Saturday, July 19, 2008

As the Move Draws Near, an Update

I haven't had a lot of energy or mental coherence for blogging lately. And what little I had got spent posting comments (1, 2) over at Fade To Numb a couple weeks ago. There's a lot to write about, so I'll use this post to provide an update on where things stand.

My wife is still on track to getting her apartment come August. Since telling the apartment managers she was taking the rental, she has shopped some for paint, bought a new bunk bed set for the girls, and acquired a TV off of I haven't asked her when she plans to be fully moved out, but I did hear her tell a friend that she wanted to be settled in by the time that our older daughter starts kindergarten, which would be the 11th.

Late last week, my wife asked me whether we were doing the right thing. My reply was that I thought we were, and even if it was wrong, at least we were doing in it a way that would minimize disruption. I added that it was better for us to finally put an end to the limbo we've been in, and to not move forward we'd just wind up hating each other further on down the line.

She said she's been dealing with a wide range of feelings. Scared to be alone, but excited to have a new place and new beginning. I asked if she thought her friends would put pressure on her to start dating. Her response was that if they did, they would need to "back off".

As for me, it's been tough to put to rest the worries about whether she will be able to make it. I keep coming back to Have the T-Shirt's mantra about my wife needing to put on her big panties.

Work continues to go well. In late June, they announced that we had completed another round of "friends and family" investments, which is good because it means that we manage to avoid having to sell our souls to a venture capital firm. And if the sales team manages to stay on track, we will have completed $1 million in sales in the first year since the application went live.

I've been playing with some interesting things as part of my job. One of the features that I added a couple weeks ago involved creating some annotated timelines with Google's Visualization API. These are the same cool timelines that Google Finance uses for its stock price history charts.

To be sure, there have been some stressful moments. Last week, my boss was out of town, and we had a new employee starting in our group. It was my turn to oversee the release process, which means I'm responsible for making sure that things get done on time for the weekly release.

Everything was going pretty much according to plan until the day before release, when our group sets aside time to test each others' code. We encountered troubles getting a page with major feature upgrades to display properly on Internet Explorer 6, which we grudgingly support because a good chunk of our customer base refuses to upgrade their browser.

Further complicating the problem was that our test machine for IE 6 was locked down so much that IE could not play any kind of Adobe Flash content unless you were logged in as Administrator. As we approached the cutoff time for test completion, it became clear that we were not going to be done with testing. My boss, still on vacation, was not reachable on his cell phone, so it fell upon me to meet with the company president and give her the update on the situation.

Fortunately she was understanding, and given the choice between shipping without the big features and shipping a day late, she preferred the latter. That gave us enough time to focus our collective attention on the bug, getting a workaround committed later in the evening. Later that night, my boss got in touch with me and I gave him the update, and he said it sounded like we had done everything we would have been expected to do, given the circumstances. Even though the fix got put in on the night before release, we still delayed the switchover a day. The push to production went off without problems.

If that wasn't enough stress, I wound up getting myself into a patch of hot water with another department. Our department manages work items with ticket management software. Tickets can be created by the team, a couple of members of upper management, and the team that deals with customers. The customer facing team doesn't have a strong technical background, but they have made efforts to improve that by sending the team to training classes on core subjects like HTML.

There is one member of that team that has given our team quite a few fits because she doesn't try to troubleshoot customer issues. Instead, she just files a vaguely worded ticket and a Word document with a screen shot, regardless of whether it's a visual issue. Many of these tickets wind up getting closed because they are found to be either not bugs or easily resolvable with existing software features.

We have received several tickets from her about webpages displaying improperly, and they usually turn out to be caused by people copying rich text they have composed in word processor and then pasting them in our post editor form. It's really easy to spot these things because the HTML source has tags that are bogus, like w:WordDocument. We have tried to educate that team about this as a bad practice, and I have gone so far as to write a post on my work blog about the reasons one should avoid this.

Late last week, the person filed yet another ticket that turned out to be caused by a paste from a word processor copy operation, and she even went so far as to say she felt like this might be this kind of problem.

I responded to the ticket saying that I was unclear on her expectations for us to resolve the customer's issue. I noted that she had completed training in HTML, and that she probably had the skills to verify whether her speculation was valid. I asked her to check the problem page and if it was indeed the case, to apply a series of steps, which are all features of the software she should be familiar with since she trains new customers on the subject.

She wrote back that she was clueless on how to diagnose the situation and said that her training didn't go to that level detail. She then said she could contact the customer for more information, so now not only was she wasting developer time, she was going to waste the customer's time, too.

My patience was taxed to its limit. I'm usually pretty patient with non-technical users. I try to phrase my discussion in terms appropriate for the user's level of knowledge. One thing that will grate on my nerves is when someone absolutely refuses to try.

I wrote back saying that regardless of the rigor of training she had received, she probably picked up a few skills, such as being able to use a browser to view the HTML source of a page, being able to recognize HTML tags, and being able to determine whether a tag name was valid. I then tried to tell her that this wasn't nearly as difficult as she was making it out to be, but phrased it in a way that, upon retrospect, may have suggested that she was too stupid to do this.

The net result was that I got a reply e-mail an hour or so later from her boss, copying my boss, telling me that she had done well in other areas of her job and that a passage from the ticket comment sounded mildly offensive.

I realized that I had screwed up, so I e-mailed him back expressing regret for making the statement and apologizing to him and her. Then after lunch, I stopped by her desk to ask to speak with her in private. I apologized and said I would use better judgment and be more helpful in dealing with her questions. She seemed to be in a pretty good space, and I was visibly rattled.

After we finished up, I grabbed the attention of her boss and spoke with him about what I had talked with her about. He seemed satisfied by my efforts to mend fences, so we wound up with things being OK, and over the past week, they have been. When my boss got back from his vacation on Tuesday, I updated him on all that had gone on. He thanked me for being proactive about resolving the problem, and he noted that the replies to the ticket sounded out of character for me, and that I must have been really pushed to my limits.

Next weekend, several employees will be taking a weekend trip to the western Keystone State for whitewater rafting, which is something I've never done, and some other festivities.

It will be good to get away for a couple of days, and the president joked last week that I was forbidden to bring my laptop along, noting my excessive working habits. Plus it will be a growth experience because I will be facing down some anxieties outside the realm of work and home.

The act of getting out of my head and getting outdoors to do something really different will be the first challenge. The second challenge will be interacting socially with parts of the company I normally don't deal with. No one else from my department will be coming along, except for my boss, who plans to show up only for the post rafting barbecue party.
blog comments powered by Disqus