Alpha blues soup

Part three of a series of storied experiences on a small project at a large consulting company in the Pacific Northwest.

To: Rusty/SEA
From: Robert/SEA
Sent: Fri Oct 21 08:35:20 2005
Subject: RE: Just when you thought it was safe to go out...

I will be in late this morning (about 9:30), and will drop by. Can Angela get started with training docs?


To: Robert/SEA
From: Rusty/SEA
Sent: Fri Oct 21 07:38:44 2005
Subject: RE: Just when you thought it was safe to go out...


Thanks for the update.

Jon’s already got things to work on, I’ll check in with him to see how he is progressing.

I called Janet up and she won’t be here until tue/wed since the Portland office is doing its move over the weekend. She also told me that Andre and Lara implied there were many fewer hours than I said there were to do; and she surmised that because her billing rate is high, the PM on the DTX project might not let her actually charge that many hours to the project.

When Ryan gets back, I’ll let him know that he’s cleared for overtime on the CPUD project, but I will not cajole, coerce, or request that he actually works more than 40. Just to be clear, I am steadfast against it because it is the quickest way to demoralize and burn out a great worker and I do not want to lose Ryan. To me, employees and their families come first, clients come second.

It's probably never a good career move to tell the project manager to unceremoniously stuff it when he or she starts hinting at the need for overtime in order to meet a tight project schedule, but it was Friday and I was wiped out from a stressful week of balancing priorities and realigning my goals between the two projects I was working on - DTX and CPUD.

The undertone of Robert's reply was clear enough to me - I was going to get a talking to about being a company man. "Great," I thought sarcastically to myself, "now I won't be able to concentrate on the DTX synchronization routine until I have this confrontation with Robert."

The CPUD project was going as smoothly as it could. We had just delivered the bare-bones functional and technical specifications documents (with a little help from Joel), we had already started programming a few of the modules, and had the user interface mockup ported to HTML and CSS. The project team room was working out beautifully; our development team had great productivity and communication.

The problem was my other project, DTX, had about 45 hours of work that needed to be done for final delivery, and I was the only developer who had worked on the 500 hour project. If I put all of my attention into finishing it, it would only take me a week, but if we brought in another developer to finish it, it might take twice that long.

The plan hatched between the PM's of the two projects was to bring in Janet, a thoroughly qualified developer from another office, to finish DTX while I concentrated on CPUD - sort of an "architect" role on both projects, directing the developers and pitching in. So, I went from being excited to be finally wrapping up DTX, a project I came to feel ownership of after putting in so much time, to having some ambiguous "architect" role where I wasn't explicitly responsible for any particular thing, and didn't really have ownership of anything. Blech.

Soon enough, Robert came down to the team room. I was there alone at the time and wishing I had a witness to the upcoming confrontation.

"Let me start off by saying that I agree with you that employees families come first," he started sincerely. "I am not a slave driver, and I don't intend to force anyone to stay at work for long hours. I understand that a lot of companies do just that, and I am glad that this company has not shown any signs of strong arming the employees into long work days since I have been here."

"I appreciate that," I said as I tried to release the tension from my muscles that were geared up for fight or flight. "I just wanted to make it clear that I am not going to be the one to ask the team to work late hours. I don't believe in doing that, it is a very slippery slope" my voice grew a little husky to my embarrassment, "and this is an emotional topic for me because I have been through this scenario myself of being overworked, and I have seen it happen to my coworkers, and it is never worth it," my explanation was starting to turn into a plea, so I cut it off there.

"At some point in your career, you are going to have to ask people to work overtime," Robert reasoned. "It doesn't have to be you telling people to work overtime, you just have to ask; they can say no if they want. I don't want you to be here being the lone horseman bringing this project in on schedule because you don't want to ask anyone to work overtime."

My body went a little more rigid at his attempted persuasion to get me to do something I was obviously unwilling to do. As I gripped the armrests of my chair, I lost my cool somewhat when I retorted, "Let me be perfectly clear here; I am not going to be the lone horseman. I don't care if this project goes down in flames; if I take the wrap for that and get fired, then fine. I'm smart. The market is very good right now." I considered telling him about the two other open offers I had that I could always turn to, but decided not to show all my cards. "I can always find another job." I stared him down; a bit crazed still, like a horse backed into a corner.

And then the thing happened that in retrospect, however petty, made the whole confrontation worth it. Robert reached into his pocket, and without breaking eye contact, pulled out a blister packet of nicorete gum, peeled back the foil, and popped it in his mouth.

Continued next week....

reads like a novel

I am enjoying your work. One part of me wants to ask why you are being so open about potentially sensitive workplace interactions, the other part wants to be quiet and hope you just keep writing.

Storied Series Explanation

Thanks, Ben, I appreciate the feedback!

Have you ever wondered what your older brother or best friend from highschool does at his day job? What's it really like? I am curious about how people in different vocations spend their day. I asked my older brother what he did as plant manager at a big factory (he has a mechanical engineering degree, but now he manages the factory - there's a parallel there for developers to managers), and he wasn't able to describe it succinctly or vividly when I put him on the spot. I wouldn't be able to do that either, but I believe it is an interesting question that can have very profound answers about both the person and how they interpret their experiences and about the job itself. That is why I am exploring it for my own job, and I'm glad to read that you are enjoying the ride.

I am concerned that someone who I work with may stumble on this site after googling my name and bring me out into the open at work. In order to protect myself from scrutiny, I don't tell anyone who I currently work with about my blogs, I don't list the actual company name I work at, and I write honest interpretations about my experiences that I hope are balanced. I also don't feel like I am doing anything wrong, or have anything to be ashamed of, and I am ready to defend my actions if need be. That said, I understand that people may not appreciate that I write about them, and if they did find out, I would certainly stop if they were uncomfortable with it. Until then, I hope my stories are enjoyable or at least stir up some emotion in readers that makes them think (and maybe even leave a comment if I'm lucky).

You Could

switch names too.

Rename the people after cartoon characters or something similar to obfuscate them a bit.

Heh, yeah. That guy's

Heh, yeah. That guy's awesome!

1+ Gavin

Thanks, Gavin! That blog is great! I'm looking forward to reading more of his posts this weekend.