The general category for posts on this blog.

An Interview Question

A little over two years ago, I was doing a lot of interviewing. It’s what you usually have to do to get a job. One of the things that I’ve always been encouraged to do, but usually didn’t, was ask questions of my own. Normally when recruiters tell you to do this, they mean to make sure you ask about the office culture and management style. But I started surprising my interviews with a question they didn’t expect, much like how they try to catch potential hires off guard with things like “Where do you see yourself in five years?”, or “Tell me something about yourself that we might only learn after working with you for a year.”, or “What would be your spirit animal?” The question I ask is:

How will the work I’ll be doing make the world a better place?

For nine and a half years, I worked at one company. For the first seven and a half, I stayed because I could see, on a daily basis, how the work I was doing made the world a better place. For the last two, after the company was sold to a much larger entity, I was walled off from seeing how my work made the world a better place.

You might be asking, “Where did this guy work?” I worked at a company that made, primarily, an automated answering service for apartment communities.

Now you are asking, “How does that make the world a better place?” You see, as the people interviewing me stammer to answer my surprise question, they’re probably thinking too big. The software I wrote wasn’t feeding the hungry, or spreading world peace, but it was making the work and lives of the people who used it better. As their answering machine, we replaced a physical device with limited storage – we could keep their messages for years. And when residents called in after hours with a maintenance issue, our automated service got their message and then automatically called the people on the schedule. Then we’d conference the two together, recording the call, eliminating many he-said-she-said claims of who was rude to who. We offered tracking of the maintenance problem, so that the manager could be sure work was getting done, and maintenance workers could be sure to get paid. We offered a notification system for the residents, so they could be alerted by phone, email, or text about things going on at their community – pool parties, parking lot paving, etc. And for the office they could send those messages, and get confirmation that they were delivered. And more. And every day I could drop in and listen to our customer service department on calls with our customers, solving problems, training them to use the software, and hear them singing our praises. Every day I got a little glimpse of how the work I was doing was making things better for the people who used the software.

Until the new bosses took over, and did what a lot of companies do: they moved development into it’s own cave, away from everyone else. No more contact with customers, no more contact with customer service – except through tickets entered into the tracking system and filtered through committee by project owners. I lost all visibility to the good my work did, and became completely mired in problems. Every day I was faced with a list of things that were broken and new challenges to solve. In the long run, it was demotivating. “Why should I fix this? Who is going to notice? Who asked for this feature?”

Back to the interviews…

Some of the people I’ve asked this question to have completely and utterly failed. Either because their company is just like the one I left, where developers are in the dark, or because their company doesn’t make the world a better place.

One example, and I won’t name names, was a company that made medical billing software. I asked my question and he had no answer, so I prodded.

“Does the software assist in some way that leads to better care for patients?”
“No.”
“It doesn’t help the doctors provide better care?”
“Not really.”
“So, what exactly is the main function of your software?”
“Well, it helps doctors use the right codes to maximize billing to insurance companies.”
“So that people get the correct treatment?”
“No, the treatment is unrelated to the billing. This software just maximizes the billing for insurance.”
“So, like a guy comes in sick, and normally the doctor would bill for the office visit.”
“Yes, and our software would alert them that they should be billing everything in the visit separately. Did he perform a physical? Did he take temperature? All the things within the visit, so that the office can maximize the billing for the insurance company.”
“And they need to do this because it allows them to provide care for uninsured people or something?”
“I don’t know about that. We just maximize the billing for the insurance company, so the doctor can collect more.”

I was … unsatisfied … with that answer. So when they offered me the job, I turned it down.

Asking this question was dangerous. I got the feeling that after I did, and they couldn’t answer or just straight up admitted that their work didn’t do anything to make the world better, I was removed from consideration. But where I didn’t care, you might. If an interviewer were willing to drop me because of that question, I probably didn’t want to work there anyway.

So, did I end up getting a job that makes the world a better place? Yes, viewed from a certain angle. We provide software/service that is usually reserved for large enterprise type customers to companies with much smaller footprints much more affordably. And for now, that’s good enough.

2023

First, the annual review of this blog. As usual I began the year with my annual post, and then I let the blog sit fallow for eleven months. Eleven. You might be wondering why after ignoring it for that long did I suddenly unleash a flurry of posts at the end of November and beginning of December, and by “flurry” I mean “six”. Well, someone hacked my website. This isn’t unusual. People find ways to get in back doors and insert files and do random crap all the time. I usually have to clean a file or two off every 5 or 6 months. But this was different. Whoever got in this time deleted a bunch of stuff and their hack made WordPress non-functional, which is how I noticed it. Also, there was porn. A lot of porn. A lot of very unsavory porn. Luckily, I noticed the hack in less than a day. Probably before anyone else because no one reads this blog. And I fixed it. And I finally took the time to install some better monitoring and security. I could do better, but I think I’ve done enough, for now.

Anyway, all that lead me to go digging through my draft posts and I finished six of them up and schedule them. And then walked away, because, you know, that’s how I do.

On the career front, my job continues to be good. I did go into the office on a bunch of Tuesdays when the company caters free lunches, and I rode the bus to do so which just feels so awesome to not drive. But with variants and such, the office still remains a rarity. Maybe this year.

Reading went very well for 2022. I read 24 books. Two a month is really fast for me. I’m looking forward to more reading in the new year. Of the 2022 books, I really enjoyed everything I read, except Luna: New Moon. That one was just a slog and I won’t be reading any more of that series. I finally picked up the Iron Druid series which I’d been recommended by many people over the years, and I am liking it a lot, especially since I know that it ends. I gave up on the Dresden Files series a while back because I felt Ghost Story would have been a perfect ending for the series, but it didn’t end, and what I’ve heard of the later books just makes me more annoyed that it didn’t end when it could have done so very well. Also, the latest in the Well Met series, Well Traveled, of romance books set in and around Renaissance Festivals continues to be a joy to read.

Writing went fairly poorly in 2022. I tried NaNoWriMo again after skipping a couple years, and I did not do well. Maybe 5,000 words if I’m generous. But, I bought a new (old) roll top desk, and I’m getting it to where I feel comfortable at it and making a habit of it. Along with the new desk and the writing and other things, I plunked down a big chunk of change this year and bought a shiny new MacBook Pro as a desktop replacement and put my old PC in storage (I haven’t ditched it just yet as I may need it or find a use for it). I wanted a laptop for a while now, and one beefy enough to do everything I want while also having a good battery life, so that I could do writing anywhere and not have it be on a device I’d have to later transfer the work to. The concept is solid, and I’m getting more in the habit of pulling it out instead of my phone so I can be more “productive” with my leisure time.

Exercise went solidly for the year. I’m still regularly Pelotoning and also lifting the occasional weight and doing stretching/yoga now and then. Peloton released a rowing machine this year, and we decided to get one for Christmas. It arrives in mid January and I expect that to be a nice addition to my regimen. I feel better, and I might be slimmer, but I haven’t lost weight. I try not to let that bother me because I know I’m adding muscle, but I do dislike hovering in the 245 to 250 range. I really would like to get below 200. I assume that would come easier with a better diet, and is something I will work on in 2023.

I never did get much back to practicing guitar, but if I spend more time at the roll top desk, which is in the same room as the music stuff, maybe I’ll play more.

Last year I committed to doing Making Art Everyday, and then a month or so in I bailed because the prompts were just uninspiring. But I plan on trying something like that again, but perhaps with less intensity.

At the end of 2022’s post, I said I expected lockdown to continue in some fashion and that we were looking at a “new normal”. I didn’t want to be right, but I was. With so many insisting that “COVID is over” despite still having like 400+ people die per day in the US from it, I expect hanging out in smaller groups to be the future, with rare big gatherings and the expectation of a two week breather after every one. And masking. Studies have come out not only in favor of masking, but that cold weather can weaken the immune system in your nose, which is why we get a rise in colds and flus in the winter. So, masking and keeping your nose warm can actually prevent you from getting sick. This was driven home succinctly when I did go on a cruise in the summer. About mid-cruise the Facebook group for the cruisers started having posts of people who “definitely don’t have COVID but need some cold medicine”. See, if people went to the ship medical they required a COVID test, and if you tested positive then you got quarantined to your cabin, everything brought to you via room service, and a refund for your trouble. But people didn’t want a refund, they wanted to keep enjoying the cruise, while sick, spreading COVID. So about a third of the ship got COVID, including me.

Anyway, 2023, I want you to be better. That shouldn’t been hard. I’d just like a year of precedented times, devoid of once in a generation/lifetime events. 2024 is going to be a presidential election year shit show, so maybe let us have a calm one before that.

Happy new year, everyone.

The Economy

You have to understand is that the economy is not money. No amount of money in the hands of any amount of people is an economy. The economy happens when the money moves, when it is exchanged for goods and services. An economy happens when you pay wages, buy groceries, remodel a building, etc. An economy is the movement of money.

Now, money in an economy has a natural flow. For lack of a better term we’ll call it “upwards”. If you put money in the hands of the common man they will spend it. They’ll buy necessities, they’ll buy entertainment. They might save some, put it in a shoe box under the bed or in a bank, but mostly they’ll spend it. And one way to picture it is that every time money is spent, exchanged, a little bit of it is shaved off and moves “upward”. Slowly, bit by bit, money moves toward the top, toward the business owners and the wealthy. The reason is, as stated just a few sentences ago, most people spend their money. Wealthy people, however, have more money than they “need” to spend. Ultra-wealthy people have more money than they “want” to spend.

So the money tends to pool at the top. Unless you can convince those people with the most money to spend it, to “invest” it, to put that money into motion, that’s where the money will stay. That’s where the money “exits the economy”. Some people will tell you that the wealthy already do invest, but it isn’t just the act of investing that is important, it’s how deeply that money goes. If they put money in the stock market, then very very little, if any, of that will make it’s way down to the bottom. It’s just sort of churns, money making money, and cycles back to them, or vanishes. It touches very few people. But if you can get them to invest in capital, in businesses directly, into ventures that employ people and sell goods and/or services, then that money goes deeper. It gets into the hands of people who then buy things and the money spends around through the economy, changing hands thousands and thousands of times before it gets back to the investor bit by bit.

You can’t stimulate the economy by giving money to wealthy people unless those people are committed to starting new businesses and hiring people and buying a lot of goods and services and churning that money into the economy. If they just use the money to buy stock, or buy back stock, then it doesn’t help.

You can stimulate the economy by giving money to poor people, because they will spend every dime of it and fuel the engine of the economy.

Voting

There are two rooms. Room 1 and Room 2. Both of these rooms have heating and air, but only Room 1 has a thermostat to control the settings. Person A is in Room 1, and Person B is in Room 2. These rooms are not connected, the two people cannot directly communicate. Person A does physically control the thermostat, but there are guidelines they follow in order to regulate use of the thermostat. Those regulations are set by Person C, who is the currently elected Room Manager. Person D is running against Person C in the next election.

Person B is often cold, and would like for the thermostat to be, on average, 1 degree warmer. Person D is running on a platform that included increasing the temperature policies to allow for a 1 degree warmer setting. But Room Manager does more than regular temperature policy. They also set the meal menu. Person D’s platform also includes making the menu healthier by replacing the Thursday night Hot Pockets with a chef prepared mini calzone. Person B really liked the Hot Pockets on Thursdays, and so in the election vote for Person C, whose platform keeps the menu the same, but also shifts the temperature policy 1 degree colder.

Person B complains that it’s too cold, but keeps voting for Person C, who likes it cold. Person B complains that if only Person D would remove the menu change from their platform, then they would vote for Person D. They keep voting for Person C, and their room continues to be cold.

When I hear people say that they are “conservative NOT Republican” trying to distance themselves from some awful policy the Republican party is pushing, I always ask them, “So, since you disagree with them, you’re not going to vote for them?” But they will vote for the Republican, because the Republican is the conservative choice. They’ll lament that they would vote Democrat if the Democrats would just nominate a conservative, but they are missing the point.

If you keep voting for a party even when you disagree with them, they have no incentive to change. They are getting your vote. In order for your vote to affect policy, your vote has to be in play. You have to be willing to vote against your party and FOR a party you disagree with even more, or else your party has no reason to listen to you.

There are conservatives, Republicans, out there who hate Trump, but as long as they keep checking the box for the names with the Rs next to them, the party doesn’t care.

And this isn’t just a jab at Republicans and conservatives. Do you want to know how you get a more progressive candidate for the Democrat party? You vote for them. You won’t get a more progressive candidate by saying you want one, then voting for the establishment candidate. They don’t listen to talk. They listen to votes.

And this also holds true for really awful candidates. When your party puts out a candidate who is complete trash, you HAVE to vote against them. If you cave and vote for the party anyway, they’ll just give you more terrible candidates. Why would they put effort into finding better or even just reasonable candidates if you are willing to vote for the trash ones that are a dime a dozen?

The Truth Has a Liberal Bias

On the political spectrum of liberal and conservative, the rhetorical styles of the ends vary. And this variance is what I think contributes to the idea that “the truth has a liberal bias”. Most of the time, when I hear a Democrat or liberal speak on an issue, the style they use follows this pattern:

  1. Define the problem that currently exists.
  2. State where we should want to be.
  3. Give their view of the next step we should take to try to solve the problem and how it will get us to where we should want to be.

Meanwhile, on the other side, when I hear a Republican or conservative speak on an issue, the style they use goes like this:

  1. Paint the perfect picture that is inevitable from their guidance.
  2. Define the enemy.
  3. Give their view of how to prevent the enemy from stopping the inevitable perfect picture.

The result of these styles is that when you lay out the facts, the truth, about how something currently is, it will more closely resemble the liberal point of view.

Wrong, Bad, and Evil

Words have meaning. Words have weight. When we speak, I think it is important that we choose our words wisely, not just to ensure accuracy, but to ensure the meaning isn’t altered when the words travel.

In politics a lot of people don’t consume information first hand. This is true in a lot of fields, but in politics it is exceptionally true.

If you disagree with your opponent, but you respect your opponent, the word used is “wrong”. They are “wrong”. Which means that they can probably be corrected.

When you disagree with your opponent, but you also don’t respect them or their position, the word used is “bad”.

When your opponent must be destroyed because there is no saving them, the word used is “evil”.

Somewhere along the way, the Republicans began describing their political rivals and the policies supported by them as “evil”. It probably began when they embraced the evangelicals. They needed to engage the fire and brimstone enthusiasm of their new constituents. But this literal demonization of their opponents has consequences. If you’re opponent is “evil” then negotiation and compromise are impossible. If you’ve branded your colleagues across the aisle as being in league with the devil, then how can you shake their hand?

Tomorrow

Growing up in the 1970s and 1980s and the advent of VCRs and video rental stores and cable TV, and parents who, admittedly, probably weren’t strict enough with our viewing habits, I saw a lot of movies about disasters and apocalypses. The best and worst of science fiction films. But in real life I’d never encountered the idea of “preppers” until the late 1990s, as we approached the turn of the century, and the Y2K bug. That’s when a lot of people became aware of “prepping”, of getting off the grid, stocking up on supplies and guns, being prepared for the collapse of society, the end of the world.

Now, getting off the grid wasn’t new. There had always been communes where people would gather and grow their own food and live off the land.

Even as I worked in computers on Y2K issues, working to make sure “the end” didn’t happen, I still became fascinated by the lifestyle of those preppers. The idea of surviving the end and coming out on the other side of apocalypse. For many years it was an obsession, just the idea of prepping, but not actually prepping. Sometimes I would daydream about some underground bunker fortress cabin in the woods place I would ride out the zombie hordes or atomic wasteland times, but outside of those daydreams I had no desire to abandon the world and watch it die. I wanted people, even as I found it tiring to be around them for more than short period. I wanted… I needed society to be buzzing around me, even if I wasn’t engaged in it all the time.

This is where I think all the preppers and pessimists go wrong. I’m a bit of a pessimist myself. There isn’t a situation I can find myself in where I can’t think of a dozen dozen ways for it to fail. Ultimately, it’s why I’m a programmer and pretty good at it. I’m really good at looking at code, thinking of all the ways it can fail, and finding out why it is failing and fixing it. But personally, in all my pessimism, it’s always about being prepared for failure but then working toward success. Too many preppers get into preparing for failure and then just sit around waiting for the failure.

The preppers aren’t alone.

They have become afraid of things getting better, because if the system doesn’t fail, then all their preparations for failure will have been a waste.

What’s missing from a lot of these people is hope. That sounds hokey, but it is the simple truth. They don’t see how they can be part of the solution, and they don’t see their leaders solving problems, so they have no hope that the problems will be solved. In every case, however, these problems have solutions. Even more, we know what those solutions are, but we do not have the political will to do them. And we don’t have an electorate willing to put the people in office who would.

To Do or not To Do

I love lists. I love making lists. I love crossing items off the lists I have made. I love crossing items off the lists other people have made. I love completing lists. And I think lots of people do lists wrong.

There are, in my opinion, two types of lists: a To Do list, a Backlog.

The Backlog

Look, I’m a computer programmer, so often the things I say sound like programmer jargon. Anyway, the Backlog is an unordered, unprioritized list of every thing you’ve ever thought needed to be done or would like to do. There is no rhyme or reason, no focus, no goal. The Backlog is just a chaotic list. The only purpose of the Backlog is to help you not forget things. If you are trying to use your Backlog to accomplish goals, then you are doing it wrong.

I can say that with confidence, because if you are trying to work from a list that contains everything, you’ll just end up distracted. You’ll finish one item, then go check your list and be face to face with a scattershot collection of stuff. And you are just as likely to pick up a task that you don’t need to be doing as you are to actually correctly select the next task you should be doing.

You should definitely keep a Backlog, but you should never work from the Backlog. Except when you are making a To Do list.

The To Do List

This is where the real work happens. This is where organization and focus live. And if your To Do list is just copying over your Backlog, you are doing it wrong.

The first thing you need to do when making a To Do list is to define the kind of this you are making and it’s limited. The two primary ways to limit a list is to: 1) Set a deadline, 2) Set a goal/scope. Once you have defined the type of list you are making, give it a name, a specific descriptive name that tells you what it is every time you see it.

  • Examples of a deadline
    • “Things To Do Today”
    • ”Things To Do by Friday”
    • ”Things To Do before I go on vacation”
  • Examples of a goal/scope
    • ”Things To Do to clean the house”
    • ”Things To Do to organize my finances”

Once you have defined the limit of your list and named it, the very first item you should put on your list is: Finished making To Do list.

So if your list is ”Things To Do Today”, you brainstorm and peruse your Backlog for items to put on the list, and when you’ve got a solid list, you are done making the list, so you get to check off that first item. This serves two purposes. First, checking items off your list feels good, and it gives you momentum. Second, it gives you a little mental space to say ”This list is whole. So if something pops up that isn’t an emergency, I can’t add it to this list. It goes on the Backlog.”

By defining your list well, and then giving it a complete shape by ”finishing” the list construction, you’ll make more effective lists.

What About A Bucket List?

A Bucket List is the one list that makes sense to be a hybrid. It’s a defined list with a deadline, but it’s an ongoing malleable one.

When making To Do lists, the defining characteristic is, as stated, a deadline or a goal. But most successful To Do lists also should be relatively short. Either the deadline should be immediate or in the near future, or the goal should be one you want to achieve “soon”. Meanwhile, a Backlog is an unfocused container of ideas.

If you are defining a To Do list with a very long deadline or goal, “Things To Do Before I Die”, the first problem you may have is that you aren’t likely to be able to put that “Finish making this list” item on it, because you are going to come across things to add to that list before you run out of time. But this isn’t a list that should be buried within your Backlog of projects and chores and miscellaneous random thoughts.

Personally, I treat it like a Backlog, but I keep it separate from my normal Backlog.

The Lottery List

One other Backlog style list I keep is my Lottery List. It’s a brainstorming list of “Things I Would Do If I Won The Lottery”. I keep it separate because of the process I use to make it and maintain it.

You see, I buy a lottery ticket now and then. And when I do, I pull out the Lottery List and I re-read it, and I scratch things off, and I add new things. Most of these things are crazy or silly, and all generally require a lot of money. However, if an item persists on my Lottery List for a while, I start trying to disassemble it, break it down and chip off pieces that I can move to my regular Backlog, or even put on a To Do list.

For example, if your Lottery List included “Travel the World!” and after a few revisions it remained, perhaps you could break it down… Where exactly would you want to travel? What countries? What cities? Are there specific things you want to do in those cities? And of course there are things you can do to prepare for travel. Do you have a passport? Have you started a travel fund? Would being able to speak another language help?

Sure “Buy a yacht!” isn’t the sort of thing you necessarily want cluttering your Backlog, but maybe “learn to swim”, “learn to sail”, “go on a cruise” are things that could fit in nicely.

Location, Location, Location

The last thing to consider is where to keep your lists. And really, this is going to be very personal. Do you want handwritten sheets of paper? A moleskin notebook? Evernote? An email draft? Some other thing? The main thing is to pick something that works, and if it’s not working, then move to something else. But if you migrate from one form to another, do yourself a favor and really move. Shift all your lists to the new format. Don’t leave half lists in different media strewn throughout your life. You’ll only end up feeling LESS organized.

2022

Last year I made exactly two posts on this blog. The second was about programming bugs and the processes by which companies handle them. The first was my 2021 post. If 2020 was a year interrupted, 2021 was a year on pause. We got a better president (though it was the lowest bar set in the history of this country), and the old president tried to overthrow the government… and about half the country seems to be fine with that. If 2022 wants to be a better year, there better be some high level prosecutions.

On a personal level, my new job has been wonderful. This company learned to do remote well, and have continued that, and adapted. When things were getting better I even went to the office a few times and it was very nice. I rode the bus, which is a thing I can do now. I walked to the bus stop just outside the back of my neighborhood, and rode to within a couple blocks of the office. Commuting without stress. It was glorious. But then everything shut down again because Omicron. Hopefully that will change in the new year.

I did read more books. I’ve read almost all of T. Kingfisher’s books. I have three to go and will be getting to them soon. I also read a few other books. So I feel good about that. I’m going to keep reading into the new year.

Writing, on the other hand, petered out fairly quickly. I tried to reorganize my stuff and my process, and I just never settled on anything that worked. I’m going to keep trying. I want to write more, and reading more has inspired thoughts, but I haven’t been able to capture them on electronic paper.

Exercise went very well. Mostly. We got a Peloton, and I rode that bike nearly every day for months. And I used the app to do some weights and yoga and meditation and other stuff. It was great. I felt great. And then… I went out for a walk one Thursday morning with Brody, our dog, and another big dog ran up to us, off leash, and attacked Brody. I tried to keep them apart, but the other dog managed to get his jaws on Brody’s head, and I knew the next thing that dog was going to do was try to shake Brody and snap his neck. So I dove on the other dog, and I pried its mouth open with my fingers and freed Brody. I hurt myself a lot on the process. My fingers bled from being cut by its teeth, and my body was scraped all over from rolling around on the textured concrete sidewalk. The owner of the unleashed dog arrived and took it away, and Brody and I sat on the ground for a while to calm down. The physical injuries prevented me from working out for a while, and the psychological impact of the attack prevented my from meditating. It basically just really fucked me up for a couple months.

Right about when I was getting physically better, I took a tumble down the front steps of the house and smashed my right knee against the concrete. It’s mostly better now, but still aches a little when I squat at the way down. I probably should have gone to urgent care, but, you know, pandemic panic.

Anyway, with all this mostly behind me, it’s time to get back on the bike I think. I enjoyed the exercise, and I want to do it again.

I did play guitar more. At least until I cut up my fingers prying a dog’s mouth open. They’re healed now, so I’ll probably start that up soon.

On the creation front, I lasted in Making Art Everyday about a month, but so many of the prompts were just flat out uninspiring. I want to do it again, but I need it to be different. Bardot Brush is doing MAE again, but with weekly and monthly versions added on. I might try those. We will see.

Also for 2022, I think I’m going to have to accept that what we have now is closer to the new normal than the old normal. I don’t think we’ll always be as locked down and under such severe COVID threat, but I don’t think it’s going back to pre-2020. There are just too many people who don’t care about anything other than their own inconvenience. And one party in this country has successfully politicized facts and truth as being something they are against. So, we are going to be stuck with walking Petri dishes brewing up variants for a long time to come. To that end, all future vacations will need to involve personal travel and nature. Driving to parks and stuff. Because as much as I like cruises, I’m not sure I’m going to feel comfortable doing those again.

To bring this to a close, 2022, I hope you are better than the last couple of years. And I’m going to read more, write more, exercise more, eat better, play more guitar, and get out into nature. Happy new year, everyone.

Bugs

Once upon a time I worked for a company. And this company was acquired by another company. The new big company, upon acquisition, set out to conduct a survey of our customers. It was explained to me that this survey was very intense, and very accurate. It would illuminate problems that we would need to fix. And I shouldn’t feel bad when we get a low score, because a low score was expected. This big company had been using this survey for a while, and, I was told, originally scored in the low 50s, but after much work they were very proud of their current score in the low 80s.

The survey was conducted. Our company scored a 96.

They were astounded. Scores this high for companies that had never utilized the survey were unheard of. I was unsurprised at our high score, because the survey was entirely customer service focused, and we were very good at customer service. In fact, most of our customers, if they left us, would come back later and complain about how awful the customer service of our competitor was. If a customer of ours was being forced to switch away from us by management or acquisition, they would lament having to leave us, because they knew we had great customer service.

The new company didn’t understand. Their customer service help desk was run very similarly to ours. So why did we score so much higher? I knew the answer: bugs.

See, the typical manner in which bugs are handled goes like this:

  1. Customer runs into an issue and calls customer service.
  2. Customer service tries to solve the issue with the methods they know.
  3. If the problem cannot be resolved, a ticket is opened with details of the issue.
  4. Product management takes the ticket, prioritizes it, and finds a place on the schedule to put it.
  5. When the scheduled sprint comes around, the responsible team fixes the bug.

The issue with this process is that it can take months for a bug to get fixed. In fact, at most companies with traditional work sprints and product management, they often have to specify a “bug sprint” once a year where all engineering and development teams sets aside all other work to clear out the backlog of bugs.

At my company, the process went like this:

  1. Customer runs into an issue and calls customer service.
  2. Customer services tries to solve the issue with the methods they know.
  3. If the problem cannot be resolved, customer service immediately consults with engineering.
  4. Engineering drops their work and fixes the bug immediately.

Admittedly, my process results is many blown deadlines. We never delivered a new feature “on time”, which is why we never publicized new features until they were done. But, no customer was ever left “broken” until the bug fix could be “scheduled in”. A broken customer was always more important than a future feature. Always.

To me, this is obvious, and is evidence of why, especially if you are a small company, your development team should work closely with customer service. If your company is large, then you can probably afford to have a “bug team” that might only be one or two people whose entire job is to fix bugs as they arise so that your company never needs to have a “bug sprint” to clear the backlog. Backlogs should be for new features, future expansions, new technologies, etc. Fixing broken things should never go on the backlog.

Anyway, to finish the story, the new big company disagreed with me. They put up division between our product’s developers and help desk. They added a ticketing system and product managers who managed deadlines more than the product. They physically moved the engineers to the other side of the building to prevent us from having casual conversations with the help desk. And our scores went down. And our backlog grew. And eventually, I got fed up and left. I’m sure they are fine, still making money, even though I know they’ve lost a number of people. But I also know that the reputation of the company I helped maintain has fallen. And customers wait weeks, months even, to have bugs fixed.