Many years ago, in the first dotcom boom, I worked for a website
performance monitoring company. I was one of the early employees
(developer number 3 and sysadmin number 2) and I remember being
in a meeting with the company CEO who was telling us about a new pitch we
were doing for $SUPERMARKET, they were going to try this new idea of
shopping online and then delivering it to your door.
The worst part of it was that they didn't just want monitoring, they
wanted a full transaction engine (with some basic OCR), a product I can
probably get away with confessing that we didn't have at the time of the
sales pitch. We all knew the deal, if we didn't get it life was going to
be very hard there for the next six months, so we all knuckled under.
The road was long, difficult and uphill in the snow in both directions
but eventually we got to the day of the pitch. Which we aced in an
astounding display of luck - the new app sometimes got itself in to a
little bit of a state if their website had a failure - which it did
about 20% of the time. They loved the demo and wanted us to give them
full coverage while they did maintenance work. If we pulled it off then
we'd pretty much get the deal, none of our competition at the time could
match the features, it was just the uptime that was a little
So we went out and bought a dozen small desktops, monitors and
networking kit, installed them all in our spare store room, put some tables
and chairs in and had a company meeting. The management were completely
open about what was happening, they took questions and then asked how far
we'd go to help. We covered the whole weekend from Friday night to
Monday morning. Nearly the entire company chipped in, from three letter
titles to sales to dev to systems to HR. We had eyes on the machines
over the whole period, including when the Solaris admin, the only person
to let us down, didn't make his time slot. Out of all the transactions the
worst was beans, they had a new version of the code on some of the servers
and it'd return very odd results for beans and break the transaction runner
in horrible ways. I'll never forget the 4am calls asking what we do when
they offer you a lawn-mower instead.
I placed my first ever order online with the $SUPERMARKET yesterday and
hopefully it should arrive in the next couple of hours. The interface may have
changed and so many of its users take the service for granted that it's
a little humbling to realise how much the Internet's changed so very
many things. I guess this post's about a combination of things, the best
job I ever had (the company was sold in the end to one of it's
competitors. I left happy in the knowledge that we ate their lunch until
they gave up trying to compete and bought us), how dedicated staff can
be in the right environment, why you should push the boundaries of your
industry and how sometimes even cans of beans can be exciting.
I had to put a single can in the order to complete the circle. Here's to
hoping they don't charge me for a lawn-mower.
Update: They didn't deliver on the night, there was a "problem with the
payment" so they took the money out, using the same details and delivered
it two nights later. I'll class this one as a draw.
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