Wednesday, 16 June 2010

The meaning of recognition

A few years ago, NAG decided to brush up its public image and issued its staff with The Company Shirt (actually, it turned out that there was so much money in the marketing budget that each of us was able to have our own shirt, as opposed to being obliged to take it in turns to sport a single item of clothing). It's a rather splendid garment (you can see my colleague Mike Dewar elegantly modelling his below) that proudly but discreetly displays the company logo and, for good measure, the full name of the company (lest the abbreviation be misinterpreted as an exhortation to complain endlessly). The idea - which, I'd imagine, is common to just about every organization in the world - is that the shirt can be worn on exhibition stands, when giving commercial presentations or making customer visits so that a (somewhat loosely) unified image of the company is presented to the outside world. Members of staff have acceded to this idea with varying degrees of alacrity; speaking for myself - following an initial period of uneasiness where I suspected (quite without foundation) that the next step on the road to an improved image would be The Company Song - I've been happy to wear The Shirt on every appropriate occasion.

And on some less appropriate ones as well. For example, last night I was taking part in a choir rehearsal as part of the preparation for a well-known religious leader's visit to the UK later this year. Not having had time to get changed after work, I was wearing The Shirt as we collectively negotiated the joys of counting bars, leaping fourths, subdividing triplets and other more applied forms of numerical analysis. Approaching the conductor - who'd been brought in from another parish in order to adeptly marshal our enthusiastic but slightly unfocussed efforts - with a technical question at the end of the rehearsal, I was a little surprised when he asked if I worked for NAG. Wondering if he was about to quiz me about - say - our optimization routines, I replied - somewhat cautiously - in the affirmative. "Great stuff," he responded. "I used the NAG Library all the time at university when I was programming in Fortran - it was really, really good." Owing to the context, the generous and unlooked-for compliment was so surprising that I forgot to say that these days, the Library wasn't only available to Fortran programmers (on reflection, perhaps that was just as well on this occasion) but I was also reminded that this kind of encounter isn't at all uncommon. Given the remarkable age of the company, perhaps it's only to be expected that you frequently bump into users - or ex-users - of your products, but it's still gratifying when they're able to share positive experiences - or happy memories - of it. Maybe I should start work on that Company Song after all.

6 comments:

  1. Some software companies give out T-shirts to their users. I've got T-shirts from Mathematica, MATLAB and even a couple from scientific Python conferences (none from NAG though - yet). They are great for wearing at geek meet-ups or around the University because it identifies you as someone who knows about the software and they have led to many interesting discussions and collaborations.

    My wife has a slightly different viewpoint, however, and refuses to be seen in public with me and my 'nerd shirts'.

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  2. Many thanks for that, Mike. If it was a veiled(?) hint about NAG's policy for giving away T-shirts, then I'm sure it'll be taken on board by my marketing colleagues. ;-)

    As far as I recall, we've never (so far anyway) produced shirts for this purpose, although those of us - like you - who've attended trade shows have benefited from other companies' munificence. In some cases the excellence of the giveaways can almost become a distraction - I particularly recall the very nice SGI shirts from the 90's, the popularity of which might have been one of the reasons why they opened up their own on-site clothing store.

    I can't see NAG going down that route, although we have had some less spectacular successes in the giveaway department in the past - I'm thinking of the worry beads which we used to promote IRIS Explorer. These were essentially a pair of glass marbles (what made them worry beads were the instructions which accompanied them) that proved very popular at trade shows, being portable, novel and (ever so vaguely) amusing. They weren't without their drawbacks however. I came across the first of these when asked to transport them to one of our earliest shows, in a box which, although compact, was almost unbelievably dense (how much do you think a cubic foot of glass weighs?).

    The other problem was the number of attendees on the stand who'd go to put them in their mouths, mistaking them for gobstoppers. I lived in terror of one of these misguided souls presenting NAG with a bill for restorative dental work. Not the best way to make an impression on the customer.

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  3. NAG t-shirts? Watch this space ;-)

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  4. Very Entertaining post as always Jeremy. We should have a 'who can wear the oldest T shirt' competition!

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  5. Jeremy - let's see. Typical density of glass is 2.58 g/cm^3 according to a quick google. A cubic foot is 28317 cm^3 so we are looking at a weight of around 73Kilos or 1 Mike Croucher.

    That's one heavy box!

    Of course I have neglected the fact that your box of marbles won't be 100% glass. I guess around 74% glass assuming close packing?

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  6. I can't find fault with your numbers, Mike, so I guess that crucial packing fraction must have made all the difference when I was trying to pick the box up (and trying not to drop it on my foot). Of course, I was a younger man in those days, and weight - in its various manifestations - was less of a problem for me than it is now.

    An oldest T-shirt contest sounds like a nice idea, Karen, although it might involve revealing those things that should perhaps have remained hidden. I could be wrong, though.

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