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Talking Plug-ins and CFOs (Small Company Life)

Friday, August 20, 2004
A lazy developer is a good developer. One developer I worked with had a passion for automating everything. By the time you asked Dan to do something twice, he would have a SQL script ready, or an ASP page, or a VB program that screen scraped data from web servers in 15 different time zones and sent a report to the printer with instructions for automatic collation and stapling.

This was all particularly impressive considering Dan had moved into the pointy haired legions of ‘management’.

Back in the day before Outlook had a desktop alert, Dan decided to write his own alert as an Outlook plug-in. Every time a new message arrived, the plug-in used the MS text to speech engine to read the subject line aloud.

When Dan's machine said "Error in production", Dan knew something important was up. When Dan's machine said "Halloween Dress Up Day”, Dan knew he could continue working on something important and leave the email alone.

This all worked pretty well until the childish developers in the company realized the power of speech. Dan would be having a staff meeting with 4 other people in the office when his computer would blurt out:

“Beer. Beer. Beer. Beer. Beer. Beer. Beer. Beer. Beer. Beer. Beer.“

Anyway, when we were an up and coming company we had to plan for our destiny. It was very important, the VCs would tell us, to be prepared for the massive incoming rush of future customers. The absolute worst scenario for an Internet company is not to have the infrastructure required to meet customer demand. IBM would ridicule any company caught unprepared in a television commercial.

Like many companies of the late 90s, we promptly leased enough networking gear to wire the planet over twice.  

In 2001 cash became an issue. Someone decided that if we could just get out of all the leases and replace high end Cisco and Sun hardware with stuff from WalMart, then we would buy ourselves enough time for the massive incoming rush of customers to arrive.

Dan’s job was to crunch all the numbers and present a plan to the CFO. Dan knew the first answer is never acceptable in these scenarios so he came up with a complete financial model in the form of a spreadsheet. If they didn’t like the first answer then they could just change a few numbers around and the entire spreadsheet recalculated.

About 6 months later Dan told me what happened when he turned the spreadsheet over to the CFO. The CFO was excited and called Dan into his office.

CFO: Look, I can change a number here, and the number down here changes!

Dan: Yes, I thought I’d put this in a spreadsheet to try a few different things and see what works out best.

CFO: Yes, but look! I can change a number here, and the number down here changes!

Dan: Well, yeah, it’s a spreadsheet…..

CFO: But this is fantastic! I can change a number here, and the number down here changes!

I heard this story as I was packing the books at my desk into cardboard boxes. At this point nothing surprised me. In fact, being as how we were only days away from closing the door for good, maybe it was all starting to make sense.

Note: this story is not my fondest memory of the CFO…..