Carlos Leyva

Silicon Stories

Chapter 1: Dirty Little Secret

Geek Heaven Turns Into Purgatory

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I couldn’t have been more pumped. I was going to spend a shit load of time in PC geekdom. As part of the architecture team, I was sent to Microsoft University in Redmond to take a number of courses (Programming Windows, OS/2 fundamentals, etc.). Part of my assignment, or so I thought, was to figure out how much of this stuff was ready for prime time, and then to recommend the next step. Despite being well thought of, I definitely had less seniority than most of my colleagues. In other words, I had a seat and a voice at the table, but my opinion was not overly influential.

A couple of months into the assignment, and not long after returning from Redmond, I started to notice that there was something (actually, many things) very, very wrong with this program. The project teams were developing plans as if we were still dealing with stable mainframe technology. Somehow, IBM, Microsoft, and all the other participating vendors and consultants were going to provide us with the right answers at the right times. And, by God, we would magically meet all of our milestones, on time and within budget.

I was smart enough to know that neither I, nor my colleagues, nor the IT high fliers had all (or even most) of the right answers. More importantly, however, was the fact that the project plans being developed provided no time for climbing the daunting learning curves and dealing with the other challenges that lay ahead.

If we had any hope of succeeding, we were (to borrow a phrase from Tom Peters) going to have to fail fast. I was a developer who reported to the architecture project lead. All the project leads reported to several IT managers. The IT managers all reported to the senior IT executive. The bureaucracy was thick, and from my perspective, all who made up the bureaucracy were paying attention to all the wrong things.

To give you some insight into how much emphasis was placed on architecture, of the 50 staffers in the entire program, the framework team consisted of only two developers and a lead. Our team had a reporting relationship to the Senior Program Architect. This was an individual who spent a significant amount of time reading the trade rags and attending technology conferences. And he would sometimes make technology pronouncements that made me wonder if he and I lived on the same planet!

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