Sunday, March 27, 2005

Ted's Excellent Adventure (2 of 2)

Just because someone shows up in jeans and sneakers doesn't mean that they're not a great programmer, and I was willing to give Ted the benefit of the doubt. Usually I'm not usually one to judge someone based on their look or clothes. Well, on second thought, I take that back. I usually do form an opinion, then remind myself that I shouldn't judge a book by its cover.

Ted's book was tall and in its forties. He had blond, wavy hair and an easygoing smile. His voice was pleasant and accentless, and though his thick frame wasn't as brawny as it had once been I could tell by looking at him that he hadn't stared at computer monitors his whole life. And he definitely liked the "casual" part of business casual.

After the cursory tour of the company--oh look, here are more offices, and just wait till you see our bathrooms!--I gave him the executive overview of what we did and what the project was about. We set up a work area and held a small meeting about the project.

In a previous CE project that was similar to ours, Ted said, the team he worked on used a 3-tier architecture approach. He recommended it for our project as well. We agreed. After all, the application needed some architecture. Right now it was just a collection of loosely related dialogs and a lot of code written in here's-my-first-crack-at-it-MFC (by me).

Meanwhile, I was working on some nagging CE issues. We still didn't have a way to share memory between the UI app and the real-time app. Our attempt at using memory-mapped files hadn't worked. (That turned out to be a blessing in disguise.) I had a devilishly hard time getting Platform Builder to configure and export a custom SDK, and when I finally did it wouldn't work. So I let Ted port the application into the 3-tier framework. I had some questions about it but I waited until he was finished.

While we worked we got to know more about Ted. He was a former Air Force Search and Rescue parajumper, but the pay rate didn't cut it so he switched to programming. (Some switch!) As an independent contractor he had worked on projects for Intel and Alpine. He did software projects for a living, but his meraki aspiration was in board game design. He had invented a multi-level tic-tac-toe game and was hoping that a big retailer would pick it up. He gave a few of us his game as a present.

The framework that Ted implemented was a sound one, but it had some bureaucratic parts that I didn't like. And while Ted had been on the team that implemented it, he wasn't the designer and wasn't privy to the details that I wanted to know about. It had been previously implemented on a "push" system, where the process control (or object) layer worked off a timer to constantly push data out to the (dumb) dialogs. Our design was different: the dialogs had to be intelligent and needed to request data from the control layer when they recognized the need for new data. Ted didn't like the idea.

Ted had a few idiosyncracies, as we all do. One was that he was fairly certain of his opinions without being able to say why. (On the other hand, I'm also rather opinionated but can usually make up a pretty good reason.) So it was frustrating to try to elicit a reason for why he was sometimes so firmly attached to a particular idea.

He also had a minor disease I started calling "weekenditis." On Monday mornings he would arrive in the depths of despair, bemoaning the sad state of our project and pledging to incorporate a time-consuming, application-wide fix that wasn't in the timeline. Usually the problem wasn't nearly as bad as he made it out to be. I learned to defer these fixes and steer him back to the more important tasks at hand.

He had helped us implement SourceSafe, which replaced our highly efficient but less-than-traceable verbal system. (Don't laugh: I know of at least one Fortune 500 company that still works on major projects by emailing unencrypted .zip files back and forth.) He used it to check out files and make tiny changes to irrelevant things, like code formatting. I would rather have had him spend his time on more important things.

But the small drawbacks were easily outweighed by how big of an asset he became to the project. He fit right into the team, and that's not an easy thing to do. He found a nearby place to stay ( and quickly made friends with almost everyone in the company except Vince Pawlowicz, who didn't get along with anyone anyway. (It helped that he had a cool game to give out.) Our "personal Moses" he was not, but maybe our hopes had been unrealistic anyway. I refactored the timeline1 and we moved on.

For better or for worse, Ted was now a permanent part of the team.

[1] Rutherford, Alec and I had a meeting about how best to use Ted in the light of us still needing a "CE expert." We made some adjustments to the timeline (i.e., shuffling our already-overworked resources around but not adjusting the deadline). Alec remarked that he didn't see how we could possibly finish the project on time, which apparently wasn't what Rutherford wanted to hear because he said nothing but smiled falsely and closed the meeting.


At 3/28/2005 10:48 PM, Blogger Stacey said...

All these past tense verbs are causing me to believe that Ted was, but now is no longer a permanant part of the team??? Or perhaps the project is finished??? Or maybe I missed something in all those posts I simply skimmed...

At 4/04/2005 2:02 AM, Blogger Stacey said...

Just checking for anything's kinda funny, I couldn't find your link in my history, so the thought process went something like this...guy who killed jfk, no--his last name, plus work, nope that's not it, project---oh yes, that's it, oswaldproject...wheh!

At 4/05/2005 11:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did you get swallowed up in the red sea...or did you have a glance into the land of Canaan and realize the giants were just too big???? Where have you been...I am the voice crying out in the wilderness...WE WANT MORE!!!!

At 4/07/2005 9:48 AM, Blogger D. Philippe said...

Anon: Funny comment, very...Biblical.

Stacey: Very curious timing...

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