In the midst of all of the conflicts with Cthulhu, what I’m really obsessing about is how to fix my perception problem. I’m now aware that Evil Bert is my real issue — he’s been talking behind my back, broadcasting all of the negative things I’ve said about management during lunch hours that I incorrectly supposed were private. Despite our discussion from a few nights ago, I didn’t have any indication that he’d stop, and indeed, Cthulhu continued to complain about my attitude in our 1:1s.
Fixing Bert is Fixing Work, I told myself.
It took me a while to figure out a solution that I thought would be effective. And it was a rotten solution which required me to stoop to Bad Person levels in order to carry it out. Still, I couldn’t help but implement it, even though I knew what I was doing was completely and utterly wrong. If anyone found out, it would be a big problem — much, much bigger than any so-called issues of reputation and attitude at FinancialCompany. I’d surely be fired, and there was even the potential of legal action being taken against me.
Still, I justified it by saying to myself: Do unto others what has been done to you. Bert had been steadily dicking me for close to a year now.
It was payback time.
Bert was the expert on a couple of messaging technologies that the rest of the team barely understood, but played a vital part in the flow of information between systems. Put simply, when this stuff isn’t working, lots and lots of stuff breaks.
So I decided to learn a bit about Bert’s specialty. Not too much, mind you. Just enough to do some damage. You don’t need to know nearly as much about human anatomy if you’re just removing an organ as opposed to putting one in place. I can cut livers out of cadavers all day.
In the meantime, I worked out a scheme to make it difficult to trace any activity back to me. (For the uber geeks, this involved using a consultant’s desktop while in the office, then hitting multiple jump servers before using group IDs to finally log into a machine in our secure network, sudo’ing to a priviliged user, then making use of our passwordless SSH system to hop around further systems before landing on machines that Bert owned. On the way out, I purged audit logs of login information and sudo activity.)
Once I had a plan in place, I stopped by Bert’s office for a quick conversation.
Have you changed your mind about anything?
Nope, he said, without even turning around. And would you please leave? I’m busy.
Sure, I understand. Just wanted to let you know that if you ever need help resolving an issue in the future, I expect you come around on this first. Either we’re teammates and we support each other or we’re enemies.
Whatever, he says.
The next day I put my plan into action — I get into Bert’s systems and mess them up. (Again, for the tech-heads: I copied shared libraries from an outdated machine onto the current boxes and also pulled in a couple of old configuration files from two years ago.)
A bit of explanation here. I didn’t do any of these things in a live environment. Companies always have test environments which are mirror images of their production sites. Example: Yahoo.com also has something like testyahoo.com which is a replica of the website that end users see and use. I sabotaged Bert’s systems on the test environments, so there was no real business impact to FinancialCompany’s traders.
The current version of me recognizes that what I did was morally reprehensible and probably illegal as well. If I could go back and un-do it, I would — I really regret doing this. But I have to admit that, at the time, it felt exactly right to finally put the screws to my nemesis — it seemed to me that he deserved it, and no one would deal out the required punishment but myself.
It was my duty.
The next day, it’s immediately apparent that our test environments are broken. The majority of applications are no longer working as expected, or, at the very least, features are missing.
By mid-afternoon, it’s turned into a semi-crisis. Bridge calls are opened. Developers, application owners, and guys from my team are trying to figure out what went wrong.
We use divide and conquer troubleshooting methods to quickly narrow things down to Bert’s systems. I’m sweating it out. Will anyone find something that makes them think these issues were caused intentionally?
Bert frantically works to try to identify the source of the issues. We all go home around five thirty, but he stays in the office, cranking away. I pass by him on the way out and he looks at me, furious.
He knows, for sure.
This continues for two straight weeks. Bert opens tickets with the product vendor and even the support guys can’t figure out what’s going wrong. They try restoring from backup, but that fails too because backups are not complete system images any more; in an effort to save on storage, the non-production systems only have a subset of data replicated nightly, and this subset does not include some of the damage I caused.
During this time, I’m totally on edge. Will I be found out? Bert’s antics provide some relief for my anxiety because watching him scramble around is just terrific; I’m taking genuine pleasure in seeing him struggle to resolve a problem that he didn’t cause and doesn’t know how to fix. (Yeah. Humans are kind of sick sometimes, yours truly included.) It strikes me that this is exactly the same type of problem that he created for me; a nameless, unsolvable bitch of an issue that threatens your career.
In our team meetings, this issue is all we talk about now. Most development teams have been halted because they need these environments to be working in order to proceed programming application updates. So as a direct result of this issue, FinancialCompany has an enormous quantity of worker-bee hours just idling, money being wasted, features not added, manpower gone to waste. The issue has been escalated all the way up the chain; even the CIO is aware of Bert, and The Problem.
We’re all racking our brains, but no one is getting close to the solution.
Right when we’re closing in on the end of the second week, Cthulhu says if it’s not resolved in two more days, they’re going to engage the software vendor to come on-site and do a full assessment of all systems. They will solve this unsolvable problem — this issue that Bert, our own top specialist, cannot.
I’m thrilled. When vendor consulting has to be engaged to fix a problem, it’s a black eye for the individual that couldn’t resolve it on their own. Everyone becomes aware of the failure, judgment is cast, reputations are ruined (at least temporarily.)
That night, after most everyone else has gone home, Bert stops by my office and asks me to fix whatever it is I broke.
Broke? I didn’t break anything. Although there might be karma in play here. Karma’s a bitch.
You know what I mean. I’ll do what you want.
I don’t want anything. We’re already bosom buddies and terrific teammates. What could I possibly expect from you that you’re not already providing?
I’ll tell people I was wrong about you. You have a good attitude.
Of course I do. Everyone already thinks that. You don’t need to say it. In fact, do you know who people don’t think is so hot right now? It’s you, Bert. You, who owns the broken systems .
That night I have a crisis of conscience. Yeah, I know — it’s about time. I don’t really want to ruin Bert — I just want my life at work to function more smoothly. The crux of the issue is, as I’ve already mentioned, that only a horrible person would do what I’ve done, and I’m furious with myself that I’ve allowed the job to change me into a deplorable human being.
So I get into the office super early the next morning, shortly after 5AM, and restore the environments.
By the time everyone is in the office, all systems are working again. We have an impromptu team meeting and Cthulhu congratulates Bert, who isn’t sure what to say or do. Instead, he looks at me, as if in question: Did you finally fix this stuff?
Two weeks later I’m in a 1:1 with Cthulhu and he brings up the subject of perception again. For the first time in more than half a year, the script changes.
OUR DIRECTOR SAYS HE SEES AN IMPROVEMENT IN ATTITUDE FROM YOU
That’s terrific, I say, even though I haven’t seen or talked to the guy in months.
WHERE ARE WE WITH PROJECTS A B AND C
And that’s basically it: the whole thing is finally over. Bert clearly started telling Cthulhu and my Director that I’m a wonderful worker. The interaction with Cthulhu is really anticlimactic in every respect: this big pulsing issue simply dropped off the radar.
This is a microcosm of every high-profile issue I’ve ever faced in the office. Some pressing problem gets resolved, and you don’t even really enjoy the after-effects, because no one is interested anymore. They’ve already moved on.
It’s almost like it wasn’t that important to begin with.