Software and stuff
Back during the dot-com boom, when I was still working for ABC Software, I wrote this story about a thing I did for them one day...
"Yeah, it's not so great, but Bob's promised he'll do something about it." Larry looks at me with his watery eyes full of faith. In Bob We Trust.
What Bob had promised was to bring Larry's wages -- and everybody else's at Ancient Software, Inc -- into the twentieth century. And Larry was hanging in there, sure that any year now his dogged loyalty would be rewarded, and he would see the benefits of his years of work. It was a great time to be a computer programmer - all the papers said so. It was a seller's market for people with software skills. Industry was fighting viciously for qualified people, that's what the journals said, so it shouldn't be long now before they started seeing some real changes in their compensation.
It’s a product demo, but a kind of weird one: Bob and Larry and their friends at Ancient Software are actually our competitors. We’re showing them our stuff as part of an exploration of partnership possibilities.
I watch as my colleague Dan shows our software - software that makes their package look like a pile of dinosaur droppings. I'm embarrassed. I wish Larry would quit talking to me.
We're deep inside their old building, with its threadbare carpet and 70's décor. Orange and tan hallways leading to computer rooms full of big clunky machines and racks of 9-track tapes.
I look around me at a room full of people who were mid-career when the carpet was new. What's left at a left-behind company in a seller's market? Nice, earnest, loyal people whose skills are outdated, who haven't kept pace with the industry and can't find a better job somewhere else. Forty- and fifty-year-old coders who are still plugging away, doing the same thing they've done for years. People who believe Bob is somehow going to do something magic about the fact that they're marketing a 20-year-old product that no one is going to want much longer.
They are nice people, and it's my job to kill them.
Not literally, of course. I'm supposed to decide whether their company would be able to market and support our product. "Maybe this can be a win-win," my boss said. "They've got the contacts in their market; if they could learn to support it, they could create dozens of sales we might otherwise miss."
They watch attentively as Dan goes through his spiel. They ask eager questions, and earnestly compliment us on what a great job we've done. I don't want to make them feel bad -- I want to explain that our development staff is six times the size of theirs, with 25 times their budget. I want to say that it's nothing personal, that they've done a great job for the last 20 years. I want to tell them we can all work together.
But the fact is, no one I've talked to seems to have a clue about the techniques and tools we've used. Their approach to support is archaic, their response to user enhancement requests is glacially slow, and their knowledge of current programming languages and development platforms is almost non-existent. There is no way in the world they would ever be able to support our product, and I think they know it. And we're eating their lunch in the market they used to dominate, but I think maybe Bob's the only one who knows that.
I sit next to Larry and nod as he talks about how Bob is going to do right by them any year now. I listen as Dan wraps up the demo. I help him pack up the laptops and the projector.
Later, we drive to the airport and fly home.