Wed, 13 Jan 2010
Grocery Arrival Excitement?
Many years ago, in the first dotcom boom, I worked for a website performance monitoring company. I was one of the early employees (developer number 3 and sysadmin number 2) and I remember being in a meeting with the company CEO who was telling us about a new pitch we were doing for $SUPERMARKET, they were going to try this new idea of shopping online and then delivering it to your door.
The worst part of it was that they didn't just want monitoring, they wanted a full transaction engine (with some basic OCR), a product I can probably get away with confessing that we didn't have at the time of the sales pitch. We all knew the deal, if we didn't get it life was going to be very hard there for the next six months, so we all knuckled under. The road was long, difficult and uphill in the snow in both directions but eventually we got to the day of the pitch. Which we aced in an astounding display of luck - the new app sometimes got itself in to a little bit of a state if their website had a failure - which it did about 20% of the time. They loved the demo and wanted us to give them full coverage while they did maintenance work. If we pulled it off then we'd pretty much get the deal, none of our competition at the time could match the features, it was just the uptime that was a little worrying.
So we went out and bought a dozen small desktops, monitors and networking kit, installed them all in our spare store room, put some tables and chairs in and had a company meeting. The management were completely open about what was happening, they took questions and then asked how far we'd go to help. We covered the whole weekend from Friday night to Monday morning. Nearly the entire company chipped in, from three letter titles to sales to dev to systems to HR. We had eyes on the machines over the whole period, including when the Solaris admin, the only person to let us down, didn't make his time slot. Out of all the transactions the worst was beans, they had a new version of the code on some of the servers and it'd return very odd results for beans and break the transaction runner in horrible ways. I'll never forget the 4am calls asking what we do when they offer you a lawn-mower instead.
I placed my first ever order online with the $SUPERMARKET yesterday and hopefully it should arrive in the next couple of hours. The interface may have changed and so many of its users take the service for granted that it's a little humbling to realise how much the Internet's changed so very many things. I guess this post's about a combination of things, the best job I ever had (the company was sold in the end to one of it's competitors. I left happy in the knowledge that we ate their lunch until they gave up trying to compete and bought us), how dedicated staff can be in the right environment, why you should push the boundaries of your industry and how sometimes even cans of beans can be exciting.
I had to put a single can in the order to complete the circle. Here's to hoping they don't charge me for a lawn-mower.
Update: They didn't deliver on the night, there was a "problem with the payment" so they took the money out, using the same details and delivered it two nights later. I'll class this one as a draw.
Tue, 12 Jan 2010
Spreadsheets Vs Post-It Notes
I'm a fan of documentation, over the years I've ended up supporting more than one business critical system that has less documentation than you get from a
The only downside, and I've been bitten by a couple of things like this over the last week is the case of the spreadsheet vs the post-it note - if you have a lovely, well formatted and information dense spreadsheet that says "A is 1" and when you get to the server room the switch has a post-it, in bad scrawl, that says "B is 2" which do you believe?