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My ATT Story – Reneging on a ‘Win back’

Sadly, this story is not even over yet (update: I think I’ve given up), but I want to start telling it now. It involves trying to save some money by moving my wife’s and my phones to T-Mobile, and then ultimately being ‘won back’ by ATT.  Apparently being ‘won back’ includes:

  • 7 hours, 45 minutes (and counting!) spent with ATT reps either on the phone or at a store.
  • Conversations with 11 different ATT representatives to resolve the issue.
  • Having my phone reactivated with the wrong number and as a result, deactivating my wife’s phone.
  • Being told after switching back to ATT that the agreed upon monthly bill that I was ‘won back’ on is a mistake and is not possible.
  • Having ATT store reps tell me that customer service is closed when it is really open.
  • Having T-Mobile explain the ins and outs to ATT on how to port a phone number between two carriers.

The Goal

My wife and I had a Family Talk Rollover 700 plan with ATT with two phones, under contract for another 6 months.  I planned on moving us over to T-Mobile to go from spending $150 a month to $60 a month (using the pre-paid plan with unlimited text, data, and 100 minutes of talk).

The Play by Play – Enjoy!


I unlock my phone from ATT via the unlock web portal, and move to T-Mobile.  For the next few weeks, I enjoy T-Mobile and decide that while the coverage isn’t as good as ATT, given the price, it’s good enough to move my wife’s number to as well.


9AM (45 min): Unfortunately, I can’t unlock my wife’s phone, so I call ATT.  I also notice that I now have a $145 dollar charge added to my bill.  I am told that the charge was the early termination fee for unlocking my phone; I didn’t realize of this charge and they mentioned that they didn’t know how it was possible that I unlocked my phone in the first place, because they would have mentioned it to me before I unlocked it.

Ultimately to unlock my wife’s phone, the same charge would apply – for a total of $280.  That made the economics of switching to T-Mobile more tricky.  They asked me if I’d like to return to ATT instead and see what would entice me.  I mention that I don’t have enough time to decide and that I would call back later.


9PM (1 hour):  Talked with Rebecca – RS141F – we worked through a way for me to return to ATT from T Mobile.  I got a credit of $163, and would be moving our two phones to the Mobile Share plan, which would cost us $65 a month total, for unlimited text, talk, and 2gb of shared data.

We couldn’t finish because the people who would complete the transfer had gone home for the night.  She said she would call the next day at 1:30PM to finish everything up.


1:30PM (10 min): I get no phone call from Rebecca.  So I call trying to reach her – ultimately that isn’t possible and I run out of time during the middle of the day, so I realize that I’m going to need to call ATT later that night.

9PM (1 hour): I call ATT back and need to explain everything that has happened so far to a new person (no longer talking to Rebecca).  The final piece of the puzzle was to port my phone number back from T-Mobile to ATT.  I was told to give this ATT rep all my login information for T Mobile, including my birthdate, drivers license #, last 4 digits of my SSN, employer, and T-Mobile PIN number.

With this information, ATT would make the request to T-Mobile on my behalf.  The ATT rep said that they did that, and that I should expect an email from ATT saying that the phone number had been ported from T-Mobile to ATT, and the I would have a link to activate my phone with ATT.  It was mentioned that this should happen very quickly, but in the worst case, it would take 72 hours.


6:30PM (20 min): I have waited almost 24 hours, and I haven’t received an email from ATT saying that the port has completed.  So I call T-mobile.  They tell me that in fact they have no record whatsoever of even an attempt to port my number back to ATT, and they recommend I call ATT and have them do it on the phone with T-Mobile while I am on the line.

7:30PM (45 min): I call back ATT to explain to them the process of having a phone ported.  I successfully get an ATT rep and a T-Mobile rep on the line at the same time, and we make the number successfully port.  However, to activate the phone on ATT, I am now told that I need to get a different sim card from what I had before I switched to T-Mobile.  Therefore I need to go to the store to get a new sim card.  I also ask about ensuring that my early termination fee reimbursement goes through, and they say that the store can help with that, so I decide to run to the store and hopefully finish this whole thing.

8:15PM (1 hour): I visit the ATT store (3251 20th Ave, SF) and they give me a new sim card, which successfully activates my phone.  They mention though that they can’t speak to ensuring the early termination fee reimbursement will happen, and that while it should happen, I should probably just call customer support for that.  They say that they can’t call customer support and that they are closed ( that I found later was not true).

In addition, I simply asked to verify that my bill was set up correctly – and that it was $65 a month total for my wife and I to have unlimited text, minutes, and 2gb of shared data.  They said that they could not verify that, and that while the best that they could imagine was $90 a month given the plans, only the ‘retention department’ could verify.  Obviously that was unsettling, so I wanted to call ATT support and verify.

9:30PM ( 45 minutes): I get home, and of course realize that ATT customer support *is* in fact open, so I call them to verify the billing questions.  Upon calling though, I realize that my phone now has my wife’s number!  And her phone doesn’t work at all.

The ATT rep told me that the only way to fix this was to go back to the store and get a new sim card.  In the mean time, I could take my sim card and put it in my wife’s phone so that her phone would work with her number.

As for the billing questions, he does verify that I should be automatically be credited back the early termination fee, and basically if it doesn’t happen in 2 months, to call.

However, he does not verify that I’m getting $65 a month for the Mobile Share plan.  Instead he says that he sees that I have a $10 credit each month for the next 12 months applied towards the normal $90 plan.  Of course, this is the first time I have even heard of this discount – but any way you slice it, it is not what had been promised.


10:30AM ( 2 hours ): I return to the ATT store to get my phone fixed.  This is successful; I then spend the next two hours speaking with the store sales manager and the retention department over the phone about my discount.

Now I learn that the $10 credit each month mentioned the previous day is actually no longer true – this was apparently only available on my Family Talk plan and I had been misinformed by the previous rep that this discount would happen.  So, instead of at least thinking that I would be charged $80 instead of $65, now it’s $90 instead of $65.

The rep says in no way can he offer me what ATT had promised and said that while he didn’t want to lose me as a customer, he understood if I left.

I’ve Given Up.

That I think was the extent of my willingness to fight this.  That’s 8 hours, or more than 0.001% of my life expectancy, in fighting ATT.  That’s 8 hours that I didn’t spend hanging out with my family.  I have given more than $10,000 to ATT in the form of mobile phone payments throughout my life – I would have hoped that they’d find some organization, efficacy, and frankly, empathy, to help resolve this.

After I take a few days to not think about mobile phone carriers, I’ll be returning to T-Mobile (or any carrier that doesn’t do this).

Success By Numbers

One of my many illnesses is defining my life’s success by numbers.  Do I have an amazing wife, son, dog, home, and overall quality of living?  Absolutely. Do I have my health?  I’m lucky to say that for now, I do.  Those alone should qualify as success.

Yet in this world, that’s not enough.  Success comes with achieving bigger and bigger goals.  And to do that, you have to strive to be better.  And I have wanted to be better as long as I could remember.  I don’t know where it came from.  This sort of competition (mostly with myself, but often in the context of others) was not drilled into me by my parents.

Making better a measurable thing is addicting. Never mind becoming a better person – how can you quantify that???  Really the questions should be: how many goals have you scored this season? What’s your GPA?  What’s your SAT score?  How many times in a row can you make a free throw?  What’s your net worth?

At the ripe age of 36, I think I’m finally getting it and broadening my horizons…  Not everything I work on today is to improve some number.  But old habits die hard….

One of my number addictions relates to running.  I don’t run to be in shape.  I run to get faster.  There are great benefits to running like improved mental and physical health, but honestly, that’s secondary.  I run to win.

After a 5 month break from running, today I begin my renewed focus on getting better. The Kaiser Half Marathon, held on February 2, 2014 is what I have set my sights on. In the 2013 race, I ran my best time ever – a 1:23:30.  That’s 6:22 per mile for 13.11 miles.  I would have never thought that was possible even a year before.

For the upcoming race, I want to break 1:20:00.  For some reason, that number is important to me.  Do I get a prize for doing it?  Nope.  Is it important enough to get up during darkness, six or seven days a week, every week for 5 months, and go running?  Strangely, it is.

Why do I do this?


Whole Foods Charity Scam

I have always admired Google’s corporate slogan, ‘Don’t Be Evil’.  It’s such a great core value to have permeate through everything you do, and during the relatively short time I got to spend at Google, I really felt that it was built into the fabric of the company.

Fast forward to a Friday night in San Francisco.  For me that involved going to Whole Foods to get some groceries.  Whole Foods is such a feel good place.  They make you feel great about the local, organic products you are buying.   They even ask you if you want to do something good for the community every time you swipe your credit card:

Your total is $49.35.  Would you like to round that up to an even $50 and give that to your local charity?

Nothing says feeling good like giving back.

Except tonight, with my mind unusually clear, it hit me like a ton of bricks: Whole Foods is running a brilliant, legal, and FUCKING LAME charity scam.  Yes, they give that extra 65 cents to charity.  And then they use that 65 cents as a sweet tax break to offset other income.

Quick math: Whole Foods had $12bn in top line revenues last year.  Let’s assume that the average bill is $50, and all WF stores have this charity program, with 20% of transactions participating ( I see it happen all the time ), and the average round up figure being 50 cents.  They can offset $24 million dollars in income.  Assuming a tax rate of roughly 33%, Whole Foods gets $8 million additional cash for you being so charitable. In the grocery business, where margins suck, an additional $8mm in free cash flow is a big deal.

To add insult to this, in San Francisco you are charged for bags now, so most people bring their own when shopping.  When you do, Whole Foods gives you a small credit (5 cents per bag):

I see you brought 3 bags – would you like the credit or would you like to have us donate it to charity?


Whole Foods boasts an incredible culture and set of core values.  Sometimes realizing what is actually going on behind the happy smiles makes me sad.  Not sure it makes them evil, but it’s pretty weak sauce.





What Actually Motivates You At Your Job

Have you ever thought about what is the #1 important thing to you about your job?  It’s a difficult exercise, but try rank sorting the following:

  • Having a great boss
  • Getting paid well
  • Getting recognized by peers
  • Liking your coworkers
  • Making progress on your tasks
  • Work / life balance
  • Learning / Growth

Man, that is like, really hard.  I want them all.  Everyone always says that you quit your boss, so maybe then having a great boss should be #1?


I recently read a book that did a study of tens of thousands of employees (and had them keep journals) and did actual quantitative analysis of what made them happy in their job.  Really interesting stuff.

Turns out that the overwhelming thing that drove work fulfillment was GETTING SHIT DONE.  Well, more acutely and less profanely, making progress on meaningful work.  Doing a mundane task that had impact on a larger mission was still a positive event – and working on something cool/complex that wasn’t deemed important was not a positive event. Indeed bad relationships with coworkers or even bosses obviously negatively impacted work fulfillment, but it wasn’t as large of a factor as making (or not making) meaningful progress.

The book is called the Progress Principle, and it’s definitely worth a read.




Why is the Gaming Industry So Far Behind?

I’m one of the rare people who has split his career (and moved back and forth) between the web and gaming industries.  Having that experience has given me a different perspective, especially on how games are made.

The smartest people I have ever worked with in my career have been in the games. Despite that, game development seems in the dark ages compared to web development.

Fail Fast

My last project in gaming, RIFT, took five years to build, and more than $50mm in investment.  It did well – but what if it didn’t?  What if, right before launch, a different product came out that made ours obsolete?  What if we launched and people seriously just did not care?

To stem this risk, the web / mobile app industry gets *something* out as fast as possible and tries to learn if anyone cares about the product.  Because that risk is even sometimes too high, ‘Fake Doors’ were invented – just put up a website for a product that doesn’t even exist, and see if people take an action (like clicking a button) that would show interest.

The only game I can think of that launched early was Minecraft.  And hey, it did ok.


Once you get your product out there, either in 5 years or 5 months, you are flying blind unless you know what your users are doing.  Aside from Zynga, I don’t know of a large gaming company that is hard-core into understanding how the product is used at the finest level on a moment to moment basis.

In Squawk, and just about every other web and mobile app product, we track *everything *.  We are a small team and yet have custom nightly reports as well as have integrated many third party SDKs like Flurry, MixPanel, KISSMetrics, etc..  Even more importantly, this metric data tells us what to do next.

Also, I have never, ever, seen an A/B test written or implemented in the gaming industry.


On RIFT, we made a new build each day.  On a different gaming project that I was consulting on, they got a new build … once a week.  And that was somehow ok.  In the web space, a build is continuously created and deployed as fast as possible, often thousands of times in a month.  There are often more steps and asset crunching in the build process for games, I get that.  But often there isn’t the attitude that it needs to be faster, whereas it is obsessed over in the web space.

Seemingly every system in the gaming industry is written from scratch (Unity is bucking that trend), whereas a web project is more a big tapestry of open source works from other authors.  Why is that?

A correlated observation: others’ code in the web space is free, and in games it’s not.  Is it because a useful, shareable component in the gaming space is necessarily large and complex, and therefore takes so much of one’s time that you’d need to charge for it?


Did you ever notice that web companies don’t have QA people?  For RIFT, we had around 20.  That’s because in the web space people write tests for everything possible. There could be tens of thousands of tests in a mature product, run every time you compiled, checked in, or deployed.  We basically had none.  And these are the smartest people I’ve ever worked with.  And look, it was in my control to push this. Instead, we had a great QA team.

Especially because games are so complex, you’d think we would have tests.

People Management

I have never seen a more stark contrast between the two industries than when it comes to people.  The gaming industry is notorious for ass-in-chair management, and ‘crunching’.  As in:

We had to work 60 hour weeks for three straight months to make our ship date.  We were told we needed to have X all done, which really wasn’t reasonable. And then they added more stuff.  And then after all of that … launch was delayed.  We got a few days off to ‘recharge’, and then started crunching again.

Do employees at Facebook, Yahoo, Google, and Apple do that?  What about at all hot, A or B round funded start-ups?  Something tells me no.  I can’t think of a gaming company that wants to build a great culture – yet Mark Zuckerberg obsesses about it all the time.

Why oh why oh why????


Which Type of Engineer Are You?

Most of my best ideas come to me in the shower.  Why?  Because they haven’t invented a waterproof iPhone yet.  When that happens, I am pretty sure that I will truly be on content dripfeed 24/7, and my brain will shut off completely.

My realization a few days ago in the shower was that there are three types of software engineers…. only three!

Scientist: Scientists are really smart, and they love really interesting, hard problems.  Often the problems aren’t immediately critical to solve though.  Success for a scientist can be measured by how many patents one has.   Scientists aren’t always great implementers, polishers, or finishers.

Architect: Architects love to build systems.  The code will often be a work of art, have a lot of upfront design diagrams – and built to anticipate future needs.  A huge source of pride for an architect is when a new feature is asked for and the response can be ‘hey, our system was written in such a way that we can handle that easily’!  The downside is that this approach takes longer than expected, and occasionally if it takes really long, by the time it’s done, what has been built and what is needed are actually different.

Do-er: Do-ers love to get stuff done.  And they love lists. Nothing is more rewarding than working through the items on a list and checking them off.  It might not be the most interesting work, but it feels like progress is made.  Bigger picture thoughts, such as code cleanliness or architectural considerations, often go by the wayside.  Do-ers can be great, diligent finishers, but aren’t necessarily the best starters.

When I think through the entire engineering team that I worked with at my last company, I can bucket each person into one of these these three types.

Which type makes the most valuable engineer?

If had to design ‘the perfect engineer’ that had the perfect mix of traits for the type of work I’m involved in, I would say 85% do-er, 10% architect, and 5% scientist.  Does that mean that I think solving hard problems and building systems aren’t critical?  Nope, not all.  It’s just that I place a really big value on shipping and ‘getting shit done’.

So what type of engineer are you?  Or what is your perfect mix?  Why?