March 21st, 2005

Free at last! (And good timing.)

So on friday, I get a call from my contracting company saying my Dell contract was ending and my last day was one week later (the 25th). Mark, who was with me at the time, can attest that my immediate reaction was "THANK YOU!". (I suspect that telling my team lead that I would literally rather flip burgers than be a Windows developer may have had something to do with it.)

I've been talking myself out of quitting on a daily basis for at least two months now. (No, this is not sour grapes. Ask Mark, Kandy, Fade, Cathy, Stu, Kelly and Steve... Anybody who knows, me, really. I've vented to them all at length, just to keep my sanity.) I've even dropped a few hints here before about how unhappy I've been, and that's knowing they read people's blogs and fire them over stuff they say. (I did refrain from posting some of the more boneheaded "they're trying to make any Linux developers at the company quit, aren't they" moves, such as when their firewall started blocking slashdot.)

Mark was even telling me my personality was different working at Dell, because I hated my job so much. A couple weeks ago I asked my recruiter if he could find me a job at IBM, and he told me to update my resume. (It's been on my to-do list ever since January. I finally got to it on Sunday. Once I gave up on trying to keep it down to one page, it was easy...)

I won't go into details of The Suckage because now that it's finally over I don't have quite as pressing a need to vent about it. I've known for years that Dell can't retain Linux developers, but my missionary zeal (and a decent if not spectacular hourly rate) got the better of me. "They're _trying_ to do Linux, I should help out." But with the exception of their token Linux expert (Matt Domsch, who I got to meet twice and is very cool), they're not really trying. Their customers don't keep the version of Linux Dell preinstalls, they're ordering Linux to make sure the hardware is supported by Linux so they wipe the machines and put their own corporate Linux image on it.

Kandy and Stu are both amazed I lasted as long as I did.

Of course, I was prepared for it to be pretty bad since I figured out years ago something most people still don't seem to realize: Dell isn't actually very good at technology, because that's not what they do.

Back when I was covering Dell for The Motley Fool (on and off 1998-2000), I learned that Dell is a one-trick pony that does inventory management and very little else. They're a just-in-time retailer of perishable commodities, unloading merchandise before it can depreciate. They might as well be selling fruit or flowers. (And their highly touted "assembly skill" would translate into making fruit salads or boquets out of the raw materials. Doesn't mean they're any good at growing the stuff.)

All their suppliers fall into two camps: 1) the ones they bully (wal-mart style) into carrying their inventory for them (with daily deliveries and favorable credit terms) so that the supplier rather than Dell suffers the depreciation and correspondingly ugly balance sheet for wall street. 2) the ones they can't bully and therefore suck up to in some of the most egregious acts of obsequious brown-nosing in the history of corporate america. (These two are Microsoft and Intel.) Beyond that, they just use unit volumes, economies of scale, and general penny-pinching to drive down costs.

So you can't really blame them for being a Microsoft shop (after all, Bill Gates stays at Michael Dell's house when he's visiting Austin) for the same reason you can't really blame them for having an exclusive contract with Intel since at least 2002:
http://www.yeald.com/Yeald/a/8925/dell_exclusively_offers_intel_chips.html

And making a lot of money with inventory management isn't a bad thing. But it does mean that Dell isn't actually very good at technology (software or hardware), because they don't have to be. That's their suppliers' job. They mostly just assemble the stuff, and even that's optional in the case of laptops. (80-90% of which, worldwide, are made in Taiwan:
http://news1.iwon.com/tech/article/id/242027|technology|09-19-2003::06:55|reuters.html .) Those come pre-assembled, with the possible exception of hard drives and memory (the only parts you can easily swap out; everything else is custom-fitted to the case or vice-versa).

I should have expected all this (more than I did). I KNEW all this, five years ago. Unfortunately, they THINK they're good at technology, and it's easy to get convinced they might know what they're talking when they're just talking, and not doing. (It's like a waiter thinking they can cook because they get paid to take food orders and transport the result.) I just didn't think it could possibly be THAT bad. I didn't expect I would literally disagree with every major technical decision I've encountered at this job, and many of the minor ones as well. (If any of my old co-workers read this, name one and I'll tell you what's wrong with it. It's a fun game, I did it in my cube to keep myself from going crazy...)

But all that's not the good timing mentioned in the subject of this post. Remember how I mentioned that Amazon.com phoned me up wondering if I wanted to move to seattle, and before that it was VMWare wondering if I wanted to move to california?

Monday afternoon, three days after my recruiter calls me and tells me I've only got to survive one more week at Dell (and offers to try to place me somewhere else after it ends, while reminding me I still need to update my resume), I get a call from the CEO of a Linux software company here in Austin, who found my (stale) resume on line and cold-called me (from Chicago) to see if I might be looking for a job...

Now _that's_ timing. Dunno if it'll actually turn into a new job yet (I hope it does, the jobs that find you are always more fun than the jobs you have to find), but either way that's just cool. :)

Rob
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