Four employer branded t-shirts sitting unworn in my drawers
We’ve just had new wardrobes fitted in our main bedroom. This is news for much celebration as said room has been sat unused for nearly 18 months pending a refurbishment that’s taken far longer than it ever should have.
The previous owners used it as an office so when we inherited it, it was equipped with nothing but a blind over the window. There wasn’t even carpet. Merely stripped floorboards.
Whilst it’s not quite finished, the arrival of new wardrobes allows us now to put down flooring, then get the bed in and finally start using the room again. Indeed, I’ve already started loading up the wardrobe, moving many of my clothes that were previously in my son’s bedroom or in a store cupboard.
This is also an excuse to sort through what I have. Get rid of old clothes that don’t wear, that are worn out, or that simply don’t fit any more. Am I really ever going to wear that bobble hat that someone gave me once (and I can’t even remember who?) Probably not. Bobble hats look stupid on me.
But buried in one drawer are some clothes I really don’t know what to do with. Four t-shirts. Four branded t-shirts. Four t-shirts with the logo of an employer on them.
T-shirts obtained for various work projects. T-shirts I never wear. Have barely worn. Wouldn’t consider wearing. But I have them. And have dutifully kept them in my chest of drawers ever since they were given me.
And this is what they look like.
I have now worked on two different projects called myBBC, but the first was my first ever big technology project, not long after joining BBC Online in early 2000.
I wrote about it before, so I won’t repeat myself. But in short it was a customisable homepage. We said personalised at the time. But it was customisable. It didn’t learn. You told it. That’s customisation in my book.
Anyway, it was one of the most complicated web projects the BBC had done at that point. The budget was huge. Management had budgeted with the idea that we’d need to throw everything away and start again from scratch. Twice. So they were quite happy when we delivered a working product first time, and then launched it successfully.
To celebrate the team decided to get a t-shirt. We all chipped in a fiver for this blue t-shirt with the discrete myBBC Online logo that the product used.
Unlike the other t-shirts, I did wear it a few times and then stopped for no apparent reason. It’s also the only one I paid for.
I spent eight years working for BBC Red Button. For several years it traded under the name BBCi.
Initially BBCi had a logo containing four blocks – the usual three BBC blocks, then an i in the fourth. And initially the brand was also used on web and mobile.
After a while though, the brand became exclusively used for red button so a new logo was commissioned.
I could be very wrong, but I think it was done in house by one of our team. And it featured a red button. And because the BBC at that point had a little more money to splash than it does now, they gave us t-shirts to celebrate. Also designed by a member of our UX team.
Not many people wore them. But some did. This seems to be a good point to say that I personally think a branded mug is more useful. And cheaper. But that’s just me.
This Is Gonna Be Amzn
It’s 2011. I’ve left the BBC and joined LOVEFiLM in Acton, West London. At that point it’s best known for DVD rental, but increasingly developing its streaming video service.
By the time I join, LOVEFiLM had been acquired by Amazon, but it’s operating as a stand-alone subsidiary. It’s a nice place to work. Although now quite a big operation, it still feels like a small one. You can wander up to the CEO’s boss and have a chat with him.
Amazon has its own team in Seattle doing similar stuff. And both Amazon and LOVEFiLM subcontract TV app development to a company near Farringdon called PushButton. I know PushButton. They’d done some projects for the BBC that I’d worked on. Projects that didn’t involve t-shirts.
As I would learn during my time there, Amazon don’t particularly like using third parties for something that they consider is part of their core competence. Hiring a facilities management company is fine, but another company to do software development? That’s a no-no. So Amazon simply buy PushButton.
This means it now has three different groups doing technology work in the digital video (and DVD rental) space. Plus a handful in Sweden who handle LOVEFiLM’s Scandinavian operation.
Amazon does the obvious thing. It merges all the development teams together. Everyone would become part of Amazon, and the two London teams would be brought together in the same place.
Not everyone is impressed with the idea. Some depart swiftly. Including my boss. Not long after being dragged into a project related conference call on a Sunday afternoon, he saw how being in management was going to be like. His resignation followed quickly. He was extremely apologetic to his team about leaving, but I don’t blame him one bit.
Most of us though hang around, to see what will happen.
What happens does so the following April when the teams in Farringdon and Acton are moved into a the new Amazon Development Centre London, near Barbican. It’s officially opened by Mayor of London, Boris Johnson. During his visit he hangs around the 5th and 6th floors. Not being a member of his fan club, I stay firmly on the first, ignoring all pleas from management to join him upstairs.
Anyway, what do you do when you try to incorporate people from two different companies into a third? Well you give everyone a t-shirt with with “Founder Member” written on the back. Get everyone to wear it. Then take a massive group photo of everyone. Then frame the photos and put them on the wall.
Within a year, a good number of the people on that photo had departed. I left two and a half years later, a few months before Amazon Video was to depart for offices in Leadenhall. Those were temporary lodgings before a new office in Shoreditch was ready. No doubt those photos that were on the wall are long gone.
As for the t-shirt. Well I never wore it again after that photograph. One big reason was they cocked up when ordering them, and didn’t get enough large ones. The t-shirt I got was too small. And it remains too small to this day.
LOVEFiLM was the product of acquisitions and mergers. DVDsOnTap, Screen Select, Video Island, In-Movies, and Online Rentals were just some of the companies that would eventually form LOVEFiLM.
The name itself came from DVDsOnTap who rightly recognised their brand name was terrible and took a new one in 2003. The Acton offices came from ScreenSelect. As did the technology stack.
But in 2014 that stack was getting old and crusty. The decision was taken to start migrating the European services onto the US Amazon Video stack, and then onto the Amazon website.
That was Project Phoenix. And yes, there was a t-shirt. Because that’s what you did.
Most of my work on Phoenix happened way before it even had a project name. I had the “simple” task of trying to work out how to migrate the European customers to use their Amazon login. There were about 100 different account types thanks to all the mergers and takeovers. And no one person knew them all.
It all needed rationalising. So I got to it. But just when I thought I’d covered all bases, someone else would come along and say “What about these guys?” and I’d have another batch to deal with.
It took months. And resulted in a huge piece of documentation. But then my contribution to Project Phoenix was over, and I was despatched to do other projects. Thus I was one of the few people in the office who escaped the stress, pressure and late nights of Project Phoenix. On the other hand, I didn’t deliver any projects for over a year. Because instead I spent a year defining future projects that never got built as there were no spare developers to build them.
Anyway, in February 2014 Phoenix eventually launched. Whether they liked it or not, LOVEFiLM’s customers found they were now customers of Amazon instead. But hey, everyone got a t-shirt on it. Well the staff. Not the customers.
But by this point I was definitely not enjoying Amazon. Not long after I got moved to some other projects. Those I’d spent a year preparing were given to someone else. (At one point he went on holiday as one of them was finally launching. Guess who got to fill in for him…)
Initially I thought the new projects would be interesting. And they had – at least – got some developers. But whilst the team were great, I was increasingly getting fed up of life at Amazon. It wasn’t working for me. Too much stress. Too many late nights. And it was becoming clear that equally they didn’t particular want me. At the end of November I jumped before I could be pushed.
Doing that has to one of the best decisions I have ever made. Nine months after Phoenix launched, I had my own rebirth.
It was also the last t-shirt. In the five years since, there haven’t been any more.
There was a mug though. But that’s a whole other story.