Sunday, January 10, 2010

Late Night Listening XXXVII: Darker Days

One of the things I love about my Friday and Saturday night radio shows is that they introduce me to so many new things. I heard this gem from Widespread Panic on WTTS-FM's Groove Show.

This song does a good job of capturing the mood I've been in since I went back to work. Somber, drained, yet hopeful that lighter days will return.

Dark day program – pen to page
Nothing’s broken – show our age
Feed the flame – tears enrage
Wait till morning to face the day

Now we’re toiling over
Thoughts and mixed emotions
Hard to really see
What’s lying underneath
Like a roller coaster
Up and down just floating
Touch the grass and leaves
Faces in the trees

Kick ‘em over – the darkened days
Tip ‘em over – the darkened days
Door is open – light the way

So what's got me in this funk? I think it's a culmination of many things, some of it is valid concern, part of it is just the pain of going through changes.

The snow and bitter cold has been a drain on my energy, and that's just the start.

In the wee hours of Sunday, Jan 3, we had an outage caused by a runaway process on a key server, which caused a cascade of server failures. My systems engineer, support engineer, and I spent two and a half hours on IM and phone trying to untangle the mess.

I started of the week by working at home. I had my daughters over the weekend, and as Sunday was drawing to a close, my older daughter was starting to look tired and droopy. By the time they got into the tub for bath, she said, "I don't know if I'm going to puke," which is her way of saying, "Get met to the toilet. STAT!" She got sick two or three times before the night was over.

STBX's first day at her new job was on Monday, and she had no place for the kids to stay with the older daughter being sick, so upon learning the the older daughter had gotten sick, she asked me whether I would be able to work from home. Since the meetings I had on my plate could be done by phone, I agreed to do so. The girls stayed an extra night, and they enjoyed having an extra dash of daddy time before they went back to school.

STBX's schedule is going to be variable these first couple of weeks because she's still in training, but once things settle down, she will be working three days a week with 12-shifts. One of those days will be on the weekend, which will coincide with when I will have the girls.

I came back to work having to deal with the president in a tizzy similar to that meltdown back in November. She was bent out of shape by problems that were being encountered by the three biggest customers, and she had a list of things in mind that she wanted fixed.

She tried to blunt the criticism that this was falling back into the trap of wasting development resources to mollify complaints of a few customers by making the hand-waving argument that if these customers are running into it, then other customers are, which isn't really the case.

There was a meeting of with members of the client services on these issues. Prior to the meeting, I asked for the raw data upon which the complaints had been based along with some narratives on the genesis of the problems. What emerged was a picture of scattered data points and bad analysis.

The more I work with the president, the more I am reminded of Master Shake from Aqua Teen Hunger Force, who had the unique capacity for drawing the least reasonable conclusions given a set of facts (c.f. Master Shake's analytical capabilities in Bus of the Undead).

My team wasn't happy because the technical solutions were being formulated and presented to us without our input, which was different from what we had done in the past, where we were given a description of what problems we were trying to solve, and then our team determined the technology to address the needs.

During the meeting, I worked to point out in places where the customer's complaints were caused by the inability to properly set up and manage customer expectations. When we brought on these larger customers, there was no agreement with the clients on what metrics would be used to determine success, and so we had fallen into a trap where our good standing with the client was imperiled by whatever measure they chose to focus on for the moment, an that was definitely happening in each case.

We managed to eliminate many of the proposed solutions, but the president was adamant that we didn't have enough time to do an analytic approach, modifying individual parameters and waiting to see if they had the expected effect. She wanted to make all the changes and right away. My counterargument to that was that by making all of the changes, we stood to gain little knowledge regardless of success or failure. She refused to budge. We have a project planning meeting Monday afternoon where we're supposed to start drawing up the to-do list for the next few weeks. I suspect this will be a doozy as well.

If there is any hope in all of this, it's that the VP we hired at the beginning of December has been gathering hard data and is starting to see the processes, or lack thereof, that wind up hurting us. Our department has been very open to providing him with cost data on our production environment and advocating areas where we saw opportunities for improvement through automation. From his preliminary findings, it looks like he could succeed in making the president aware of the true costs of perpetual fire fighting.

Some other things that have been going on... Been working my way through another round of resumes submitted via online ads and a posting the CEO put on a business networking site. We've also got a big management strategic planning meeting coming up that will take up the time of all department heads for two full days.

Changes on the personal front with respect to STBX's new job include me getting up really early one day a week to get the daughters ready for the school bus and preschool. My nights out remain unchanged, but on Wednesdays I have to pick up the kids from SBTX's friend, whom we're paying to watch the kids. The cost of that has been something of a stressor for me, but STBX's insurance is much cheaper than mine, so she will be putting the kids on her plan. All in all, I suspect it will balance itself out, but there's a part of me that's worried about making all the ends meet.
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