Can you inflate the balloon in the form of a kitten?
April 1, 2014 10:44 PM   Subscribe

So been there.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:46 PM on April 1, 2014

Let's think outside the box on this.
posted by Brent Parker at 10:50 PM on April 1, 2014

I couldn't finish. It was too depressingly accurate.
posted by Scattercat at 10:52 PM on April 1, 2014 [23 favorites]

Wow this is funny.
posted by DinoswtfEd at 10:55 PM on April 1, 2014

At my work we have many British clients which means I'm primed to hear unreasonable demands in an English accent and have my skin already be crawling.
posted by Space Coyote at 11:09 PM on April 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm with scattercat. I've been in that meeting way too fucking often.
posted by maxwelton at 11:09 PM on April 1, 2014

Oh god the flashbacks.
posted by hades at 11:16 PM on April 1, 2014

Oh god, this was so painful and so true. I have been in these exact meetings. All of them around websites and applications... or apps. Grrr.
posted by greenhornet at 11:22 PM on April 1, 2014

Oh god, make it stop. The screaming. I can still hear them screaming as I cram the blue marker into their eyes, over and over and over again. I'm an expert, you see. If you draw a line with a blue marker INSIDE their eyes, it turns red, see?
posted by daq at 11:22 PM on April 1, 2014 [8 favorites]

I am an expert! (been there)
posted by nostrada at 11:24 PM on April 1, 2014

Of course I can, I'm an expert.

Welcome to Level 2! It went quickly, but you've been learning from experts after all, Mr Level 10 Engineer, Level 2 Bullshit Artist.
posted by hat_eater at 11:43 PM on April 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have been in this meeting far, far too many times. The expert's mistakes are numerous but the biggest sins are
a) he said 'no'.
b) he tried to explain why their idea wouldn't work.

The client and his own management don't understand - they have a great idea! - and to them, the expert is just being useless and incompetent and not 'working with them'. You ARE the expert after all and its your job to implement their impossible vision.

The trick to surviving meetings like this and not make the pens disappear joker-style is to try and tease out what the client actually wants to achieve, and pretty much ignore what they say about how they want it done, because if they understood what they wanted, they wouldn't have come to you in the first place. And make sure you get paid up front in installments, rather than be reliant on final customer approval, because some really do just want the impossible.

Then eventually you can work your way up to management, and get to tell them their ideas are idiotic, they're stupid for even saying it out loud and a 5 year old would be able to tell them why it wouldn't work and throw them out of the office.

that last part is possibly just wishful thinking on my part. *sob*
posted by ArkhanJG at 11:49 PM on April 1, 2014 [28 favorites]

My name is Karl. lch bin expert....
posted by Hicksu at 11:49 PM on April 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

If I ever find myself in one of these meetings again, I'm just going to run with it. "Hm. Well, yes, it's possible, but I can tell you right now what your budget will allow for a slight reddish tint to the green ink. Now, if you want to switch from the fixed budget to time-and-materials, I think a small team can be put together and we can have a prototype within six months."

What I will deliver: something which looks suspiciously like a child's jack, painted red. "See how these three lines are perpendicular? What you cannot see are the four transparent lines which we have painstakingly added in additional dimensions, as discussed in the technical overview. You did minor in physics? Great!"

My whiteboard presentation will be done with a red pen whose cap is green.

I kinda hoped when the woman drew on the whiteboard that she had, in fact, managed to draw seven lines perpendicular to each other, and that the Old Ones would then emerge from their dormancy in unseen dimensions to administer justice in that room.
posted by maxwelton at 11:56 PM on April 1, 2014 [19 favorites]

Jesus, that was frightening. It's like watching a horror movie that is utterly indistinguishable from real life.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 12:07 AM on April 2, 2014 [4 favorites]

That video made me itch so badly...
posted by Harald74 at 12:14 AM on April 2, 2014

I'm a software engineer, btw, and I sometimes resort to this quote to explain people why I'm possibly not the best person to advice them on what inkjet printer to buy:

Computer Science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes. — (Mis)attributed to Edsger Dijkstra, 1970.

Doesn't help, though...
posted by Harald74 at 12:17 AM on April 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh Crap. Don't bring back my days of level 2 support..... Ugh.
posted by pjern at 12:19 AM on April 2, 2014

Oh boy, guess who's "the expert" at a meeting with some new clients tomorrow? Hopefully it will go better than this—it should, as my boss is technically skilled and tends to back me up.
posted by JiBB at 12:20 AM on April 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

In my current role I manage a number of pre-sales technical folk. This video is not funny because this is what it is actually like. Those sales people, those project manager-types, those customers... it was all too real. We were laughing on the outside when this video did the rounds today, but we were sobbing on the inside... After all, we are experts, we can do anything...
posted by vac2003 at 12:23 AM on April 2, 2014

I have lived a charmed life thus far and only really attended three actual non-volunteer, non-academic inter-departmental meetings in my life. And every single one of them has been exactly like this. I've been under the impression that they were abnormally horrifying experiences, but now I realize that they were pretty much how they were supposed to go. How does anything ever get done?? Too real, too real.
posted by Mizu at 12:39 AM on April 2, 2014

> Computer Science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes.

Undergraduate CS students learn this quote way too early in their educations, before 99% of them have any business calling what they do "computer science".
posted by Space Coyote at 12:41 AM on April 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

This was today. I think the video set off my PTSD.
posted by dangerousdan at 12:44 AM on April 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

Haha! So true! I've been in this meeting so many times. These idiots never listen and nothing ever happens the way it's supposed to.

And even when she explains the marketing research, he still doesn't listen!
posted by liquidindian at 1:09 AM on April 2, 2014 [17 favorites]

I am an engineer. This is every sales-oriented meeting I attend.

The secret phrase is "I'll be happy to look into that for you." Never say no.
posted by olinerd at 1:35 AM on April 2, 2014 [12 favorites]

I sometimes serve as a statistical consultant, and this describes many of my meetings. But the one thing it was missing was them saying "But so-and-so, who is also an expert, said we *could* do that!"
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 2:07 AM on April 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

You have to remember to give them something, or at least to let them think they got something. They want to walk out of the meeting feeling like the smartypants boss who showed those engineers how to do their jobs better. It validates them as wearers of suits and shiny shoes.
posted by pracowity at 2:42 AM on April 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Let me be the first to point out that there IS NO BALLOON IN THE SHAPE OF A KITTY in this video.. I want my 7 minutes back...
posted by HuronBob at 2:46 AM on April 2, 2014 [3 favorites]


It's transparent.
posted by Joey Michaels at 2:54 AM on April 2, 2014 [12 favorites]

This post needs a trigger warning.
posted by snwod at 3:16 AM on April 2, 2014 [15 favorites]

Hit way too close to home, just like the Hot air baloon joke that I've seen making the rounds lately.
posted by koolkat at 3:27 AM on April 2, 2014

Never ever go to the whiteboard!! Nothing good ever happens in basements or at whiteboards.
posted by bleep at 4:02 AM on April 2, 2014

It's like watching a horror movie that is utterly indistinguishable from real life.

posted by MartinWisse at 4:12 AM on April 2, 2014 [10 favorites]

Oh god. "I understand you're a specialist in a particular field, so you don't have the overall picture..."

posted by fraula at 4:24 AM on April 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

I remember the annual review where my "negative feedback" was that I was "too theoretical". This apparently because I believe that math can be used to understand chemical phenomenon.

No if anyone needs me I'm going to go hide under my bed and whimper.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 4:27 AM on April 2, 2014

I'm the kitten girl :(
posted by Potomac Avenue at 4:30 AM on April 2, 2014 [4 favorites]

Someone linked me this video the other day; I suppose I should've posted it, but it's like a PTSD trigger for me. My "favorites," all from a particular job:
  1. Can you add Chinese to the system? (This system didn't even support accented characters. The "brilliant architects" from the division's startup days didn't know what Unicode was.)
  2. We want to do the same thing that credit card processors do, but charge less for retailers. How much of a team would you need to get a prototype done in a month?
  3. Can we run it without a database, since the database is slow?
  4. Why are your estimates so long? [The startup engineers] used to do stuff like this in a couple of days! (That's why your system was a pile of shit!)
  5. I guess you're just in it for the money. (After I turned in my resignation to take a different job offer.)
posted by sonic meat machine at 4:46 AM on April 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Well, at least he got it right in the end.
posted by valkane at 4:57 AM on April 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

That "expert" is an idiot out of his depth. I would not have said so thirty years ago; then, I would have been squarely in the twitching PTSD sufferers camp. But I'm old now, and I've been around the block a few times, and he really is an idiot and arrogant with it.

At no time did the client specify that the lines have to be straight. In fact, both the "perpendicular amongst themselves" and "kitten" requirements make it perfectly clear that they can't be.

Make part of the background red, and you can print lines over that with transparent ink and they will be perceptible as a difference in surface texture and they will be red.

Drawing red lines with green(ish) ink is trickier but still perfectly do-able. All you need to do is make sure that they are continuations of clearly red lines originating elsewhere, that the net effect of the green ink interacting with the background is to turn it pale grey, make the background outside the line slightly green and extremely blue. Color perception is quite trickable as long as there's only a careful gradient, rather than an obvious hard boundary, between the line's red-ink and green-ink sections.

Also, the dude doesn't seem to think there's any important difference between a kitten and a cat. Expert my arse. I bet I charge less than he does, too.
posted by flabdablet at 5:00 AM on April 2, 2014 [13 favorites]

He also could have managed at least three straight, perpendicular-to-each-other lines had he gone for a 3D logo. Just saying. Stopping at "more than two is impossible" is clearly not thinking outside the two-dimensional box.
posted by olinerd at 5:04 AM on April 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

olinerd's solution is ingenious but unfortunately it doesn't scale.
posted by flabdablet at 5:07 AM on April 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

Any number of lines can be perpendicular given enough dimensions. Also, he didn't even TRY to redefine the colorspace.
posted by blue_beetle at 5:13 AM on April 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

I think you can do 7 perpendicular lines in a 2d hyperbolic space.
posted by Jpfed at 5:22 AM on April 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

You could also have the logo moving away from the viewer at sufficient speed so that no matter what color (or lack thereof) the lines are made of, it will appear red in the viewer's frame of reference.

I think we've got this, guys.
posted by olinerd at 5:24 AM on April 2, 2014 [9 favorites]

I have mostly worked with other technical people -- programmers who went into management, hobbyist programmers who became entrepreneurs (very dangerous), engineers who know a little C (even more dangerous).

But I did have one manager who was exactly like this, despite also writing code. His code was eldritch and squamous, but he wrote enough of it to know better.

Customers are, of course, worse. We had several who did not understand why we couldn't write code that would make data in Hong Kong appear in North Carolina faster than light. "Can't you just anticipate latency and compensate for it like Call of Duty does?"
posted by Foosnark at 5:31 AM on April 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

This is so familiar that it makes me want to quit my job.
posted by odinsdream at 5:33 AM on April 2, 2014

So many times. So many times. And in different roles - as an engineer, as a writer, as an editor, as a content strategy chap (my life progression is not working out, mum). I think the highest form of this particular art lies in social media strategy meetings, at least in my experience. Metric-based goal setting comes a close second.

(On the other hand, one of the best bits of being a journalist is being in meetings with people like that who want you to write about them, because you can ask them to explain themselves and they have to.)

Strategies that work to preserve sanity and, sometimes, achieve useful results: ask questions about what they're trying to achieve. Ask for existing examples of what they're trying to achieve, and what about them they wish to emulate or improve. Present existing examples and ask for their opinions on them. Advanced techniques, at which I'm not much good, include presenting saner ideas in a way that makes it look like they were their ideas all along; becoming enthusiastic about their ideas and saying there's lots of interesting research into that and you'll forward it (actually forward evidence for your preferred counter-argument/proposal).

I should say I've had the good fortune to work for long periods of time with sales and marketing people who are intelligent, respect the opinions of others, think clearly and creatively, and know when to push for something that turns out to be worth pushing for. It is a joy.
posted by Devonian at 5:34 AM on April 2, 2014

In my engineering job:

Client: "Right, well, and this piece that gets welded onto the end of this rod needs to be a solid sphere of stainless steel, six inches in diameter, but it must weigh less than two pounds."

Me: "Ok, do you just want a shiny ball? Or does it specifically need to be stainless? Can it be hollow?"

Client: "No. It absolutely needs to be stainless. And solid."

Me: "Yes, ok, well, I can do all of those things, but it will weigh more than two pounds."

Client: "That's unacceptable. We require a stainless sphere six inches in diameter and it must be less than two pounds. Why is that so difficult?"

Me: "Well, density. It's difficult because of the density of stainless steel."

Client: "My boss has made this a priority. Just make it happen."
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 6:23 AM on April 2, 2014 [6 favorites]

Did y'all read the thing about toddlers earlier?

I ask because the clients in this situation are effectively toddlers, but with fewer physical outbursts when you can't actually break the laws of physics for them.
posted by plinth at 6:33 AM on April 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've seen the theater version of this. I was sitting in the light booth with one of my favorite light designers doing the initial tech run for a show; we went through each of the light cues, showing them to the director. When the director approved, he would give me notes about how to execute them; if the director needed to tweak things he'd tweak them. Before we began he was telling me about his crazy current schedule, and when I remarked on that he said that he was fine, he was just trying to "stay Zen" about it.

During the work, he showed the director one cue - a very slow light fade - and the director asked if it could fade even slower. "I've got it set to go as slow as this machine can fade," he said.

"But can it go even slower?" the director asked.

The light guy paused. "I'll see what I can do," he said, and tinkered with a few things before coming up with something that the director declared himself happy with.

But because I was up in the booth with him, I was able to hear that the whole time he was working on it, he was muttering the phrase "I am a Zen master" under his breath.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:53 AM on April 2, 2014 [4 favorites]

This is why life is easier if you are not an expert about anything.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 7:33 AM on April 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

in my office, we have "experts" who are people who are the most familiar with a topic, but perhaps don't actually have any chops. I am one of them. I refuse to say "expert" when referring to anyone.
posted by rebent at 7:55 AM on April 2, 2014

This story will give me away to some people but: I live this everyday but may years ago we were in a meeting and we were requested to do the exact "Opposite" of the original design and not one person would listen, (these people MADE the original design) that the request changed the design in fundamental ways they would not like it. After being completely frustrated we agreed and said it would take "Enormous amount of time and effort" to undo what we had spent doing but we would. I set to my desk and created an If statement with a variable bWhimFlag and completed the change setting the flag to true. Sure enough we were asked to change it back and forth 17 TIMES!!!!!!!! each time I said it would take x hours (knowing that no one knew what version software etc was (or you know even just baking up the files but we were angry)) we had many long lunches and not a few movies with that flag.
posted by mrgroweler at 8:04 AM on April 2, 2014 [9 favorites]

When a client asks you to do something plainly ridiculous, the correct answer is to nod gravely, caution them that it does sound "ambitious", "aggressive", or "challenging" (if they're nerds, say 'ambitious', if they're bro-dudes, say 'aggressive', if you can't read them, say 'challenging') and then tell them that you need to begin with a "technical proof of concept" or maybe a "pilot project". On a time-and-materials basis.

Most of the time, these sort of bizarre requirements come from underlying politics within the client organization. It's often important, for face-saving purposes, that somebody actually sweat over them before declaring them to be Really Stupid Ideas and moving on to something else. I've been engaged as a consultant at times specifically to fail at doing the impossible, but in doing so to provide the justification for something that will work.

They're interesting projects in a way, because the goal isn't to succeed, it's more or less to fail but in a very particular way, and then to explain why you didn't succeed in a way that thoroughly discredits the bad idea but without personally offending anyone. So you do your best Charlie Brown running-at-the-football a few times, and then settle in to put together a nice whitepaper on why physics, mathematics, the current limits of materials science, and/or certain aspects of Federal law sadly prohibit the approach from being successful at this time.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:30 AM on April 2, 2014 [18 favorites]

spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints: a direction to consider.

I can do anything. I'm an expert.
posted by flabdablet at 9:15 AM on April 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Somewhat related, tax-doing monkeybagels.
posted by hades at 10:30 AM on April 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

I refuse to say "expert" when referring to anyone.

Welll, just remember that an ex is a hasbeen and a spurt is a drip under pressure.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:13 AM on April 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

posted by flabdablet at 11:17 AM on April 2, 2014

To me, the most perceptive thing about this video was the fact that when the client first lays out her demand for red lines in green and transparent ink she mumbles it out so quickly and off-handedly that even I didn't quite catch it at first, and assumed it to be a rational demand that I simply didn't understand. Too often, these absurdities lie hidden in other peoples' insecure efforts to sound like they know what they're talking about.
posted by bicyclefish at 11:40 AM on April 2, 2014

I'm surprised that no one asked why they simply couldn't just add four extra dimensions.
posted by sexyrobot at 11:46 AM on April 2, 2014

That's what the transparent ink is for.
posted by flabdablet at 11:58 AM on April 2, 2014

has-been drip under pressure....

Dang, MartinWisse.
That's my line!
posted by drhydro at 12:06 PM on April 2, 2014

The most useful thing I've learned from IT is knowing the difference between people who talk to convey specific information, and people who talk to make themselves feel better. The former you engage with, the latter you let them talk until they are pleased with themselves, and they'll leave you alone to get to work.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 2:53 PM on April 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

Wow! Massive flashbacks while watching that. So true it's scary.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 5:40 PM on April 2, 2014

This is why a good business analyst is worth their weight in gold. They handle the clients insane demands and parse them into actual, workable, billable projects. They are level 10 bullshitters, and the really good ones are also about level 7 on the expert side too.

Granted this sort of person is not easy to find, but when you find them they are highly deserving of your trust and competitive wages
posted by Doleful Creature at 6:42 PM on April 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

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