Sins of Commissions

Inc. Magazine“A couple of years ago, I went into a big-box shoe store and bought a pair of sneakers. At the checkout counter, the cashier grabbed a can of that bogus silicone spray stores always try to up-sell you. It’s supposed to make sneakers shiny and waterproof, but it doesn’t seem to do anything.”

From my latest Inc. column: Sins of Commissions

My dad emailed to add:

The same problem arises when you set measurable incentives (money for better test results) in educational policies like No Child Left Behind.

Stack Overflow Podcast #25

This week’s Stack Overflow Podcast features special guest star and programming blogger superhero Steve Yegge. It’s a terrific conversation about working at Google, marketing your ideas, and programming languages… one of the most interesting podcasts yet.

In the spirit of Steve’s extremely long blog posts, we ran about 15 minutes long this week.

In the past, Jeff and I have had some audio problems using Skype to record the podcast–mainly, dropouts when we talk over each other. I set up a bunch of new gear which seems to have finally fixed this problem. Here’s a description of the new podcasting setup.


Hair on fire

Copilot LogoOn August 17th, Jason, a student in our software management training program, read a post by Seth Godin, marketing guru extraordinaire:

“Here’s the challenge: Assemble your team (it might be just you) on Monday and focus like your hair is on fire (I have no direct experience in this area, but I’m told that hair flammability is quite urgent).

“Do nothing except finish the project. Hey, you could have been on vacation, so it’s okay to neglect everything else, to put your email on vacation autorespond and your phone on voice mail and to beg off on the sleepy weekly all-hands meeting and to avoid the interactions with those that might say no…

“And then finish it. Finish the website or the manuscript or business plan or the suite of tools.”

At the time, the Copilot team had spent a couple of months stuck in a bizarre Moby Dick-style obsessive hunt to fix a very obscure bug in a very rare edge case in some code which nobody would ever see. There was a loooong period of time there where every once in a while I would ask Ben what was going on and he would say, “we should have AutoUpdate done today.” I didn’t know what AutoUpdate was, but the eleventh time I heard that it was going to be done “today” I started to detect a pattern.

When Jason read Seth’s motivational post, probably after drinking a little bit ttoooo mmuucchh ccooffffee, he got really excited by this idea, and quickly sold Ben and Tyler, the developers, that they should try something. In their weakened state from an exhausting chase after one very annoying bug, they probably could have been convinced that it was a good idea to try hang gliding from the roof of our office building to the Statue of Liberty, so they went along with it.

To keep focused, Jason instituted daily scrum-like standup meetings. It took about three weeks to get to code complete and about three more weeks of testing and polishing, but lo and behold, it’s here: Copilot OneClick!

Copilot was originally optimized to be the easiest way to provide temporary, ad-hoc tech support over the internet. It’s a remote desktop system that’s focused on ease of use, with nothing to install, so it’s perfect for tech support departments that just need to get onto a customer’s system remotely to fix problems, without asking the customer to install software, change firewall settings, etc. etc.

OneClick is a new feature that allows you to install Copilot on the computers you connect to most frequently, and makes re-connecting to those computers a breeze. It’s a huge step forward in usability.

So, thanks, Seth Godin, for the motivation. Now if I could just get the contractor working on our office to read Seth’s blog

PS. Since the summer, we’ve added a lot of other small features, which I haven’t reported here. There’s a new monthly $19.95 flat rate plan. Weekends are now totally free (ideal for helping your family and friends). There’s also a free 15 day trial. The best way to keep up with these things is to subscribe to the Copilot Blog.