New hardware platform

"What the RUDE WORD, RUDE WORD, RUDE WORD is this?" Anna sits at her desk, one hand one her mouse, speaking loudly. "ROOOBBIIIINN! Come heeeereee!" In a minute Robin shuffles in through Anna's doorway. "What's wrong? You're upsetting the whole office with your screaming." Anna almost never raises her voice. When she does, it's upsetting to those who know her.

"I just got an email from Sam. They're changing the hardware platform." Robin raises one eyebrow. She realises at once what this may mean. "Does he say why?"

Anna shakes her head. "Not really. He says, and I quote, 'To align our customer-facing deliverables with global leaders in leveraging technology we proactively synchronise our product schedules with Arm release road maps.' What a pile of RUDE WORD marketing RUDE WORD."

Robin sighs deeply, then slumps down in a chair. "Does he realise that our project will have to restart from scratch? That all the work done so far is useless? That there's no chance of meeting any agreed deadlines now?"

Anna grimaces. "Of course he doesn't. If they actually do this, it may mean we lose the project." Robin nods. "And that means we're in a trash compactor, the walls a moving inward, and something just touched my leg. We were already desperate when we landed this project."

Anna nods. "Exactly. I better meet with Sam to try to stop this." She buries her face in her hands. She sobs once. "I don't know, sometimes it's just feels like too much. Clients seem to always try to shoot a project in the head, just when things start moving along well."

Robin shifts uneasily in her chair, then gets up and stands next to Anna, and gathers her into a hug. Robin smiles uncertainly. "There, there, it'll be all right. We'll get through this in some say."

Robin chuckles. "Anyway, they're not shooting the project in the head. They're sawing off their own leg. With a blunt axe. Which is rusty." Anna barks a short laugh, and indicates she needs to get out of the hug. She takes a deep, deep breath, and shrugs. "Sorry. I was feeling overwhelmed for a moment. Better now. Thanks." Robin goes to the doorway. "I'll go make us tea, so we can have a calm discussion about this, and decide what to do."


Robin says on IRC. "Everyone: sitrep and planning, kitchen, 5 mins. Drop everything you're doing."

Anna is in the kitchen, with her laptop and five steaming mugs of tea. Everyone in the Team has their own, favourite mug, labelled by their name and preference as far as tea, sugar, and milk. Anna takes a sip of hers. It says "Anna, Russian Caravan, full-fat milk, no sugar", and has a picture of Snufkin from Moomin, sitting on a river bank with his fishing rod. The mugs had originally been bought a few years ago, when the Team was set up. When new team members had joined, new mugs had been made.

Over the new few minutes, team members were coming in, taking their mug, and sitting down, until only Nina was missing. Robin puts her mug down ("Robin, Lapsang, skimmed milk, sugar, picture of Lara Croft"), and goes knock on the door of Nina's lab. "Excuse me, Nina, we're having a meeting and we need you." Nina and Nick look up from the bench, where they've been debugging something together. Robin nods at him. "Nick, I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you to leave. We're going to discuss something sensitive, and it would be awkward to have you present. Sorry."

Nick stands up, and nods. "I understand. Is it OK if I come back tomorrow?" Robin smiles. What a polite young man. "I'm sure it it will be, but check with Nina in the morning, OK"

Robin and Nina go to the kitchen, take their mugs ("Nina, any tea, no milk, no sugar, picture of a 555 timer IC"), and sit down. Anna stands up and starts speaking. "I'm afraid there's a bit of bad news. SmartHome have just let us know they want to update their hardware platform. I called this meeting to tell you that and for us to discuss the situation together."

The the room is filled with a cacophony. Anna lets it continue for a moment, then raises her hand. The room quiets instantly. An outsider might mistake it for military discipline, but it's a habit borne from collaborating with the same equals for a long time, and from respect of the role Anna has as mediator. "I have a couple of questions I need to have answers to. First, this is a big enough change that it lets us cancel the contract without a notice period, but still get paid for what we've done so far. Do we want to do that?"

Robin raises her hand. "I'd like to keep the contract, if we can talk them into keeping the old hardware platform." She drops her hand. Andy and Bert look at each other, nodding. Berg raises his hand. "Andy and I agree. We've put in a lot of effort into the old platform already, would be a shame to let that go to waste." Andy keeps his hands on the table, but raises his index finger. "We can start on a new platform, but if they haven't got the hardware working yet, it seems like an impossible project."

Nina nods, but keeps quiet. Robin makes a short wave. "That's a good point. Anna, do you know what the status of their proposed new hardware platform is?" Anna shakes her head. "Sam wasn't explicit about that, but my impression is that they're only about to start designing it. It's not ready for us to port to." Robin grimaces, but Andy speaks, without indicating he wants a turn. "Erm, really? In that case, I don't think we can wait for that."

Anna stands up. "I think we agree. We can't continue on this contract, if they change the hardware platform. It would delay all user land software progress too much. It would probably mean we run out of money before this contract is paid. Frankly, I would expect SmartHome to go bankrupt before they get the new platform working."

Anna shrugs. "My other question is, do we try to talk them into not upgrading their hardware platform, or do we look for a new client?"

Another cacophony. Robin raises her hand, and everyone goes quiet and looks at her. "I'd like to keep them, if possible, I see a possibility for a long, mutually profitable relationship, if we can both survive the current project." There are murmured agreements and nodding.

Anna takes a deep breath. "Thank you, looks like we have a consensus. I'm sorry we're in this situation, but it's something we've seen before. The client thinks they're being smart, but are actually just running really fast carrying a naked blade pointed at their heart. Everything looks like it's going well, until they stumble and they experience a sudden, painful stop."

Nina raises her hand to her shoulder. "What do we do now?"

Anna looks at her, then around the room, into the eyes of each of her co-workers. "We continue work on the old platform, and I go talk to Sam face to face and try to talk sense to him. I'll probably be back later today, and then we'll see. If it drags on, I'll let you all know."


In the afternoon, after Anna has returned from a long lunch with Sam, she visits Robin's office, and sits down. "I think we're OK. I talked Sam out of doing a hardware refresh now. They'll do it for the next generation instead."

"Well done, Anna! Was it a difficult discussion?"

Anna shrugs. She isn't smiling, but doesn't look distraught either. "It wasn't easy. He was really enthusiastic about using the new 64-bit Arm architecture. But he believed me in the end when I told him he couldn't have our platform and new hardware in the same product iteration."

"Good. Meanwhile, Andy and Bert had a really productive day today. We have our platform working on the SmartHome hardware now, at least enough to start getting SmartHome to port over their applications. There was cake after all the system tests passed the first time. You missed that, but we saved you a slice the fridge. It's your favourite, death by chocolate."

Anna grins. The Team is not shy to celebrate its achievements. "Excellent news. And if we pull off the current, now-saved project, we may get SmartHome to hire us to update our platform to their new hardware version, too."

Anna pushes herself up by pushing with her palms on her knees. "But now I'm exhausted. I'm going home early. I need a relaxing evening, after today. Maybe a sauna. Might call Russ and see if he wants to have dinner."

Robin looks surprised. "Russ? Are you seeing him again?"

Anna shakes her head quickly. "No, no, not like that. I just ran into him the other evening, and we had a few beers. It was nice, but I'm getting involved with him again."

"Good. I mean, it's not like he's a bad egg, but he could maybe mature a bit."


Anna comes in late the following morning. Robin pokes her head out of her office. "Hi Anna! Get a cup of tea before you open your email."

Anna stops in the middle of taking off her coat. "Oh? Clearly something bad has happened. What's up?"

Robin is determined and shakes her head. "Tea first. We'll discuss when you have a cuppa."

Anna finds an almost full pot of tea in the kitchen, and ambles into Robin's room with a steaming mug in her hand. She sits down. "So, what's up?"

"Sam's sent an email, cc'd to me, asking for an all-hands meeting with us and their developers and management, to discuss the new hardware platform. It seems Sam's bosses were not swayed so easily." Robin shrugs a little. "They want it tomorrow. They'll arrange a place, we just need to show up."

Anna grimaces. "I should've known it was too easy. Clients never want to hear they're wrong. What do you think about this?"

Robin grimaces too. "I don't think we can avoid it, even if it costs us a full work day and possibly a client. We'll have to go."

A nod, and another grimace. "I'll go read the email, but I think you're right. We'll spend today preparing for any arguments they may have for a platform refresh now. I think that'll be what you and I do today. Do you have the time?"

"I was meant to draft a plan to get SmartHome devs to start porting their software to our platform, but that'll have to wait. I'll notify them."

"Good. Well, not good, but you know what I mean. We'll gather our people in the afternoon and go over the arguments. Have you told them yet?"

"Nope, I wanted to wait until we decide to go."

"OK. I'll notify our people today. And tell Sam and his bosses that we're coming. Is 15:00 a good time to gather everyone?"

"Should be. RUDE WORD I don't like this, but needs must."

Anna nods, gets up, and goes to her own office. After a deep breath she opens up her email, reads for a while, and sends out a couple of emails. One to the Team, explaining the situation, and another to SmartHome asking where and when.


The assembles at the office. It's 8 in the morning, and for most of them this is unusually early. Anna arrives with a car, the team piles in, and they go to the SmartHome office.

They arrive, get out of the car, and walk in an organised formation into SmartHome HQ and the large meeting room they've visited before. The SmartHome CEO, Lasse, and other members of top management are already there, as well as Sam, and several senior developers.

The CEO stands up. He's dressed in a navy blue suite, with a red tie. In his late 50s, somewhat stout but not fat, looking serious, but calm, he coughs to get everyone's attention. "Welcome, everyone, I apologise for the abrupt meeting, but we need to resolve this issue of refreshing the new hardware platform sooner rather than later." He looks at Andy. "I understand that your team is objecting and raising concerns about the new hardware. Is that correct?"

Andy looks momentarily confused, and looks at Anna, who speaks. "I'm Anna Carter. I speak for the Team."

Now Lasse is a little uncertain, looking back and forth between Andy, Anna, and Sam. He recovers quickly. "Very well. Is it correct?"

"We're concerned about the impact of a hardware refresh on the time table of the project. We think the refresh is OK."

"How magnanimous of you. I'm not used to hired help giving me permission to make strategic changes. Especially not women."

Anna's jaw drops open, and she just stares. The room goes quiet. SmartHome developers look at the table in front of them, visibly not squirming or doing anything to call attention to them. The Team members take a deep breath, let their shoulders sag, and look at Anna and Robin.

Robin stands up. She looks around the room. Those who know her, can see she's angry from the say her lips form a thin straight line. "Sir, if you hire experts and ignore what they say, you are an imbecile. In the current situation, your choices are to go bankrupt or to let us help your developers save your company. It seems you want to go bankrupt and make every one of your employees lose their job, while you can just retire early. Very well, we don't wish to work for you. Have a good day."

She pushes her chair back and steps away from the table. Sam puts his hand on Lasse's arm, and whisper urgently in his ear. Robin reaches the conference room door, puts her hand on the handle, and looks back. The rest of the Team have quietly also stood up and are forming a queue behind Robin. Anna is red her face, and her hands are shaking.

The Team goes out of the door. Sam follows them. "Please wait."

Anna turns to him. She's so angry she stutters. "Y-you.. w-wait? Why w-would we wait."

Robin puts a calming hand on Anna's shoulder. "Sam, you must understand that what just happened was humiliating and infuriating, and cannot be tolerated."

"Yes, you're absolutely right. What Lasse said is unacceptable. But I think I can talk sense to him, and talk him down off his high horse, and let us save the company. Because I now understand that what you said is right."

Nina shouts and walks towards him. "NO!" Sam takes a step back. Nina pokes her finger in the middle Sam's chest to emphasise her syllables. "It's not RUDE WORD enough to talk to RUDE WORD Lasse. He's old enough to know better. Old RUDE WORD sexist stick in the muds like him are NOT RUDE WORD ALLOWED to have power over us. We WILL RUDE WORD NOT WORK FOR HIM."

Sam takes a couple of steps back. Hurricane Nina is taking him by surprise.

Nick comes out from the conference room. "Nina, are you OK? You're being very loud."

Robin steps forward, and turns Nina by the shoulders. "Nina, you're absolutely right. We all agree on that. But let's take this to our office and discuss this amongst ourselves. We need to process this. It's a bad day." She looks at Sam. "We'll be sending our final invoice today."

Anna pipes in. "It's clause 42, section 3. In the event of the customer changing the parameters of the project in the middle of the project in ways that make it difficult to finish on schedule, the Team can abort and is owed for work already done. You better not try to squirm yourself out of it."

As if by remote control, the Team all turn towards the exit, and march out.

Sam and Nick stand still and look at the departing group. The exit doors closes, with the soft thump and click of its automatic mechanism. They continue to stand still for a moment. Finally, Nick speaks. "I guess we need to back inside. But I really don't want to."

Sam's shoulders droop. He looks back at the conference door. Then at the exit door. "I have to go back inside. You can have a family medical emergency if you like."


The Team drive back to their office in silence. They gather in the kitchen. Robin makes a pot of tea. The silence continues while the tea is brewing. Bert takes out everyone's mug and puts them in a row on the kitchen table, and takes out two kinds of milk from the fridge, and three kinds of sweetener (sugar, artificial, honey). Robin pours tea. Bert adds milk and sweetener of choice to each mug. Everyone takes their mug.

Anna takes a sip. "Well, that was exciting. I think we should process what happened together, rather than going home and let everyone marinate in solitude."

Nina shakes her head. "I can't believe he said that. I can't believe I said that to Sam."

Andy puts his mug on the table in front of himself. "One reads about people like Lasse, but one never expects to meet them. It was like meeting a villain from a movie. And Nina, I think you said what we all felt."

Robin sits hunched, holding her cup with both hands. "Frankly, this wasn't a huge surprise to me. There were signs. But I think we did the the only thing we could do. We shouldn't feel bad about it. Not about taking them on as a client, or for quitting today."

Anna nods. "Yes, I agree. We should feel good for standing up against bad behaviour. The only thing we should worry about now is what we'll do next, in terms of a new client."

Robin shakes her head. "It's important that we find a new client, but can we not worry about that today. I think we need to recover from today's events first."

Anna nods again. "I guess you're right. What can we do to get over this?"

Bert puts down his mug. "I find that when I've had a bit of a shock, eating something helps. We could have lunch together."

"A great idea." Robin smiles. "We could order pizza for everyone. Anna?"

"Yeah, let's do that. I'll order from my room. If everyone would message me on IRC what kind they want, I'll place the order. The usual place."


Pizza has arrived and been consumed. Many words have been said. Much anger has been vented.. The Team is leaning back in their chairs, momentarily content and silent. Anna's phone rings. She looks at it.

"It's Sam. I should probably take this." She rises and goes to her office.

"Hi, Sam."

"Hi, Anna. Are you guys all right?"

"We're OK. How are you?"

"Look, I wanted to call and ask if there's any chance we can patch things up. I think I have the leverage to get Lasse to apologise and get out of the way, even if he is the founder and the CEO."

Anna takes a deep, audible sigh. "Look, Sam, I'll be honest. It's not easy. Lasse burnt bridges today that are not easy to rebuild. We don't trust SmartHome anymore, and we don't work with clients we don't trust."

"I see. Is there anything we could do to convince you to not break with us?"

"I don't know. I'd have to talk with the whole Team about it. How far are you willing to go?"

"Hmm. This is not an easy situation for anyone, right now. I'll take a chance and be open about what's happening here. I hope you won't spread it around. There's a bit of a civil war happening, and most of us at SmartHome see that you guys are right and we either make a new, better product with your help, or we are finished. Some of the older guys in upper management are resisting, but the resistance is crumbling."

Anna is laconic and inexpressive. "OK."

"I won't say you can demand anything you want, but I think you'd have a strong bargaining position, if you were willing to bargain."

"OK."

"Are you willing to bargain? Please?"

"I'll talk with my people. I don't know if they're willing. But just in case they're willing, do you have time to visit our office today? I have the feeling that if possible, this shouldn't be allowed to fester overnight."

"I can be there in fifteen minutes."

"OK. We'll talk and I'll let you know if you should come."

"Thanks."


The Team has gathered in the kitchen again. A new round of tea has been brewed and served.

"Okay, so this is bit of an interesting development. Sam called. He says that SmartHost is having a civil war and he wants to know what it would take to bring us back, or least re-open negotiations with them. Assuming his side wins. What do we think about that?"

Nina raises her hand. "Will Lasse still be the CEO?"

"I don't know. The situation is unclear. In any case, it might be too much for us to ask for them to get rid of him entirely. He is the founder, after all."

Nina chuckles. "Shame, but I see your point. But at least I would prefer him to not be involved in this project, or have any say in it."

Robin raises her mug and sips. "Mmmm, I like how you think, grasshopper. More realistically, I think we can and should insist that they commit to a plan with us. The plan we've been working on all along. And by commit, I mean they won't unilaterally change it on us. They should also agree to a change management process with us."

Nina looks at her with her eyebrows raised. "Change management process? What fancy words you use, grandma."

The room fills with chuckles and giggles. It's clear that a big ball of tension has just unravelled. Anna grins. "Sounds like we're in silent agreement, but I'd like to make it explicit. Everyone in favour of re-opening discussions with SmartHome, or at least Sam's faction, if we can agree on what we think are sensible ground rules, namely, they stick to the current hardware platform, and let us guide the software development. Who agrees?"

Everyone raises their hand, except Robin. "Robin? Do you want to say something?"

"I was hesitant about taking them on as a client in the first place, and only agreed to it because we need the money. My fears have been realised. But given the ground rules as you outlined, and given that we have the same need of money, I'm willing to try again." She raises her hand.

"Good, that makes us unanimous. I agree we need to treat them with care. I'd like to invite Sam to our office today to discuss this and explain our conditions. Everyone OK with that."

This time, everyone raises their hand.


"Hi, Russ. Fancy dinner tonight?" Anna is in a good mood. Constructive negotiations always made her satisfied, and especially so when they're successful. "I've had a long, roller-coaster ride of a day and could do with some good food and company."

"Hi, Anna, yes, I'd love that. Is 19 at the Santa Fe restaurant OK?"

"Perfect. I'll see you there."


Nina sits in her lab, at the table, with her laptop, typing and frowning. "Nickster, U OK? I hear u have crisis happening?"

A few seconds pass, and the response shows in her chat window. "Hi, Burn. I'm OK. Thanks for asking. Interesting times in the faux Chinese curse sense."

Nina types again. "I don't no if we work 2gether anymore, but wld like to keep in touch."

"I'd like that too. I like to talk tech with you."

"Kewl. I like 2 talk tech with u 2. Also I like u dont hit on me."

"Yeah, you said. I've never really been just friends with a girl before. It's nice. Relaxing, even, to not have any romantic or erotic tension."

"U say such nice things. C u tomorrow?"