Friday, 17 October 2014

Chairman of the Bored

Life on the cool team was cruisey.

They were a nice bunch of guys. There was no interpersonal drama on the team. Everybody was friends. Their product was to be the company's flagship product and they were well resourced, well-paid and popular. Management cared about their product. They welcomed me without reservation.

The work that I was given was easy. Really easy. Boring and easy. I built the welcome wizard and whatever other pieces they threw at me. C# was easy, Winforms was easy.

There were minor annoyances. This was .NET 1.5, and there were parts of the framework that hadn't been implemented, but which didn't tell you that until runtime. There were no type safe containers in the language and I often had to resort to Reflection to make sure that everything behaved across our code and the third party libraries. It was both more advanced and more backwards than C++ at once and it frustrated me... but it was all still very easy.

The team had some vague deadlines for the product, which was understood to be a long-term undertaking, but nobody was in a particular hurry to meet them. I had no idea how close to completion the project was from my corner as the new guy but it seemed as if most of the moving parts were there. I didn't know what was holding up shipping but I didn't much care.

The biggest problem the team seemed to face was deciding on where to eat lunch. Every day there was at least thirty minutes of debate on the topic t the start of lunchtime. One of the engineers wrote an application to randomly choose a lunch venue, but nobody was ever willing to accept its choice.

That was life on the cool team.

Twice, Wilhelm would ask us to work on the weekend in order to meet some milestone. I was never clear what the milestone was. On the second of these occasions Wilhelm had friends from out of town visiting and chose to go bird-watching instead of staying in with the team.

That was okay.

The rest of the development group at ATB was not as relaxed. Elvis brought on two new managers: Trent, to manage Ralf's team, and Irwin to manage the Enterprise group.

I knew Irwin: he was the manager who had been rude to me when Vlad had recommended me to him at his previous workplace. I gave him an expectant look when we were introduced, but he gave no sign that he recognized my name. He asked me where I had worked before and when I told him he shrugged. "Never heard of it." It was one of the 10 biggest software companies in the country, and certainly the biggest one to have had an office local to the city. I knew he had offered a job to Vlad and he'd seen my resume. I'd spoken to him on the phone. I shrugged back and went away.

I didn't meet Trent, although I knew who he was. He stayed with his team and kept a low profile, at least as far as the rest of the company was concerned.

Irwin and Trent had their teams on the unfinished side of the office and I knew their guys were hard at it, working to crazy deadlines. One of these guys was Vikram.

Vikram was a C++ programmer like me, and everybody disliked him. I felt sorry for him. When he looked particularly put-upon I'd drag him out of the office and go for a walk. I don't remember what we talked about but he seemed okay to me. I just couldn't understand the stigma.

Months passed. Occasionally a little bit of C++ work would come down to me and I actually felt useful; doing things the rest of the team couldn't. I fixed memory problems in a COM interface that Mark had stolen from a journal. I built a service application to download updates from a third party vendor using SOAP. I felt warm and fuzzy for a couple of days doing those tasks. Mark asked me to build a system that would pump some data into the database, knowing that I had database experience in the murky past, and I was shocked to discover that the only reason we had SQL Server as part of the product was for reporting. None of the data was live.

The most exciting thing that happened was an altercation that I witnessed in the hallway. Ralf's product was about due to ship during that particular week and Judd asked the new QA manager how it was looking. "Looks great," said the QA manager. "It finds all the sample cases, no problem."
"And what kind of coverage are we getting for live occurrences?"
"I don't know. We haven't tested that."
Judd's face turned red. Then purple. "We're shipping on Friday, and the only testing you've done is with the twenty sample cases?"
"Twenty two!"
The number of different scenarios Ralf's product would have to deal with was numbered in the tens of thousands and growing exponentially.
"I see," said Judd, who turned around and went back the way he had come.

That was the last time I ever saw the QA manager. Perhaps he went back to NASA.

Perhaps it was time for me to do the same thing. Blast off into outer space. Get the fuck out of there. Go home. I'd built up some good savings on my new salary and I figured I'd stuck it out in the States long enough now to count the experience a success.

I was on my out of the office a little before six pm Monday when I heard my name mentioned. Elvis and Judd were standing at Wilhelm's cube."I help you with something, fellas?"
"Hey, Pike," said Elvis. "You're familiar with the Crypto API, right?"
"Yeah, we used that on the old product," I said.
"Great," said Elvis. "Enterprise has a POC due and they're in trouble. You're now on Irwin's team until it goes out the door."
"Alright." Irwin himself was nowhere in sight.
"Come in at 2am and Irwin will get you started."
I don't know how long I stood there with my mouth open before I thought up a response.

"Okay," I said.

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