Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Shave and a Haircut

First thing in the morning on the first day of my two weeks' notice, I went to my interview at the company Across the Bay.

I had 30 days to find new employment before I was foul of the IRS.

The premises of ATB Software could best be described as 'dingy'. I waited for half an hour before the lady in charge of Human Resources, Marge, was ready to see me. While I waited the receptionist grilled me about various topics. The receptionist's interrogation aside, this was the first and last time I worked at a company where they had a man answering the phones. I knew we were off to a weird start.

Marge was also the first human resources person to interview me. She asked me some general questions about my career and eventually she came around to my visa status: "I see in your cover letter that you mentioned something about a work visa? What, uh... what does that mean, exactly?" My heart sank. Even as I explained what it meant, I knew wouldn't get the job. I figured that Marge's ignorance about the topic was the only reason I'd even gotten an interview at ATB. All the real companies already knew how these things worked and had ruled me out.

Marge shipped me off to the CTO, Judd, and he asked me some more technical questions, but he didn't have a background in development, either. After a while he admitted to me that he was stalling for time--the other programmer, Benjamin, had been delayed on his way back from New York and my real interview wouldn't begin until he arrived. They only had one other programmer? For reals? Judd had an enormous Army of Darkness poster on the wall, and we started talking about this. Another first: I had never worked in a company that had adopted 'nerd culture' the way this one had.

Eventually, Benjamin the Programmer arrived. He seemed like a smart enough guy, but for some reason I just could not communicate with him. The questions he had covered a number of topics which I had no experience in, and I told him so when they came up. "Fine," he said, jumping ahead and leaving a third of the test unanswered. I left the interview with a sense of relief--what a weird place. I was glad I wasn't going to wind up working there.

Back at the office it was madness. The Chosen Few were preparing to visit the north east to see if they could or would move up there. Bashir was not among them: he had been made an offer, but he said that his children suffered from some kind of anemia (I can guess what sort) and they wouldn't fare well in the colder climate. Rumour was that he was about to make tenure at the university.

The rest of us were doing exit interviews and using company resources to look for new jobs. The HR lady was annoyed that I hadn't been available to do my exit interview first thing that morning. She was visibly surprised I told them I'd had a job interview, and even more so when I proceeded to describe what it had been like to work there for the last fourteen months. I was polite, but I saw no reason to mince words.

I went back to my desk and started calling up some competing organizations. I actually got through to some people with the ability to hire because my soon-to-be-former employer's name came up on caller ID. Gavin Ramsay had both said that we had been made redundant, not fired, and were welcome to apply for transfers to any other part of the organization, so I got in touch with the database group from our department (the group who had repeatedly failed to produce anything). The manager I spoke to there was surprised to hear from me, and even more surprised to discover that I wasn't as mentally defective as Bashir and Abhiraj had led her to believe. She asked me for a resume.

Vlad was offered two jobs in quick succession. He took the better one and recommended me to the other, a local contracting company, but they wanted a Visual Basic programmer and I was a C++ guy. I remembered that incident particularly well because of the rudeness of the Irwin, the manager I spoke with. Sure enough, I would cross paths with him again later.

Donna knew an immigration lawyer, so we went to see him. He told me that I had three options: find a new job, get married, or leave. I had thirty days fromt he end of my notice period to get out before I ran afoul of the INS. When I started talking about selling my car Donna burst into tears, so I figured I had better find that new job.

ATB Software called me back and asked for references. I was annoyed that they were wasting my time, but Eric had offered to give me a one (although it was against company policy), so I gave them his details. I didn't know what kind of a reference I'd get from him, and I didn't much care: ATB Software was weird and I didn't want to work there.

Meanwhile, Bashir was supposed to be making arrangements to dispose of the fixtures and fittings. I couldn't have cared less, but enough people were interested in secondhand office gear that a slew of emails about the topic washed up in my mailbox on a daily basis. Bash was evasive: first he said that it would be auctioned off, then he said that some guys from Facilities were coming down from head office to sort it out. The facilities guys duly arrived, went for a liquid lunch with Bash, and left without making any pronouncements on the topic of their visit. Bash instead told us that the furniture was going to be  given to charity. He had every fixed asset tagged and refused to discuss the matter further.

The manager in charge of the database group called me up. She told me, choosing her words very carefully, that she had taken my resume and gone to have a word with Gavin Ramsay. Ramsay had told her, in no uncertain terms, that nobody he had just let go would be hired back into his department under any circumstances.

Our two weeks' notice passed and our access to the building was revoked. The Chosen Few were flown up to Massachusetts for some kind of orientation program. Everyone was out except for my friend Reg, the sysadmin, who had been asked to stay on for an extra week to tear down the IT infrastructure. For this reason Reg was in the office very early in the morning on the first day when everybody else was gone,  and was thus able to witness Bashir roll up to the office first thing in the morning with two rented removal trucks. With the aid of a dozen of his cousins, brothers and uncles, Bash proceeded to fill the trucks with every single one of the freshly-tagged fixed assets that was not in the server room.

Not only had Bashir succeeded in getting his site shut down and the vast majority of the staff under him laid off, but he had then stolen all of the furniture. Of course the company still felt that it could use a guy like that, even after he declined their offer to relocate up to the Massachusetts with the rest of the Chosen Few. A new position was found for him. Bashir was rewarded with a payrise and a promotion.

I received yet another call from ATB Software. They were very interested in hiring me, they said, and I was not to take any drastic action like accepting another job or leaving the country. The only delay they had was in checking my references. Eric was up in Massachusetts undergoing orientation at Gavin Ramsay's main site, and had not been able to receive any calls on his private phone number.

A competitor, also based in the north east, got a hold of my resume and offered to fly me up for an interview. Suddenly I was feeling like a bit of a rockstar, although Donna told me that the man I spoke to there was a toad who was mainly looking to steal trade secrets. I would probably have gone anyway, but ATB Software suddenly made me an offer.

I thought long and hard about it. I was stressed and miserable and I wanted to go home to Australia. I had only planned to be away a year or two, and it was something like 26 months by then. I didn't want to work at the ratbag place where I had undertaken my interview. 

But I didn't want to break up with Donna, and I didn't want to go home defeated. I decided I would give it a try for a few weeks. If I didn't like it, I could still leave... but I would be doing so on my own terms.

I had no idea what I was in for.

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