Slippery Slope

“Kid,” we said to the new kid at lunch today, “We’re professional software engineers. We’ve got well over two centuries of collective experience writing software sitting at this table. We’ve been around the barn a few times. Trust us.”

The young kid nodded. It was his first day. He was still brimming with excitement, fresh from whatever they pumped into the air during orientation, and eager to get on with the job. He was too wound up to eat his sandwich. He was visibly vibrating.

“Ask us anything.”


Phil said, “Can I take one of your chips?”

“Sure,” said the kid.

Phil reached over to the kid’s bag of corn crunchies.

“STOP!” I cried. Heads around us turned to look, then turned away. Engineers.

“First lesson in software engineering in the real world,” I continued, “You don’t let anyone take any of your chips. Not even symbolically.”

“Um, okay.”

“It’s a slippery slope. First, they cut your clock rate, next they’re carving away at memory, until finally they’re saying, ‘Hey, can’t you do all of this in software?’ and you’re standing bare-ass naked in a design review with something like a four-bit dishwasher controller, half a kilobyte of RAM, thirty milliamps, and a three week schedule. And they want a billion polygons a second through it because someone with a spreadsheet ran the numbers and thought it was possible, once.”

Phil and the Fat Engineer With a Beard nodded.

“And if you can’t do it, they’ll find some young naive and defenseless newbie who’ll kill himself proving them wrong.”

Light dawned in the kid’s eyes. They got wider, and he said, “So that’s why the director of hardware wants to meet with me this afternoon.”

Phil and the Fat Engineer With a Beard nodded again. Yes, we have spies.

“Now, can I take a chip?” said Phil, reaching.

“It’s just a corn chip …” started the kid.

I gave him a look.

“Fuck off.”

“Right,” said Phil.


“The next lesson is called, ‘They Have Hot Pointy Things That Burnnn Usss, Yesss, and We Have Only Our Wits.'”

“Hardware engineers. Soldering irons. I know all about those.”

“No, I mean project managers with Agile.”

Author: landon

My mom thinks I'm in high tech.

8 thoughts on “Slippery Slope”

  1. I fell into that one… lead me to 6 months of hell. The boss got an Australian reseller to ring me up 3 times a day every day to hassle the crap out of me to finish. The contractor who was paid several times my pay who was late by a year just sat in the corner sniggering. I was naive back then…

  2. Awesome 🙂

    One question… is the Fat Engineer related at all to the Fat Controller in Thomas the Tank Engine?

  3. @Justin: “The Fat Engineer With a Beard” is a Silly Valley stereotype; every sufficiently large organization has one (hell, even one of the start-ups I was at could afford one). They’re usually senior guys, and often just awesome at what they do.

    I think that Hardware has more FEWBs than the Software world, it’s not clear to me why.

  4. Yeah, I met a few of them in my time developing for T-Mobile.

    Still, I can’t help but picture Sir Topham Hatt… or the man in the yellow hat. Damn, now I am envisioning The Fat Controller wearing a yellow raincoat bossing a code monkey around.

    Guess that’s where one’s mind lives with a 4 year old and a 2 month old.

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