Thursday, July 6, 2006
A Developer’s Guide to Surviving Meetings
There are different kinds of meetings in IT companies. Some make sense, and others don’t; some are interesting, and others boring. Specifically, we can categorize meetings into two different types, as far as developers are concerned:
The short meeting. In this type of meeting, the developer isn’t present at all until a technical question pops up. This results in someone running to the developer’s desk asking the developer to please attend the meeting for a minute. When the developer enters the room, the question posed from someone in the puzzled meeting crowd will be along the lines of “Is it possible to export Excel files to XML, and then print the XML?”
Now, the answer to this question is always “Yes, that’s technically possible.” Ask a cook if it’s possible to boil 10 fish heads for a week and them stack them up vertically on a plate, and you’ll get the same answer. When the developer turns around to leave the meeting room he’ll be thinking “Yes, it’s possible, but no sane soul on earth would ever wanna do that” but that’s really besides the point.
The long meeting. Now, with long meetings for which the developer is asked to be present at all times, we can further subdivide into two groups:
1. Non-developers listen and talk. This one might end up being a constructive meeting. Surviving it is a breeze.
2. Non-developers talk, but never listen. This one is a bit more tough. From a developer perspective it’s useless to try to say something in those meetings, but that’s not necessarily bad. There are two cases here; a) the non-developers tell you something interesting, and b) the non-developers tell you something old, boring and redundant.
As you can see from above, the only type of meeting you literally need to survive is the long meeting of sub-category 2b. Here are the main survival strategies:
- Buzzword Bingo. In this fun game, you map out a 4x4 grid of office-speak catchphrases. Like “ASAP” or “B2B” or “Enterprise Solutions” or “monetize.” Whenever any of these phrases is mentioned, you strike them through, and as soon as you hit 4 in a row (vertical, horizontal or diagonal) you jump up and scream “Bingo.”
- Imagine everyone’s naked. Wasting time is the first objective of surviving long and boring meetings, and the hilarity that ensues when you imagine everyone else sitting around naked shouldn’t be underestimated.
- The Coffee Maneuver. Crucial to this tactic are your timing and your acting skills. At a point when the meeting seems to be at a less important phase, somewhere around minutes 5-10, you casually get up and say “I’m getting some coffee.” You then disappear without a trace for the next 40 minutes, and after that, you equally casually return and sit down again for the remaining time, pretending nothing unusual happened.
- Tell yourself jokes. Thinking of something funny while gazing out the window (and occasionally nodding along) is highly effective to shorten the perceived meeting length. However, this approach comes with the danger of you suddenly starting to giggle. An excuse like “no, no, this wasn’t about this meeting at all” might make others keep face, but also gives away your strategy.
- Camouflage Sketching. Sketching along on a piece of paper for the duration of the meeting is a nice time-waster. The trick here is to make it look like you’re writing down key points from what people are saying, when actually you’re drawing something like this...
- The important disturbance. For this strategy, you need a partner outside the meeting. Ask your colleague to call your mobile phone on a scheduled time within the meeting. Your colleague may also enter the conference room and tell you that there’s “a call on your phone that can’t wait.” You’ll excuse yourself and leave the meeting.
- Solve real problems. If you’re currently programming on some larger project, you’ll inevitably end up thinking about solutions to challenges you’re facing. Embrace this, but when you find a solution don’t snap your fingers and say “I got it!”, unless this sentence happens to fit within the ongoing meeting discussion in some way.
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