Mahmoud, the developer, talks to Steve, the tester, about Steve Jobs’ perspective on quality.
Originally published September 20, 2009
The engineering team is having a tough time finding a qualified candidate for an open test position in the group. The project’s deadline is looming. The test engineering manager, Nikola, is getting fearful that no one will be found, but he isn’t willing to sacrifice quality for someone who doesn’t possess the skills and expertise needed for the position. Nikola is an engineer and, like most engineers, he prefers to solve his problems using logic and reason.
Ms. Amy Thunders-Lowell-Murkowski-Smith-Jones is the head of human resources (HR). She comes from a long line of HR people in her family. She loves her job. It is in her blood. It is in her chromosomes. It is in her DNA. It is in her resume. HR people don’t think like engineers. She sees Nikola in the hallway. She has good news for him.
[AMY]: Oh, Nikola. We finally found a hire for that open position in your test group.
[AMY]: Yes, and he has already accepted our offer.
[NIKOLA]: That’s great, but I didn’t get a chance to interview him, did I?
[AMY]: Don’t worry about it, Nikola. His profile is a perfect match. He’s in my office right now signing paperwork. Come, let’s go meet him.
Amy and Nikola take the elevator to the luxurious HR office on the penthouse floor.
[AMY]: Nikola, I want you to meet Robby. Robby, this is Nikola. He is going to be your manager.
[NIKOLA]: Hi, Robby. It’s a pleasure to meet you.
[ROBBY]: Hi, Nikola. I’m so happy to be here. Thank you for the opportunity. You won’t regret it.
[NIKOLA]: Amy, can I talk to you for a moment outside?
[AMY]: Of course, please excuse us, Robby.
[ROBBY]: Yes, please…
Amy and Nikola walk outside to the penthouse balcony. There is a spectacular view of the river. Across from it though is an abandoned, two hundred year old cemetery with an old van parked nearby.
[NIKOLA]: Amy, what is wrong with Robby? He stinks. Is he sick or something?
[AMY]: He’s dead, Nikola. He’s a zombie and he’s dead.
[NIKOLA]: There are no such things as zombies.
[AMY]: Oh, yes there are, Nikola. Lots of them and Robby is one. You’re going to have to learn to accept him for who he is.
[NIKOLA]: Yes, but he’s dead.
[AMY]: I know that he’s dead. That’s why he’s is classified as a zombie.
[NIKOLA]: I don’t that think having a dead guy around the test lab is going to do much for our productivity.
[AMY]: Do I sense a bit of necrophobia, Nikola? We don’t tolerate that kind of behavior around here. We pride ourselves on the rich diversity of this company. You should too if you know what’s good for you?
[NIKOLA]: Yes, of course I do, but I feel a bit queasy working around a dead guy. I hope you’re not doing this to satisfy some silly demographic quota. I need a person who is qualified to do the job, not just a warm…uh…or in this case…a cold body.
[AMY]: Nikola, what are you talking about? It’s only a test position. I can hire a monkey to do your job.
[NIKOLA]: That’s not fair, Amy.
[AMY]: Nothing is fair, Nikola, but that’s why I’m in HR. I’m the cape crusader for cadavers. For years, people have been stepping on dead people, like Robby. I’m here to change that.
[NIKOLA]: Of course, they’ve been stepping on Robby because he was buried in a grave six feet under.
[AMY]: That’s not funny. You will show Robby respect. You can start by escorting him to his desk. We can talk about this matter later, Nikola.
Nikola and Robby take the elevator down to Robby’s new cubicle.
[ROBBY]: I really appreciate you guys setting up my cube all dark, damp, and dreary. Just the way I like it.
[NIKOLA]: We didn’t do anything special, Robby. That’s how all of the cubes are around here. Robby, I want you to start learning about what you need to test. I will check back later to see how you are doing.
[ROBBY]: Thanks, Nikola.
The morning passes. Nikola returns to Robby’s cube to find him hunched over sleeping.
[NIKOLA]: Robby, wake up!
[NIKOLA]: What are you doing sleeping? This is a workplace. You can get fired for it.
[ROBBY]: I’m really sorry, Nikola. I get these sleep attacks a couple times a day, usually once in the morning and once in the afternoon right after lunch. They can last up to eight hours. I have a medical condition called narcolepsy. Have you heard of it?
[NIKOLA]: Yes, it’s a chronic sleep disorder.
[ROBBY]: I told HR about it before I started working here. They were very kind and gave me a waiver for it. It’s all good. They can’t fire me for sleeping on the job.
[NIKOLA]: Are you taking any medication for it?
[ROBBY]: Yes. I’m allowed to ingest small doses of methamphetamines. It’s all part of the new state medical meth law. I guess that’s why my teeth are really bad now, but at least they match my rotting body.
[NIKOLA]: Robby, I really need someone who can stay awake on the job.
[ROBBY]: I know, Nikola. I’m trying hard. My parapsychologist told me that my narcolepsy is not caused by a medical condition, but it’s a side-effect of my lifestyle.
[NIKOLA]: What do you mean?
[ROBBY]: I like staying up late at night partying with all of my dead girlfriends. I suppose it’s because I’m so scandalously good looking. They say that I look like Elvis now.
[NIKOLA]: So what you’re telling me Robby is that you are a naughty, narcissistic, narcoleptic tester?
[ROBBY]: Add neurotic to the mix and I think you have all of the N’s covered. Seriously, though, it’s all about nutrition, eating smaller portions, and getting plenty of rest. I believe that it was the thespian Travolta who offered us these great pearls of wisdom.
[NIKOLA]: Whatever. I came here for another reason. As a matter of tradition, our group would like to take you out for a welcome lunch. There’s a new Thai restaurant close to here. I forgot the name.
[ROBBY]: Is it Thai Let?
[NIKOLA]: Yes. That’s the place. Let’s head out.
[ROBBY]: Oh, thank you so much for inviting me, Nikola, but I have to respectfully decline your invitation. You see, my dietary needs are a bit different than yours. I can’t eat food that has been killed.
[NIKOLA]: Oh, you are a vegetarian or vegan?
[ROBBY]: No. I can only food that is still alive. I brought my own lunch. It’s in my van across the river next to the old cemetery.
The next day Nikola arrives to work only to see that his reserved parking spot has been replaced with a dark gray sign with the words “Designated Zombie Parking Only. Violators will be persecuted”. Nikola is suddenly cut-off by Robby who takes his space.
[ROBBY]: Hi, Nikola. Top of the morn to you, cock-a-doodle-do!
[NIKOLA]: Good morning, Nikola. What’s going on with the parking spaces? This is my spot.
[ROBBY]: I’m sorry, Nikola. I had to complain. HR tried to give me a blue handicap parking space, but I protested. I’m dead, not disabled. They’re not the same. Occasionally, I may lose a limb or two, but they always seem to find their back to me before dawn. So HR commandeered your parking spot here for me. Thanks for being such a good sport about it.
For the next two days, Robby doesn’t show up for work. Nikola goes to HR to complain.
[NIKOLA]: Amy, Robby hasn’t come to work for two days. I haven’t heard from him.
[AMY]: Oh, I’m sorry Nikola. I meant to tell you that Robby has been feeling very well for the last few days, so he won’t be making it to work until he gets sicker again. Humans get sick days and zombies get well days. It’s our new HR policy.
A few more days pass when Robby finally shows up for work.
[NIKOLA]: Nice, to see you back to work, Robby. Are you feeling worse?
[ROBBY]: Yes, I am. Thanks for asking, Nikola.
[NIKOLA]: Robby, are you going to be able to finish those tests in time?
[ROBBY]: No. I’m taking a bereavement leave of absence starting today. The company allows me up to four weeks off, you know.
[NIKOLA]: I’m really sorry, Robby. Did someone close to you die?
[ROBBY]: Yes, me.
Robby begins to chuckle.
[ROBBY]: A curious little loophole, I guess. I died so now I can bereave about it. See you when I get back, Nikola. I’m going on vacation. I’m heading down to Tombstone, Arizona to do some sightseeing.
[NIKOLA]: What about the tests?
[ROBBY]: Sorry, I can’t be your huckleberry this time. I will send you a postcard.
Robby never comes back to work and the project is delayed. Eventually, it is finally scrapped. Nikola is summons to HR to be reprimanded by Amy.
[AMY]: Nikola, we are very disappointed in you. I don’t have to tell you how critical this project was for our company. You failed us.
[NIKOLA]: I realize that, but you wouldn’t let me find a replacement for Robby. We couldn’t get the product tested in time so we lost the contract.
[AMY]: You know, Nikola, I don’t think Robby was the problem. I think you’re the problem. Nikola, I always talk about being open and accepting to other kinds, but there is one kind of person I truly despise and that is a Neanderthal.
[NIKOLA]: What are you talking about?
[AMY]: Nikola, do you know what the ‘H’ stands for in HR?
[AMY]: Wrong! It stands for Homo sapiens. We thought that we got rid of you Neanderthals a long time ago, but here one stands before my very own eyes.
[NIKOLA]: I have no idea what you are talking about.
[AMY]: HR is the oldest, most covert of all secret societies in the world. Our job in HR is to ensure that your kind no longer breeds, Nikola. We do this by taking away your job, your paycheck, your benefits, and ultimately your very livelihood.
[NIKOLA]: I thought that you were all about diversity and inclusion.
[AMY]: We are, Nikola. That’s why we don’t want you around us anymore. You’re fired.
[NIKOLA]: You can’t do this. You should focus on keeping the best talent around for the success of the company. I’m the epitome of that talent.
[AMY]: Our charter is to be an equal opportunity employer, Nikola. It doesn’t say anything about talent or success. Nikola, the only difference between you and Robby is that Robby already realizes he’s dead. You, sir, are a dead man walking, but you don’t want to admit it. Now go, clear out your desk and leave.
The company is eventually taken over by zombies. The office building is abandoned now, but it stands as a reminder for the rest of us that you are better off dead if you want to keep your job.
Steve Parity is a contractor who was hired to develop tests for a high tech company. Today is his first day on the job. Contractors don’t enjoy the same privileges as full time employees. The validation manager is talking to her team in the test lab.
[MANAGER]: We need to write 10,000 test cases by the end of the week. I won’t accept anything less from the team.
[TESTER 1]: I’m not one to make comments from the peanut gallery, but why 10,000 test cases?
[TESTER 2]: Yeah, where did that number come from?
[TESTER 3]: This is bullshit!
[MANAGER]: I know that it is a stretch, but I did get some extra help. Everybody, I want you to meet Steve Parity. Steve is a contractor who will help us write the test cases.
[STEVE]: Hi all.
[TESTER 1]: He’s a greenie-weenie!
Everybody at the company wears a badge to identify themselves. Contractors wear green badges.
[TESTER 3]: Does it fetch coffee and donuts?
[MANAGER]: Knock it off. Treat Steve with respect. He is here to help us reach our goal.
[TESTER 2]: She’s right. We all need to work together to get the job done.
[TESTER 3]: We are a team, damn it!
[EVERYONE]: One for all and all for one! Hoorah!
[MANAGER]: I promise that if you finish the 10,000 test cases on time, I will buy t-shirts for every non-green badge tester on our team.
Everybody but Steve cheers.
[MANAGER]: Oops. I’m late for a meeting. Don’t forget about our morale team building event this afternoon. We’re going white water rafting.
[STEVE]: That’s sounds really cool. Can I go?
[MANAGER]: Sorry, Steve. Contractors are not allowed to participate in company activities due to insurance liability risks. You just concentrate on writing those test cases.
[STEVE]: Ok. I understand.
[MANAGER]: Alright everyone – let’s get to work.
The manager hurries off.
[TESTER 1]: Man, we have a lot of work to do.
[TESTER 3]: Does anyone want to get a pop with me? I’m going to the cafeteria.
[TESTER 2]: It’s Earl Grey tea for me, Limey.
[TESTER 1]: What kind of fruit do they have today?
[TESTER 2]: Who cares? It’s all free anyway.
[STEVE]: Free. Can I go with you guys? I haven’t eaten breakfast yet.
[TESTER 1]: Sorry, free for us, but not for greenie-weenies such as yourself.
[TESTER 2]: Don’t fret greenie – they might keep a vat of smelly durian around just for your kind.
[TESTER 3]: Or jack-arse fruit…
Everybody but Steve laughs.
[TESTER 1]: You better start on those test cases.
[TESTER 2]: Yeah, the manager promised us that we get free t-shirts if we finish them on time. I’m not going shirtless because of some greenie-weenie not doing his job.
The testers mock Steve as they head off to the cafeteria. Steve starts working on the test cases. He doesn’t see the other testers for the rest of the day. The next day arrives.
[MANAGER]: It looks like you will be working alone today, Steve.
[STEVE]: What’s wrong?
[MANAGER]: Everybody called in sick. They ate too many donuts after white water rafting yesterday. Fortunately, I don’t like donuts. Just keep doing what you are doing. I have a management training workshop today. I will try to catch up with you later.
The next day arrives. The manager has the day off and the other testers are off playing ping pong and foosball. All day Steve works by himself. The next day arrives.
[MANAGER]: Hi Steve.
[STEVE]: Where is everyone?
[MANAGER]: The suits from corporate headquarters are here today. They are gathering everyone to meet in the main conference room to make a big announcement. I think it has to do with the product that we are working on. I’m very optimistic about our future, Steve. If you play your cards right this week, I’m sure that we will have plenty of work for you for the rest of the year. There might even be a job offer for a permanent position, but I can’t promise you that right now.
[STEVE]: Wow that sounds exciting. Can I go? I want to get more involved with the company.
[MANAGER]: Sorry, Steve, no contractors are allowed. Just finish those test cases – it’s my number one priority for the team this week.
[STEVE]: I’m on it.
The entire day passes and Steve doesn’t see anyone. Uninterrupted for the past several days, Steve has made more progress than all of the other testers combined. In fact, he has done all of the work by himself. He is nearly finished. The next day arrives. The parking lot is vacant. Even the security guards are nowhere to be seen. Steve walks to the lab. It’s empty. He starts to write the final test cases. Several hours pass and still no one arrives. He begins to think that it is a holiday or something. He finishes the last test case. He gives himself a self-congratulatory pat on the back. Just then a distinguished man in a suit walks into the lab and approaches him. The man is wearing a gold badge surrounded by diamonds.
[RAO]: Hi Steve.
[STEVE]: Who are you?
[RAO]: My name is Rao Rammstein. I’m the chairman of the board of directors for this corporation. Do you need a cup of coffee or something? We need to talk.
Steve and Rao walk together to the cafeteria.
[STEVE]: Where did everybody go?
[RAO]: We had to let them go.
[RAO]: The company is losing money hand over fist. We had to make drastic cuts. Everybody got axed yesterday except for you, Steve.
[STEVE]: What do you want from me?
[RAO]: We still have a viable product, that’s why we retained you. I know that you are an achiever. You proved yourself by completing those 10,000 test cases in short order. As a result, you know our product better than anyone else – both good and bad. We need you to move the company forward.
[STEVE]: So I get to keep my job?
[RAO]: Yes and there is a promotion.
[STEVE]: What kind of promotion?
[RAO]: You are now CEO of the company.
Steve is ecstatic. He can’t help himself. He reaches for a free apple.
[STEVE]: Does this mean I get massive stock options, free insurances, lifetime retirement benefits, a corporate jet, a private parking space, and a golden parachute? Mr. Rammstein, does this mean that I finally get the respect I deserve?
[RAO]: Of course not, Steve. You are a contractor. Put the apple back, greenie-weenie!