26 July 2013

Up A Creek Without A Paddle [update]

Up a creek without a paddle. Neat phrase, and describes how I feel about Kayak.com. I've sworn never to use the site. Why, engaged reader might ask? Well, I abhor those moronic commercials, particularly the one where a black guy emerges from the sweater of an Asian guy (or vice-versa, it's been a while since I've seen the ad) typing at a laptop. By what logic anyone, at Kayak or its ad agency, sees the point of these ads? They're not humorous, nor informative. Just creepy. If you search with 'kayak ads creepy', you'll find that I'm not alone in that regard.

So, why, engaged reader, do I bother typing on and on about Kayak.com? Well, there's a wealth of interesting quant and economic drivel in today's NYT (just go read it, esp. the Business section). A regular feature of the section is "Corner Office", in which the CEO/founder/doyen of some company is interviewed, and the reader is treated to all manner of superiority of said CEO/founder/doyen. And, surprise, today is Paul English's day. He *is* Kayak.com. According to Wikipedia (and you have to enter Paul M. English; just Paul English takes you straight to Willie Nelson's drummer, what a relief) he went to one of The Other UMass's, in Boston. And did a bunch of software companies in, around, and on 128.

So, while I can't stand Kayak, English's background should make me bromance him. And I did, even before checking the Wiki to fill in the details; just on the basis of his "Corner Office" interview. Do I believe the interview? Not so sure. The nasty bits are likely true, not so sure about the free rein bits; the usual dichotomy. Here's some quotes that made my heart go pit-a-pat (again, the fact of Kayak leaves me dubious that he actually believes what he says).

The most important thing I learned is something I'm still actually working on, which is how to be really blunt with feedback. It's the most difficult thing for a manager to do. But I worked hard at it, because when managers were blunt with me, it hurt a little bit, but I'm very grateful to those few managers who helped me.
Obviously, no one's doing that to him now that he's The Man; only he gets to do that. The creepy commercials clearly show he's out of his depth.

We're a little bit reckless in our decision-making -- not with the business, but the point is that we try things.
That's, at face value, a good thing. Later in the paragraph:
It may or may not have been successful, but it almost doesn't matter, because it showed that we value speed, and we value testing ideas, not talking about them.
He hasn't learned that Speed Kills. As my Pappy used to say, "engage brain before mouth". Again, what ninny takes pride in those commercials?

Then the two criteria I really look for are productivity -- which is about speed and judgment and drive -- and the second one is fun. A lot of companies have the no-jerks rule. But I have the "no neutrals" rule.
That's where he gets it wrong, and I'm going to guess that he spent his pre-Boss days as a client side coder. "Engage brain before fingers." Far too many coders type away, then spend hours in the debugger trying to figure out how to *really* write some piece of code. Show me a coder who loves his debugger, and you're looking at a naif.

The statement that made my heart go all aflutter:
We're known for having very small meetings, usually three people.
I just hate design by consensus. No innovation happens with 10 people in a room. It's very easy to be a critic and say why something won't work.
On further reflection, I'm of two minds about this attitude. On the one hand, I agree that the best systems, especially database-centric ones, don't require lots of cooks stirring the broth. On the other hand, this could just be code (so to speak) for "A yes man, a yes man, my kingdom for a yes man". Impossible to tell from the interview.

For yucks, I checked the job listings, and they don't really do that. Nothing about who they want. They could be using flatfiles, xml, or MySql. Who knows? My guess: flatfiles and php. Shall we? Umm. Ah, segregated in its own silo. Perl and MySql (here). Nuff said; at least they skipped php. Bad commercials, bad tech. Who'd a thunk it?

Anyway, at the bottom of the Tech page was this carrot:
billo, Ultra Vice President of Code

P.S., if you want to send me encouraging notes or vitriolic hate mail, I'll bet a clever person like you could guess my email address.

I left this quote out, but now it seems appropriate:
When I gave people their performance reviews, I would literally take a crinkled envelope, and I'd write five words on it.

So, I was going to send off the link to this musing, for his amusement. But I decided to see who billo was, by name. Turns out Bill O'Donnell, and he's gone from Kayak after more than 9 years. Turns out: Priceline bought Kayak a few months ago and now Priceline just pooped the bed for its quarterly. May be the Kayak architect should have stayed and the Priceline gone (the Shatner commercials are nearly as bad).

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