Months go by… each one much like the last

12:41 pm People, Software

Wish I had more to write about, musically, but I’ve just spent the last month – plus – working 12-to-14-hour days, 7-days-per-week, helping to build a sales and marketing infrastructure where I work.

The company’s well over five years old at this point, so it’s sane to ask why this might have been necessary. The answer is that we were originally a technology company that was created and bred to be sold for its intellectual property. That didn’t happen. So we recently got yet another new CEO (the 4th or 5th, depending on how one counts), were re-classified back to “startup” status, and are now going to be selling a product based on the IP we’ve developed over the last 5 years. This transition took place over the last 6 months and entailed enormous effort on the part of almost everyone in the company. Yes, almost.

Anyway, selling a product in volume requires something more than the half-assed CRM system we were using to track the (relatively few) customers we had. That had to be rebuilt and integrated with a new, internet-based public face. Thankfully, we have a guy on-site who thoroughly understands the CRM side of this equation. He was able to do some amazing stuff in that area during the time we had. My focus was elsewhere, and included:

  • an entire commercial-grade, PHP-driven web site – reclaimed from a SaaS/CMS company (eMagine) who was charging us by the hour for making changes to things as simple as a web form field;
  • a separate staging site;
  • two different customer support forums – one of which has a complex access control scheme that will eventually be integrated with customer data from our CRM system;
  • policies and procedures for migrating customers over from the ‘old’ system to the new, as well as for site content maintenance (using Dreamweaver and CVS);
  • a PHP-based, content-driven document delivery system that requires no changes to the actual listing pages when documents in the listing itself are added, deleted or changed;
  • a multi-tiered, access-controlled education center for customers who’ve purchased different levels of support, also based on the above document delivery system;
  • dynamic product download pages that automatically update themselves with file sizes, MD5 checksum values, etc;
  • auto-regenerating sitemap, automated page redirection (from our old, dead links), interactive Google maps, ‘smart’ menu highlighting, floating navigation menus and lots of other stuff that’s pretty much just a blur, now.

Thankfully, others were responsible for writing the volumes of actual page content of the site. And the web design firm did a very nice job, for their part. They did most of the interactive Javascript and cross-browser compatibility stuff, and were exceptionally responsive given the timeframe we had (weeks, not months). Even so, they originally wanted to maintain each page of the site as an individual file – with all the duplication of HTML and Javascript that would have entailed (er… “want to move that ad banner to the right 3 pixels? sorry – you gotta edit 60 files – arrrrgh!!”).

It used to be the case that many (most?) developers I ran into were also musicians or at least musically inclined. Something about being comfortable with things In The Abstract, I think. Most places I’ve worked in the past, if you tossed a whiteboard eraser into a cubicle farm, it’d bounce off of three bass players and a drummer before it hit the ground. Is that not the case any more? Or have they just forgotten about things like D.S. al Coda or al Fine?

Duplication of effort has always bothered me. I have this visceral, negative neuro-associative reaction to making the same change to a system in more than one place. That carries over to having to verbally explain to people multiple times how a system works – especially after it’s been documented with step-by-step instructions that are way simpler even than the “getting started” documents we expect our customers to follow when they install and configure our product. But it seems like I’ve been doing a lot of that lately. Part of the job, I suppose.

Anyway, here we are starting over on a “new” venture with a five-year-old enterprise. Those of use who’ve been there from the beginning are effectively duplicating a lot of the effort we’ve already expended. Maybe it’s one of those “if at first you don’t succeed” things, I don’t know. Experience makes me skeptical. After 30 years of doing this, it’s been the all-too-rare occurrence that people (read: management) ever learn from past mistakes. As such, “try, try again” is starting to sound a lot less like tenacity and a lot more like the endless repetition that some folks use to define the term insanity.

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