Typing

It’s my “me” night — the boy is with his father, the man is with his brother, and I am home watching a James Bond movie. It’s “Thunderball”, released in 1965; at this time in history my father had been in the country 1 year, I do not believe he had as yet met my mother, and I was -8 years old.

All of the women are decorative, deadly, or both. Any one of them who was competent and even remotely personable was a secretary. The only two remainders were a deadly assassin (ultimately, and inevitably, poor in her job) and the clueless, innocent heroine.

When I was in 8th grade, typing was a requirement for everyone, but you had to do it on an IBM Selectric that was only slightly quieter than a beehive. Typing had time-tests as well as visual tests — you could NOT type the volume in the time if you hesitated to look at the keyboard. I had managed to multi-task and eyeball the keyboard through the first quarter, so my second quarter C’s were not welcome at home. (In point of fact, C’s were never welcome at home, but A’s that went to C’s were very much not ok). My grades came home and my parents acted.

My stepmother grabbed a sheet of blue, circle-shaped stickers. And covered every key in the keyboard of the computer my brother and I used. It was torturous. But I learned to type.

Not to become a secretary.

Seventeen years ago I took a couple of classes at the local community college to learn how to program websites — I was a “web developer” when everybody was, it founded a slightly profitable side business. In 2000 I took classes in DB development, by 2003 I had argued my way into a dev job. In 2004 I got the dream job, at Expedia, to do development in their Reporting group. By 2010 the good jobs had moved to Geneva and I had to find other pursuit. By 2013, I had tired of “other pursuit”.

Today I find myself with two keyboards, two machines, a multitude of projects and lots of things to build. I type a lot these days. But I’m not a secretary.

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Sur La Awesome

My resolution to blog more often has gone by the wayside courtesy of a new job. I started working at Sur La Table about 10 (calendar) days ago (officially) and I’m having a bit of a hard time.

I’m having a hard time separating reality from all of the awesome.

Any time you start a new job, you’re going to be in a “honeymoon” period. Everything is new, and different. It’s a bit like the 4-week rule I had when I was dating. It went something like this:

Week 1: Dating again. Ok, this is cool, this is normal, everyone dates. Cool.

Week 2: He can do no wrong! He’s going to be a Doctor or Lawyer or Artist or Trashman and this totally meets with my life plans because of X/Y/Z contrived plan.

Week 3: He has a fault. It’s not a big fault, it’s a fault; everyone has faults! I’m totally not judging!

Week 4: The fault… has spawned. It has morphed into one giant gelatinous blob of fault-ness, and I can’t stand it.

(At the end of week 4 I’d dump him. He was still on week 1.)

Fully aware that I’m in week two at my new job, I’ve been doing my damnedest to be diligently down on the novelty, and… it’s just not working.

I get to *build* things again. My professional experience with C# is very, very little and very, very old, but I’m almost done building a nifty little widget complete with error handling. I’ve reaffirmed my faith in Stack Overflow, my lack of faith in MSDN, and re-verified that “Dummies” books are anything but. Half of my day is spent “managing” (two rock stars in their field, incidentally) and the other half is spent “creating”. There are two good coffee sources (NOT including those directly in-office) nearby, two Subways, and my desk has a view of Mount Rainier.

Don’t get me wrong: we’re a small shop. There’s a lot of cross-functional, “ok-you-don’t-know-it-so-can-you-build-that-into-your-estimate” expectations, a lot of last-minute, “oh by the way”. But… I get to *build* things again.

And… there are no more 5am meetings (or 6am, or 7am, or 8am). My earliest meeting is 9, most people don’t set one past 5. People show up, they work balls out, they go home. A tremendous lot gets done and while the shortcomings of the vendor/system/funding/etc. are all publicly, and explicitly, acknowledged, this somehow does not diminish the drive of the people who are involved.

We are selling kitchen supplies for the devoted chef. We are not saving lives, we are not universally accessible. But we are providing you the very best that you can get, at the very best value you can get it, with the very best, real advice you can get it with. We are trying lots of things, and we are experimenting, and we are innovating. And yes, my first paycheck will likely be contributing to my future Le Creuset collection. The real value, however, is that I get to build things again.

Even if it means I hit Stack Overflow six times a day.

Taking Back Travel

Sitting on a plane that until recently held a screaming baby (the baby was not jettisoned, the baby stopped screaming) I realized that I no longer will be traveling for work, or not nearly as much, and this is, I think, a good thing.

While I love to travel — specifically to see new things, eat new things, to take pictures of the new things I’m eating so others can see it (tweet tweet) — traveling for work is much different from traveling for pleasure. When you travel for work, your time is NOT your own; your arrival is usually timed for *right before* your first meeting, your departure is usually timed for *right after*. There is no sleeping in, you rarely use that fitness center you wanted to be certain was in the hotel, you frequently discover you packed the wrong shoes. Airports become a game of “who has free wi-fi?” (NB: in Heathrow and Fiumicino you need to pay for it, I recommend the business traveller get a Boingo pass; in Phoenix and SeaTac it’s free) Your fellow passengers, even at their most charming, are merely cogs in the system and a hinderance to getting through the security line, or to the restaurant, or to the gate, or to your seat. You become a connoisseur of airlines for their coffee service, for their in-flight magazine, for their leg room. The trip isn’t fun anymore, in short.

As we drove in our rental car to the airport today (fun fact: Phoenix airport has an offsite car rental facility — 20 minutes’ drive offsite. If you follow the freeway signs, you’ll be treated to the full driving tour of all 4 terminals of PHX before being sent down a variety of roads for 15 minutes to get to where the facility actually *is*, only to get bussed *back* to the terminal), I realized that my son and I had “time” at the airport — time that wasn’t going to be spent playing “catch up on email before 9 hours in flight”, or “see who can get the freshest sandwich out of the vending machine”. I was not flying at an odd time, the restaurants in the terminal were open, we even looked at overpriced souvenirs. (We chose a hot sauce that may or may not have a swear word in the name).

I will miss team dinners in foreign lands where the currency is colored and the food is graciously unhealthy, I will miss someone else paying for my in-flight wi-fi. I will miss the welcoming of my team and the ferrying duties of bringing treats to, and from, “home”. (Tip for Americans traveling to teams abroad: bring Girl Scout Cookies. Just do it.)

I am, however, ready to travel for fun again.

Transition

Managing transition is either awesome or sucks, there doesn’t seem to be a “transitory” mood to it; either everything buttons up all sweetly or everything runs amok at the last-minute. Or so it seems.

My transition between Expedia and Sur La Table is marred by my boss’ work trip, my personal trip, and a whole host of concern over who takes what work management piece over. Not to fear, the formal plan has been (properly) vetted and communicated, now is the task of actually putting those succinct bullet points in place. For the most part they’re actually aligning nicely, so I’ll deem this transition “awesome”.

I’m very much looking forward to my new position, and a bit sad to leave Expedia, although I really do feel it was time. After nearly nine years, 8 offices, 7 countries, 6 bosses, 5 titles, 4 buildings, and 3 groups (not including a brief reorganization into Finance (?!)), it’s time see new things. And so I go from Passion One (Travel) to Passion Two (Cooking).

When I was 15 I got a job at a Dairy Queen. “Don’t worry,” they said, “after a couple of days you won’t like ice cream or fast food anymore. Everyone loses weight.”  That actually was true for me but more because the walk to and from work was a mile each way, which was certainly good for my food-centric self. I am not, nor have I ever been, known to eschew a Blizzard or a cheeseburger. Going to Sur La Table does not mean I will stop cooking, it will mean I will want to procure more cookware and do more things, and that is an exciting prospect.

Aside from the added incentive to create in the kitchen, though, is the incentive that I will be creating product again — specifically technology product. I’ll be running a small development team, as well as doing some dev myself, and I’m extremely excited at the prospect. I’m quite rusty in parts — although the SQL whiteboard was fun my C# skills are woefully outdated — and so the next few days will be that awkward position of cramming for the “new” job whilst handing off the old.

Transition, indeed.

OW, says the Bobbie

I can’t tell if it’s actual full-body disintegration or if it’s old age or if it’s bad karma, but I find myself *back* getting X-rays and *back* on anti-inflammatories. This sucks. I was being so good, and it’s not like I signed up for anything crazy or over-trained. I’ve been lifting weights (lightly, nothing more than about 25/30 pounds) 2-3 times per week, and running 2-3 times per week (nothing more than about 2-3 miles), so I should not be dealing with this.

About a week ago the Male Person and I were commiserating on lower back pain, the kind you get here and there that is annoying and you may put a heating pad (or ice) on it and take an Advil and it goes away. Annoying, but live-able.

As of yesterday I had to use assistance (chairs, tables, handles, etc.) to sit down/get up. I went back to my French Canadian Doctor, because it was time for some punishment anyways. The good news: It’s not sciatic nerve stuff! Bad news: it’s probably more degeneration, but we’ll find out. Eventually.

In the meantime, I have purchased a back brace. There is absolutely nothing at all attractive about a back brace. It’s all white nylon and velcro, and reminds me of oversized superhero belts. Today I could be Monochrome Woman, as my grey tank top and black pants mean the white belt just really makes me look … spiffy (insert eyeroll here). Walking around gingerly means lots of people look at you funny. In this case, my walk is something like that of the cartoonish old man – butt tilted forward, therefore abdomen tilted forward, upper body tilted slightly back to help with balance, and a slow, shuffling gait to get places. Combined with my spiffy back brace, I look a prize idiot.

The fervent hope is that between anti-inflammatories and muscle relaxants (night-time only! no wine! um, yay!) things will calm down enough so I can fly out to vacation (yay! Arizona!) and then come back to do my last three days of work for Expedia.

Because I don’t want to make the post about my new job led-in by all of this whining, and because I will have plenty more time to blog on the plane to/from AZ, I won’t get into that here :). You will just have to wait.

(I hate waiting…)

OK, you can have this much: I’m going to work for Sur La Table, in the Applications Dev Team. I’m very excited, and yes I get a discount, and believe it or not no, that wasn’t the biggest selling point.

Forming an Opinion

I have a really hard time with form letters and emails that are poorly written and researched. Normally I just shine it on and ignore them, but today I was in a special mood and so I leave you this (edited) email exchange. The only piece redacted is the company I work for because it’s not really about them. I’ve also put it in chronological order, as best as I can figure this guy is in Texas somewhere. Honestly, it needs to be completely rewritten, but that would be doing his job for him. Oh, wait…

—–

From: Jason Walker [mailto:jason.walker@bizzdatabase.com]
Sent: Thursday, March 14, 2013 2:51 PM
To: Bobbie Conti
Subject: Building a strong Brand

Hi Bobbie,

Hope you are doing well!

You being the Director, Content Management of MYCOMPANY, Inc., it will be my pleasure to introduce our self as innovative marketing management service provider that helped marketing oriented leaders and professionals build strong brands.

We have more than 100 million consumer contacts including email id and phone number and 50 million + B2B contacts worldwide. We could provide you with contacts across any verticals and industry.

  • Custom List: We can provide you the contact list of all your target audience based on target industry, target geography and job titles / age, income, interest and other related parameters.
  • Optimizing digital assets: We can help you in creative design of Photos, Documents and Articles that can be leveraged for Social media marketing.
  • Ranking in local search results: Creating a local presence online is now more important than ever, especially for targeting a local customer base.
  • Online Customer/Client engagement: Marketing is no longer a one-way communication.  Brands and Customers/Clients are engaging in a two-way dialogue with word-of-mouth playing a larger role than ever.
  • Web Banner Ads: We will also help you with Web banner ads in a creative manner.
  • Online campaigns: We can help you in doing PR campaign, worldwide campaign for your new launch and offers etc.
  • We also can help you with the contact database of Distributors, Wholesalers and Retailers etc. within your target industry.

We also have other end to end marketing services. Kindly let us know how we can help you and your company to grow more in terms of revenue.

It will be great if we could have a quick discussion over the phone for creative marketing activities.

Thanks,

Jason Walker

Customer Sourcing Consultant – Marketing

Direct: 713-481-7746 ext: 4315

Locations: USA, UK, EMEA, ANZ, APAC, LATAM and all Countries and Cities.

From: Bobbie Conti
Sent: Thursday, March 14, 2013 4:56 PM
To: Jason Walker
Subject: RE: Building a strong Brand

This has absolutely nothing to do with my job. Thanks.

—-

From: Jason Walker [mailto:jason.walker@bizzdatabase.com]
Sent: Thursday, March 14, 2013 2:59 PM
To: Bobbie Conti
Subject: RE: Building a strong Brand
Importance: High

Hi Bobbie,

Thanks for the response.

I will be more thankful to you if you could refer me to someone who can take initiative on this.

Regards,

Jason.

—-

From: Bobbie Conti
Sent: Thursday, March 14, 2013 3:24 PM
To: Jason Walker
Subject: RE: Building a strong Brand

Well, considering that you’re pinging me about client lists ([MYCOMPANY] has its own client base), optimization for social media (we have our own Social Media team, too),  SEO (ditto), etc., I can’t really in good conscience forward this. It doesn’t look terribly well researched, to be honest.

Also, I’ve taken the trouble to edit your form email below. There are some grammar issues, was this perchance written by someone who is not trained in marketing communications, or someone for whom English is a second language? Note that I didn’t have time to correct everything, but you will want to pay attention to capitalization consistency (e.g., “Custom List” vs. “Optimizing digital assets”), possibly providing some statistics to back your claims (e.g., “Creating a local presence online is now more important than ever”…Why?), and formatting consistency (your last bullet should have a blue header to match the others). I’d also suggest changing the vibe from “we can help/we can also help” to “we do”, as active voice works better in marketing.  Finally, your form email keeps referring to my “target industry” – you should be able to figure that out and pop it in, so rather than consistently referring to my “target industry” you need to put something like “within the Travel and Tourism Industry”.

Thanks,

B

“Hope you are doing well!

You being As you are the Director, Content Management of MYCOMPANY, Inc., it will be  is my pleasure to introduce our self my company as an innovative marketing management service provider that helpsed marketing oriented leaders and professionals build strong brands.

We have more than 100 million consumer contacts including email addresses id and phone numbers, and 50 million + B2B contacts worldwide. We could can provide you with contacts across any verticals and industry.

  • Custom List: We can provide you the contact list of all your target audience based on target industry, target geography, and job titles / age, income, interest and other related parameters.
  • Optimizing digital assets: We can help you in creative design of media, including photos, documents and articles that can be leveraged for Social Media marketing.
  • Ranking in local search results: Creating a local presence online is now more important than ever, especially for targeting a local customer base.
  • Online Customer/Client engagement: Marketing is no longer a one-way communication.  Brands and Customers/Clients are engageing in a two-way dialogue with and word-of-mouth playsing a larger role than ever.
  • Web Banner Ads: We will also help you with creatively design Web banner ads in a creative manner.
  • Online campaigns: We can help you in doing create (or by “in doing” did you mean “execute”) a local or global PR campaign, worldwide campaign for your new launch and offers. etc.
  • We also can help you with the a contact database of Distributors, Wholesalers and Retailers etc. within your target industry.

We also have other end to end marketing services, available here (and link to where they are listed, maybe your website?). Kindly Let us know how we can help you and your company to grow more in terms of revenue.

It will be great if we could I’d love to have a quick discussion over the phone for about creative marketing activities opportunities.”

In Defense of Marissa Mayer

Speaking as a working mother who has an extremely flexible schedule I realize it’s going to be a bit odd that I believe Marissa Mayer is doing exactly what needs to be done in removing work-from-home privileges in her organization.

Marissa Mayer’s job is not to be nice to people, her job is to turn around the behemoth that is Yahoo!. By its very function Yahoo! wants to compete with Google, and in its present state it is not able to do so. For big change you need big projects, for big projects you need lots of people working together, and as many of us recall from our formative developer years that means hallway meetings and late night in the office and pizza and early morning scrum sessions. While your work from home days may make *you* more productive, how more productive does it make *your team* — or your project? How many things get held up for “the next time you’re in office”? It’s interesting to note that the interviewee about this issue in this morning’s NPR story was a work-from-home lawyer mother, who spent the first 2 minutes describing how close the washer and dryer were to her desk, and how working from home was more convenient because she could get laundry done and walk the dog. How exactly does this further the company she works for?

It should be noted that the memo indicated people would still be able to take time to “stay at home for the cable guy”. This is not a draconian “you must be at your desk from 9am-5pm every day” mandate, this is good common business sense: work gets done in the office — please be in the office to do it.

Much has been made of the fact that Mayer, as a new mother, built a nursery in her executive suite, which some choose to point to as a double-standard. I disagree. Mayer paid for the nursery with her own money and it means she herself as a working mother will be in-office. Most of us don’t have office (or cubicle) space big enough to install a nursery in, but that (office space) is a function of title and position, and not of preferential treatment. You want to bring your kid to work? Fork up the money to install a nursery in your cube, or, more practically, don’t bring your kid to work. Mayer is using her own funds, of which we can assume she has plenty (relative to her title), to bring her kid to work. For *her* this decision is likely as practical as it is practicable: having made the declaration people need to be in-office, she’s doing so as well. The fact that she can pay to have her kid be there with her (presumably attended to by a nanny or other caregiver) is irrelevant.

Then there is the point that this declaration will harm Yahoo!’s chances in hiring new talent. There’s an inverse to this, too: those working remotely or from home for Yahoo! can choose to work elsewhere. If you’re that good, make a case for an exception, or get a job with a company that will let you work from home. If you’re not that good, you don’t really have a leg to stand on; work to get to be that good. And one of the perks in working for Google (ostensibly Yahoo!’s competitor model) is that there are all sorts of services and amenities *on site*, designed to keep you on campus. Google does not seem to have difficulty recruiting talent; so the rationale is that this ban on permanent work from home will not harm Yahoo!’s chances of getting quality staffers — Yahoo!’s reputation for innovation (or lack of it) will.

As further opinions weigh in, many ex-Yahoo!ians are coming forward to indicate Mayer is making the right decision, because there’s credible evidence that the work-from-home policy was abused, and oftentimes there were people still being paid and essentially not doing anything. It should also be noted that free food and iPhones (and other Google-esque amenities) were offered to in-house employees. Yahoo! has a managerial problem, not a problem with its CEO. As a manager of nearly 200 people and 4 levels, I know that you need to be able to tell via metrics or deliverables if work is getting done. And if it isn’t, you advise, you re-advise, you warn, you re-warn, and then you fire. It’s called “employment”, not “charity”.

Many are worried about “what this means” for other companies. Dire forebodings about how we’re going back to “the dark ages” and the images of Office Space and 9 to 5 come to mind. While it may be true that other companies follow suit, they will have to make the same trade-offs and analysis Yahoo! did: do we need to institute dramatic change, at a potential morale hit and/or dip in prospective employee attractiveness, in order to survive? If the answer is yes then the move is logical. The notion that a company would voluntarily undergo these hits for the benefit of “following the lead of Yahoo!” however is asinine: companies make decisions based on what they need for their company.

Full disclosure: quite a few people on my teams work from home. Many have flexible schedules. I don’t eyeball when people are in the office and indeed if you walk by mine you’ll often see I’m not there (I’m in about 36 meetings in a given week, too). That said, I have a pretty robust framework of reporting and can point easily to the productivity of each person on the team, as well as the quality of the production and the timeliness of it. I don’t need to institute a “Mayer Policy”, because I do not have the same problems Marissa Mayer does.

The Economics of (a Minor) Failure

First, let me point out I’m safe. I am sitting in Heathrow, for the 2nd time today, waiting to get on my flight. For the 2nd time today.

Twenty minutes into flight I realized we hadn’t gone above 10,000 feet. Another minute later all cabin crew were called to the cockpit — over the PA system — and this, if you pay attention at all, and you haven’t had anything to drink and/or have a deep-seated fear of flying you totally forgot about until just the moment you hear this, will make you quietly fret. Then if you pull up the travel map on-screen and discover for the last ten minutes you’ve flown in circles, well… you’re pretty not happy.

We couldn’t pressurize. They tried everything ground crew suggested, none of it worked; so they confessed (our Captain was extraordinarily calming), and flew over the water to dump fuel (fun fact: dangerous to land a fully fueled plane, because the wings are so full of fuel). We spent 20 minutes dumping fuel that vaporized as it exited from the wings, it was both spectacular and appalling (to those of you on the east side of the English channel you may have an odd taste in the air…). Imagine a fire hose strapped to the wing of a plane (on the underside) and then turn it all…the…way…on. For twenty minutes.

After that completed we went back inland and landed.

We were handed 10GBP vouchers. For information, this purchased one tomato-and-mozarella sandwich, one bottle of water, and one glass  of wine. The flight was full (no space), and so this got me thinking about the economics of this little enterprise.

We flew a 747-400, which has a fuel capacity of 57,285 gallons and a passenger load of roughly 416 people (1) (for 3-class version, which is what I was in) but British airways uses 345 for their figure. The plane consumes 5 gallons of fuel per mile (2), at 250 knots per hour and we were up for 45 minutes. The delta between maximum takeoff weight and maximum landing weight is 240,000 pounds, which for fuel means 6.8 pounds per gallon of jet fuel, and therefore 35,294 gallons of jet fuel we had to dump. Currently, jet fuel goes to about $3.30 US as of today (3).

Including flight crew time (time starts when the door closes, for 8 crew members and 2 pilots they probably ran $800, maybe $1000 fully-loaded). I’m not going to include the passenger opportunity cost (e.g., I could’ve done something else for the hour or so this ate up), and they’re going to stick me on another flight that I do not also have to pay for, so they don’t get “credit” for the income of the ticket against the first flight. The rest of this we’ll assume is a dead weight loss.

  • Cost of the meal vouchers for passengers: 10GBP x (345-154) passengers (first class passengers were invited to the lounge for private dinner)=1,910 GBP, at today’s exchange rate is 1.55 USD to GBP, so $2960.50.
  • Cost of fuel burnt (45 flight minutes, which is 3/4 of an hour, at blended speed of 250kph (would actually be a little less, let’s call it 225)is roughly 845 gallons of fuel burnt, at $3.30/gal is $2785 in lost fuel.
  • Cost of fuel expelled: assuming they planned on their burn, they still needed to dump 35,294-845 gallons, which is 35,450 gallons (roughly) at current price is $117,000 roughly.

Total cost: $122,750 (very roughly). This sounds huge to an individual (it is) but in terms of overall expense I’d think it were a rounding error in terms of the bank of overall flights leaving Heathrow for British Airways.

There are other things here that should be flagged but are hard to quantify: costs incurred by passengers beyond their 10GBP purchase (which would be a plus to Heathrow but not British Airways), and the aforementioned opportunity costs. There’s also the plus/minus on the experience in terms of word-of-mouth — interestingly most people were jovial getting off the plane. The general feeling was one of “hey, we’re alive, and they let us know what was going on”. It’s interesting to watch people purchase items they didn’t really want to take full advantage of their free 10 quid, by the way. They’d come to the register having purchased their beer and sandwich, ask for change, realize they won’t get it, and then ask what they could get for 1.5GBP or what have you. The apostrophe here in Heathrow is doing a fair trade in bananas and nuts.

Reporting for Duty

I’m travelling, which means I’m captive in a long metal tube going an insane speed that contains about 300 other people, of which at least 2% are crying babies. Thank you British Airways.

Today’s blog post is brought to you by the reason I’m travelling, or part of it: I’ve hired someone new, and I’m going to meet her (in person) for the first time.  By Expedia standards I took my sweet time – I got notice in September; she just started last week.

Part of the delay was that I was hiring in the UK – where to give 2-3 months’ notice is typical. I am pleased that I was able to get away with about six weeks, which I looked at as a positive sign from the Employment Gods. This means I spent two and a half months looking through CV’s and phone screening people and having lots of disappointment. The fact is I’m picky.

This does not engender you to your coworkers as much as you’d think.

  • For the four people on the interview loop (not including the executive member), this meant interviewing about 8 or 9 people. One actually approached me and asked me to “just pick one already”.
  • For the 20-odd FTE’s and extended contract staff this person would manage, this meant waiting an interminable four months for a local manager, having to deal with me by email and conference call, and having to run things and try things and just deal.
  • For the three internal candidates who were not accepted, this meant wondering just WTF was I looking for anyway, Ms. or Mr. Perfect? (Well, yes…)

Because I was.

The duty of a hiring manager is not to get a warm body into the job – I don’t care how hard the employment market is. The duty of a hiring manager is not to be convenient to him-or-herself, or to his-or-her extended staff, or to his-or-her coworkers on the interview loop.

The duty of a hiring manager is to pick the person best suited for the job.

I have, in my employment history, hired two people in haste. The Scots have a saying that’s relevant – “Marry in haste, repent in leisure”. The two times I hired in haste I had to repent – then put on a PIP (performance improvement plan) – and then “manage out”, as they say.

This is even less pleasant than it sounds – you take a morale hit in your team for hiring someone who is not effective and needs babysitting, you take a hit as an employee of the company because there is this outlying question of “Why did you hire that person, again?”, and the company takes a hit because you just spent resources – hiring resources, placement resources, HR resources, team resources, that-person’s-worth-of-resources on what ultimately finds itself as a failed experiment. The first time I hired in haste I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to fix the problem, the second time I recognized it for what it was and followed the appropriate procedure. Hiring in haste is an expensive, expensive mistake.

You know, as a manager, when you’ve made this mistake. It’s like that first date, in the online dating world, where everything looks pretty much okay and then you get to day 1 (aka, first date) and discover they aren’t what they said they were and aren’t capable (or willing) to do what you need them to. And then it becomes the exercise of “do I try to fit this square peg into this round hole” or “do I cut my losses”?

You also know, as a manager, when you have made the right choice. On day one they are asking the right questions (and there had better be questions). They are asking “why” in the right places, and they are doing things without babysitting. You find they insert themselves exactly where and how they need to be inserted, you don’t have easy answers to every question, and they don’t require an inordinate amount of babysitting.

So no, I wasn’t going to “just hire someone already”.

Some companies go to great lengths to avoid the temptation a frustrated Hiring Manager may face – recently I talked with a friend who works at Amazon about this very topic, and he pointed out they have this person who is, in effect, the Bar Setter. This is the person on the loop that is not in your team and would have only cursory excuse to work with you should you get the job, and that’s the whole point: they are there because they have no skin in the game, other than to see if you’re a good fit for the company. They will not be given to the frustration of “just hire someone already”… unless perhaps they’ve been dragged in on too many loops for the same position (which, it should be noted, could be an effect of the job description not actually describing what you’re looking for).  It’s an interesting solution for the problem, and should I find myself in this bind again I may use it.

Although I consider my lesson learned.

The Cobra Effect

Once upon a time in India, in a village (so the story goes), there was a problem with cobras. There were too many of them.

Cobras, those freaky little reptiles, have a bad rap but the unfortunate truth is they *can* kill you, so it’s understandable that the village wanted them gone. And so the village leaders instituted a bounty for every dead cobra. This would surely be successful, as everyone likes money, and no one likes cobras! Couldn’t miss!

Sure enough, tons of dead cobras were brought in…. but the overall cobra problem didn’t seem to subside. This is because just outside the village were people (you guessed it) breeding cobras, so they could kill them, so they could collect the bounty. Naturally the government didn’t want to pay for purpose-bred cobras, so they stopped the bounty. And the breeders, with no more financial incentive to breed cobras, let the cobras loose, thereby increasing the cobra population.

This would be the precise opposite of the desired solution of the bounty, and this sort of circumstance is called the “Cobra Effect”. You can read about it here (Wikipedia lists the village as the city of Delhi, but I’m not sure I buy that). Another example is the famous pigs of Fort Benning.

Essentially, the Cobra Effect is when your proposed solution actually makes the problem *worse* than it was to begin with. It doesn’t always have to be economic in nature, as I am seeing at work currently.

Fourteen months ago I took my current job and in the first couple of weeks I volunteered to work on a given project. The given project had been languishing for a few months and was on someone’s radar again, so it needed attention. The basic idea was to take 200,000 records and consolidate them into about 6 or 7 thousand, with minimal disrupt. We crafted a comprehensive plan to get the project done, executed it, and…

…it blew up in a horrific, ugly mushroom cloud. Everything that could go wrong did: bad data meant some emails went to wrong people. Emails that went to the right people invariably succeeded in pissing them off, and emails that had been declared not necessary to go out turned out to have been rather necessary, after all. Data was updated but not correctly, thanks to an artifact in code knowledge no one remembered (so the after effect was, “Oh, that’s why that was there.”). 112 Hours later it was fixed. 

After six distinct debriefs and detailed postmortems (“Fix the contact information”, “Vet it with this team in this other fashion even though they originally said the first way was fine”, “Avoid Excel”, “Use Excel”, “put a PM on it”, “Take the PM off of it”, “Let’s start from scratch”, “Let’s use what we had before and refine it”, “Take it out of this team”, “Give it back to that team”) it looks like the current plan is to…

… do nearly exactly what we originally did. Only now, we’re doing it with 30% more records, because the first reaction from the first go-around that went awry was the recipients of the new format/data/project went into the system and… created more records. 

Points:

1. Unintended consequences are everywhere, and the best intentions often create more of them, and

2. The Cobra Effect doesn’t just apply to economics, although given a few minutes I could probably monetize this project and it would make me cry, and 

3. You can have a fancy name and anecdote for something, and even have it written about in many management books, but it won’t prevent people from making ill-advised choices (despite best efforts at education).