Coverity – 2012

I think that we can make this work. You would need to come to San Francisco often, probably a week a month.

Coverity was a pleasant place to work. Good people; good work.

I was their first remote employee. I travelled to San Francisco for at least a week a month to take care of issues, meet with my fellow managers, meet with my direct reports, and get the general flow. My team was small, but we also managed an offshore team in the Ukraine.

It’s time for you to start working with the other managers on Coverity Integrity Manager. It’s a few weeks away from shipping, and we need to get a test plan in place, as well as automation.

A few months into my tenure, I was brought in to start work on planning QA for the new flagship product. Unfortunately, this product was a classic case of over-promising and under-delivering. The amount of work was severely underestimated, and the schedule was hyper-aggressive. Toss in a few personality conflicts, and it made the product painful to work on.

Me: You think this is going to ship in October? 4 months from now? I don’t think so. There is at least 3-4 months of QA, and Engineering is not close to being done.

Boss: We are going to be done. The team is stepping up to the plate, doing what is necessary.

Me: I will bet you $5 that Engineering won’t be finished by the All-Company Meeting in October

Boss: You’re on!

I won the bet.

That dominated most of my career the first 3 years. And it caused some major changes in management. My boss became my boss’ boss, and then changed my role to individual contributor. This meant that when the eventual management purge that happened because of the major scheduling nightmares happened, my boss quit, his boss (my original boss) quit, the project manager quit… but I still had a job.

Old VP/Boss: I think that we need to change your role. You have done a great job with your automation work, but I think we need somebody in San Francisco to drive the QA strategy.

Me: OK

I had been maintaining this very large old automation suite that used Jenkins (an industry-standard task scheduling system). However, it was pushing past Jenkins’ capabilities. I started re-engineering this system from the ground up.

Me: It will scale up to 50 times the number of tests. The existing tests will be more reliable, cutting our 10% downtime to less than 2%. It will be able to run on more platforms because it won’t require Java to be installed. And it will be easier to maintain, since all of the code is actually code, and not buried in Jenkins config files.

It took a while. I had hoped to be done February of 2012, but there was still a lot of work to do. In the meantime, I got the best performance review from Coverity to date, and got a large bonus.

New Boss: Thanks for all of your hard work!

We had an All-Hands meeting in San Francisco in March. The new VP wanted us in the office at 8:00 on Monday morning. This broke my normal travel routine; I usually flew out of Austin at 6:30 Austin time, got to SFO about 8:30, and then made my way to the office by about 10 – 10:30, depending on travel/traffic, etc. This time, I needed to fly in earlier. Except that this was the South-by-Southwest weekend in Austin. There were no flights available leaving Austin on Sunday. Nor San Antonio. I talked with my boss. The choices were driving to Houston or Dallas, parking for a week, and taking flights from there, or flying out Saturday (there were very few flights then, either, but you could get one), and staying over Saturday as well, with the company paying for hotel on Saturday. He got approval for the latter.

New VP: So, when will the new system be ready?

Me: Close!

New VP: It’s sure taking long enough.

I was almost done with this system. Every one in my management chain up to but not including the CEO asked me about progress on this project. I was baffled as to why there was so much interest by upper management. The new VP of Engineering even made some snarky comments about it to me and a couple of my coworkers at one of the social events. He also made snarky comments about my travel woes getting there. Weird.

I finished the system about two weeks after I got back on a Thursday.

Me: I’m done!

New Boss: Do you have some time to chat this morning?

Monday morning, on chat, my boss asked if I were available for a 1:1 at 11:30?

New Boss: How’s it going?

Me: Great! Looking forward to the next challenge.

New Boss: I have Nicole from HR on the line.

Damn it.

You never want to hear that. It’s always bad news.

My position was being eliminated. My last day was going to be Friday. I needed to ship all Coverity equipment back to them by then. I had no other deliverables that I needed to finish for the week, so I should write whatever documentation I could during the week.


 

New Boss: I have put in a recommendation for you for Client Services. I think you would be a good fit.

New Boss called me on Tuesday morning. Told me that he thought I would make a great Client Services engineer. These people go to customer sites, install our software, get it up and running, possible writing software to help them out. It’s 50-75% travel, but the pay scale is similar. He said he would put me in touch with somebody from that department.

Later that morning, we had our weekly team meeting, where New Boss told the rest of the team what had happened. They were shocked, naturally. New Boss then proceeded to vent his anger at upper management, and make some pretty biting and cynical remarks about the company. And then the meeting proceeded as normal.

Me: Could you stay on the line for a few minutes.

New Boss: Sure. What’s up?

Me: You need to stop that. You need to stop trashing the company and your management for this decision. The team needs you to be a grownup here. And if the company finds out anything about that tirade you went on, your own career is in jeopardy. I’m already gone. You can’t change it. You already tried. You need to move on, so your team can move on. Go take care of yourself and your team and make my stock options worth something.


The Client Services manager I was to talk to also lived in Austin, but he wasn’t available until after my termination date. “I’ll talk to HR”, he wrote me in email.

HR contacted me. They were willing to extend my termination date by one month, reducing my severance by the same period so I could explore this opportunity with Services. Hooray. Now I got an extra month of health benefits, COBRA, and stock option vesting!

The manager and I met at a Starbucks in Bee Cave, a suburb near my house and on the way to where he lived. We talked for about an hour. We talked about the travel, about the need for social skills, and about the technology needed to do the work.

Client Services Manager: I just don’t think you have the technology skills I need, and I don’t have anybody who could train you right now.

Happy Easter to me.


One year later:

Former Coworker on chat:  The overseas person who they were going to have do your work quit six weeks after you left. So that worked out. Everybody thinks you quit because of your farewell mail. They have no idea you were laid off.

Me: Good. I did not say I quit in the email. However, I needed this to be seen as professional and part of life. The tech community is small, and I have no way of knowing if I will ever work with any of these people again. I can’t be seen as hostile. You take care.

 

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Hewlett-Packard 2011

I worked on a large complex product at Coverity. The VP of Engineering made a lot of promises about schedule and feature set that were impossible, and the team was put through a death march to try to meet the obligations.

Despite that atmosphere, the management team of the product came together and worked well together. My boss was overall manager of the product. He had hire a good project manager. The QA lead who reported to me was excellent. The software engineering lead was friendly and realistic, despite getting beat up constantly because of the VP’s promises.

The product eventually turned into something fantastic and to be proud of, just a year+ later than the VP originally promised.

Right about the time the product was ready, my boss, the project manager, and my QA lead all quit and went to Hewlett-Packard. I did not know anything else about it; by then I was no longer a manager, and I was doing automation work not connected to the big product.

I went into San Francisco for one of my regular visits, and the project manager got it touch and asked if we could get a drink. So I met him for a beer.

“Nick*, John*, and I would love it if you could come work with us at HP. We are building out a system, and we think your talents are well-suited to some work we need done. You would have a good budget, and you could stay remote. What do you think?”

“Well, first of all, thanks.” I stopped and took a few sips of beer.

“I just got my best performance review at Coverity. And a large bonus. Things are going really well.

“I also don’t hear good things about HP very often,” I said, drinking another sip.

He replied, “Our group is great. I like our management chain; we have Product Management buy in, and customers lined up.”

I thought about how to say what I was thinking.

“I like you. I like Nick. I like John. We did some good work together at Coverity. And I would like working with y’all again. But I am in a good place, and I just don’t like what I have read and heard about HP, both from the outside and from people I know who work or have worked there. I think I am going to have to pass.”

“Well, I certainly understand, but if you change your mind, you know how to get in touch…”

Later, his group ended up in HP Enterprise. And even later, they all went elsewhere. I think I made the correct call here.

* Not their real names

Learning iPad Programming by Turner/Harrington

Rice University – 2012

I had been working fairly successfully at Coverity for a few years, and no other opportunities came along. I had moved back to an individual contributor role, as remote management was just not working out. However, I had been doing good, interesting work in automation.

But I wasn’t particularly happy in my work.

Early in 2012, a friend of mine who worked in the Rice Computer Science Department got in touch with me to ask if I were interested in giving a little talk to current students in the department. They liked having people from industry give students perspectives they would not get from school. Also, I could get some time if anybody were interested in applying to Coverity. Coverity tended to focus on California schools, so it did not have any recruiting apparatus in Texas, so it would just be me. Hey, it got my gas from Austin to Houston and back paid for.

I presented my sitting down on a table in the front of the room and talked. I gave an overview of my career, and talked about what I was doing at the time. I talked for about 35 minutes, and then took questions. I got several questions about interview processes, day-to-day work life, work-life balance, how much actual computer science theory I used in everyday work, etc. Nothing too strange.

At the end of the presentation, several professors came up to me and congratulated me. They had started this series of alumni talking to students a few years previously, and they told me that mine had a few firsts:

  • I was the first not to use a PowerPoint presentation.
  • I was the first to ever have questions at the end.

I guess I did OK. Nobody talked to me about working at Coverity, though. Oh, well.

The friend who had contacted me could not go to the talk, but he came by at the end, and we went off and got something at the student run coffee house (man, it would have ROCKED to have that in 1988!), and then went back to his office, chatting about work and Rice and stuff, and gossiping about common friends.

When we got back to his office, he had three Amazon boxes on his chair. He opened them; they were all books that people had sent him for free to read and possibly review and recommend to his students. One of them, he was not at all interested in, and he held it up for me to see:

Learning iPad Programming by Turner/Harrington
I wonder what the latest edition of this book is…

I said, “I’ll take it”.


I left Apple in 2006. Steve Jobs announced iPhone in January, 2007. Apple opened the App Store in 2008. I was intrigued. I was also employed, and had two small children, and had almost no spare time to dig into this new world. I was really fascinated by what could be done.

The iPad came out in 2010. I bought one for my music; I used it instead of a bunch of pieces of paper on my music stand. It could hold everything I needed, and was big enough to read. Combine with a very expensive foot pedal that could turn pages, it’s been a big hit.

Stock iPad Photo
Look! A stock iPad photo!

I had not been truly happy in my jobs since Red Hat had purchased Cygnus in 2000. As a reflected on everything that had happened the previous dozen years, I realized a few things:

  • I did not really like QA or automation very much. I would rather be part of the software creative process.
  • I was pretty good at managing a team (maybe).
  • I was not good at the other things a manager had to do. I was not particularly adept at strategy. I was arrogant at times, and would tick off upper management on a fairly regular basis.
  • I was kind of at a software mid-life crisis (the real mid-life crisis had come and gone. Hopefully!)

I took home this book, and started paging through it, and decided that I really wanted to give software development another chance. And this was going to be the start. I started spending all of my spare time working through this book, typing in code, and seeing how it worked.

Starting over at 48. Scary. At least I still had a good job.

 

Novice Recuiter – 2010

Perhaps learning something about technology would have meant that:

  1. She would have known I wouldn’t be a fit.
  2. She could have found somebody who was.

Text inline:

I reviewed your resume on Dice and believe you might be a match for a full time permanent position I am recruiting for in downtown Austin, Texas.  I am a recruiter’s assistant to our Recruiting Manager, Xxxxx Xxxxx.  As a result, I am not well versed in all of the technical knowledge and would ask you to carefully review this job description to determine whether or not a match.  If you truly believe we have a match, please e-mail back your resume in word or pdf format and I will have (my manager) reach out to you direct at the phone number you provide.  I have tried to supply as much information about this opportunity and company to ensure we don’t waste yours or our time.  Please read in full before sending me a resume.
This is probably not going to go well.
Full Time Permanent Position
Software Development/Software Consulting Company
Downtown Austin, Texas
We are looking for software implementation consultants who have experience working in professional services groups within software companies.  In some cases they may have worked for system integrators.  Their titles may include Associate, Consultant, Senior Consultant, Engineer, Sales Engineer, Solution Architect,Implementation Consultant, Application Engineer, or Software
Consultant.
Well, that’s certainly not me, although “Engineer” sometimes worked. “Application Engineer” usually means .NET stuff, which I don’t have.
Our ideal candidate is someone who knows something about Alfresco (that’s an “A plus” candidate for sure), but just having experience in or near the ECM domain would be great (“A minus” candidate).  These domains might include Enterprise Content Management, Web Content Management, Content Management, Document Management, Archiving, Records Management, Scanning, Imaging, Digital Asset Management, Contract Management, etc.
I had NOTHING in this area on my resume. Why was I contacted?
The candidates have certain technical skills.  They do have experience implementing J2EE-based enterprise software solutions, also referred to as Java Web Application Development; familiarity with MVC frameworks such as Spring MVC; and experience with Front-End Web Development (CSS, JavaScript, Markup).
Well, I have this experience now, but not in 2010.
The candidates have experience with “software implementation”.  What we mean by that is that they have been client facing and have experience gathering requirements, documenting systems, demonstrating software, installing and configuring software, extending or lightly customizing the software, adapting business processes, rolling the software out to users, supporting users during the implementation, training users, and making recommendations on how to leverage and get more value from the software beyond the current implementation.
Also,  these candidates do have BS/BA degrees.
This paragraph makes my head hurt. I have to have experience with “software implementation”. Hmm. I think I can “check” that one-off.
This looks more like a recruiting training manual. There was more, but my favorite is:
Our client is looking for that incredibly rare intersection of outstanding people skills, top technical expertise, and a willingness to do whatever it takes to get the job done. Our client runs a lean shop with as little overhead as possible, so candidates must be very self-directed and know when to ask for help.
So reading between the lines:
  • They want a superstar
  • Who can make their managers feel good about them.
  • And works long hours
  • With no other help.

Wow. This was just terrible. I was nice when I told here I wasn’t qualified. But wow.

Unknown Company 2009

Subject: Your resume on google

Hi <misspelled first name>

I could be way off as I cant tell when this was last updated!  I am looking for a Dev Manager in Mt. View and am trying to find out if you or someone you know might be interested in hearing more.  I have worked with these guys for about 10 years and know the company and the product pretty well.  I have pasted the description below, it is pretty generic, but gives you an idea.
We are recruiting a Development Manager for an international company. This is a high visibility role within the company and requires someone who has extensive experience with Mac based development.

The Development Manager’s role is to plan, coordinate, and supervise all activities related to the design, development, configuration, integration and implementation of Mac client.

This individual will apply proven communication skills, problem-solving skills, and knowledge of best practices to guide his/her development team on issues related to the design, development, configuration, integration, and deployment.

Identifies bottlenecks and suggests solutions to improve the product and/or development process.

A high energy level, the ability to set and achieve individual & team goals, and great interpersonal and communication skills are essential.

The ideal candidate will participate and lead the decision making on the design and implementation of solutions that employ leading-edge technologies.

This is a perfect job for you, if:
You are passionate about building great technology and developing high quality software products
You are looking for a dynamic workplace with unparalleled opportunities for personal and professional growth

Qualifications

Bachelors in Computer Science or equivalent experience

10+ years direct experience in software development with C/C++ under Mac environment

3+ years of experience in the management role with proven success in delivering software projects with high quality

Excellent understanding of the organization’s goals and objectives.

Full life cycle software development experience from conception to product delivery

Demonstrated ability to attract talent, coach, and develop staff.

Experience working with geographically distributed teams

Excellent verbal and written communication skills

So. As written the job itself was an ideal job. I would be managing engineers who would be working on Mac apps. I would be managing a distributed international team, with opportunities for travel. It was exactly what I was looking for at the time.

Except it was located in Mountain View, CA. The Bay Area.

Leaving the Bay Area was hard. Staying out of the Bay Area was proving to be just as difficult. I had to say no.

Plus I really hate it when they don’t tell you who the company is. Looks like Microsoft, but really, could have been any number of companies.

P.S. I wish the recruiters had “excellent verbal and written skills” sometimes.

 

 

 

 

EvoStore – 2009

I had happily settled into working at Coverity, which I got this email:

I helped on the Director search for VMware’s Core Engineering a few years ago and remembered we tried to get you interested and that you were very well thought of.  I’d like let you know of a new VP Engineering position I’m working on for EvoStor.
EvoStor is conducting a worldwide search for an engineering leader.
This position is in Melbourne, Australia.
Must have hands on experience with Virtualization technology along with low level software such as distributed systems, storage, networking, etc.
Looking for a leader vs. a driver.
Must have experience or be ready to rise to senior management.

I talked about the interview at VMWare here; this same recruiter gave me feedback that they thought I was “too arrogant”. I was puzzled about the comment “very well thought of”. If that had been true, where was the offer?

As I was reading this, I texted my wife (who grew up overseas):

Me: Hey, you want to live in Melbourne?

Her: Australia or Florida?

Me: Oz

Her: When do you want me to call the movers?

By the time I had typed out a reply, my wife had found the neighborhoods and schools to look at online.

I wrote back to the recruiter:

I do remember interviewing at VMWare years ago, and I was disappointed not to be interviewed further.

I would be interested in discussing this with you.

She called. Basically, EvoStor was a startup that grew out of a local university in Melbourne. The investors were getting itchy, because they had been working for several years and still had no shipping product. The board was looking for a senior manager who could take over the team and get the product out the door, and then grow the team to position it for future growth.

The technology had something to do with virtualization, and server optimization. I admitted freely that this was not my area of expertise, but I was good at getting products out the door.

She then told me that I needed to talk to her more technical partner before we proceeded further. So he called.

He asked me one question about scheduling and triaging and meeting requirements. He then asked me, “Do you have any questions for me?”

We had only been on the phone 5 minutes; I could not imagine that he was interested after such a short period of time. So I gambled.

“Yes, I do. Why are you talking to me? The fact that you only asked me one question leads to me to believe that you are not actually interested, and that you are letting me ask questions to be nice and not to poison our relationship for future positions.”

He paused.

“Here’s the deal,” he said. “We have two other candidates that we are pursuing. Both of them work at VMWare currently. Both of them are Australian ex-pats who are homesick. Both of them have relevant technical experience. Neither one has much management experience at all.”

He continued, “I am talking to you because you do have management experience, and you come across as a no-nonsense kind of guy who could get the team into shape, while at the same time, you don’t seem like an a##hole who would poison the company. I am talking with you to have you as an option in case the other two don’t work out.”

“Oh.”

“If we decide to go forward, we would first fly you out to San Jose to talk to our American engineering manager. If that worked out, we would fly you down to Australia for a full round of interviews.”

I said, “That’s fine; I don’t anticipate that you will pursue me at this point. Do me a favor, though.”

“What?”

“If you do decide not to pursue me, would you let me know? A lot of companies and recruiters leave candidates hanging, afraid to tell them bad news.”

“Will do.”

And he did, 3 weeks later. Man of his word.

But my wife and I were really looking forward to living in Australia. Sigh.

Don’t know what happened to EvoStor; there domain name is for sale now.

 

 

 

Apple (Contract) – 2009

A recruiter on LinkedIn contact me. His outfit was trying to place somebody into contract QA for Apple.

He wrote:

I found your resume online as I have some QA Engineer opportunity that you maybe interested in. We are seeking seasoned QA candidates like yourself for my client Apple in Cupertino. Below you will find the job description for your reference.
If you are still available and looking for a new position, please indicate your interest by forwarding your updated resume and the best times to reach you.
Thanks for your time.
He then included the following job description:

Xcode QA Engineer – Apple (w-2 Contract)

Our client is seeking a QA engineer responsible for testing the quality of the Xcode Tools releases as a whole. As part of the integration team you will test performance, integration points, overall user experience and overall quality. Our team is the public face of testing for the Mac OS X Developer Tools. We coordinate the qualification effort of the various developer tools teams, and contribute to the qualification efforts in other groups at Apple. This position requires a self-motivated individual with strong technical skills who can contribute in a dynamic team environment. The successful candidate will plan and design test cases and ensure the successful delivery of a quality product.

Required skills include:

– Some programming background in C-based languages.

– Comfort in a unix environment.

– Experience in test automation

– QA experience on a shipping product.

– Understanding of how the various components of a development environment work.

Desired skills:

– Software development experience, particularly using IDEs such as Xcode or Visual Studio. – AppleScript, perl, ruby, python, or tcl experience.

– UNIX shell scripting experience

– QA experience on a GUI project.

– Understanding of source-code control systems.

– Bachelor’s degree or equivalent work experience.

So, that’s funny. I wrote that job description in 2005, 5 years earlier. I guess they were recycling it!

I declined.