The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

April 4, 2010

Software Development Makes Strange Bedfellows

Filed under: Culture, Technology — Tags: , , — Brian Lutz @ 11:39 pm

There are times in our lives where we find ourselves looking at where we are, where we have been, and how we got from there to here, and just have to wonder where it all went wrong. Fortunately for me, this isn’t one of those times , but as I look back and ponder some of the events that have transpired in my life since the beginning of the year, I do find myself scratching my head. Honestly, I think that if someone had told me on January first where I was going to be at the beginning of April, there is a good chance that I would not have believed them. Yet here I am, having had two or three good curveballs thrown at me by life, just pondering exactly how it is that I have gotten here. Fortunately, all of this has worked out to my advantage (a fact that I am grateful for) but certainly not in any way that I would have expected it to.

At the end of last year, I was working at Microsoft on one of about a dozen different contracts I have been on there over the past decade. Even as a contractor, Microsoft is a relatively nice environment to work in, and for the most part I have enjoyed it, but there are some teams that I have found to be better to work on than others. Unfortunately, the last team I was on was on that I turned out not to be a good fit for, and just before the end of the year, a rather abrupt decision was made to end my contract. Although I thought I got along reasonably well with the team and the job was paying the bills, the work I was doing was a rather significant step backward from what I had been doing on my previous contract, I really wasn’t learning any skills from this that were applicable to anything but the specific job I was working on, and I got the sense that the test development on this particular team really wasn’t heading in the right direction. Facing limited prospects for being able to return to another Microsoft contract due to short eligibility and a still relatively weak job market outside of Microsoft, I had no idea what was going to come next after this.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait long to find out, as a friend of mine who happens to recruit for the local Harvey Nash office contacted me with a potential short-term contract for a small iPhone development studio in Downtown Seattle. Not having a whole lot else going on at the time, I decided to give it a shot in spite of my having spent all of about ten minutes actually using an iPhone before applying (although much of my prior experience in software testing has been on mobile apps, mostly on the Windows Mobile platform.) Upon learning a bit more about the company, I found out they had done a number of iPhone apps for MTV and other media clients, but couldn’t find out much else. I sent a resume over on a Thursday, and was awakened on Monday morning by a call asking if I could report the next day. Some paperwork an a day later I found myself in an old loft apartment in a 120-year old Pioneer square building, where I learned that I would be performing testing on the Beavis and Butt-Head iPhone application they were developing for MTV.

This came as just a bit of a shock, to be honest. Sure, I was familiar with Beavis and Butt-Head (having gone to high school in the mid Nineties, I’m pretty sure I knew of at least one Beavis among my classmates, if not more) but I had always assumed that they had just faded off into obscurity along with most of the rest of the Nineties. Sure they’d get back to the stuff eventually, but they’ve still got plenty of Eighties pop culture to recycle before they got back to that.) In fact, aside from some DVD releases a few years ago, Beavis and Butt-Head hadn’t been seen much of anywhere since they left the MTV airwaves. Oh, and did I mention that back when I was 12 or so I got grounded for watching the Simpsons? I’m pretty sure my mother would have killed me if I had ever been caught watching MTV, much less Beavis and Butt-Head. Nonetheless, the not-so-dynamic duo stared at me from a three-inch screen waiting with a few hundred bugs that needed to be found and fixed. When you’re working in software development, there’s a bit of a natural tendency to try to maintain professionalism by mentally disconnecting the work itself from the subject matter being dealt with, but to be honest, it’s impossible not to take notice of the sheer ridiculousness of the situation when you find yourself having to write a bug report that includes the word “Bunghole” in it, watching 40 minutes worth of video clips full of potty humor to make sure they’re encoded correctly, or spending an hour scouring the Internet in an effort to determine how to translate the word “Fartknocker” into Portuguese. I’m sure my mother must be really proud.

Even if that was all that was all I had going on these days, it would be unusual enough, but another curveball came in the form of the announcement of the Apple iPad, the greatest invention since whatever was the greatest thing before sliced bread  (at least that’s how Steve Jobs and half the Internet seemed to regard it.) As tends to usually be the case with Apple product announcements I met this one with a dose of healthy skepticism, but it seems that people were impressed by what they had seen.  Almost immediately it seems like just about everyone wanted their iPhone stuff to go to the iPad as well, including MTV with the Beavis and Butt-Head app we had been working on.  This meant redoing a lot of the animation inside of the app (and bringing back an artist that had helped out with this earlier in the process) and having to basically go retest everything on the iPad simulator that comes with the SDK (which comes with a fair number of limitations compared to the physical device, which almost nobody outside of Apple except for a few scattered late night talk show hosts had any access to prior to the official launch date)  In one final bit of irony, the iPad version of the app managed to make it into the app store before the iPhone version (which hasn’t actually made it yet as of this writing) in time to be available at the iPad launch. 

None of that quite explains how I managed to end up with an iPad sitting on the desk next to me, purchased with my own money (there will be more on that later, including a semi-thorough review) but with the way things have been going, I can’t say I’m too surprised.  Meanwhile, the short-term contract I started in January has turned out to be a lot less short-term than I expected, and nearly three months later I’m still in, and working on a number of other projects they currently have going.  In the meantime, if for some reason you’re looking for a quick hit of lowbrow 90s pop culture or some flimsy justification for the purchase of an iPad, you can find the app I’ve been working on here:

Beavis and Butt-Head for iPad (iTunes link)

Beavis and Butt-Head for iPhone (Coming Soon)

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