Gray Watson Personal Thoughts 2001.01.02
Lycos Take 5

Happy New Year to you out there on the web. I'm writing this at the end of a sobering day. Today marks my fifth year anniversary working here at [Terra] Lycos. I'm one of the old guys -- few and far between these days. I've stayed at the company this long for the following reasons (in order of importance):

  1. I've enjoyed working here
  2. I'm loyal to [Terra] Lycos
  3. and I've got stock options.

If you didn't know me, you might joke that I got the order incorrect -- that the quest for the almighty doll-hair should be at the top of my list. No, I would have left long ago, like many of my colleagues, for different albeit not greener pastures if I did not enjoy my job and enjoy the people with whom I've worked these years. Unfortunately, not only is today my 5 year anniversary but it also my first day at work without my best friend whose last day was Friday. So I find myself introspective about my job, my "career", my home away from home. Please excuse me as I ramble a bit.

Well first off, when I arrived here today, I found that someone had stolen my cube chair and that the thermostat near us was broken forcing me to wear my heavy winter coat at my desk. Not an auspicious beginning. Otherwise a pretty boring day digging out of the inevitable vacation spam mail collection and standard work discussions with long CC lists. I reviewed a requested "bug" fix to the search engine and then punted the issue back to product management with some recommendations for some better solutions. A standard day without excitement which needs to be changed and will be sooner.

So in general, I have always loved my job -- always loved being a [Terra] Lycos Unix hacker. Microsquat is the Evil Empire among us Unix nerds for many reasons but one of the big ones is that it is an Empire with a capital E. Case in point is that they have long since conquered a good bit of the [Terra] Lycos machine rooms. I've heard a lot of information in management meetings about how NT is going to solve all of our problems. Even though most of the proponents are no longer with the company and many of the assumptions of the "technology" have since been proven incorrect, we continue happily down the road. You'd think Compaq would be doing very very well if you peered into our machine room and noted the number of NT servers there. Or maybe the Ops kids have managed to crossbreed the hardware with rabbits.

There are not many of us Unix hackers left here at [Terra] Lycos. Few us would still consider ourselves to be technology people even. We are a dying breed. [Terra] Lycos is a media company now. Sure, I will admit that there are still important technology niches in this company -- especially if you grok XML under NT. There is a lot of glue that holds together a network of sites -- lots of infrastructure to write and support. But the bulk of wind is out of our technological sails, or at least mine. We are a content company now, an eyeball company, a ecommerce company, not a technology company. One of the most frustrating aspects of the migration is that no one could really take a stand and call it like it was with our development team. One of the reasons why I relocated up here to Boston in 1999 was to continue my work on distributed systems with the idea of replacing our centralized servers with inexpensive clusters of smaller systems. We achieved our performance and cost goals but Lycos out-sourced the job to a company who then sat down and finished writing it. No, we have never had the management support necessary to continue to develop the building blocks which started the company and helped make it what it is today, 5+ years later. This is unfortunate because we could have done it big if they have wanted to. I would not have let it fail.

So I'm still here at [Terra] Lycos. The job will get better otherwise I would have already left. There are many opportunities for me here, even given the techno-lite and management-dense feel of the business these days. I am upbeat even considering the stock-market popping noises in the [near] distance. Lycos will drag Terra kicking a screaming into profitability whether it likes to or not and maybe once and while, if I'm lucky, someone will stop me in the hall and ask why we didn't continue to promote our own search engine technology since it was so much better, fast, cheaper than all the rest. Yeah right.

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