figure it out for themselves. They did.

That's the sort of thing I liked doing. It's the gentle reminder that you really should not brazenly ship code for the biggest web site in the world without testing it first. You definitely shouldn't turn something on and then head out the door to go on vacation for two weeks.