Monday, November 17, 2014

25 Stories About Work - Building a Web Site, Then and Now

I was recently on a plane doodling and thought of some funny / interesting stories from 25+ years of working and traveling. So I decided to write them up as short, random chapters of a non-book with the title of this post. Hope you enjoy them and / or find them interesting. Certainly the value will be at least equal to the marginal cost of the book (zero)...

Chicago, around the year 2000, before the dot-com bust

Back around 2000 I worked in an "incubator" that was a digital design agency. At that time everyone was moving onto the web, and it was a giant land rush.

This was the first time I worked in an office with any type of serious amenities. They had free coffee, lounge areas, and the occasional foosball table. Previously I had been a buttoned down consultant, auditor, programmer and project manager - and all the sudden the world changed and we engaged with a whole host of "creatives" and designers on joint projects.

Back then we all wore suits. I remember one day very clearly; one of the designers sat immediately in front of me. I was looking up and I saw "Victoria Secret" - she was showing off the new style where women were wearing their pants so low that their underwear was showing. To a consultant that charges hundreds of dollars an hour (not like we collected it, but that's a different story) this sort of behavior and style just screamed WTF.

When we bid on a client our clashing styles were immediately evident. I started out the template to respond to the RFP (request for proposal), and was tasked with estimating the cost to reply to this opportunity. The creatives didn't seem to understand any of my questions, which seemed pretty simple to me:
What are we delivering, and how many hours will it take to build it?
They couldn't be pinned down. Were we making a logo, or a web site? Would it allow them to run transactions? At the time that was just a tremendous amount of work and seemingly an insurmountable task.

We ended up bidding hundreds of thousands of dollars for what, I still am not sure. The company who was "buying" our services was VC funded and was just about bled dry, without having even launched anything substantial. The era of the companies had petered out and we were entering a recession.

This weekend the NY Times had an article titled "Buying the Bricks for Your Online Storefront" that profiled two small businesses that use pre-fab websites to launch their businesses.
The newer generation of web services helps helps create the appearance of independent, professional, polished retail establishments... these services typically charge users a fee, beginning around $10 a month and rising as a shop sells more varieties of products.
Later they mention that not only were they starting at $10 / month, the businesses were able to get the sites up and running in just two weeks! It took weeks just to set up meetings to begin to plan what we were going to do, back in the day.

It is important to realize how the falling costs of technology and services drives employment, then and now. Back in the day we had floors full of designers and expensive programmers, as well as infrastructure and network staff to get it all running. Today these automated tools and cloud services annihilate the jobs that were once viewed as high end and promising. While technology employment continually rises, it isn't the same people - skills change and if you don't change with it, that cool job goes to someone else. Maybe their underwear is even sticking out of their pants...

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz

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