Hey folks, welcome to The Imposters Club, the podcast for misfits in tech. You know who you are? Who am I? I'm your host, Teddy Kim. I'm a director of software engineering at a SaaS startup, here in Minneapolis. And I love meetings, as a battle-scarred veteran of the tech scene, I've been to thousands of meetings, and here's one thing I've learned. Meetings are like subway. Not the subway, you ride to get to work. Subway, the thing you eat after work when you're tired. The thing about subway is the food is so banal you simply can't remember a meal you had there. Unless it makes you sick, a sub that makes you sick. Well, you'll remember that forever and ever, and ever.
Meetings are the same. Most meetings are remarkably forgettable but sometimes you go to a meeting so awful that it changes you forever. It's like the origin story for the Joker before he fell into the vat of acid. He was just a stand-up comic. After the vat of acid...well, we know how that story goes. So before I tell you my story, a little background is in order. I'm a pastor's kid. So I grew up going to church. Every Sunday, I would put on my most uncomfortable clothes and then sit in a straight back pew listening to my dad preach a 90-minute sermon. Oh, I should mention that he gave the sermon in Korean, and I don't speak Korean. So a 90-minute sermon felt like 90 years.
But little kids are adaptable. And I adapted by developing sophisticated coping mechanisms for boredom. Not to blow my own horn but I'm pretty good at it. The ability to appear interested, even when I'm dying inside, is a core competence that has stood me in good stead on dates, at parties, and lecture halls, and of course, corporate meeting rooms. When it came to boring meetings, I thought I had it under control. Another boring meeting, no problem, I'll just retreat into my memory palace. Soon this will be over, and I can go back to my desk and start coding again. It's all good. But then I met my match. It was the meeting that changed me forever.
When I got to work that morning, it was a day like any other. I scanned my calendar and saw an hour-long, All technology meeting scheduled for one o'clock. And there is mistake number one, guys, if you schedule a meeting after lunch when people are at their most drowsy and flatulent, you're already off to a bad start. But it can get worse. What if the meeting were to take place in a windowless room, deep in the belly of the building? What if the previous meeting had pizza delivered and the aroma of green peppers, onion and sausage is so thick that it could curl your hair? What if the HVAC goes on the fritz and the air stops working? So all you can smell is pizza with a top note of programmer body odor and farts. It just can't get worse than that, can it? Actually, Yes, it can. It can get much worse.
Now imagine 50 people sitting shoulder to shoulder in a muggy room while a remote presenter reads verbatim from a bullet-pointed PowerPoint deck. Now imagine that the presenter speaks very slowly, in monotone. By the way, you have no idea how long this slide deck will last. For all you know, the deck could be five slides or 50. All you know is that the droning won't stop. The presenter is remote remember...just an disembodied voice reading bullet points. There is nobody to direct your resentment towards, so your imagination starts to wonder. What does this woman actually look like? Could she be a Gorgon with snakes for hair? If I could somehow show her her own reflection, would she turn into stone and end my torment? And the slides! Center-aligned bullet points. Why no make make the content both illegible and incomprehensible? Oh, and I don't know about you, but no slide deck is complete without a scatter chart. Nothing and I mean nothing get me as fired up as a scatter chart.
In the midst of my torment, I looked around, and there were people actually asleep in their seats. There were people snoring. They were people drooling. And then something slowly dawned on me...a nagging question that I couldn't put down. Where are all the contractors? So this shop like any tech shop had dozens of pricey contractors building the company anywhere between $100 and $200 per hour. Some of these contractors had been with the company for years, many had been there longer than me. So what gives? These people are supposed to be my teammates, all for one, one for all, right? But today, at the All technology meeting, as I writhed in torment, my so-called teammates were nowhere to be found.
After the worst meeting ever finally ground to a close, we all shuffled out of the meeting room like zombies. Somehow, I found my way back to the lab, and behold, here are the contractors, typing away happily at their computers with their stupid un-bored faces. I felt like Odysseus returning home after decades in battle, only to discover that the palace has been overrun by scoundrels.
Well, I'm sure you can guess what happened. The senior management had excused the contractors from the All technology meeting on the grounds that their time was too valuable. Why pay someone $150 to sit in a meeting? That doesn't make any sense, does it? Well, I think you can see the flaw in that logic. If you wouldn't pay a contractor $150 to sit in a meeting, then don't make anybody go to the meeting. As a matter of fact, don't have a meeting at all. All you managers out there! Listen up .If you excuse some of your team from going to a meeting on the grounds that their time is too important...well, then you've just created a caste system and like any caste system, cynicism and resentment are sure to follow. Caste systems are a self-inflicted wound, you can do better so do better. My friends, life is short. Your time at work should be fun and productive. We can get there but we must all do our part to defeat the evil of banality.
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