The company Across the Bay offered wanted me to start immediately, although my visa transfer had not yet gone through. My lawyer told me it was illegal; their lawyer said that it was.
The offer that they made me on paper was for a salary equivalent to the one I had been earning, to be increased by a few grand after a three month trial period. Perhaps they didn't realize that I had seen a copy of the paperwork they provided to the Immigration Department, which listed the higher salary.
They were adamant that I start work for them. They claimed that they would call it 'training', if questioned, and I would be paid my salary for the duration as a signing 'bonus'. I reluctantly agreed.
When I arrived at work on my first day I found Benjamin frantically checking code into Source Safe. He had not been practising any kind of version control before I arrived on the project and my arrival had prompted a sudden massive code cleanup, which went as far as a renaming of the product.
The code was still a mess. The product was halfway functional, but there was no design; no object model. It was built on top of another product, which in fact did all of the work. Our product was intended to be a GUI that would exercise their command-line interface. Our only selling point was cheaper licensing terms than the base product, which had its own superior GUI.
The problem was that the other product came with a database, which was updated every month--and which was partially encrypted. We needed to apply those database updates to our own product and we needed to display some the encrypted information for our product to be of any use to end-users... but the company we had licensed the product from was a military-industrial provider and would not give us an API to decrypt.
For this purpose Benjamin had written a screen scraper, which would open the other product and automatically press buttons in order navigate through its database. It would then scrape the decrypted text out of the other product's GUI and save it into a new table int he database. It was a clever bit of work, but slow and not very robust.
The database in question, I was dismayed to discover, was MS Access. Our product installed its own tables into the same database and read our data out of there willy-nilly.
My first task was to help build out the views through which the GUI would display information present in the database, most of which revolved around jobs the user created and the results of their execution. This on the surface was an easy enough task, but Benjamin had bastardized the MFC Model-View framework and getting it to behave like a proper application required a lot of hacking.
On my first day a guy called Freddy slouched into the office and introduced himself.
"Good to meet you, Freddy."
"I don't feel so good. I only got to be the new guy for about three days before you arrived."
He laughed. I didn't like his smile. "Just kidding."
I smiled and nodded.
"You're going to learn to hate me," said Freddy, still grinning. "I'm the Product Manager."
During my first week Judd let it be known that the pressure was on for a release, although the software was nowhere close to being ready. Benjamin sighed and said we were going to have to work through the weekend.
"No way," I said. "I don't have a visa and right now I'm only here in the office out of the goodness of my heart. No way am I coming in on the weekend."
Freddy gave me a narrow look. "This one's trouble," he said loudly. "Better keep an eye on him."
I shrugged him off and got back to work. He had no idea about my work status and I did not feel like filling him in. Freddy had already advised me that I should hate him and I decided to take him at his word. Rarely have I misjudged anybody as badly as I did Freddy.
About a month into my trial period my visa transfer arrived. Marge came to me to get my bank details and to set up with health insurance.
Then Judd came to me and said "So, man, this signing bonus is going to be a problem."
"Yes, well, the thing is, we've never paid one before, and we don't think it sets a good example to pay one now."
"But you know it's not really a signing bonus. It's my salary."
He looked away. "Well, yes, that's right. Hey, tell you what. I'll make it up to you by paying you the at the rate that you're not supposed to get until after your trial period."
I did some mental calculations. I was out one month's pay and the difference in salary for the remaining two months of my trial period was not even close to covering it. In any case, they were legally obliged to pay me the higher rate.
ATB had decided not to pay me for the month during which I had worked for them illegally, against my lawyer's advice, risking deportation. They were clearly doing it because they knew they could.
They had me over a barrel. I was cheap, the economy was terrible, and I had two options: quit and go home to Australia or suck it up and stay.
I'd worked hard to be there and my self-esteem had taken a beating through the redundancy. Donna put pressure on me and I decided I would stay.
The fun was just beginning.