Last March, when we were starting to plan our summer internships, I was disappointed by the massive bogusness of the so-called “business challenges” on the TV show The Apprentice. From the posts over on the discussion groups, it was apparent to me that people were really excited to see each new episode, and then consistently disappointed when the management challenge turned out to consist of two hours of inspecting chocolate bars in a factory, or hawking on street corners to get people to go into a restaurant. Management challenge, indeed! Those are two of the lowest-paying jobs in New York City. Most of the people on the streets handing out flyers are homeless and working for minimum wage.
At the same time, I noticed that there were very few decent documentaries about the software development process. Since the idea of our summer internship was to build a new product, from beginning to end, during the course of one summer, I thought it would be a great opportunity to have a filmmaker come into our offices and film the whole thing. And I thought that the audience that’s excited to see inside the business world would be just as enthusiastic to get a view of the software development process at Fog Creek.
So I put out a call for a documentary filmmaker. We got a half-dozen serious applications and picked Lerone Wilson, a recent NYU grad, to invade our office for the summer and make a movie. Instead of paying for the production ourselves, we provided a minimum subsidy, so the filmmaker could maintain complete editorial control. My friends at Thought Equity, a stock footage company, loaned Lerone a great HDV camera. Dan Bricklin, the co-creator of VisiCalc, the first electronic spreadsheet, agreed to appear, as did Lisp-luminary and e-commerce pioneer Paul Graham, currently a partner in Y Combinator, which provides seed funding for startups.
The movie is called Aardvark’d: 12 Weeks With Geeks and it’s in the final phases of editing now. So far, I’ve only seen an early cut of the movie, but it looks great, if I say so myself. The only other recent documentaries I’ve seen about software development, Code Rush and Startup.com, totally pale in comparison.
Of course, we’ll try to get this movie into multiplexes worldwide, but you probably shouldn’t hold your breath. In the meantime we’ve negotiated with Lerone to make DVDs available to Joel on Software readers as cheaply as we can make them: $19.95 (free shipping in the US, cheap shipping elsewhere). The DVDs are not quite ready yet but they will be shipping by December 1st. Given the holidays coming up, it’s very hard to find DVD manufacturing capacity this time of year, so we’re not sure how many we’re going to be able to produce in time for the holidays. We’re now taking pre-orders on our website for guaranteed shipment on December 1st, but once the initial manufacturing run has been sold out we can’t guarantee delivery before the holidays, so order early if you plan on giving this as a gift. There’s a trailer online in Windows Media and Quicktime formats if you want to preview it, and the order form is here.
Update—June, 2011—The entire film is now available on YouTube for free. Watch Aardvark’d Online Free.