I’m Old, Part XXXII: How to Affect Corporate Culture

At one point, when I was working at Atalasoft, the CEO, Bill Bither, had brought in a corporate consultant to help figure out how to grow the company and take us to the next level. It was the right thing to do under the circumstances. The consultant met with the executive team and spent time talking to us to find out who we were and what we did to contribute to the company.

When he was scheduled to talk to me, I was in the middle of a sticky problem around something PDF related. This is no surprise as this was a pretty much any given day of my time there. When I spoke with the consultant, I remember being somewhat agitated because I really wanted to go back and solve that dang problem. The consultant lit up and exclaimed, “you’re the squirrel!” WTF? He explained that the squirrel is the employee who wants nothing more than to gather nuts for the winter and if he’s prevented from gathering nuts, he gets really annoyed.

So yes, I agree, I’m the squirrel. But also, when I’m working at a company that I really like, I want to ensure that the bullshit level is as low as possible and that as much friction as possible is removed from the work environment so it’s easier to collect nu…err get things done.

When I was at Newfire, I was working on a high performance 3D engine with a relatively small number of very sharp engineers. Frequently, we adopted the standard standard 3D gesture in order to help visualize problems:

In this pose, your thumb, fore and middle fingers represent the x, y , and z axes. It works, but it has its limitations. In my first week, I was a a lot of conversations involving this pose and a lot of vague hand-waving. I took a brief excursion out to a toy store and came back with a large pack of Tinker Toys and went from office to office giving out pieces. Engineers put them together into axes and into vectors and so on.

Similarly, when I started there, I was given pieces of a computer. My manager had the belief that engineers should set up their workstations and work areas by themselves to their own taste. Newfire had a toolbox, but it had been scattered across the office and tracking down the one Phillips screwdriver that was needed for a PC was maddening. I brought in my own tools in the short term and refused to lend them out unless they came back within an hour.

I spoke to our office manager and had her order a case of small tool kits and I handed them out to every employee, saying “and don’t you ever ask me for a screwdriver again.” I also personally gave them to every new hire.

One of our hires, Tony Haag, was tickled because the toolkit included a tool for picking up screws especially in tight clearance areas. He loved that it looked like the tool for removing the neural implants in Total Recall.

This was equally unexpected and entertaining.

Still, the point is that when there are issues in your office, you can sit back and suffer or complain or you can step up and find a way to make things better. And this is where the squirrel in me takes over because if things if I can fix a problem, damn skippy I will. If I can’t fix a problem or there are things afoot to actively preventing me from solving that problem, well that’s a litmus test to consider updating your resume.

And that was one of the things that I liked from most of my 10 years at Atalasoft: nearly every day when I came in, I knew I could make it a better place, even if it was in a small way.

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