Monday, June 29, 2015

When You're Having Fun

[ In case it isn't obvious: This is my private blog, and this is my private opinion ]

Assuming you don't span two leap years, 2191 days is exactly six years.

In the beginning of June 2009, I was consulting with a company with whom I had previously worked, and had received an offer to rejoin them as a full-time employee.  This company prided itself on treating its employees like family -- it was the sort of place where as long as you tried, and they could find the budget, they'd find a job for you.  I was going to be able to work from anywhere in the country which was particularly attractive because my spouse wanted us to move to Portland.

On Wednesday, June 3, an old friend of mine called me.  He had joined Netflix (the DVD company), and had a UNIX Engineering group reporting to him.  His Engineering customers were talking about moving to the cloud and he was going to need help to figure out how IT could support them well.  On Thursday, June 4, I talked with the hiring manager, who thought the cloud thing would maybe eventually be an interesting thing, but for now really needed help figuring out how UNIX engineering would Automate All The Things[tm].  I had my first round of interviews on June 5, and my second on June 11 (we've gotten faster since then), and got the job offer to join Netflix as I was driving home from the second round.  I signed the offer the day after that, and joined Netflix on June 29, 2009.  Exactly six years ago.

The more things change ...

It's interesting to look at the last six years and see what's changed and what has remained the same.  From a cultural perspective, what has remained the same tells an incredible story -- Purchasing still requires no approvals (I remember when as a UNIX engineer I was placing $200K orders every other week, at some point our Purchasing people asked if my boss was aware of all my purchases; I asked them if they'd like to see me cc him on my orders, just as an FYI, and they said that'd be nice, though obviously not required).  My work with our InfoSec group is still basically on a volunteer basis (InfoSec doesn't approve anything; I don't need to involve them in my projects; I do so because they help me get my job done better).  Our expense policy is still the same ("act in Netflix's best interests") (though six years ago, managers had to still approve expenses; now they're automatically paid), and our vacations still unmetered.  There are still no formal processes for opening headcount requisitions, and as a hiring manager these days I own my job descriptions, interview panels, and final decision about hiring and firing.

Some things have changed.

When I joined Netflix, my director told me a story to explain the problems IT was dealing with.  The VP of Web Engineering reached out to him and complained, saying "I asked you for eight web servers, and I got eight web servers, all of which were almost exactly alike."  One of the words in that quote should fill you with dread.

When I was in IT, responsible for giving Engineering the resources it needs, it took us forever to provision machines.  I once established a reputation for recklessness when I promised my Engineering customers that I'd get them the ten servers they needed for the PS3 launch in a scant three days.  When they asked, dubiously, whether I was sure I could do it, I told them I was willing to bet my job on it (and was later counseled by both my manager and director that this was an unnecessarily brash statement, given the aggressive timeline).  These days, of course, we provision tens of thousands of servers every day, automatically, quite often without people noticing or doing any work to make this happen.  And they're all exactly the same.

Why am I still here?

Six years, for me, is a huge amount of time.  My average tenure until Netflix has been about 27 months.  More interestingly, if you exclude my longest and shortest stints, the standard deviation of my tenure has been about 2.5 months.  A 2.5 month standard deviation makes for a very narrow band -- at around 2.5 years, I reliably get bored, or annoyed, and move on.

There are various reasons why someone may want to work at Netflix.  We do interesting tech things.  We have a pretty great product.  You get to work with smart people.  You get lots of autonomy.  Having Netflix on your resume makes your next employer incrementally more interested in you.  Netflix pays pretty well.  If you're interested in speaking at conferences, you'll find that's encouraged.  The list goes on.  (Over)simplifying the whole thing, for me it comes down to three kinds of factors: The reasons I want to come to work, the reasons working where I do doesn't frustrate and annoy me, and the reasons why my workplace still wants me to come to work in the morning.

I want to come to work because I've never worked at a company of any material size that treated its employees so humanely, and had humane behavior so ingrained in its culture.  I've also never worked at a company that seems to earn as much revenue per employee (Seriously, check out and compare to others).  I think Netflix is a great case study in how humane corporate cultures are not simply not in conflict with a desire to be incredibly profitable, but in fact aid profitability.  I'm deeply interested in supporting and promoting this idea, both because it makes the American workplace better and because it makes it more likely my next job will be a better fit for me because of it.

Treating people humanely manifests itself in a variety of ways, mostly manifestations of the Freedom and Responsibility culture.  It's things like my boss telling me when I joined Netflix that I shouldn't have to bring my personal equipment to work, and that I should just tell my company what equipment I needed to be effective.  Or how when I asked for a 4K display a few months ago, my desktop support group noted on the ticket that it was not a supported display, so they wanted one as well (rather than gating the request).  Or the fact that when I've had unanticipated family events come up (fun story: I went on a two week vacation in February that, due suddenly finding myself adopting my son, turned into a six week vacation.  My boss was enthusiastic.  I came back to a promotion).  Or the trivial fact that minor computer equipment is in vending machines with no accounting or tracking of what you get whatsoever.  Don't sweat the small stuff.

Treating people humanely also means dealing with terminations humanely.  Not doing the Performance Improvement Plan dance means nobody's going to spend a few months documenting why you're bad at your job, and terminations can be a lot more amicable and decent.  I've had friends terminated from Netflix, and I've heard them rave about that last conversation with my HR business partner.  I've dealt with much, much worse :)

As for not being frustrated and annoyed ... alignment is a magical thing.

Our industry already talks a lot about DevOps, which I'd argue at its heart is about a better alignment between ops and dev people.  It's great.  I love it.  One of the most magical periods of my work at Netflix was when I was an ITOps person and worked closely with an engineering team, including attending their staff meetings and understanding their needs well enough I was able to start responding to their requests with versions of "no, I don't think you want FOO, I think BAR would work better for you.  What do you think?"

But talking about Dev and Ops alignment is only the beginning.  Imagine a workplace where total alignment exists not just between Dev and Ops, but between everyone you work with.

In most workplaces, engineers have a completely different set of priorities from IT, Facilities, HR, or Legal.  And I think that it comes down to the fact that in general, product delivery is all about optimizing something (innovation? customers? income? buzz?) while most of these other groups are all about mitigating or constraining something (cost? risk?).  When two groups, one motivated by maximizing something and the other by minimizing something else, try to work with each other, hilarity ensues.  For very low values of hilarity.

One obvious example of this is HR.  I suspect people become HR professionals for the most honorable of reasons, but in the end HR's mission -- as expressed to me by many HR people in several companies -- is one of risk mitigation.  The biggest risk to the company, from their perspective, comes from employees, in the form of legal action.  Most of the HR groups I've worked with have, explicitly or implicitly, believed their job was to protect the company from its employees.

With such a significant lack of alignment, it's not a surprise most engineers I've known have not worked well with most HR people I've known.  Personally, I've sometimes referred to HR (though not to their faces) as the natural predators of the creative class.

And then there are the HR people with whom I've had the joy to work at Netflix.  I remember figuring out the difference about six months into my tenure -- my HR people's mission is similar to my own -- maximize and enhance the benefit to Netflix.  With alignment of goals comes alignment of action, of context, and of approach.  And suddenly I find myself with an HR and recruiting group I -- for lack of better word -- love.  My recruiters have my back.  My HR business partner cares about my success.  I have a stronger, more trusting, more intimate relationship with my HR people than I've had with most of my managers, ever.  Pure joy.

The same is true for the purchasing people I work with.  And the facilities people I work with, who work tirelessly, and behind the scenes, to help me get my job done.  And, basically, everyone else.  One of these days, I should talk about my work with our lawyers, or Information Security people.  They make me happy.

The last time I left work frustrated by lack of alignment and another group's goals conflicting with my own was ... a long, long time ago.

And, at last, we get to the whole "getting to come to work" part of it all.

When I have direct reports, I'm pretty conscientious about managing them well.  I try to be thoughtful about working well with my peers.

Were I try to try to characterize my relationships with my managers, I'd use phrases like "benign neglect" or "amused tolerance."  They might use phrases like "a pain in the neck," or "has an allergy to authority."  This has sometimes led to career-limiting relationships with my management, which I've usually considered to be part of the cost of doing business.  I am easy to lead, difficult to manage.

And then there's Netflix, where my 2014 360 feedback from my manager included the phrase "Continue challenging me with regular feedback. I receive more actionable feedback from you in a week than I do from others in a year."

And so here I am.  Six years in the same company, though not in the same role.  Having started as a UNIX engineer on the ITOps side, then managing Service Delivery for ITOps, then becoming an engineer in Product Engineering and finally going back to managing a software development group, it's been a pretty diverse set of responsibilities and challenges.  I never imagined I'd be here this long -- I expected to get fired within a year.  I negotiated with my spouse leaving after two (and then renegotiated as we hit the two year mark).

It's hard for me to imagine being here for another six years.  Some day I'll leave.  And I'm pretty sure I know what I'll say on that day.

It's been a hell of a ride.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Quantifying Personal Retention Impact: A Mathematical Thought Exercise

When I was promoted to managing the Insight Engineering group at Netflix, my manager sat down with me and said "these are incredibly smart engineers who, generally-speaking, will know what they need to do.  Your first job is to retain them." 

I've generally considered a big part of my job to be a positive impact on the retention of my employees and coworkers.  Prone as I am to quantification, I came up with, and in this blog post propose, an exercise for quantifying retention impact.

Firstly, it's more obvious to rate retention impact from the perspective of recruiting attraction -- you get used to the people you work with, and in most cases you're not making active, daily, decisions about whether or not you want to work with them.  Looking at it from the perspective of whether or not you'd pursue a new job with this person clarifies things a bit.  

So for a given person with whom you work, imagine they've left the company, and you're considering leaving the company to go to another company.  You find out they work in that company and your relationship with them would be the same as the relationship you have with them today -- if they're managing you today, they'd be managing you at this new company; if they're a peer today, they'd be a peer in this new company, etc.  What's your response, on a -3 to +3 scale?

-3: No.  Just no.  I don't care if it's the best job in the world, it isn't worth it if I have to renew this relationship with this person; 
-2: Ugh.  Do I have to? Maybe there are some very significant reasons why I want this job and am willing to undertake the pain of this relationship again, but boy howdy it better be a ludicrously great job;
-1: Oh well.  If the job is decent and I was pretty sure I'd take it anyway, I'm not happy to hear this, but I can live with it; 
0: No impact
+1: Oh cool.  I'm somewhat more inclined to take the job because they're part of the package
+2: Wow.  I'm much more inclined to take the job because I'll get to work with them again.  I'm willing to take some pain to do it; 
+3: Almost irrespective of how bad the rest of the offer is, or how terrible the environment, if I get to work with them again I'll do it! 

Think of the process by which a person p comes up with the answer with respects to you as function R, so R(p) has an output between -3 and 3.  

Firstly, it's useful to look at the value of R(p) for the set of people for whom you are most relevant -- direct reports, peers, manager, etc.  You can then expand to other people -- how about people in other teams? The further out, the smaller the amplitude of the likely answers -- it's unlikely that someone who hasn't worked closely with you would consider you a +3 or even a +2, probably, and for the vast majority of people who work in my company, I'm almost definitely a 0 because they don't know who I am, and it's not hugely relevant to them.  

It's noteworthy, however, that numbers for any given relationship can likely have a bigger negative span than a positive one.  For me, for example, I can't imagine a manager to whom I've ever reported who's a +3 -- the best and brightest, the people I'd love to report to again, are +2s.  However, I can definitely think of managers of mine who are -3; similarly, I was talking with my HR business partner and mentioned to her she's a +2 for me -- I really really love our HR group and find both the group and the individuals in it a big factor in why I'm happy where I work -- but I can't imagine an HR person or HR group being so instrumental so as to be a +3.  At the same time, again, I've worked with HR groups who would definitely be a -3.  

The interesting thing then, of course, is to look at trends for a given group -- e.g. direct reports:

Or peers ...

Or coworkers in general ...

Obviously, while the average may give high-level information, min and max would tell an interesting story (min more than max), and with sufficiently large populations you can start seeing if standard deviations tell an interesting story as well; are there common characteristics to the people who'd most like to work with you again? How about the people who'd least like to work with you again? 

In the end, though, the math is a fun[0] but not necessary part of this.  The interesting and -- arguably -- useful part of this is actually inquiring "how much would this coworker of mine like to work with me again, and what do I want to do about this?"

[0] The value of "fun" is left to the student as an exercise

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

After-Action Report: The Asus PB287 4K Monitor

Sometime about two weeks ago, I mentioned I had asked my desktop group to get me a 4K monitor.  Now that I've been using it for two whole days, I figured I'd say a word or two on this monitor, since I know some other people are considering getting one.

First, the slightly less important stuff:  Thanks, Asus, for including multiple HDMI cables.  Also, thanks for having this thing attached to a monitor stand that tilts, rotates, and moves up and down -- It's a nice enough stand that if I wasn't committed to having everything off my desk (and using a monitor arm), I'd be very tempted to keep it.  Nice call.

More important: HOLY COW LOOK AT THE DESKTOP.  The amount of desktop space available on a 4K monitor is the sort of stuff that makes me -- having had to work on 17" 1028x768 monitors not all that long ago -- giggle madly.

Sure, sometimes in order for something to be easily read by me (remember, old guy with glasses here) I have to increase the font size.  But not always -- for example, right now I'm writing this in whatever the native font size Chrome uses.  I also seem to be able to code well with the standard font size.

Minor downside: In the absence of a Thunderbolt hub, I now have to connect three, rather than two, cables to my laptop -- power, USB, HDMI.  So far it's not a huge drain on my productivity and happiness.  If it becomes such ... well, for one thing, First World Problem[tm].  For another, even if I end up spending another $200 on a Thunderbolt hub, that's still going to land me at $850, about $150 less than the Apple Cinema Display (ACD).

So, final verdict: Is this profoundly, amazingly, materially, better than the ACD? Maybe not.  It's maybe trivially better (for me).  But it's also 2/3 of the price.  What would I get if I was buying a monitor for home? Definitely the Asus PB287 rather than the ACD, any day of the week.  I *heart* this monitor.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

IT and Standards: A Love Story

Chances are that if you work at a reasonably-sized organization with an IT group, there'll come a time when you ask for some equipment that IT has not yet certified for use in your company.  What happens then?

A long time ago, I worked at a place where all they had certified were 17" LCD panels (this was back in 2007, when 17" LCDs were already considered small).  I asked for a 19" display (same brand, just slightly different model) and was declined, because it was non-standard.  Which is pretty much what I've come to expect from IT at a large organization.

Fast-forward -- my setup here at Netflix is a Macbook Pro attached to a 27" Apple CinemaDisplay.  Pretty nice, but I'm interested in more screen real-estate, so now that 4K displays have dropped in price, I submitted a request two days ago for an Asus 4K display.  Totally outside the spec -- I haven't seen a single other 4K display on anyone's desk here (aside, of course, from 4K displays we've been testing streaming on.  We're Netflix, after all).  Here's the helpdesk ticket.  "CTS" is Client Technology Services, our desktop folks:

05-30-2014 08:53 PDT - Roy

received from:
May I please get an Asus PB287Q (4K display, should be about $650) at my

05-30-2014 11:59 PDT - Willie
Forwarding to IT-Purchasing to order. Please assign ticket back to me to deploy when delivered. thanks, Willie
(order information redacted)

05-30-2014 13:37 PDT - David
Hey Jenny,
Please order a second unit for CTS to test with.

So to recap:

I asked for a new monitor, which wasn't on our desktop support group's radar.  The response was to modify the order -- one for me, one for them to test.  It's worth noting, BTW, that the monitor was ordered prior to the desktop support involvement, because they don't play an approval role for equipment purchases.

How do your IT people deal with your non-standard requests?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Comparing Separation Resistance Between Magsafe Options

As I noted in my last post, I recently replaced my older Macbook with a new Retina Display Macbook. Apple changed its power adapter format on the MBPs to use the slimmer adapter format it previously had on recent Macbook Airs, which means that you have to either use a tiny little $9.99 adapter to use your old power supply or use a new power supply.

Searching the internet there's consensus that the new Magsafe-2 connectors seem to be much less securely attached to the laptop; in conversations internally at work, there was a suggestion that old (Magsafe-1) power supplies with the $9.99 adapter seemed more securely attached than the new (Magsafe-2) power supplies.  So I got curious and conducted an informal experiment.

The laptops
For a Magsafe-2 laptop, I used my own recently-purchased Macbook Pro Retina Display.  For a Magsafe-1 laptop, I used a coworker's 17" Macbook Pro, about a year old.

The power supplies
I used three power supplies: The classic power supply with a chicklet-looking connector, the more modern power supply with an L-shaped/barrel connector, and the new Magsafe-2 chicklet-looking connector.  The older power supplies were tested with the Magsafe-2 adapter (on my new Mac) and without (on the older 17" MBP); the new power supply was obviously only tested on my new Mac.

The tests
I taped a little paperclip about 3" from the connector end of each power supply, then used an RCBS Trigger Pull Scale to measure how much force it took to cause the power supply to separate from the laptop when pulling away from the laptop in three directions:

  1. Straight left from the laptop
  2. Straight away from the laptop (and away from the user)
  3. Up from the plane of the laptop
The results
Up Left Away
Old chicklet 0 3 lbs 1.25 lbs
Old L-style Off the charts .75 lbs Off the charts
New chicklet 0 3.5 lbs 2 lbs
Old chicklet with adapter 0 3.75 lbs 1.375 lbs
Old L-style with adapter 1 lbs 1 lbs 2.75 lbs

"Off the charts" in this case means more than 8 lbs, the maximum capacity of the scale.

Notes and Opinions
It's clear that overall, nothing beats the old L-style connector for attachment strength, though I'm not certain this is a good thing -- at more than 8 lbs, if you pull hard enough on the cord you'll be taking the laptop with you, potentially causing an accident as it falls off the table.  That said, it's important to note that in this testing, I was slowly increasing the stress on the cable; in a real life accident, what we'd see is a quick shark jerk and it's more than likely that the connector would require less of a tug to separate.  

What you take away from the results depends on your particular use case, i think.  In my case, where I have the laptop on a bed or a couch, the biggest concern for me is the ability of the connector to stay in place in the face of pressure up from the uneven surface; in that case, I'd definitely prefer the old L-style with adapter option (1 lbs) to any of the other Magsafe-2 options, which were so weak in the face of upward pressure I could not measure how much force was required to separate the connector from the laptop.  

Saturday, February 16, 2013

When IT's On Your Side

This post is about the IT group in my current company (Netflix), but I want to set the context (and contrast) by first talking about a previous IT group with which I worked.  I'll leave the previous company anonymous.

A long, long time ago, I worked for a large company.  Their desktop support group and the purchasing group working with it loved standards.  I know, desktop support people usually are fond of standards -- that's a sane approach, because it can vastly simplify supporting and managing equipment if you don't have every one of your customers have something slightly different -- but this was on a completely different level, a "if you love it so much why don't you marry it?" level.  A few exemplary anecdotes:

  • The organization was using Lenovo Thinkpad T40s at the time (this sort of organization, they're the last who'll come to the Mac table).  When they found out the particular model they were deploying was soon going to be discontinued, they spent over a million dollars stocking up on this older model so they didn't have to change their standard for as long as possible;
  • I had a 17" LCD on my desk.  At some point I asked for something bigger, a 19" or 20" LCD. I was told by our purchasing people that they would not approve any LCD bigger than 17", because as soon as they did the floodgates would open and everyone would want a larger LCD.  As a result, as far as late 2008 we were still buying 17" LCDs at a significant premium over 19" and 20" LCDs because at this point only one company we could find was actually still making LCDs that small.
These examples are probably not normal for our industry -- I've certainly not seen it get that bad anywhere else I worked (though I also never worked for a company as big as the company above).  

I was thinking about how IT interacts with employees this last Friday because I had two interactions with our own IT folks (at Netflix), one direct and one indirect, that felt like the epitome of how IT should be thinking, and what IT should be doing.  Mind you, this is mostly in the area of what you might call employee technology -- supporting employee computing needs -- rather than, say, server upgrade projects.  But I think the lessons apply.

First example: I had an interview to do.  That's not unusual for me -- I conduct probably about ten interviews a month (more on a good month.  I like interviewing).  So I printed out the candidate's resume and ... wait, let me tell you what that actually means.

I brought up the candidate's resume on my screen, then hit cmd-P to print it.  I then went to grab a quick snack.  On the way back I passed by a printer -- not the closest one to my desk -- passed my cell phone near it, and it showed me I had one print job pending.  Printed that resume, walked with it back to my desk.  

See, a few months ago IT installed these little sensors that work with our access badges to log us into the printers.  This means I now print to a printer-independent queue, and then I can whenever is convenient walk up to any printer in our campus, authenticate myself with my access badge, and print my job right then.  From my perspective, it's a huge win: I don't have to figure out what printer I'll be going by, and I don't have to go right now because it's not printing until I show up.  It's entirely possible  that if anyone cares about it, they can actually run accounting reports to see who's printing how much, but ... I don't really care about it.  That, in addition to the fact that in the last year we've been replacing our NFC access badge keyfobs with a tiny little sticker so it's now permanently attached to my phone (no more losing my keyfob) means printing is a delightfully invisible process now.  I don't rush to printers, I don't try to figure out, based on where I'm going, what printer will be closest to me.  Print, go, if you see a printer on your way get your document there.

Second example: Netflix's approach to laptop standards is pretty simple: They have a few standard models, and if an employee wants something different, they'll figure out how much the different model is, communicate it to the employee, and if the employee is comfortable with the price they'll get the laptop.  In my case that means I've been running with a slightly non-standard Macbook with one of them newfangled magsafe-2 connectors.  More and more people are getting them, but we're still a minority.  I have a whole lot of support infrastructure for my Macbook -- about four power supplies, for pretty much everywhere I spend time (living room, bed room, laptop bag, desk), and they're all magsafe-1 power supplies.  So on Friday I asked if I could exchange two of my older power supplies for new, magsafe-2, power supplies.  They weren't in stock, but they were happy to get some for me if I wanted to email the helpdesk as a reminder.  Meanwhile, I dropped by my local desktop support room, chatted with the folks there, and was given two magsafe-1-to-magsafe-2 adapters.  No ticket.  No purchase order.  No approval.  

So what's the point here (other than "Netflix's IT people rock my world")? 

I've been in IT for a long time, and for about as long I've been a customer of IT groups.  From an ITIL perspective, Service Delivery and Service Support are particularly interesting to me, and areas I'm particularly passionate about.   My experience as IT's customer was notable to me by how absolutely invisible IT (and to some degree printers) were in the first case -- my process wasn't printer-centric, it was me/user-centric; in the second case, getting hardware from IT was about as easy as walking to the supply closet and grabbing a highlighter.  And, hell, now that I think about it, we actually have hardware supply closets and I might have been able to just get my adapters or power supplies by just visiting these closets without even talking to anyone.  

That's the way you do it.  When your customer breezes through their day not having to think about how they need to work something out with IT, when print jobs just show up wherever the customer is, or they get what they need because on their way to getting their work done they pass by some place that will just give them what they need (and do whatever process and documentation needs to happen on the back end, invisible to the customer), you become delightfully invisible.  I didn't even realize how happy IT made me on Friday, until hours after my interaction with them.  That's the goal.


Thursday, May 19, 2011

Chatterbox, and the Failure of the Hawthorne Effect

Hawthorne Effect: "a form of reactivity whereby subjects improve or modify an aspect of their behavior being experimentally measured simply in response to the fact that they are being studied..."

I found out about the Hawthorne Effect by reading about Chris Anderson's TEDxSV talk about Living by Numbers.  In it he discusses HE's beneficial effect when you share measurements with a social circle (e.g. all your Facebook friends knowing how much your weight changes).  He's got a point.

The interesting thing about both the original experiment and Anderson's versions of HE in action is that they're on polar opposites of the freedom scale -- the original experiment measured subjects which had absolutely no ability to opt out of being measured; Anderson's subjects explicitly opt in. 

And in the middle of the freedom spectrum ... that's where Chatterbox comes in.

I mentioned Caffeinator in a previous post, where I also mentioned Nominum's very chat-intensive work environment.  At the time, I managed the QA organization, and so was one of the 3-5 managers in the engineering organization. 

At some point, we noticed that some people seemed to be chatting a lot on our chat system, and in some cases having much of that chat be not work-related.  This was doubly an issue because starting lots of idle chat means other people will join it.  At the same time, and probably at least partially because the work/life boundary was extremely porous, engineers were occasionally grumbling they worked many hours (despite basically setting their hours).

This seems suboptimal, and someone suggested we start talking to people we think are doing a lot of idle chatting.  To me, this seemed unnecessarily heavy-handed; not to mention, it would have required us to make some off-the-cuff decisions about who was chatting a lot without information.  It seemed .. lame.  I had a better idea (now's the time to look atop this post and note the name of this blog). 

I had already built a bot which interacted with our chat system.  I figured we'd build a new bot that just kept stats about who was chatting where and would provide aggregates of this information.  I figured we'd post this information publicly and people -- upon seeing the numbers -- would self-manage.  "Oh hey, I sent 450 messages to a non-work-related discussion last week, and only 38 messages to the discussion about my own product."  Makes sense, right?

Chatterbox was pretty elegant.  It did a bunch of aggregates -- per-hour, work-hours, non-work hours, per discussion, for work-related discussions, for non-work-related discussions, etc.  I even got a license of ChartDirector so we could make pretty graphs.  It was great.  I was proud of it, and the other management thought it was pretty cool.  We had high hopes.

And then everyone rebelled. 

We (management) knew we intended to not do anything with this information.  Frankly, the whole thing was created with the express intention that it would allow us to not manage employees around their chat participation.  Employees? Despite the fact Nominum was (and still is) the most laid back company I've ever worked in, from a management/engineer interaction basis, people got incredibly paranoid. 

Overnight, many engineers quit all discussions in protest.  In other cases, private discussions were created as analogs of the public discussions which excluded Chatterbox.  At least one engineer credibly threatened to resign if Chatterbox wasn't turned off.

We tried to address some of those concerns by turning down retention to one week so old information could never be used against anyone.  It did no good.  If I recall correctly, Chatterbox was decommissioned about 2-3 weeks after it became operational. 

I've made worse mistakes in my professional career, but in hindsight, this was probably one of the most interesting ones.