Saturday, July 28, 2007

The Upper Right Corner

While chatting with a friend in the business, the topic of graphs in marketing data came up. I put my "unix sysadmin cynic marketing and sales are all evil" hat on and belted out this snarky comment:

"You always go with the guys in the upper right corner."

"What does the upper right corner mean?"

"Who knows. But when has the upper right corner steered you wrong?"

The discussion sparked the memory of the first graph I made as a marketing guy. Technically, my position was titled "Director of Product Performance and Benchmarking" - but it was really just technical marketing without the marketing name. Being a fresh engineering convert, I was still a little unclear on my role and the expected material I was supposed to produce so I did what I always did: wing it.

The first order I got was to get accurate performance numbers on the product. So after getting a lab setup, I proceeded to run a performance test - the first one done outside of engineering's auspices. The data I collected was requests/second vs. object size. In other words, how many times could I ask for a file of a given size per second. The data was great! The product screamed at 20,000 requests/sec for 1k files. As expected, the number of requests/sec that could be made went down as the file sizes grew. The result was a graph that sloped from the top left to the bottom right.

Proud of my first round of data, I wrote it up and sent it to a few sales guys. Chaos promptly ensued.

"I can't sell this!"

"When is it going to be fixed?"

"Is this in all shipping versions?"

One of the sales guys that I had a better relationship with swung by my office and asked for details. I tried to explain it to him - the graph was a good thing! He countered, "Look, I really don't get what you just said. All I know is that performance is going down and I can't sell this."

The conversation was a real eye opener.

With the cc-list growing exponentially and a small posse with fire laden torches looking for who was at fault for this catastrophe, I scrambled to find a solution. I couldn't articulate why at the moment, all I knew was that I had to make the same data go up. Up is good. Up is always good...

While conjuring spirits of graphs past, I found inspiration in the configuring panel of the testing tool - clients. How many clients are needed to generate how much load? It was a problem we struggled with in getting the lab setup with enough machines together to generate enough load in the first place. With more clients, there was more load. More load was a higher number. More load was a graph that went up.

Taking the data and reformatting it as requests/sec vs. clients, I graphed pure happiness. A line that went from the lower left to the upper right -- a line that went up. Up, after all, is goodness. A cut, paste, and resend later, peace returned on the email trail. Torches were extinguished. The posse dispersed. Ever since then, I've fixed countless graphs to make sure they go up.

Up, after all, is good.


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