It started in the morning, I would approximate around 10am. The new VP of Engineering stopped by to say hi and start a proper introduction. He first showed up at this office last Wednesday, when I was taking a sick day. I met him in passing when I went in on Thursday, but I declined many handshakes that day because I was coughing into my hands a lot. And then I was out Friday. He wasn't here Monday, and I was out Tuesday. So we talked a little, but he had a grand meeting to attend, and wanted to let me know that he'd like to talk more after the meeting.
Well it was a very long meeting. I guess it started sometime soon after 10am, and the meeting wasn't done until around 5pm. I had needed to talk with my Directory about the design for my project, so I grabbed him once I realized they were out of the meeting and we started talking. Short term solution: working on something else while he tries to get the design put together. But there's also some question wether the project is needed at this time, so it might not happen after all. I think I'll be working on "other things" today and tomorrow.
While talking with the Director, the VP of Engineering came by and said I could stop in his office as soon as I was done with the Director. (Good sign number one: VP which understands that he needs to wait while other discussions are going on, and not just expecting you to jump.) So I finished up with Director and went to chat with the VP. We ended up grabbing a conference room, because he thought it would be a better place to chat than his office.
It started out like he was interviewing me. He was curious as to my work experience before joining Z-force. I was surprised that he had heard of TTC, as it is a somewhat obscure company. (I would later find out why he recognized it.) I went through my work experience, and he was a bit surprised that I had not even been there a year. I am the most recent engineering staff hire in the company, so it's not like he had seen anyone who'd been there less time than I.
After that he asked me what I thought the highlights and lowlights of my time with the company had been. I focused on Engineering accomplishments, and the highlight was personal: taking on a system integration that wasn't scheduled for me (originally) to try and keep the team on schedule. The lowlight: realizing how quickly our code can fall apart -- and not be caught in testing -- due to one small change (one parameter changed from 0x0000FFFF to 0x00010000).
Then he went on to things that I thought needed to be fixed. In the end I gave him 4 things. First thing was that I thought Engineering needed a reorganization. We had been split into 3 development groups, however the split between my group (filesystems) and another group (system libraries) was rather "iffy". Add to this that the System Libraries group didn't have a directory for a few months now (and no interviews were going on to find one) and were instead directly reporting to the CTO, I felt this was a very bad situation. VP of Engineering said that he had already noticed this, and was working on a plan to move us to two development teams, Transport and OAM&P. At this point I realized he had background in telecom. OAM&P is a telco standard acronym for "Operations, Administration, Management, and Planning" (or Provisioning, I forget what P is because it's usually just OAM). So give him points for realizing something that I saw as well.
Second problem I mentioned was that it felt like the CEO was far too involved in Engineering for what I thought was healthy. Coming from my background in a different (but larger) company I thought it was unusual that we heard so much from the CEO and spent so much time with him. In my mind, the only times you should be hearing directly from the CEO are when he has great news to share with the company, or bad news that he feels should come right from the horse's mouth. Our CEO's have been rather directly involved with Engineering, and I just didn't feel like it was the right thing to be doing. Of course I hedged myself saying that it might be something more common in start-ups and that I don't worry a lot about it.
Third was that Engineering morale is about shot. It has been shot ever since I got here and the founders left. No one has accomplished anything when it comes to restoring morale in this company. That's a hard one to fix, but it needs fixed. I felt that part of the morale problem came from Marketing continually changing what was needed to sell out product, and an opinion in Engineering that Marketing wanted features to put on checklists that no customer would use, and I felt that it was Marketing's job to educate customers if they're asking for features that aren't going to be used.
I gave one specific feature example to the VP, and he went on to explain how it is being used by customers. After hearing his little "pep talk" it does sound like a much more important thing. He also explained how it's used by customers, and it's a much more "hidden" function that, honestly, customers don't want to use but want it there just in case. So I guess it makes sense that we'd think the feature was not used--the customer really doesn't want to be using it.
The fourth and final thing that I felt needed to be fixed was a large chunk of the design of our code. There are a number of inherent problems with our design that lead us to be dependent on other factors for our performance. I have had a hair-brained scheme in my head for a new way to solve some of these problems that, in theory, would repair a lot of the issues we have with our design. But I'm not a designer (especially not in the field of our product) so I'm not sure that the design concept I proposed would be the right answer. But I felt it would solve some of the issues we currently have, and that could be worth it.
Of course thinking about it in the time since the meeting I've been a bit worried that I oversold the problems of the file system. There are certain things that I know are issues, but there's one problem in particular that I'm worried about, and now think might no longer be a problem because of a code change that happened just a few days ago. I worry about having put this out as a problem when it isn't a problem, because I don't like being incorrect on technical issues. Doubly so when the issue I mentioned struck a nerve with the VP. He wanted to have a meeting with me, my Director, and the CTO to discuss my proposal, which sorta freaks me out a bit as well.
After that he asked if I had any questions for him. And yes, I did. I wondered if he felt he had the experience needed to pull engineering back together, regroup, build morale, and be capable of delivering a product. So he gave me a story of a previous job, where he did something quite similar. And of course it was for a telecom company, so a lot of the technical details he mentioned were crystal-clear to me.
And then he asked me where I stood on relocation. It was a very straightforward answer I could give him. I have two issues for the move, and in priority order they are: #1, what does Dee want to do, and #2, do I feel Z-force can achieve its goals. And then I gave him the news on #1: Dee wants to be in the L.A. area, not Silicon Valley. The odds of her changing her mind are slim to none. I didn't want to "tease" him thinking that there was much of a chance. But I also would like to be with Z-force and help. This means I'll offer to work the three month commute schedule, and that I could potentially work it longer than 3 months. I would even be willing to consider a consulting style arrangement to continue working with the comapny. But I also said that I'm sending out resumes and looking for options around here.
And then he said something, which I'm not sure if it's being said to everyone, but it was said to me so I'll assume he may be trying to sweet-talk everyone. He said that he felt I was someone who would help the company a lot, and that he though my telecom background especially could help the company. He asked if I would give him an opportunity to make a counter-offer based not only on money but location if I were to receive an offer. So it's possible that I'm considered to be important, and that Z-force might counter-offer based on some type of remote work or consulting job. I guess we'll have to see how it plays.
Of course, I got an e-mail back from Google, thanking me for submitting my resume but stating they didn't feel they had any positions which would be a good match. In a way I expected it, but then I always expect failure. Perhaps it was that my degree isn't Computer Science, maybe it's that I only have a Bachelor's degree. Maybe the "Linux Kernel" job wasn't a job working on the Linux Kernel but working on their search-enginer Kernel running on Linux. Who knows. There were lots of other jobs that I thought I might fit into, but then perhaps they really don't have as many jobs in the Santa Monica office as their website makes it sound like.
It seems, though, that telecom is the one place where I have the experience needed to actually make a company interested in me. I guess I need to hunt around and see which of those companies are out here. Speaking of which I just remembered another company out here (Spirent) that's in telco test equipment that I should send a resume to. Technically I have to wait until around March 15 (end of a 1-year no compete clause) but I wonder if they'd be interested in getting someone away from a competitor. :^)