Hard, cheap wisdom

After working for some biggish companies (and I do include Atari Corp., which had maybe 200 people, because of the Large Pockets personally financing the firm), I did a number of Silly Valley start-ups. Here is a little hard-bought wisdom.  But cheap, like most of those start-ups.

When the company president hires a psychologist to interview all of the engineers (in an effort to find out what is wrong with the development process), it is probably time to leave. Past time, even.


At some point your phone will ring, and it will be one of the Hired Gun Aggressive Sales Guys out in the field, and he has just promised a new feature, Feature X to a customer. “Can we do that?” Feature X is brain-damaged, impossible to do, and not even part of your company’s core technology. Of course, you tell the HGASG “No.” He says “Okay,” and before you can explain why he hangs up.

Now, listen for the sound of another phone ringing in some other engineer’s cube. Quickly run over and instruct the engineer (who is about ready to answer) to say “No” to the sales guy [who desperately needs to hear just one “Yes,” or even a “Maybe”] and to keep saying no. Now there are two of you at the ready.


Never trust serial number 000003 of anything.


Knowing how to punch-down a telephone block will save you tons of money. And the phone room grafitti is fun, too.


Fumigate cubical components before you take delivery, or at least poke around in their recesses with a stick or something. The most amazing critters will crawl out (they’ve been in storage in a Central Valley warehouse for six months, after all).


An exorcism of all the companies that occupied the offices you just moved into may sound stupid, but could it possibly hurt?


One more “soft toy” attack on my cubical and I’m swear to God I’m going to whip out the Nerf Nerve Gas.


“No time to test, just code the rest!”

Author: landon

My mom thinks I'm in high tech.

14 thoughts on “Hard, cheap wisdom”

  1. My bastardization of lol. hahaha. rofl. lmao. etc.


    In other words, I found the advice hilarious (some hilariously disturbing), but cannot relate as I’m too young to have attained such experiences, thus all I can contribute is my gleeful giggles. 😀

  2. One of these: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Punch_block

    Basically, when you get phone lines from the phone company the physical pairs terminate in a closet or phone room. You get access to that room from your landlord. The pairs from the phone company are on one side of the block, your internal wiring is on the other. You use a punch-down tool to connect the outside numbers to your phone wiring, however you want.

    These days you probably just use IP telephony or something.

    Pretty much every tenant on the floor / in the building has their lines coming into that closet. It’s a scary place, security-wise.

  3. Corollalry to the punch-down wisdom: don’t assme the telco lineman got his end of the install right. Ever since the telco downsizing in the early 1990s, everyone working for the phone company ever since has been a douchebag who doesn’t understand the importance of observing polarity.

  4. > One more “soft toy” attack on my cubical and I’m swear to God I’m going to whip out the Nerf Nerve Gas.

    That would be… bean & onion burritos? 😛

  5. @bjh: Anyone who’s been on the receiving end knows that a fully loaded bean burrito is NOT a toy.

    Always point a burrito in a safe direction. Never assume that a burrito is unloaded. Never point a burrito at something that you wouldn’t want to destroy. The “unloaded” burrito you have just been handed is loaded until you confirm otherwise.

  6. About the salescritter calling up to ask for a feature: yeah, I’ve been there. It happened a few years ago. It really astonished me when I finally figured out that the call hadn’t at all been to try to make good on the commitment he’d made to the customer: the sale was already made, and he’d string them along long enough for the commission check to go through. The call was just to have someone to blame when the whole deal went south.

  7. Landon’s wisdom about fumigating cube furniture before taking delivery is sooth. Yes, your furniture can have critters. Or worse…
    I hire on. I get shown my new cubicle. Freshly installed desks and rolling cabinet. So I crouch down underneath to wire up my network and PC. While under the desk (this cubicle desk was the kind that’s just a slab held to the cube wall by metal L brackets) I look up. To my disgust the underside was covered with … boogers. I kid you not. Pure 100% Yuck.
    After waiting two hours for someone to get me some new furniture I borrowed a screwdriver from someone and removed it myself and placed it in the hall booger side out so everyone could share in the gross out. Startup worker beware.

    A pattern I’ve seen at companies is to give you a cube full of crappy rotten furniture consisting of wobbly tin file cabinets, a particle board slab desk with a side that’s swelling from an old smelly liquid spill that got into the seam, a white board hazed with marker marks that won’t rub out, a coat hanging hook that’s supposed to integrate with the top edge of the cube wall but just detaches and hits the floor when you try to hang anything on it, and …. a that brand new $700 Aeron chair.

    Has anyone made a study of those old white boards with hazed drawings and words that won’t completely rub out? The words and diagrams burned in after the previous users at some other company abandoned them? I bet some percentage are covered in faded words like ‘synergy’ and ‘make it up in volume’ while another percentage are covered in old engineering diagrams exploring possible ways to build XML generating makefiles which produce object factories that power superbowl sock puppets.

  8. @DomAng: “…object factories that power superbowl sock puppets.”


    I imagine it would be tough to get more than (say) two or three startups-deep, whiteboard-history-wise. But I would sure avoid an inherited whiteboard if it had the “S” word anywhere on it.

    At Wayfarer, we just bought big (4×8) and very cheap ($10) sheets of whiteboard-like material from Home Depot and screwed ’em to the wall. Seemed to last long enough (say, a year), though I did have a cow-orker who would scribble on mine with an indelible marker.

    Booger-wise, you find the most *amazing* things in people’s desks after a layoff. I’m just sayin’.

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