All posts filed under “rants

I’ve had enough of TalkTalk

My TalkTalk broadband hasn’t been working for the past three days and it looks like it’s never going to work as technical support refuse to believe that there is a fault.

Of all the years I’ve spent calling various company’s technical support numbers, I can honestly say that TalkTalk’s is the most appalling one of the lot. I’m completely livid with their so-called “support”. I’ve spent more than five hours on the phone with their “technical” team since yesterday, all while having to listen to nothing but lies and apologies for being unable to help me. Today I was on a single call that lasted three hours, which had me bounced to-and-from the same departments only to be hung up on. And I don’t mean disconnected, but actually put through to the end of call customer satisfaction survey with a cheerful “Thanks for your call”. One person even said I would have to upgrade my account to get technical support. I don’t think so.

“Oh, there’s no problem with your line”. Yes, I know there’s no problem with the line, I just can’t authenticate with the exchange.

“Oh, your router is not supported”. Yes, it’s worked fine for the past 6 years, so explain that.

If I even dare mention I’m on a Mac, that opens a whole other can of worms.

The only way I’ll be able to get any sense out of them is to have them send me a new router which I guess I have no choice but to do. Either way, I’ve had enough. I’ve already got a reconnection date from BT to move my line back to them and a Virgin Media engineer is coming round next week to get me on their internet service. I’ve heard some bad things about VM, but I really want to take advantage of the high speeds when it does work. I still have a backup broadband connection in the house I can use if it goes down at least.

Whoever thought offshoring technical support/call centres was a good idea should be shot. Has anyone ever had a good offshore call experience? Everyone I’ve mentioned this too has their own horror stories. Yeah, great, it cuts costs, but at what expense? Offshoring wouldn’t be so bad if it meant I could speak to someone who was actually technical. But what’s the point if I’m going to speak to someone who just reads a script to me.

Avoid TalkTalk at all costs.

Update 6/1/12: Inexplicably my broadband has now started working again, a full six days after it first broke. So much for “I can assure you sir there is no problem at our end”. A new router will be arriving soon, which I had to threaten I would cancel my account over to get for free (They wanted me to renew for 12 months). Honestly, I wish I could shove the thing up someone at TalkTalk’s arse.

Pandering to the Mediocre

I recently shed my responsibilities of judging a photo of the day award and it got me thinking a lot about my experience learning photography a while back. I used to spend a hell of a lot of time on Flickr, actively discussing photos and moderating groups and there was always a constant battle over what was worthy of being discussed or allowed in certain pools. Photographers that were told their work was not good enough would demand to know why and would either take the criticism on-board or go away and post to another more forgiving group. In my mind there are two types of groups on Flickr, the mediocre and the amazing. Many will probably say thats an unfair comparison, but whatever.

There are the groups where everyone seems to pat everyone else on the back for taking part and with which I take great offence at. You would go through the photos and see the same recycled themes and junk over and over again, yet they would receive huge amounts of praise and congratulations. The photos would be simple and faceless, with no style, depth or story. You would look at individual’s photostreams and see that for years their skills had remained a constant. I’ve heard it said that to become a great photographer you need to find your “voice”. Those defining themes which means that somone could look at one of your photos and think “A-ha, I bet that was taken by X.”. But here were photographers receiving pats on the back, which were for lack of a better description “photographerless”. My dislike wasn’t at the photographers or there photos themselves, but mainly at the culture of “amateurism”. Learner photographers congratulating other learner photographers, which doesn’t lead to becoming a better photo. How am I to know that I need to improve if I never receive any criticism?¬†How am I to know what I need to improve if I never receive any criticism?

Then there are the “elitist” groups, or rather that was how I viewed them as when I first came across them. I was stuck like many other photographers, unable to get my photos accepted by them, and while many others came and became angry that they too weren’t accepted, I stuck with it and finally made it. It was a stark contrast to the groups mentioned above. Criticism was at the heart and soul of every thread and topic. Moderators were constantly bashed and accused of not knowing what they were doing, yet they had the best photos of virtually any other group in their stream. People’s anger would flair because their own measure of a good photo was so different to what they judged to be good. This anger grew even more because they just didn’t “get it”. They would look at the photos in the stream and scream as to why something was allowed in over their submissions. 99% of the time, they would leave, mostly to the confines of the groups mentioned before, to never return, but some would stay. And as time went by, and as they took on what they were told they quickly got better. They saw the criticism not as an attack on themselves personally, but as an opportunity to grow and develop as a photographer. Then when they were accepted and you looked through their photostream, you would actually see this marked and steady rise in skill. These people truly did find their own voices. They began to “get it”.

It’s easy to pander to the mediocre, because that way you’ll probably never upset anyone. The mediocre like the status quo and like things to remain average. Which is fine if that is where we want to be and all you want to achieve. But if you want to grow and create something great you need to ignore the pats on the back and seek out the criticism, not be angered or put off by it, but take it as an opportunity to grow and become a better version of yourself.

From 0 to 100mph

Drivers to your cars

Get a car, fill it with gas, put some sparkly rims on it, dress it up in a body-kit, stick some brand name decals on it and step back. What happens? nothing. Nothing happens without the driver. Nothing happens without someone getting in the drivers seat, turning the key and stepping on the gas. When it comes to performance and chatting about car lap times, a lot of people will say, that the average Joe in the same car won’t even come close to the same lap times as the pros. The same is true of software teams.

Get a project, fill it with time, assign some developers to it, dress it up in a “respected” language, stick some brand name methodologies on it and step back. What happens? A whole world of pain. Pain happens without a driver. Pain happens without someone getting into the drivers seat, making sure the whole team is constantly onboard and steering them forward.

Change follows the leader

Change needs a leader. Someone who can inspire and lead the team out of the darkness and into the light. I suppose what’s really needed is a project Jesus. The one true light and way. Someone who can mentor and guide those less informed on the various subjects, so that they can go forth and do likewise. Someone who can keep an Eagle eye view of the whole project and swoop in when things start to go a bit off course. Someone to be the general go to guy. I don’t mean bug the poor guy every five minutes, but use their knowledge to forward yourself. Read their code, study their tests and bounce ideas off them.

The collective is not enough

For a team to change, it’s not enough for the team to suddenly try and change course. A rudderless team will go nowhere, or funnily enough probably in a circle. While few may be motivated, and some willing, it’s likely that a few will stand their ground. Flipping burgers is a departure from making subs, but it’s all in the game. The evangalists and the nay-sayers each have their demons and each can just as easily de-rail the train to the end goal.

When change comes about, those who championed the ideas or were motivated to put them into action are fuelled and ready to go, but energy quickly runs out when faced with un-answerable questions because of the knowledge hole in the team. “The client wants this task done asap, how does this affect the sprint?”, “I’ve got this class here which calls this class and this other method, how do I unit test it?”, “Who knows how to set-up a CI server?”. The answers to theses questions are readily available on the internet, but a lot of it can be very subjective as well. Everyone has their limit. It’s tempting to by-pass the iteration and just slip the new task in, because it’s hard to tell a client you’re going to bump something from this iteration to meet their request when you’re not used to doing it. It’s tempting to skip testing that method, because it’s hard to refactor the code to make it testable when you’re not used to doing it. It’s too tempting to keep making builds by hand, because it’s too painful to learn how to implement CI when you’re not used to it.

Understanding and team buy-in

For change to be most effective, the whole team must understand why change needs to happen and how all the seemingly independant parts come together to achieve a common goal. If we don’t understand why, then we can never know how. But the why and the how put together does not always lead to the actual practice. For years I knew why TDD was better. I knew that I should be doing it. I knew that I should be writting my tests first, but I still didn’t. I knew how (or at least I thought I did), but I didn’t bother. The most obvious answer as to why I never did it is laziness, but I think the problem runs deeper then that. Yes, laziness is a factor, ignorance is another, but overall I hadn’t bought into the idea of TDD. I had not invested enough time to ever feel the benefits or to convince me that this is what I need to be doing. I had become de-sensitised to the pain of regular coding and debugging. It was only in that ‘a-ha’ moment, where testing and coding seemed to just flow and work, that I bought into it totally. I was convinced and couldn’t imagine ever going back.

People need to believe in the change and rally round it. People need to feel like it’s for their own benefit (which it is!) and not just for the company they work for (which in the end also benefits!). Work done in dis-belief and cynicism is never a job well done. You get out, what you want put in.