Monday, 20 June 2011

Back to the Future

I accepted the job that Jacob offered me at Fjord Systems, but not much happened for a while.

I didn't tell anybody at Outerlink, I just kept showing up at work while Fjord got their act together. I kept up a lively correspondence with Jacob, but I couldn't start work until human resources had sorted out the paperwork... and they took their time getting to me. They asked me for a 'salary history'; something I'd never had to do before. I figured it would be a good place to start negotiating from, though, so I made one up and sent it to them.

Time passed and a whole lot more nothing happened. One day at lunch the Butcher grilled me about working in the States. "There's no challenging work left in Australia," he lamented. I couldn't help but agree with him.

I was sick at home when the phone rang early one morning. Eventually I established that the lady on the line with a thick accent that I couldn't identify was calling from Sweden, and that she wanted to negotiate salary with me. She offered me a lot less than what I was currently making--which she was well aware of, given that I had provided her with a salary history a few weeks prior. I was confused fuddled. Were we talking Euros? Pounds sterling? Swedish kronor? No, Australian dollars.

Eventually I bargained her back up to the salary I was currently getting and she told me she would send me a contract.

Time passed and nothing happened. I became more and more concerned about my poor productivity. Surely somebody had noticed how slow I'd gotten? At my job with ATBSoft I would write more code in a day than I was now writing in a week.

Eventually a contract arrived. I signed it, sent it back, and... nothing. I didn't have a start date and I didn't have a reciprocally-signed copy. I kept working at Outerlink and I wondered if I had hallucinated the whole thing... but no, I kept receiving email from Jacob. He was still based mostly in the US and he didn't know what the holdup was.

I got on the phone with HR and asked what was going on. "Oh, I have your contract here. It's been sitting on my desk for weeks."

We agreed on a start date, and I wrote up a letter of resignation for Outerlink. I'd been there for barely six months and I felt bad about it--I liked the people and I knew that it was expensive to recruit and train a new developer. I was the second developer to resign in that timeframe and I knew they'd been having a hell of a time replacing the other guy.

I couldn't help but remember that the last time I'd been in my manager's office with the door closed it had been for a dressing down about using the flexibile hours I'd been promised a few months prior.

"I hope that's not what I think it is," said my manager, indicating the envelope in my hand. He looked genuinely unhappy. "I'm afraid it is."
"You can't leave, you're the guy who gets things done!"
I gave him my letter. He read it.
"Would you stay if we offered you more money? I can do that, now that we know what you're capable of, and everything..."
I couldn't quite believe that he thought I was working so hard for him. "Um, no. This isn't about money... this is the work that I want to do."

I broke it to Sinclair first. He took it personally. "This is about the people, isn't it? This is personal." I felt terrible and I told him that it absolutely wasn't. I think he believed me.

The rest of the team had mixed reactions. The Butcher approved. Chop was thrilled for me. Chitra quietly wished me luck. Ross sniggered about how long it would take to train up a replacement.

In my couple of days, Outerlink hired a contractor to pick up some of the slack. He was wild and woolly and bore a fair resemblance to Doc Brown from back to the future, so the team started to refer to him as The Professor.

The Prof would be immediately picking up some of my workload, so I did a hand-off to him. I spent two days locked in a conference room with him, most of which time was spent listening to him describe his exploits at his prior job. I don't know why he felt the need to impress the guy who was leaving, but he failed to. The Prof espoused everything I disliked about the way the software business had been heading: writing inefficient, resource-hungry code with out-of-the-box tools that don't scale. He described to me in excruciating detail how, at the start of the project, his team was told that they could never get their app to perform using that methodology, and when they were done with it it didn't... until they quadrupled the number of CPUs running it. This, he cited as a victory.

I kept telling myself that I didn't care, it wasn't my problem.When my manager asked me what I thought of the Prof, I could only say "Keep him away from the server." But Doc Brown was a good sign. I was leaving the past; all this old hat stuff and heading for a research gig. I was indeed going BACK TO THE FUTURE.

I finished up, and Jacob had the logistics manager at Fjord Systems draw up some travel plans for me. "I'm flying you out for two weeks," he said. "So we can get everything rolling."
"Sweden must be cold this time of year, " I said. It was the start of December. "I'll have to buy some long underwear."
"Sweden's cold, but you don't have to worry about that just yet," he replied. "We're going to do the briefing here at my place. In Vegas."

I was the happiest I'd been pretty happy with the way this was shaping up. I ordered some very expensive technical books from amazon, with expedited shipping, so that I could really  jump into the research end of things. I wanted to be able to demo some ideas once I got over there.

Then was when my laptop died.

Looking back on it, I already had all the information I should have needed about how things were going to turn out.

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