Thursday, May 31, 2012

Quality in the music industry? Huh, where?

Back to my history.  When BC Rail was sold to CN i was given the option of being offered a job with CN and moving to Montreal or getting a severance package.  There were a number of things against my going to montreal, for one the IT dept with CN was 600 people, for another i had a new girlfriend here that i really liked, montreal has actual winters and the worst thing was that CN was a hegemony of evil to work for.   It's ok to work for evil and it's ok to work for a hegemony, but never both at the same time.

so i dodged that bullet and took the severance.  turns out it was the very right thing to do at the time.  i mean i had a 8 years into QA at the time, was a lead, did some pretty solid BA work and i was pretty sure i could get another job but i was a little afraid of it all.  But as with most things in IT, to really move up, you generally have to move on.

I took my severance and had a beautiful summer of no pants.  it was planned, i ended work at the start of the May and i told myself i wasn't even allowed to start looking for something else until sept.  and i didn't.  best. summer. ever.  i learned that as long as you plan and do one thing each and every day, your relaxed carefree time will seem like a very real, no wasted, vacation.

when i started looking again i had two decided paths.  I was looking for QA lead or manager work or i was looking for intermediate BA work.   I think at that point my passion was a little more focused on becoming a solid BA.  I felt that i had very solid grounding in the QA world and what i needed was a broader experience base in the BA world.  i had nibbles and interviews in both paradigms and then after a month and a half of job search i took a QA-BA role at a start-up that evolved into a Product Manager role, still responsible for all things QA and BA at the small company.

The start-up company was making a kiosk product that would allow the user to browse the million song music catalogue, start a collection and then burn it to CD as they waited.  there was a goal to do MP3 player loads as well but that was a phase 2 product that never actually got released.

There were a few wonderful evolutionary parts for me at this company:

  • Wiki - it was my first introduction to the usage of a wiki for documentation.  it wasn't the best thing ever for my BA documentation but it was an innovative solution for test cases, plans and results.  I loved the wiki for that.  the ability to organize and maintain this information was quite powerful.  when i went to my next job it was one of my first questions about tools to be used. 
  • Standardization of process and documentation - going into a startup with a clean slate of process and documentation allowed me to rethink all of the process and documents that i'd put in place for BC Rail and give it a fresh shake.   having standardized templates that could from the start encapsulate what i'd learned in my previous roles was superb. 
  • Usability - The difference between the usability expected for a retail facing kiosk product was so different than the usability concerns for the in-house used industrial/transportation products that i had no choice but to really start building a wider perspective of usability and how it fits into the development process.  I felt i really matured in this arena there. 
  • Self-motivation - as start-ups go, we were very loosely monitored and controlled.   i was responsible for my two spheres of influence and had to get the other team members to interact with my spheres productively.   
The biggest thing about the job however is how insane dealing with music labels and their data is.  They have a million draconian rules, a million different data types/structures, hundreds of rules about updates, take-downs, enable dates and etc that are so complicated they have immense amounts of trouble holding to them themselves.  More than anyplace else i learned in this job that complexity is the enemy of quality.  If you need to be complex, then you need to figure out ways to spend the time and effort to maintain quality.  

With the music labels there is simply no way that the amount of complexity that has evolved is even remotely necessary.  It's a track, here's it's price, here's when you can sell it, here's when you can't.  move on.  but no.  the single most amount of time in the company was not spent developing a system that could handle all of this complexity, rather it was negotiating a contract with the labels.  they have hundreds of such contracts, how do they maintain any semblance of tracking or quality when they can't even standardize on how they deliver their core business?

In the end there were endless problems with the content and threat letters on a regular basis as the interpretation of this rule or how this data was handled incorrectly as far as a particular employee of that label was concerned.  Now multiply that by the fact that we had 5 major labels to contend with.  Not partner with, not deal with, contend with. 

My new rule of thumb is anything where the contract takes longer to negotiate than it takes to develop the software, run like hell. 

2.5 years later the funding dried up, we had  product in about 100 locations that were making some money but the profit margins in music are very minuscule and start-up blew up. 

I certainly learned a lot about a lot of things.  I hadn't dealt with the concept of retail before and it helped me think in some pretty different ways.  The team i worked with was intelligent, young, interested and fun.  Above all it was fun.  We worked in an excellent part of town, Granville Island, in a hundred year old dock warehouse.  Lunch every day at the market.  Very casual atmosphere.  Dart breaks twice a day.  Long hours.  Shorts and the dog whenever i wanted.  Start-ups are great in a lot of ways.   There's never even the concept of 'that's not my job' because everything that needs to get done needs to get done by the people available. 

As rebound jobs was a good one. 

No comments:

Post a Comment