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Accommodating ‘That Guy’

Lessons learned from customers who think “3DX processing” is the cut-rate x-ray version.

You know the type: short, squat, dweebish. Perennially henpecked. Never one of the Cool Kids. A one-man Target-Rich Environment. Has a countenance that screams “kick me.” Always downwind of adversity. Tire tracks traverse the brain. Always slices his tee shot into the high, never-to-be-seen-again fescue on a links course. Never the Roadrunner (always Wyle E Coyote beneath the anvil, and it never ends well). A bug splat on the windshield of life. A crimeless victim.

Unfortunately, in some organizations, scum rises to the top.

These people are dangerous.

They also proliferate.

Vexatious critters such as these pay our bills. They also try the limits of our patience.

Sometimes they act as if we exist solely for their own therapy. We bear the brunt of their lifetime’s compendium of anxieties. In so doing they consume inordinate amounts of (unbillable) hours. They’re adults now, allegedly, which gives them license to waste other’s time. Voluminously.

Time to round up a panoply of the usual suspects, without whom writing this column would be so much more difficult. You emphatically cannot make this stuff up.
Herewith, a catharsis.

Item: “That flying probe job you did for us – when was it? – back in 2013, early in Obama’s second term? Could you look up the pass/fail data on these 75 serial numbers? And could you please give us the specific probe locations at the time each of the 1,347 failures were discovered? And could you do it by close of business tomorrow, if not sooner? I have to include this data in a PowerPoint to management.”

Item: “We’d like to send a job to you for 3DX processing.” Evidently they think this is a cut-rate form of 5DX processing, thus entitling them to a discount.

Who let these people in?

What is to be done?

Contrary to what you’ve been told, they are not always right. In point of fact, they seldom are. But try stopping them. Furrowed brow time. Short, squat, dweebish and henpecked wreaks their revenge.

Item: “Would you mind waiving the NRE charges on this flying probe programming project? We feel justified in asking this because it’s a big order for us.” Never mind the customer hasn’t placed an order in 18 months. They do, however, rate honorable mention for the Chutzpah Award.

Item: “In order to place a quote in our ERP system, you must accept 3% – 25, net 60 terms. Failure to accept these terms will result in disqualification and exclusion from said ERP system. Have a nice day, and thank you for contributing to our success.” Don’t mention it.

We most definitely will not mention that we are banking on your success. Literally.

Item: “You need to be more customer service-oriented if you want to build ICT fixtures for us.” This is code. Decrypted it means the following: “Stop charging us for your engineer’s time installing programs and fixtures, or making service calls when we act like idiots and mess up the program and we have to summon you back for the umpteenth time to clean it up and fix it. Suck it up and enjoy it because you should be satisfied with the privilege of doing business with us.” Right. We’ll go ahead and hire Mother Teresa as our customer service manager. That way we’ll hide our resentment behind a serene countenance.

Mother Theresa aside, Dante reserved a circle of hell for these people. Or he should have.

Item: “I have 67 years’ experience interpreting x-ray images of printed circuit boards (!) and your images do not match my predetermined notion of why this board failed.” They don’t really say that. But they should, in the interest of saving time. Instead, they simply say “thank you,” with little comment and no follow-on orders. Anybody remember why they called us in the first place?

Item: “We don’t put serial numbers on our boards.” So how do you trace them in the event of a failure? “We haven’t had a failure. Our process is so good that we haven’t found that to be necessary.” Really? Then explain the three failures of our in-circuit test of your boards. Further, try explaining the subsequent functional test failure to your OEM customer. “Well, if you insist on serial numbers, then we’ll just skip testing altogether.” Huh?

Perhaps if we discount pricing from 5DX to 3DX it will become more attractive for you.

Of course, when you do that, you lose two dimensions from the test.


Item: “We have ‘issues’ with this board. Your test has illuminated them.” Good. We did our job, even if we had to embellish the customer’s comments beyond the customary single syllables. Also, could we please ban the use of the word “issues,” as it is currently abused in the English language? “Issues” is a euphemism for “problems.” It should be banished to the lexicographer’s basement along with “iconic” and “granular,” never to be seen or heard again. People who use the word “issues” should be pummeled with a blunt instrument.

Action item: Reform the English language. We’ll get right on it.

But I digress.

Item: “We’d like to outsource our functional test development because we lack the internal resources and manpower to support this effort. Please quote based on the attached 75-page Statement of Work.” Done. That’ll be $100,000 please. Seven months’ silence ensues, punctuated only by our follow-up inquiry. “Oh. We figured it would cost no more than $5,000.” Based on what? “We reallocated resources so that we will now develop this product internally.” Thanks for telling us. Six figures concentrates the mind wonderfully. Unfortunately the man-weeks necessary to arrive at that conclusion are not billable.

Resolved: That customers have the hell scared out of them, pricing-wise, before six weeks are wasted developing a concept quote for a functional test system that goes nowhere on account of sticker shock. That way they can’t say they weren’t warned.

Item: Spied on a customer’s 3070 ICT in the center of an active production line, a label reading, “No calibration required.” To our incredulous question, the response: “We had to do that for the sake of our audit.” Shame on the auditor for not asking the right questions. Like, by what authority are you doing this, and can you provide suitable documentation of that authority?

Item: “Thanks for your quote for x-ray services. By virtue of the fact that we are a big, well-known Silicon Valley Name, we are entitled to a significant discount from your usual and customary pricing. We are also entitled to pay you in 60 days or longer. You are further obligated to not bill us until all of the hours contained in the purchase order are consumed,

regardless whether it takes six days or six months. And can you please send copies of packing slips for those 60-day invoices. We don’t seem to have any record of them here.” Spoiled brat attitudes like that give Silicon Valley its “good” name.

Item: “Our senior engineer will not release CAD data to you. He does not release CAD data to anybody outside of our company. He is very protective about guarding our company’s intellectual property.” With the added bonus that he is ignorant of how test programs are made. His zeal in hiding his own mistakes outweighs all other considerations.

And the ever-popular:

Item: “I’ve been in the purchasing profession for 20 years, and this is the first time any vendor has requested CAD data.” Obviously you don’t get out much. You also don’t hide your technical limitations well. Except perhaps to your bosses. Kudos for your well-honed corporate survival skills.

In our profession as test engineers, we catch more systemic failures than merely bad boards.

Finally, there is silence. As in “Yes, we know you x-rayed our board in two hours’ time, with two hours’ advanced notice, but we have no intention of paying you for your services any time soon, and if we stop responding to your eight emails about past due amounts, maybe you’ll just go away.” Rodent logic. Radio silence.

You, dear reader, must be shocked, shocked I say, at such perfidious goings on.

So it goes.