What it's like to be a software developer these days.
|Here we go again, I thought as I walked into my cube and saw the baby-girl innocence of the slip of paper on my keyboard. I didn’t think I would be seeing one of these again so soon.
Sure enough, the pink slip announced that my services were no longer necessary and that, effective immediately, I was no longer an employee of Games, Inc. I had only worked for the company for six months, so there would be no severance pay. I was to gather up my personal belongings and vacate the premises at 5:00. Do not pass go, do not collect a single goddamn thing.
All I could think of was the “pink-slip parties” that were held in the Bay Area only a couple of years ago, whenever one of the dot-coms folded Everyone at these parties was so full of optimism, not worrying about losing their job – just noodling on what great opportunities lay ahead.
There were no such parties now. The dot-com bust took care of that.
It didn’t surprise me that Mark lacked the balls to hand me my notice of termination in person, that cowardly little shit. Mark is one of those thirty-something hot-shots who move up from programming very quickly, sensing rightly that the real bucks are made by management. He knows how to suck up to his superiors and to give the appearance that everything is always “on time and under budget”.
In a way, it was a good thing he'd been promoted out of programming. He couldn't code his way out of a wet paper bag, and we all had to chase after him like a two-year-old, cleaning up his mess. After his promotion, I had the misfortune of inheriting some of his code and, groaned when I saw it -- typical spaghetti code with no documentation.
His understanding of management had proved to be on par with his understanding of programming. His superiors are unaware of the pressure he put on the people who report to him.
The first real assignment he gave me was a joint project with Luther, a colleague of mine. We were to develop a web application to provide engineers with statistical data collected from focus groups who act as testers for the new games. The data shows which game options are chosen most frequently and the payout stats for each option. It shows the designers how to tweak the machine design to make the most money once the machines are installed in the casinos.
Before we could even complete the initial design, Mark was in my office asking, “How is it going?” He would appear with the maddeningly consistent frequency of an alarm clock, leaning against the door of my cube, asking the same question. Then he began offering unsolicited advice on how to "speed things up". The advice was mostly in the vein of cutting corners, perhaps doing away with little, piddling things like doing some up-front design, having an adequate test plan and proper documentation. As soon as he would leave, Luther and I would simultaneously roll our chairs back to look across the hall at each other with mock wide-eyed wonder.
I snort to myself, remembering the day that he called Luther and me into his office. He was trying to wheedle yet another deadline commitment out of us. In true management form, he refused to hear anything either of us had to say. He wanted it yesterday, and nothing short of that would be acceptable.
Luther began laughing in his peculiar, high-pitched, sinister, insulting way. Mark's pasty complexion began to flush, and within seconds turned the color of a ripe tomato. He tried to stammer a few authoritative sentences over Luther's laughter, which only egged Luther on. He glared at Mark with sarcastic pity, and turned up the volume on his menacing cackle. Utterly flustered, Mark had cried, "Get out of my office. Both of you! Just… leave!"
The moment the office door closed behind us, Luther's demeanor shifted from pure evil to nonchalance He smirked and said, “Works every time. These newbie managers never know what to do with that.” I must have been regarding Luther with incredulity. He clapped me on the shoulder comfortingly and giggled
I walked into Mark’s office, pink slip in hand, and found him on the phone sipping a steaming cup of coffee from the local Starbuck's. He held up his hand, indicating that was not to be interrupted – not his usual one finger in the air while pointing to a seat. He was having a conversation of dire importance with his hair stylist about his next appointment. I waited, my anger building like steam in a boiling teapot.
Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed my expression and quickly wrapped up the conversation. I asked him, with as much control as I could muster, “Is this right? Am I being laid off?”
Mark tapped a pen on the edge of his desk, a rapid, maddening staccato. He said, “Well Jon, yes. I'm so sorry. My hands were tied." He tried to give me some eye contact, but any time his eyes roved roughly in the vicinity of mine, he seemed to be in pain. He settled instead for a spot on the wall above my head
"You were doing a great job. I couldn't believe it when Phil said you were one of the ones we had to let go. He seems to feel that we can cut costs by having the graphics done offshore.” He gave me a look of baffled astonishment. And the award goes to…
My temperature spiked, jagged shards of red seeping into my field of vision. I didn't even bother with any of the "anger management techniques" my last shrink had tried to arm me with for moments such as this. I wondered how much of this had to do with the incident with Luther. He was just petty and vindictive enough to target me for that reason alone. I pictured Mark sitting in the board room next to Phil, tugging at his sleeve and whispering my name like a tattle-tale schoolgirl
“Mark, you really are a pitiful bull-shitter. You need to work on that if you ever expect to make it up the management chain.” I gripped the blotter on his desk and tipped it up, spilling his piping hot grande double mocha onto the lap of his crisp Armani suit. I walked out of his office doing my best imitation of Luther’s laugh, slamming the door as I left.