Sunday, January 09, 2011

I'm a Loser ... Baby ...

It’s amazing really .., how hearing an old song takes you back in time.

Yesterday I found myself flipping through the radio stations available to us here in Windsor – a cornucopia of different formats between Windsor in Canada and Detroit in the U.S. when I heard an old lyric of an old song that brought back on such memory … oddly enough.

Soyyyyyy … un perdedorrrrrrrr ………. I’m a loser baby, so why don’t you kill me?

Odd lyrics to bring back a happy memory, I will confess.

It was 1993. It was winter time, and I was in the passenger seat of a rented car as Ross Atkinson and I drove through the streets of Fargo North Dakota. And we were on our way to what I think was a pivotal point in my professional career in IT.

Ross was my boss in a software shop for a company in London, Ontario. And I had been given the luxury – a luxury only a programmer could appreciate – to be locked in a room for six months isolated from the rest of the world to write code.

The little desk stereo that blared music in my little white stone block room while my fingers pounded out the code in my head is still sitting in my garage right now – blaring Pat Caputo sports radio talk as I pound out the words to this story.

In 1993, our little company was indeed small – a team of maybe seven programmers – each locked away in their own little isolation booths – pounding out code for projects that we thought were groundbreaking in the day.

My project was a suite of programs to be used by the people who manufacture and sell the Bobcat skid steer loaders -back then the company was actually called the Melroe Company after the inventor of the Bobcat – and the piece of that suite of programs at the time was to allow Bobcat mechanics across North America to submit manufacturer warranty claims.

It sent the warranty claims over the Internet.

Windows wasn’t yet an operating system.

Netscape was the new browser – the only browser – and no web sites were yet doing business – they were just electronic billboards back then.

But we were submitting business transactions over the internet. In 1993.

And on this day that we heard these lyrics by Beck – for the first time – Ross and I were finishing a week in Fargo where we sat in their lobby and we wrote the frame work and prototype on a laptop sitting on each of our knees – I would code a piece – copy it to a diskette, and hand it to Ross who would insert the diskette in his laptop and test it – find a bug and I would fix it on the fly.

We did that for a week. When we had a question – we would go find the person at Bobcat’s head office that could answer it, go back to the lobby – and sit down and pound out more code.

The night before was spent in Ross’s hotel room – doing the same thing – writing code and testing it – passing diskette’s back and forth – and the time flew by until it was one o’clock in the morning – and we came to the conclusion that our work was finally done.

The next morning – Friday morning – we would go back to the Bobcat head offices – and demonstrate our final product – prototype that it was – to a bunch of Midwestern conservatives in suites and cowboy boots.

I can’t speak for Ross, but I was nervous. I could feel the hotel continental breakfast of a stale sweet roll and bad coffee churning in my gut as we climbed into the little rented four door Ford sedan and Ross turned on the radio to break the tension. After a couple of minutes of ads played as all morning stations play, on came the lyrics …

Soyyyyyy … un perdedorrrrrrrr ………. I’m a loser baby, so why don’t you kill me?

I looked at Ross. Ross looked at me.

This is inspirational”, I quipped.

I hope it’s not an omen”, replied Ross.

Then we started singing along when it came to the point in the song “…I’m a loser baby so why don’t you kill me”.

And then we started laughing. And making more bad jokes that made us laugh even harder.

I don’t think this is the response that Beck was looking for when he wrote this song.

I don’t know what the hell kind of response a guy who writes such lyrics is looking for, but our falling down laughing while the car swerves on the streets is probably not that response.

When we pulled into the parking lot of Bobcat headquarters – Ross and I had to sit there for a minute to compose ourselves – trying to stop laughing – trying desperately to compose ourselves before going inside – but failing as we continued to break out and break up as we made the walk around to the front door.

You guys look happy today?”, said the Bobcat executive clad in a suit with a flannel shirt and one of the string neckties and cowboy boots.

We’re ready!”, we smiled and we set up for the demo.

As the group assembled in the executive board room … presidents and VPs and service and manufacturing departments managers … politcally conservativess who's music tastes leaned stronly towards country and western ... the usual small talk took place as it always does before a meeting … and after a week of working with these people … we had a good enough rapport with them that we could explain why were still laughing. They were as shocked by the lyrics as we were – and joined in on our fun.

The demonstration went very well – flawless actually – as showed how the service person would fill in the claim - save it – send it over the internet to Bobcat’s single mainframe computer – and receive a “receipt” message back to confirm the transaction worked.

And throughout the demonstration … somebody … sometimes me … sometimes Ross … and sometimes one of the executives at the table … would spit out the poorly sung lyrics …

I’m a loser baby, so why don’t you kill me

We got the deal. With big handshakes all around we got the deal to refine the proto-type to a finished product and distribute to all their North American dealerships. And everyone was laughing and joking the whole time.

We held that agreement through 1999. And we made a pretty good buck off that product as well as others that naturally followed. We extended it to work as a Windows program and then to include web page services as well.

And we spent many more weeks in Fargo while doing so.

It was a great experience – as I learned that day that no matter who you are doing business with … the business goes much smoother if you are having fun … and having fun with all involved.

I miss those days. The days in my career before structured development environments with multiple levels of IT people standing between the programmer and the business user … the days when a programmer could be cut loose to write code out of their head.

I listened to those lyrics in my car yesterday and I smiled. And I sang along …

Soyyyyyy … un perdedorrrrrrrr ………. I’m a loser baby, so why don’t you kill me?

I still don’t understand the song … and I certainly don’t condone such a mindset as he paints in this song.

But because of this memory, it is one of my favorite.

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