Thursday, January 19, 2006

Averting a warp-core breach...

Warning: warp-core breach is imminent...warning...

For those of us geeky enough to be Star Trek: The Next Generation fans, we know that there are few crises more serious than the voice of the Enterprise computer announcing the impending catastrophic failure of the ship's engines. The resulting matter-antimatter explosion added a new definition to the phrase "big bang," and was the tragic fate of several of the Enterprise's sister ships.

The reason that all this geekiness is relevant (besides the fact that at heart, I'm a geek) is that the explosion results from the failure to contain powerful and opposing forces. Allowing the tiniest interaction between matter and antimatter allowed the Enterprise to travel faster than light and do all kinds of cool things. But when the containment between matter and antimatter failed, the result was a devastating explosion.

The alert klaxons have been going off at my (relatively) new place of employment, this week...and one could almost hear Majel Barrett Roddenbery sounding the alarms. (For the geek-impaired, she was the wife of ST founder Gene Roddenbery, and played the voice of the computer for both the original ST and TNG).

The containment fields are definitely weakening...

In our case, the two self-annihilating forces are the desperate need to produce at work, and the hope of things getting better. We easily have enough work to keep 16 people busy 60 hours a week - and with only 8 of us, it means that even at 80-plus hours a week, we're still going backward, fast. And the more people can see that we're going backward, the less hope there is of things getting better. The "just hang on, do your best, and things will get better" motto has been wearing a bit thin with my coworkers, causing a number of flare-ups throughout the last two days (complete with invocations of God's damnation on the technology and liberal dropping of the "F-bomb"). It was no wonder that several of my teammates started moving toward the life-pods about 4:30 today.

To my boss's credit, she sounded the general-evacuation alarm at 6 PM today - and then led the charge for the elevators herself. It was a good thing - tempers have been running higher, fuses have been shorter, and the software we're using for our daily processing is more full of bugs and "features" than a pomegranate is of seeds.

All this has produced a snowstorm of trouble calls and problem tickets, most of which we don't have the skills to resolve because our team didn't get to participate in the software build or testing - the implementing team basically "threw it over the wall" about 12 hours before we went live. Needless to say, every single thing we have touched - and some things that were never supposed to be touched - have all broken or failed badly.

The big difference between my life at the telecom-who-bought-Nextel and this operation is that in my former IT/accounting life, I had a group of managers, DBA's and programmers who wanted us to be able to get into the heart of the system and understand the data and the programming, so we could help diagnose the system when it died. The folks here, by contrast, as every bit as nice (most of the time), but 100% in the "there are no good users, only stupid users and stupider clients" mindset. So it's been especially hard to try and see "the soul of the new machine" to find out what makes it tick (or not, as the case may be).

But I, amidst all this, seem to be doing OK. My friend Wes D. reminded me recently of a fellow we worked with who would say, "If this stuff were easy, the Scout Troup would have already done it by now." Don't get me wrong - yeah, I'd like someone to buy me a life, and yes, no one will have to rock me to sleep tonight (good thing, too, since the candidates are few...). But it's still a remarkably good place to work, with a really good group of people that I work with. I just pray that they all got some high-quality rest tonight.

It's close to midnight, and I need to pull some clean clothes out of the dryer, and hit the hay. All I can hope is that tomorrow will be a a better day, and we can get less in the "fingers in the dyke" mode and more into the "proactive, building trust and relationships" stage of the game.

But for now, I'm going to bed and "let the world (and the job) turn without me tonight."

4 comments:

Poor Mad Peter said...

Majel was also Nurse Christine Chappel in the original series. Maybe a nurse is something your company could use in the interim.

Dave said...

You really seem to be thriving at this new place. I'm very happy for you. I just hope you are being paid hourly, or if not, that you are being paid well.

APN said...

Majel was also one of my favorite ST:TNG characters : Lwaxanna Troi, overly horny mother of the lovely Counselor Deanna Troi.

But your overall point remains rather valid -- for us nerds, it is SOOOO easy to see everything through the eyes of Gene Roddenberry and the Star Trek world. I'm just glad that you seem to be excited about work. THAT is a change for you....

Gloria said...

I don't know why your blog has captured my imagination. But I run over here every morning to see how your doing!!
Is it too corny to say "I'm proud of you and your hard work?"