I just met you, and this is crazy, but here’s my callstack. Debug me maybe.


There was that time a team was hosting a two-day plugfest, and I was volunteered to assist them with debugging any issues in my area that may arise.

They booked me to spend two entire days in a conference room with them. I showed up in the morning, and asked, "So how does this work?"

They said, "People might come in at various points during the day with machines that are having problems. We try to debug the problems ourselves, but we sometimes get stuck when the issue is deep inside another team's code, so we'd like to have you around in case that happens."

I replied, "Okay, how about this. I'm going back to my office. Here's my cell phone number. If you run into trouble, call me. I'll be here within 10 minutes."

They accepted my counter-offer, and I returned to my office.

Two days passed.

No calls.

Best plugfest ever.

Bonus chatter: Credit for the post title goes to one of my friends who made it up after I told the story.

Comments (24)
  1. skSdnW says:

    Best. title. ever.

    1. Brian_EE says:

      +1 on the title.

      Also – you weren’t volunteered. you were “voluntold”.

  2. Nick says:

    I take it the secondary upside of this arrangement is your calendar remained booked and you had an extremely quiet and productive two days in your office

  3. Jedak says:

    That title is amazing.

  4. Steve says:

    There must be millions of person-hours wasted every year for just this sort of thing; Project Managers and their like who insist that someone technical is immediately on hand, just in case something shows up that they might be needed for.

    Luckily I’m like Raymond and both can (in terms of organisational clout), and am prepared to say, that I’m going back to my desk and can be with them in 10. Many haven’t got the clout and/or the confidence to do that, and therefore atrophy away in the corner of the conference room as they’re ticking away the moments that make up a dull day …

    1. Matteo Italia says:

      They fritter and waste CPU cycles in an offhand way!

    2. DWalker07 says:

      Best music reference ever!

    3. Nico says:

      I’ve worked with several PM and even VP level people who really do think the best way to solve any problem is to WAR ROOM it by getting all 20-30 people in a single room. It doesn’t matter if only 3 of those people are actually working on it, or if the root cause is something that nobody in the room can fix. The answer is always WAR ROOM. Thankfully there was no fighting allowed in the war room (although shouting was).

      1. Brian says:

        A “Bridge Call” is a much better solution. You can be on a bridge call and still work. It’s great at the end of the week when you can say “I was on that 14-hour monster bridge call, AND I got all my normal work done as well.

        1. Kevin says:

          Multitasking is a myth, both for humans and for computers. There is only very fast context switching.

          (Read: Your total productivity, summed over both the call and the other work you are doing, is substantially less than it would’ve been if you had just done one or the other exclusively, because humans are actually really bad at multitasking.)

          1. Brian says:

            Ah, but…
            In general, on a bridge call like that, many participants are only needed in case they are needed (much like the case Raymond describes). I used to get on really long bridge calls all the time in my last job. I might be needed for 15-30 minutes once or twice during the entire call. The rest of my time, I can be doing real work (less productively than I would be if I wasn’t passively listening to the call, but way more productive than if I was only listening to the call). It’s easier to do this on a call than in a “War Room”.
            It’s a bit like the difference between CPU-bound multi-tasking and IO-bound multi-tasking.

      2. Pierre B. says:

        Let me rework that for you:

        There are big problem that no one has yet been able to solve, so the PM / VP took upon themselves to gather all relevant people in the hope someone will finally fix it. Turns out, it worked. Some hours were wasted for a few, but the project could now move forward. The MP / VP got recognitions from higher up for having solved the issue.

  5. GL says:

    I wonder whether the event happened around the end of 2011, or whether you told the story to your friend around the end of 2011. There’s a sound inside me yelling at me that you wrote the post 6+ years ago and that it was queued until today.

  6. Roman says:

    Plot twist: you gave them the wrong number.

    1. florian says:

      Plot twist II: one of their linked machines had a copy of Quake.

  7. Danny says:

    So those guys were so good at debugging that they never needed you.

  8. Isaac Lin says:

    No one called because (music grinds to a halt)… they were looking for someone else!

    1. It’s a case of Warnock’s dilemma, i.e. they didn’t call because of any of the following (one or multiple may):
      1. They didn’t have any problems
      2. They were so badly stuck with problems that thought they’d better escalate it to Satya Nadella instead (or someone more impressive than RC anyway)
      3. Nobody had a working phone
      4. The phone number was wrong
      5. The voice call service provider (internal or external) had a technical problem.
      6. They called in an alternative person who obliged their “stay just in case” request.
      7. They decided to push their own knowledge, intellect, due diligence and wits to their limits instead of waiting 10 minutes for RC. It worked.
      8. They were unimpressed with RC, so they tried their best, and wherever RC was required, instead of calling him, filed a complaint against him or the other team, and suspended the problem. They’ll find out at the end of the fiscal year.

      1. florian says:

        SN would have called RC. No need to remember the phone number, they have a direct line over a separate wire, maybe over their private satellite. Like the state presidents in movies.

      2. Isaac Lin says:

        It was a reference to the music video…

  9. xtal256 says:

    How about:
    “I just dereferenced you, and this is crazy, but here’s my function pointer. Call me maybe.”

    (Yes, I know it has nothing to do with the story, it just sounded funny)

    1. Marvy says:

      Too many syllables, need to squeeze:

      I just deref’d you, and this is crazy,
      Here’s my fun pointer, so call me maybe

  10. Believe me, if I was there, I’d have called you anyway. I don’t need reasons. Just an excuse.

  11. Cortez says:

    There should be a like button here

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