It’s not so bad

June 15, 2006

Although my career to date has an agency focus, it’s by no means the only thing I’ve done, with brief stints in both a large global management consultancy and a small property company.

Despite these experiences, I’ve always found myself drifting back to agency work. In some ways, web development for the marketing sector isn’t as intense as developer roles elsewhere.

As Mark says, compared to the process at a global management consultancy, we’ve got it easy (though I don’t entirely agree with his comment, but that’s a post for another day).

There are things I love about working in a web agency (which tends to be quite small), as oposed to a 10,000+ employee global management consultancy.

A close-knit team. Everyone has one or two key areas of expertise. There’s a lot of respect within the organisation. Flat hierarchy and little or no politics. The power to innovate and bring about change.

Working in a web agency isn’t so bad. Even with dumb clients.


Power of patience

June 13, 2006

I’ve often wondered about a colleague notorious for their 3am e-mails. The truth only hit me recently.

I’ve been doing email for hours.. so tired.. better get some sleep..” — one hour later — (awaking from a nightmare about a dumbass client) “aaaargh! nooooo! not more copy changes!” — 15 minutes later, unable to get back to sleep for fear of more nightmares— “let me do more email..”

This predicament is not unusual for project managers, many of whom have to endure the mental toture almost daily of dealing with stupid people. It takes a lot of patience to deal with such behaviour on a regular basis, and requires a completely different personality from developers (who tend to be ‘engineer’ type personalities as opposed to ‘sales’ type personalities).

A business where developers are client facing is almost always going to be problematic, as project managers play an important role, in that they buffer the demands of crazy clients and aggravated developers. It’s juggling. With fire. Most developers – including myself – don’t deal very well with such activity.

That’s why good project managers deserve respect from developers.

Everyone loves superheroes.  They protect the good guys, fight the bad guys, and make the world a better place to live. As Pardesi Blogger says:

…our famous hero struts his stuff in tights, he faces difficulties everyday in his life, and yet he always comes out doing the *right* thing …

…Clark Kent struggles for half his life balancing his secret identity with the people he loves, facing a reality where he is constantly being tormented by villains and foes. Yet, throughout, we see him living his life trying to do good etc etc.

Remind you of anyone? Although we don’t wear tights (well, most of us), Clark Kent sounds a lot like a developer.  Facing difficulties in day-to-day life dealing with badly thought out projects, struggling to keep our online identities and feelings a secret and constantly being tormented by our villains and foes, the bastard account executives.

It’s not a myth.  Developers are superheroes.  Except maybe those whose code is featured on The Daily WTFThose developers shouldn’t be allowed near computers.

It’s fortunate that most developers are usually good people, because they have the potential to cause a lot of damage.

Once, a fellow developer working on the website of a (now defunct) e-commerce website showed me how the passwords for thousands of users in the database were stored in plain text, and then proceeded to randomly pick hotmail accounts and log into them using the same password.  That’s why you should never use the same password for your email accounts as everything else.

Or the other e-commerce website stating it didn’t store credit card numbers, but was storing not just the credit card number and expiry date, but the CVV2 number too, as well as the cardholder’s address.  My contacts in the field tell me the company has since changed this, and are now using a third-party payment provider, but I remain sceptical.

There are countless other stories.  Remember what Bill Gates said, “Be nice to nerds, chances are you’ll end up working for one”.  The part he forgot to add? Or they’ll be a web developer with access to the database of some e-commerce website you shopped at, and the opportunity to wreck your life.

But, those school bullies need not worry.  Not only are developers generally good people, we also follow the superheroes book of ethics, taking special note of Uncle Ben’s advice to Peter Parker:

With great power comes great responsibility.

Sometimes, it’s nice to have a bit of fun though.  Some years ago, when working for an agency, a young brash account executive was the repeated cause of frustration, and we decided to have a joke at his expense, with a quick script change and slight modification of a CSS file.

Logging into the admin control panel, he was presented with a completely horrid hot pink colour scheme, with dashes of yellow, and purple.  Frantic with worry, he called us up begging us to help him out. We kept the poor idiot hanging for half an hour, before silently changing things back.  He thought he was going crazy.

The saddest part is that all account excutives are that stupid.

It’s hard dealing with clients.  By definition, they are stupid, arrogant, stubborn, clueless and have an IQ in negative numbers.

One of the agencies we deal with has a large corporate client whose homepage now looks like a cheap porn site or a dumbass kid’s myspace profile it has so many flashing animations.  We tried to explain to them that having four simultaneous animating elements on a page wasn’t a good idea, but they didn’t want to know.

Can’t remember what their exact response was, but it was something like this

“I need more pesshht peesshht chuttt chutt papapapa on this animation”

How do you argue with that?  You don’t. Give them more pesshht peesshht chuttt chutt papapapa dammit.  Haven’t you heard the client is always right?

Or what do you say when they say things like “Whatever you do, don’t put our phone number on the contact page”. Umm, it’s a contact page.

For more client stupidness, check out Clientcopia.  It has a great selection.

One of the scariest things I’ve found in my web development career to date is how little marketing agencies selling web work actually know about the web.  One of the most recent amusements was when we were supplied some designs where buttons didn’t look at all like buttons, posing some usability issues.

When this was pointed out to the account executive, they looked up with a blank look on her face, and replied “Can you send us some examples of buttons then?”.  Considering that this is someone who is heavily involved in dealing with web work on a day-to-basis and forms part of a team selling web work to clients, making such a dumb statement rings alarm bells.  If you’re selling web work, you should know what a button is, dumbass.

The problem is, in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.  Most of these large corporations have people equally stupid in their online marketing teams, so when they deal with incompetent agencies, they don’t realise that they people they are talking to aren’t giving them correct information. However, as they have so little understanding of the web and the marketing agency are master blaggers, the client awards the project to them without realising the implications of their decision. The problem is further compounded when the agency is unable to say no to the client when they make unrealistic or stupid demands, and unable to offer the client any meaningful advice due to lack of knowledge.

For example, in early 2000, I was freelancing for a small web agency, doing work for a larger marketing agency whose experience was primarily in offline media.  They had a strong relationship with a massive brand, so when the client wanted to revamp their website, they turned to their account executive in this large marketing agency to get the job done.

The client also had some ideas on what they wanted on the homepage of the website – a monsterous 1.5mb flash animation, which was a digitised clip of one of their video promotions.  Not understanding the implications of this, such as most people were still on 56K modems and the recommended maximum page size was 60K, the marketing agency agreed to their clients demand without a second thought, and then promptly handed this onto us with a note to get it done as soon as possible.

Despite various phone conversations and some foul language being thrown about the office in disgust at such a stupid decision, we were ultimately forced to go ahead with this and built the monsterous atrocity. When an account executive agrees to stupid ideas their clients throw at them, it’s virtually impossible to get them to go back, as they don’t want to look like idiots, even if it means delivering a half-assed solution.

When you’re an experienced web developer, the hardest thing to do is shut up and do what you’re told, but sadly, there’s often no alternative.  You can only shout upon deaf ears or try to reason with a fool so many times, until your voice goes or your patience evaporates.