Stark Industries – “The process”

At Stark Enterprises I learned that if you want to get work done, you have to know how to work “the process”. The process… well what I really mean…is… ok here is my definition:

“The Process” : A systematic series of steps (see “hoops” and “hurdles”), defined in a directed cyclical graph.

I am pretty sure there were some Top Secret level computer scientists at Stark Industries that accidentally solved the Travalling Salesman Problem in polynomial time while trying to find a way to push their software request form through.

I often got the feeling that people would add steps to the process just so they could feel accomplished and justify their own jobs. I imagine these are the same kinds of people who like refreshing all day waiting for a new post just so you can be the first to digg it and get their 2 seconds of fame when it makes it to the front page.

Ok, so in all seriousness, here is my experience with the process.

Transferring files

If you work on a classified program like I did, you can’t so much as blow your nose without filling out a form requesting permission to do so. Security is tight. (justifiably so)

  • Before you walk into the classified room you have to leave your cell phone, ipod, and anything that contains memory in a cabinet outside.
  • There is a card reader on the door and a keypad to enter your pin.
  • After you walk in, constant static blares over loudspeakers all day long.
  • If you want to move from your unclassified machine to the classified machine you have to physically stand up, move your chair, and then sit back down. You cannot just swivel around between machines or you will get a security violation.
  • When talking on your phone you have to make sure you are at least 10 feet from your classified machine.
  • If, for some reason, an unbriefed person must come into the room (like a maintenance person) you have to yell out to everyone that they are here and you have to grab this little portable siren and turn it on. As you move about, its light blinks and it makes a really loud noise.
  • Those are just a few of many many rules….

I needed to transfer 100 or so files to my classified machine. You first have to pick up an approved brand of recordable cd’s from the security officer. While a briefed person watches, you then have to transfer the files, close the disk session, and virus scan it. That’s not so bad so far, right? Well, then you have to fill out the form. On this form you have to list out every single file on the cd and its file size. I had 100 files. This was going to be tedious. I started filling it out when someone who had a lot of experience in the process suggested that I just zip all the files first. Then, the security people just regard it as 1 file. And its true. As long as the sheet matches what they see when you open the disk (as the process says it should) they don’t care. For many… well most… If its beyond the process it is unknown. The process is safety. Its home. Its like a huge, soft, warm… wet blanket that people cling to with ferocity while it spoils everyone’s fun at the same time.

Software Request

This is the beginning of the end of my career at Stark Industries.

Everyone at Stark Industries has a software profile. The software profile can be thought of as a… stone tablet. Managers slave chiseling that piece of stone trying to think of all the software needs their program will need over the next 10 years, because once that stone is chiseled and Moses takes it to the people in charge of the process, it is ingrained, forever, like the word of God.

Well, the particular program I was working on, I needed a Java IDE. We had no real direction as to how to accomplish our goals because no one really knew exactly. I was basically doing research and development and I chose Java. The problem here is that there was no Java IDE listed on my software profile. All I needed was a simple Java IDE; like Eclipse or the free version of JBuilder. I am of the opinion that software profiles should be able to be expressed in regular expressions: /*/g would have been mine. Our options are limited… We can re-chisel our software profile or put in a special purpose request. We were told by others who were more experienced in the process that the request method would be much faster. Apparently, changing the software profile can take nearly a year to do. So, we put in a request for the free version of JBuilder (Eclipse is open source so we can’t use that).

We drummed up as much support behind our software request form as we could but once its in the process in the clutches of the process Nazis there is nothing anyone can do to speed it up. I think they roll the form up, put it in a bottle and throw it out to sea until it reaches some guy on an island somewhere.

We waited and waited… called to check up on the status… no changes. After waiting 2 months we finally got… no, not the software… that would be too easy. We got a date for our “justification” meeting. Me and my other fellow developers trotted off to the justification meeting thinking it would be a breeze. After all, the software we wanted was free and it was already used a lot elsewhere in the company.

When we arrive in the room we are greeted by 15 other people all here to “approve” our request. It takes 15 people to do this? The meeting went like this:

Process nazis: “Why do you need JBuilder?”

Me: “I need a Java IDE to do my work. I am a Software Developer”

Process nazis: “What do you develop”

Me: “I cannot tell you. You aren’t briefed on the program”

Process nazis: “How can we justify giving you this very expensive application if we don’t know what its used for?”

Me: “Expensive? No, I just need the free version”

Process nazi know it all: “But the free version doesn’t support J2EE.”

Me: “I am not using J2EE. I don’t need to”

Process nazi know it all: “You know J2EE is required to make web applications”

Me: “I am not making a web application”

Process nazi know it all: “Its not a web application? Then why do you need Java? That’s all java is good for…if anything(he mumbles under his breath) What are you doing?”

Me: “With all due respect, that is not all Java is good for and I cannot tell you what this is for, you are not briefed on my program. I need a Java IDE to develop a software application.”

Process nazi know it all: “You should use C”

Process nazi lady interrupts: “Wait. You just want the free version? Ok, I guess thats fine. As long as it isn’t the expensive $200 version; I don’t think we could give you that.”

The meeting lasted a lot longer than that conversation went (nearly an hour). I am shortening the arguing over the merits of Java as much as possible. The funny thing here is that this meeting wasted over $3,000 not even counting lost productivity. If Stark Industries made everyone’s software profile /*/g I bet it would save millions a year. There would be some people who would abuse it, but honestly, I think it would cancel out pretty easily. I don’t even want to know what the process is for changing the process. Its probably a recursive infinite loop.

So I expected the software to arrive shortly. I was wrong. I waited another month and, after no movement in status, I started looking for other jobs. All in all I waited 4 months for software I needed to do my job. Stark Industries just moved too slowly for me.

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