Thursday, June 21, 2007

Corporate Tales of Woe Part 1

Today I went for a long walk at lunch - a good 45 minutes outside and found myself musing about my work, my life, and some of the odd places I've been... and I decided to do occasional blog postings on horrible work experiences I've had in the corporate world. Just little anecdotes. Not a horrible diatribe - don't get me wrong: I do love what I'm doing these days... but some of my early work...

Way back in 1992 when I was just getting started in IT, I took a programmer job for an outsource code shop. Looking back, I was a subcontractor working for a subcontractor, working for a contractor, working for a telephone company in southern Minnesota. I was paid $15/hr, and told to bill 40 hours a week, no matter what I was doing. With 3 subcontracting firms above me, I am guessing that the client must have been paying at least $50/hr for my work, with everyone taking betweekn $5-10/hr off the top.

We were in an office plaza in Eden Prairie, the dress was business formal (shirt, ties, slacks), there were 6 of us in this office. I shared an office with a woman just a little older than I. In the back were the "mainframe guys" who literally did nothing but play card games on the computer all day. One other guy would stare at lines of code all day. One slept. This was before the world wide web - I can only imagine what THAT would have been like.

For 4 weeks, I was given nothing to do. NOTHING. But bill 40 hours, and say I was doing "Conversion" work. Turns out, this shop was in the SLOW and LABORIOUS process of converting a system from MainFrame to Windows Server... very very very slowly. Bored, I surfed through the code library, trying to make sense of what the system did (boring billing stuff), and see what massive changes were needed.

Finally, after 4 weeks, they gave me an assignment: Take this one program, and convert it. It should take 2 weeks, they said. I took this program, and God as my witness, all I could see it needed was ONE LINE of code changed to work properly. So I did it. And my boss said "you're not done, this will take two weeks". Which I took to mean there was something else I needed to do. So i got in there and started to do some additional improvements, I reformatted the output to work on standard printers, I changed some of the input parameters to match PC keyboards better....

And after 2 weeks of puttering, my boss said "it'll take another week". So a week LATER, they sent off the code. And one week AFTER THAT, the top-level contracting firm called up and yelled at me for making all of those changes, what was I STUPID??? So I immediately backed out those changes, just did the one line of code, and shipped it off 10 minutes later.

8 weeks, and only one program modified, and only one LINE of code modified. And I had made almost $5000. And it felt TERRIBLE. I talked to others in the office, and they all said "kid, relax, this is an easy gig - enjoy it! The next one won't be like this and you'll remember this fondly". Really.

The boss called me into his office and said that "the clients wanted me fired, but he talked them into giving me another chance". I said thank you for the opportunity, but I don't think this is right for me. I walked out. Actually I'd like to say I walked out, but I gave two weeks notice, did nothing but show up for 80 more hours, made another grand. Sigh.

Two gigs later, I ran into one of the Mainframe Guys in the shop: He had taken ill and there was some code that NEEDED to get done. I filled in, and the work that was supposed to be 80% done hadn't been started, but that was ok because the two weeks he had said he needed turned out to have been only about 30 minutes of code on my part. I didn't make a big deal out of it... but I did learn some lessons about trusting people: there are a lot of people in this business who are not interested in working very hard, and are not above deception to keep themselves comfortable.

I am not one of those people.

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