Lessons learned from dealing with “the most important guys in the room.”
“Move fast and break things.” – Attributed to Mark Zuckerberg
This morning, on my inbound commute, I stopped at a red light. I stopped just in time to see an expensive-looking SUV turn, oblivious to oncoming traffic, into my lane from the crossroad. It accelerated rapidly in the same direction I was traveling. Really rapidly. Propelled like a medical emergency. An impending birth, perhaps? This anxious vehicle exuded affluence. It was coming from the venture capital side of the Bay. Perhaps headed east to merge and acquire. It had that private equity look to it. You know the kind. Maybe the driver was late for surgery, living out his college-age nightmare in real time. Or he forgot his online bank account password, and, in an instant of thoughtless panic, was racing to make an in-person withdrawal from an almost-shuttered Silicon Valley funding source. Not to name names. Whatever the impetus, they drive with. Because they can. Nobody ever told them “No.”
Important guys (invariably guys) having to be at important places, doing important work. Get out of my way.
Progressive politics notwithstanding, our region suffers from delusions of permanent adolescence.
Even artificial intelligence recognizes the type. ChatGPT, riding shotgun with me that morning, observed the evidence, and was sufficiently disgusted to risk a stab at generalizing the species:
The term “tech bro” is a colloquial and somewhat derogatory slang used to describe a specific type of individual who is typically associated with the tech industry, particularly in the Silicon Valley or other technology hubs. It is a portmanteau of “tech” (referring to technology) and “bro” (short for brother and often used to describe a particular type of stereotypical young, white, affluent, and arrogant man).
A tech bro is commonly characterized by certain traits and behaviors, which may include:
1. Gender and diversity issues: Tech bros are often criticized for being predominantly male-dominated and displaying a lack of diversity in their workplace or social circles.
2. Arrogance: They are often perceived as overconfident and arrogant, believing their ideas or opinions are superior to others.
3. Disregard for social norms: Tech bros may display a lack of social skills or empathy, leading to a perceived insensitivity toward others.
4. Startup culture: They may be associated with the startup scene, often focusing on entrepreneurship and innovation.
5. Casual attire: Tech bros are known for their preference for casual clothing, such as hoodies, jeans, and t-shirts, regardless of the occasion.
6. Tech savvy: As the name suggests, tech bros are generally well-versed in technology and may often talk about the latest gadgets, apps, or programming languages.
7. Frat-like culture: They may exhibit behaviors reminiscent of fraternity culture, including partying, drinking, and engaging in “bro” banter.
It’s essential to remember that the term “tech bro” is a generalization, and doesn’t apply to all who work in the industry. While some in the tech sector fit the stereotype, many others are inclusive, respectful and committed to promoting positive change.
For those who fit the stereotype, Musk and Jobs are models to be emulated, not cautionary tales.
Which is why some have no compunction about ruining weekends of others, and at no charge to them, naturally. The journey remains the reward. Consider yourselves blessed that we called you, no matter the day and time.
Saturday morning, the day after the traffic encounter. A new email (probably not from the same person, although it would be comforting to indulge cultivation of the stereotype). Its salutation graces me a new name:
I cannot finish a flying probe program. The machine manufacturer won’t return my calls for help. Can you help? We need to ship boards to our customer next week.”
Manufacturers generally return calls (although not often on weekends) if you pay for the annual service contract. Lacking service contracts, curiously, they have better things to do. Which makes us Plan B. Lucky us.
“We authorize you to remote login and modify our program using the advanced debug features of our flying probe tester’s operating system (same as yours). We created a program using the express features, but coverage was insufficient for our customer’s requirements. We lack experience with advanced debug, so we need your assistance. Please do so over the weekend or Monday morning at the latest so we can maintain our ship schedule.”
Must have been something in the water that weekend because the next day, a Sunday, came a second request. Also to my involuntary new name.
We have an urgent need for imaging and possible destructive analysis of a malfunctioning pump motor. We will send six RMA units to you Monday morning. X-ray them immediately at specific pin locations (see accompanying screenshots) to identify evidence of solder joint separation under mechanical load. Depending upon the evidence imaging provides, we will select the worst example of the six units as a candidate for further destructive testing (cross-sectioning). Our courier will arrive at precisely 8 a.m. Monday. We do not have a PO, but we authorize you to proceed. Send us your quotation on Monday, and we will follow with a purchase order. In the meantime, go.”
“Please” was nowhere to be found. “Entitlement” was implied.
Thus began our week.
@Techbro2’s pump units for inspection arrived punctually at 1 p.m. Monday. We received four units, not six.
@Techbro1 granted us remote login credentials to his flying probe operating system that same morning. Within a few hours, our engineer had the customer’s program debugged and running. Life as we know it continued. @Techbro1 vanished.
@Techbro2 emailed Monday afternoon to say that he needed x-ray results immediately, to show management, and could we expedite the cross-section results so that they could be presented to decision-makers no later than one week from today? Once again, a PO was promised upon receipt of our quote. Our quote, with applicable expedite adders, was drafted, approved and submitted that same afternoon.
A quote for programming services was also submitted that day to @Techbro1. It reflected a minimum charge for our time.
Monday came. Monday went. No responses from either customer to our quotes.
Imaging identified the worst offender, with the largest open pin, among the four pump motor units sent by @Techbro2. We proceeded to cross-sectioning.
There was silence Tuesday from @Techbro1. Evidently, they were busy generating revenue, enabled by our programming debug solution to their problem.
Wednesday brought a request from the quality assurance manager of @Techbro1. True to form, looking for a Root Cause:
“Could you provide us with a detailed breakdown of your time spent debugging our flying probe program on Monday. We do not understand why you are proposing to charge so much.”
Our reply listed the details, and further explained that our quote represented a minimum charge for our time, whether that time was one minute or six hours. In any case, their problem was solved, so clearly the expense was worth paying.
No comments on Wednesday from @Techbro2. And no PO.
Thursday morning silence turns to Thursday afternoon irritation. Where the hell are the POs?
We email both customers.
@Techbro1 doesn’t respond.
@Techbro2 replies by saying that the manager with signature authority to approve POs is on PTO this week. It will take until next week to secure approval. You’ll just have to wait until next week (“Our approval chain is linear,” whatever that means). Meanwhile, keep going. We need results by Monday, to present to our management and to our customer (presumably, without contractual sanction by purchase order).
Our response is immediate: no PO, no results. Management will see a blank screen on Monday. You will have some explaining to do to your customer. Surely you don’t ship to your customer without purchase orders, right? Why would you expect us to act differently?
@Techbro2, provoked, responds: “That’s reasonable. I’ll see if I can find someone in management to sign the requisition.”
Such a smart boy.
We receive our purchase order within the hour.
Thursday afternoon we email @Techbro1, reminding them of services rendered, revenue realized only by means of our help, etc. Once again, we ask about a purchase order. Crickets.
Friday morning, @Techbro1 emerges, like an oracle. A bewildering oracle. Their CEO personally replies, using circular reasoning, to dismiss our demands for a PO. He claims they are not obligated to pay us because A) they do not have a purchase order with us; and B) they do not need to issue us a purchase order because third-party service expenses are charged back to their customer, but since, in this case, they are unable to do so (customers are usually reluctant to reimburse suppliers for outside support, prompted by insufficient technical expertise), their expectation is that our work with them will be handled on a pro-bono basis.
Thanks again for accepting the privilege of serving us. See you next time.
George Orwell, call your office.
@Techbro2 also emerges Friday morning, with his micromanagement chromosome fully enabled. He wishes to organize, without delay, a three-way video conference, consisting of himself, his management, and our imaging and cross-sectioning teams. The goal is to review images and our capabilities, and establish stability and uniformity in service levels and, by extension, in pricing.
To @Techbro1, we reply that we will never provide programming or any other consulting services to them again, at any time, under any circumstances, without a prior purchase order in place. They will just have to explain their lack of shipments to their customer as best they can.
To @Techbro2, we reply that stability and process uniformity begin at home; once they have established their own repeatable performance, we can discuss uniform service levels. Until then, it’s time and materials. Physician, heal thyself.
And to both, the same admonition:
Please do me the courtesy of addressing me by my actual name and remove the @ from in front of your salutations. This is not Twitter or some other adolescent game. I address you by your first name; I expect reciprocation from you. Even if you are a customer.
Especially if you are a customer.
is president of Datest Corp. (datest.com); firstname.lastname@example.org. His column runs bimonthly.
PCB West, Engineering Tomorrow’s Electronics / September 19-22, 2023