Acme, Inc.

April 10, 2008

Acme Inc. is a Fortune 500 company servicing insurance clients. We built dodgy software that our executives sold to our clients’ executives during cocktail parties. Office cogs used our software to handle claims on the front lines, and the executives who originally made the deal never had to see or use it. That is why the quality of our work as software developers didn’t matter at Acme: the buyers were totally disconnected from the users, and all the buyers cared about was budget and deadline.

You may recognize this scenario in your own work: you are trying to do the best job you can, and the brass talks a good game about quality products. They wax poetic about robustness, and best-in-class, or whatever marketing drone bullshit is common in your particular industry. Then, those same managers set up the department to reward speed and totally disregard quality.

Your Manager is not an Idiot (really)

You may feel the urge to fight the good fight — to show your slob manager the error of his evil ways! Before you do anything, consider this: he does what the pressures of his environment compel him to do. He rewards speed over quality, because his customers reward speed over quality. Asking him to change his incentive system in order to create a better product is precisely asking him to piss off his customers by trading off something that is important to them (speed) for something that they have no interest in (quality).

If you work at a place like this, don’t be bitter. Business is what it is. It’s not that your customers believe crappy software is superior, or even that they wouldn’t like high quality software if you gave it to them. The role of a marketplace is to strike the perfect balance between conflicting customer needs — they need software, they need it fast, they need it to be high quality. The price determines how much speed and quality are possible, and the end result is a product that is created more quickly than you would have liked, and of lesser quality than you prefer.

And that’s the lesson here. You must realize that your desires for the product do not match those of the market. You want your work to be built correctly, you want it to reflect the pride you have in your craftsmanship. I really get that, I think that most managers get that too.

The customer doesn’t care about your craftsmanship, though. They have a problem that makes their life difficult, and their only concern is that you solve it.

Advice for the Journeyman

That’s the bad news. The company you work for will never let you build software like you want to, because there is no solid business case for building it in such a way. The good news is that some companies will.

The ideal company for you, Ideal LLC, is one that is run by very bright business men. The technical department is filled with enthusiasts. They sell software as a product to a wide audience. Here’s why:

  • Business men, because without them the geeks will think they are building products for themselves and the company will fail. They’ll have fun failing, but they will fail… and you’ll be out of a job.
  • Enthusiasts because those are the people who, like you, are really interested in craftsmanship. They will understand you, and challenge you to excel. That’s never a bad thing.
  • Selling your software to a wide audience means that the quality of the software actually matters those those who are buying it. If those office cogs could choose the claims management software they used on a daily basis, Acme would go bankrupt. Those people would choose a product that was beautiful, efficient, and painless, if they could. At Ideal LLC they can.

The fact that the users can choose means there truly is a solid business case for writing extremely high quality software. That is the status quo that will make a journeyman happy. Go find your new status quo, it’s out there!


5 Responses to “Acme, Inc.”

  1. […] Articles The Death Bed TestLesson 1: Undocumented CredentialsOk, Read This Blog NowAcme, Inc.About Ken « The Death […]

  2. […] fellow wage slaves at Acme would grind themselves into the ground for that sweat shop. They worked until the wee hours of the […]

  3. […] This is a snarky investment proposal for people who work for a corporation or who are thinking of working for a corporation. We accept corporations because they feel “normal” in our society. Because of this “normalcy,” the pathways through our brain are burned separately for “corporate employment” and “investment.” The fact is that they are one in the same, and the above proposal is exactly the investment you are making when you work for Acme, Inc. […]

  4. […] he does his job fairly well as far as I can see, but he is a sucker. Like my former colleagues at Acme, Doug works way too hard for nothing in return. He is here for a little over 12 hours a day putting […]

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