Friday, 27 May 2011

Package Vacation

I knew the end was at hand when Eric and Bash started actually assigning me work that was in line with our our department's stated goals.

Firstly, I was shocked that the work was actually assigned to me, personally. I know that Eric and Abhiraj, who should have been doing the work, probably handballed it on because of their openly-stated fear of external technologies, but to this day I'm not sure why they gave it to me and not to someone like Harj. Eric later told me that he was trying to 'help' me by giving me these tasks: perhaps he felt bad about railroading me and my performance review. I like to think so. Eric was a fundamentally decent guy; he was just scared of change and too busy to want to deal with an ambitious young punk like me. I think it just took him a while to realize that I wasn't just being a pain in the arse for the sake of it--I wanted to do good work, and that perhaps he realized that I'd been right about some of the things we had disagreed on.

Gavin Ramsay and the other guys at the head of our department were finally starting to pay attention my group, although they didn't really know what to do with us. I was given the task of beginning to integrate our application into a large system that belonged to the cartography department--a group we had previously had nothing to do with. I couldn't see what  this had to do with our ultimate goal of becoming part of Tarzan--a separate platform--but I did what I was told. It took me a week to get the network privileges granted that would give me  access to the cartography codebase, and then another week to get it to build on my PC. Then... Ramsay, or one of his lieutenants decided that this was the wrong way to go. Instead of integrating with the cartography system, would instead convert the app to run on top of the CAD engine.

This made a bit more sense, since Tarzan also ran inside the CAD app, so I felt a little better about doing this one. It was no easy task, because our product did not use the standard Windows framework correctly and it took me a while to decouple it, but after a few days I had it hobbling along. The graphics engine (including, god help us, the 5t4t3 m4ch1n3) didn't work in the new environment (which we'd know a priori), but all the database and the computational routines worked fine.

Finally, somebody remembered that we were supposed to be developing a part of Tarzan, which had its own database, graphics and geometry libraries. Surely we should be using those? This, finally, sounded like the correct course of action to me. Eric asked me to create an object model for our system and to see how that would map onto Tarzan. An object model! Two words I had never thought to hear spoken consecutively by Eric, much less preceded by the phrase "I want you to make an--".

I made a good start on the object model, but I never got to complete it. Suddenly we were deluged with meetings. Our department was redistributing work from Tarzan and other products, and we were branching out. The new projects were all named after characters from a popular Sci Fi movie franchise, and I couldn't help but notice that the ones assigned to us were all characters that were killed in the first film.

I have vivid memories of sitting on a conference call with Eric during which some heavies from the Tarzan office handed off of an older product to us. This product, which only a few customers used,  had not maintained in years. I could clearly hear the heavies on the other end of the line snickering at us. Eric told us it was good, we were okay--look at how much new work they were assigning to us!

In the meantime I had a revelation of my own: there were jobs posted on the corporate intranet. What's more, there was a rockstar opportunity going at the Montreal office: they were looking for someone with my blend of skills for what I thought was the most interesting line of products in the whole organization.  I was looking for as a next step.

By this time I had been made aware that our emails, IMs and sometimes our phones were monitored, but I thought that  my application would stand a better chance of being read if I sent it through my internal email account. I wrote a cover letter, attached my resume, fired it off... and then started praying that Bash wouldn't see it.

The manager in Montreal wrote back quickly. He told me they were very interested in me and they would start interviewing shortly. I would require a different visa for Canada, but being a transfer within the same company would make that relatively easy, I hoped. That was good--I was keen to get out of the place I was in, although I figured I was safe for another three or four months.

The next week, Bash called each member of staff into his office individually to tell them that the company really appreciated our efforts. As a reward for our loyalty and hard work, we were each awarded an extra block of stock options. "Thanks," he said, to each and every one of us. "I really mean it."

Later in the week I received a phonecall from Montreal at my desk. "Pike, I've been trying to set these interviews up for next week," said my prospective new manager, "but we've had to delay them. Monday is a public holiday and Tuesday we're having a reorg in this office. If you don't hear from me on Wednesday, I'm no longer here and you can probably forget about the job."

On Wednesday I sent an email asking how it had all gone. "I'm no longer in charge of that area," my contact said, "We've been told that we'll have to move an existing team member into the position if we want to fill it."

The following week, on Wednesday night, I came home to find a message on my answering machine. A company located just across the Bay had received my resume and they wanted to interview me. I was still bitterly disappointed that I'd lost out on Montreal, and I didn't even remember applying for the job, but I noted down the phone number anyway. I hadn't decided if I would call them the next day or not. Maybe if I got bored.

Thursday morning I rolled in to work at the normal time to find panic, instead of the usual  despondency. We had surprise visitors from head office: Gavin Ramsay, plus hangers-on. I knew what was coming.

The site was gone. They were killing us, discontinuing our product.

The senior guys--Bash, Abhiraj, Eric, Harj, John, and a couple of the analysts were all given the option of moving up to the North East to join the main team, but the rest of us were out on our arses with two weeks' notice and a redundancy package based on length of tenure.

The package was a tidier sum than I expected. It was contingent on us signing a form waiving our right to sue the company for wrongful dismissal. The new options Bashir had dished out with such ceremony were worthless: we had to work for the company for six months after they were issued before they would become valid.

I went back to my desk after the meeting and called the company across the Bay. When would I be available to come in for an interview? they asked.

"How's tomorrow at 9?" I replied.

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