Monday, July 26, 2010

Mr. Osborne, May I Be Excused?

I was on Facebook recently and the topic of Gary Larson’s The Far Side came up with a short discussion of all-time favorites. I mentioned that one of my favorites is the two bucks in hunting season, one commenting to the other about his pal's unfortunate target-shaped mark, “Bummer of a Birthmark, dude.”

It’s been like that for me since last Thursday with the Day Job. Like the bumper sticker, I try to take one day at a time but sometimes several days gang up on me all at once, like there’s that unlucky birthmark or something. Last Friday was going to be an ordinary day until Thursday when I found out I was needed to test an emergency software release once it had moved to “production.” It was much more like being startled than afraid, at least. I didn’t anticipate any big issues. I just needed to make sure I was there at the right time and had what I needed to get to the systems and make sure that everything looked normal.

I already had one change going in for the weekend but I knew I wouldn’t be able to take a peek at it until Saturday morning. The Friday evening task was a surprise but it was quick and easy, as these things go.

Releases don’t always go that well in the software world. I remember being on a train-wreck of a release back in 2004. Not only did we have problems to debug and resolve, my east coast time zone friends had long since lost the ol’ sense of humor by, oh, say 1:00 a.m. Pacific time. My own eyes were so dry and gritty that I could have sharpened knives with them, but that was nothing compared to my Boston-based co-worker who was just short of hysterics from lack of sleep and excess of frustration. To top it off, our conference call meeting number played “Hotel California” as if to haunt us while we plodded through the just slightly-wrong settings that were causing all the commotion. To this day, I can’t mention the word “Eagles” around her without a strong reaction, somewhere on the level of a Red Sox fan hearing praise about the Yankees. We got through it somehow. Sometime you just have to drag the boulder up the mountain.

The software release I had planned to do Saturday went well. I popped out of bed at 7:00 a.m., opened the conference call to some other co-workers who tensely checked their computers to see if the “Eagle” had landed, or at least version 1.1 of it. Wonder of wonders, it had. I was back in bed by 7:45 a.m. for a bit longer snooze, thinking my weekend was now my own.

That was the flaw in my thinking, of course. Hotel California: You can check out any time you like but you can never leave.

Sunday morning at 4:30 a.m., there came a terrible noise. The phone was ringing. At 4:30? In the morning? I keep the phone on my side of the bed. Anyone calling that number in the middle of the night is either a wrong number or a software emergency. When you work in software, sometimes wrong numbers are really welcome. This was not a wrong number. This was a software emergency.

“Mmmm. Mursha McCrud.”

I don’t speak very well before 7:00 a.m. I try to tell my eager eastern time zone buddies this when they schedule meetings for me at 6:00 a.m. They are likely to get my non-verbal phase, perhaps even my non-sentient phase. Certainly, they get my non-diplomatic phase. Yes, it has occurred to me that they may be scheduling early meetings precisely to engage me in the non-verbal, non-sentient form. I attend conference calls at those times, but I live in terror that I’ll snore into the phone without the mute button on. It’s so unprofessional.

My caller was from one of my long-standing inter-company relationships. They wanted to know if the test we had told them about for Saturday was over.

“Uh, well, yes. Why?” Oh, only that they had tried our website and couldn’t get into it. “Did you try closing all your browser windows and opening them up again?” Big technology tip: That actually helps with industrial strength websites. Oh, the guy said, OK, I’ll try that. And he hung up.

Suddenly I was awake, thumbs to the Blackberry, feet to the desk and, well, huh. When you’ve done software production support as long as I have there are a couple of things you do automatically. You check and double check. You think so far outside the box about how a problem could happen that you lose the box. I sent out an email to some of the gang at my company who had some special activity going on. Yup, that finished Saturday, wasn’t the issue. Looks like the website was OK, too, after a quick check. I wondered what the problem was. And then started the long, long saga of trying to get back in touch with the people who had called me in the first place.

Another one of my very favorite Larson cartoons is the Crisis Clinic. It’s on fire and going over the falls. My friend Derek thinks that is a fair representation of my desk. The vortex of my pack-rat-ism and need to have tools like pens, pencils, notebooks, CD’s, cables, a letter opener, storage devices, incense…incense? at hand has its event horizon just behind my work laptop. Sometimes I have stuffalanches, occasionally cat-induced. None of that affects my work productivity. It’s part of the ambiance. When I work, I’m focused with laser-like intensity. Things happen, like small earthquakes, and I don’t notice. And the Bat Signal had lit up the skies.

Now it’s one thing for the people you’re helping when you’re trying to fix a technology problem to be ungrateful. This is common. All that leftover frustration at the problem happening in the first place has to go somewhere. So when I’m in the Crisis Clinic, I’m used to being slugged by a patient, at least verbally. You start to look out for key phrases like, “You people….” I don’t think any good, kind words ever follow, “You people.”

It’s quite another to have your Sunday morning prime sleeping time jangled into unplanned action and then to disappear on me. But that’s what happened. It was like a bad practical joke. Let’s see, I get this call at 4:30 a.m., I successfully page someone at the affected company around 7:30 a.m to ask if they had indeed resolved their issue. It’s someone I’ve never spoken to before, but that company, like many companies’ technology departments, has had some changes. The person does not know, so I ask if they can check and call me back. No matter, they have my work number, my cell number, my email address. Then time passes. I start sending emails. “Please advise of status. My company’s experts are standing by.” Actually they’re likely to drift away without sufficient urgency from the patient, but there’s this Responsibility thing I do. Such an annoyance, responsibility.

I page the emergency after-hours pager. Several times. No answer. Time passes. I’m chained to the phone and the computer now because I can’t leave my post. I miss mass. I blow off the barbeque with the Football Pool people. Finally, it’s 2:30 pm and I’ve now been hanging around at the Crisis Clinic with my hair on fire, and perhaps no one else’s, for 10 hours. I start calling all of my friends at that company.

I’ve worked for my company and with employees of the other company for about seven years now. Over time, I’ve collected little things like cell phone numbers, home numbers, stuff like that. You never know when you’ll need to contact someone.

The third person I called answered her phone. I apologized profusely. She gave me the new Team Leader’s cell phone number and email address. I dialed and suddenly found myself talking to the then nameless, now nameful stranger I spoke to at 7:30 a.m.

I introduced myself, apologized for interrupting her day and asked if she had gotten any of my (frantic) emails. “Oh,” she said. “That’s my fault. You sent, like what, 3 or 4 of them?” More like seven or eight but, hey, who’s counting? “I got busy doing,” she hesitated, “other things.” Oh, no problem, I profess in my most liaison-like tones. We just wanted to know if you were in fact able to access the website.

You see, if they can’t access our website, they can’t sell our stuff. If they can’t sell our stuff, they’ll sell somebody else’s stuff. We want them to sell our stuff. You’d be surprised how complex a concept that is. Or, I am, at least, every time I run into a co-worker who doesn’t get the dynamic.

“Oh, right. The website,” she hesitated again. “Well, we found out that the guys who were checking at 4:30 a.m. were actually looking at the wrong website.” Oh, I smiled dryly, day ruined, disposition slipping. No problem.

It took me hours to come down off the “battle stations” adrenalin high. I want my nap. I want my break. I want my blanky and my kitty. I don’t want to have to think any more. I want, no need, my 4 of Swords.

There were two more production problems today that were mind-boggling in their resolution. Boy, howdy, I could use some sleep. My Day Job is The Far Side: “Mr. Osborne, may I be excused? My brain is full.”

Best wishes.

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