Saturday, 21 May 2011

Rank and File

It was about the time of the performance reviews that I had a revelation.

It was the day I had a dentist's appointment first thing in the morning. I remember getting up at the usual time, making breakfast, getting in the car, singing and generally feeling like a million bucks. Why was I so happy? Because I was off to get my teeth drilled, which was an infinitely more appealing prospect than going directly in to work.

That was the day I realized how truly miserable I was. I'd tried so hard and sacrificed so much to be there at that time, doing that job, and those two years were the most awful years of my life.

I had never had a formal performance review before. At my first job, my one review consisted of "you're doing really well, here's a tiny little raise." I quit right about the time of my second review at that company. My next review at the current place had been nixed because it came at the same time as the buyout. So, this was a new process for me. It had two parts:

In the first part, your manager would review you, grading your performance, skills and personal qualities according to a  multiple choice questionnaire. The second part was called a 360 review: you were allowed to select 3 co-workers who would grade you on similar lines. Any three that you wanted, we were told repeatedly. This process was intend to show how your manager's opinion contrasted with that of your peers, and hopefully to highlight any discrepancies there.

My first choice for a 360 review was Harjeet. Harj was an engineer who had been through the same PhD program as Abhiraj, Bashir, Eric and a few of the other senior guys, and I think they tacitly acknowledged that he was the best of them.  Which he was. Rather than come to work this his friends after completing college and staying there for his entire career, Harj had gone off to work out of state for some bigger companies. So he was a relatively new player on the team, although one who came with a lot of credibility and respect. I had some heavyduty technical arguments with Harj, but I think we had both enjoyed them as much as we disagreed. There was nobody else at the company for us to have those particular arguments with. I had found in Harj a reluctant ally. The other senior guys were his college buddies, but he could see how they were fucking up left and right trying to avoid learning the company's new technology. He had managed to push through a few of the changes I'd failed to, but by now even he felt that he'd pushed his luck as far as he could. Still, he was respected, he had backbone, and I felt like he was in my corner.

When Eric told me that I couldn't use Harj for my one of my 360s I should have gone straight to the HR department, but I didn't. If there was an imbalance in the reviews it would fall to them to sort it out, but I still wasn't thinking in terms of the larger company. I figured that having Harj formally weigh in for me would go along way with my. I was dead wrong: the people I worked with knew the score and it wasn't going to change without outside pressure.

So, I negotiated with Eric. He let me have Harj if I let him choose the other two 360s. I did and the reviews came back exactly as expected: Eric and his two cronies said I was recalcitrant and arrogant, although I had some degree of competence, while Harj said that I was fighting the good fight. Even without considering my less-than-stellar employee file, when you added up the numbers it made a compelling case that I was a sack who had only found one person who would give him a good review.

The company had an official pay scale that indicated salary ranges according to the area in which one lived and the number of years of experience they had. During my review I broached the topic with Eric. "Next year I'm in the next bracket, and it's a big jump for me even to the lower threshold."

Eric told me that his own pay was not in accordance with the official bracket, to which I replied "That sucks, but your pay is your problem. My pay is mine." This was not the last time I would say these words.

Needless to say, I did not get a pay rise.

There was an appeals process for employees who thought they had been hard-done-by in their reviews. I wrote an appeal and sent it off to the relevant party, where it vanished unacknowledged. I'm no longer certain, but I have a feeling that the 'relevant party' was in fact Eric.

Not very long after the review period, every employee in the company (or at least, at our site) was asked to fill out some additional 'self evaluation' forms.  It was stressed to us that these evaluations were not for 'ranking purposes', although it was clear that thse forms, which amounted to complete resumes, could serve no other possible purpose.

I went to have a chat with Harj, and he was very worried. Like me, he was an H1B visa worker. Unlike me, he was desperate to get a green card, and because of the time taken by the process, another job change would probably push that out of his reach. Harj thought the end was near, and it was difficult for me to disagree with him.

That was right about the time Bashir hired a personal assistant to answer his email for him.


  1. Really enjoying this documentation of your time in the US, Pike. Please don't stop writing it.


  2. Thank you, Hairy Wan! It's draining, but it feels good. Probably one more post (after today's new one) and we're through the first half. I might jump back to Australia after that--we'll see how I feel.

    Cheers for reading!