My nemesis… “Meet the Experts”

I counted. EIGHTEEN TIMES now, since 1998, I’ve participated as an “expert” in the traditional “meet the experts” event at Novell BrainShare in some country or another. EIGHTEEN TIMES.

It goes like this. I sit in a director’s chair next to an easel with an oversized pad of paper and a marker. Anywhere between 50 and 200 Novell employees are in similar chairs with similar easels. We sit, while convention delegates approach us and ask questions, which we deign to answer.

Easy enough. Let’s make it harder.

Instead of questions, per se, let’s have them asking for changes to the product. Since I can’t code these myself, and since they’ll certainly impact project plans if it wasn’t something we were already planning to do, I have to come up with an answer that appeases, sounds vaguely positive, and does NOT mean “yes, you’re going to get what you want in the next release of the product.” THEN I have to collect sufficient information to be able to prioritize these requests (assuming they’re new — only about 20% of them are).

Not hard enough? Okay, NOW let’s run the event in the evening, with finger food, muzak, booze, and enough resulting ambient noise that anything I say has to be said in my “play to the back of the theatre” voice in order to be understood.

Still too easy? Fine. Let’s do it in Europe, where regardless of what I say, I’ll be misunderstood thanks to my high-speed american english, and I’ll be answering the wrong question ANYWAY since it was asked in the second language of someone whose accent I’m not yet familiar with, and who is struggling with the syllables since his/her tongue is very-nearly pickled in free booze.

18 times I’ve done this in the course of the last seven years. Fortunately, six times were in Salt Lake City where accents were less of a problem, but this last one in Barcelona last night… wow.

I’ll spare you the specifics, saying only that last night all 18 events finally ran together in my long-term storage, cranially concatenated into a single, painful blur.

I got back to my hotel room at 11:30, which is too late to take any sleeping pills. They’d just knock me out until 11:00 in the morning. In retrospect, I should have taken the pills. I had insomnia, and didn’t fall properly asleep until 5am… at which point I zonked out solidly for five hours, awakening only when the cranky wench certainly underappreciated lady fromhousekeeping opened my door and announced herself.

“Meet the Experts.” My nemesis. When I find your weakness, I’ll track you to your secret lair, and exact not only revenge, but permanent solace for myself and Novell employees across the world. Someday…


13 thoughts on “My nemesis… “Meet the Experts””

  1. Howard, artist, idol!

    If you’re going to be driving up to Montreal from New York City, why not take a little rest-stop in the lovely city of Albany — which is conveniently located directly off I-87, totally on your way? Albany’s Schlockite community will buy you ice cream, and you can be back on your way in a jiffy…

    …of course, if you’re flying, just wave at us. 🙂

      1. Yeah, I’m flying. Sorry!

        If you’ve got a convention happening locally, though, and can get me invited on the convention’s dime… well, I’m there with bells on. Any time, any place, folks.


  2. Have you tried Melatonin as a sleep aid? When I use it, it gives me between six and seven hours of deep, solid sleep, then STOPS. I wake up with little or no blurriness.

    Word is that it’s also the best thing in the world for jet lag. It just resets your body’s circadians.

    1. I tried melatonin, but I suspect the dosage was off. I just spoke to a colleague about it, and he said there are differences of just over an order of magnitude in the dosages you can get over-the-counter — from 0.1 to 3 mg, or something like that.

      The times I tried Melatonin I started with one pill, and worked my way up to SIX with no noticable effect… which, if the dosages vary by 3000%, makes sense now. At any rate, I went back to 38mg (or 57, if I take three) of diphenhydramine citrate, along with 500 (or 750) mg of acetaminophen, which makes me just DREAMY. Ahhhh….


  3. Hope you don’t mind me asking, [like I don’t want to trigger PTSD flashbacks or anything], but having read, and re-read that I have a question; Just what was the purpose of that exercise?

    Near as I can tell it seems to have been a company funded booze-up, with you in the corner fielding inane requests for project changes that nobody had any slightest intention of actually implimenting…

    Correct me if i’m wrong here, but surely that means Novell is out of pocket for no good reason? Surely I’m mistaken…

    1. Correct me if i’m wrong here, but surely that means Novell is out of pocket for no good reason?

      Other than a bunch of Novell users talking to people who have the skills to listen to their complaints about how things work in the background, have the feeling that their complaints and difficulties really MATTER, and get a personal face on the company?

      Those are three good reasons to do it, all of which are dedicated to keeping their customers very happy.

        1. No, you don’t got it.

          It’s actually a LOT more than that. See, MOST of the “experts” there are engineers who CAN answer the tech-support questions. The delegates DID get lots of good technical answers from those folks. Me, I don’t get those questions anymore. There were a half-dozen GroupWise gurus there besides me, and most of the “how do I close an open relay” type questions got picked off by the technical guys.

          The enhancement requests that come to me… well, it’s VERY useful for Novell and for our customers. The problem is that the format is horribly inefficient for that. The good news is that, as alluded to above, 80% of the stuff that comes to me is stuff that I know we’ve already got logged, but that I don’t know the exact engineering priority on. In SOME instances someone will show me a business case for a particular enhancement I’ve seen cross my desk before, and I’ll realize that it’s a LOT more important than I’d thought earlier. Or maybe it has other implications. Or whatever — it’s NEW information.

          The frustrating thing is the inefficiency. The delegates are in varying degrees of sobriety, communication is hampered by background noise and the vagaries of twice-translated languages, and I’m not sitting in front of my tools for prioritizing or refining product requirements. I end up having to take a stack of business cards with scribbled notes and diagrams back to my hotel where I can enter data at my (relative) convenience.

          Then there are the guys who come up asking one question, which leads to another, which you discover after being led along for 15 minutes results in a business proposition from someone who WANTS to be a Novell business partner, but didn’t have the good sense to approach me in a more business-y setting. There were two of those last night. In both cases I killed at least 15 minutes figuring out that they WOULD make a good partner, and then convincing them that the guy they need to talk to is RIGHT OVER THERE HIS NAME IS RON.

          “mas despacio, por favor?”

          For all that grief, this event in Europe is where a goodly portion of our feedback regarding localization and internationalization issues comes up. The information I gathered here in 2001 and 2002 helped engineering do things that grew European revenue by something like 25% in the first quarter of 2003.

          Just because it’s useful doesn’t mean I’m not allowed to hate it.

          1. Re: No, you don’t got it.

            Ah, now I got it. I’m used to things where it’s just a ‘yes yes, that’s nice’ kind of thing, so the fact that people who are on the technical staff at these kind of groups is actually kind of new and interesting and impressive to me.

            (Ghah, I hate a New York Dog&Pony Show. Totally useful-content-free.)

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