The Great Satan
To this point I’ve been sort of beating around the bush. There are a lot of problems in Hell, but issue numero uno is our CEO.
At first I tried to shrug off his aggressive and unpredictable behavior on the grounds that maybe you simply have to be a dick in order to be successful. I searched for the positives. He was dedicated — a hard worker, very driven to do whatever it took in order to make Hell a better place.
But over the months, I’d been amassing a long list of negative data points. It’s time to air some of them out.
Unrealistic Sales Expectations
So my second month with the company, I’m sitting in on a sales meeting. It’s me, Satan, and our Chief Sales Officer (CSO.)
Satan’s got the whiteboard going and he’s showing his two stooges how we’re going to be a mult-million dollar company in just two years.
There are charts and graphs projecting the future. Six months from now we’ll have four clients. Twelve months from now that will double to eight. Eighteen months will result in another doubling and we’ll be at sixteen. The final six month interval will be a quadruple, resulting in a total of over sixty customers, and the expectation of quadrupling is based on the “snowballing” of established businesses. Once the banking industry knows what a force we are, they’ll be lining up to ink deals with us.
I’m absorbing this display of insanity with hardly a comment made. I’m a totally new employee, and I know that my role is to sit and nod through this enormous presentation of bullshit as though he is preaching the New Age Gospel.
Our CSO, on the other hand, is terrified. She’s a woman in her late forties, smartly dressed, a bit chubby but fundamentally attractive in her business suit and pumps. I can see her horror from the way she sits watching the impossible mess being drawn in green dry-erase marker on the board. She leans forward with both of her elbows on the table in front of her with a tight frown, periodically shivering. She’s new too, hired on just this week. I figure that this is orientation of a sort for her.
Unlike me, Mrs. CSO asks questions.
One: “Who do we currently have in our pipeline?”
Answer: “Only one client so far. But I’m confident that you will be able to drum up another three in a month or two.”
Two: “Who am I supposed to use for references?”
Answer: “We don’t need references to start. Our product is so groundbreaking that it will practically sell itself, given a competent sales staff.” (Note: Pre-emptive dig at quality of sales employees, implication that if goals are not met, it is purely the fault of the personnel filling these roles.)
Three: “Who is going to demo this product to all of our prospective customers? Do we have a sales engineering staff to assist?”
Answer: “You will learn the product and be able to provide demos. For very high profile potential customers, we may send an engineering resource on-site with you to provide technical assistance. Perhaps <laf> here can fill in on these trips.”
Four: “Don’t you think these targets are, uh.. maybe too aggressive? I’ve never worked at a place that had goals quite this optimistic. I mean it’d be fantastic if we could hit these goals but, is it realistic?”
Answer: “Believe in the product, and everything will follow. This is a multi-billion dollar idea. If we have the right people to drive it, we will be successful.”
Three thoughts repeat in a tight loop as I watch the presentation and listen to the back and forth between Satan and our CSO.
- This guy is absolutely fucking crazy.
- This guy is absolutely fucking crazy.
- This guy is absolutely fucking crazy.
I Am Never Wrong (Do Not Question Me!)
Developers building software have a tough task. They’re asked to create a framework for data to move around and be displayed to users in very specific ways in order to satisfy business requirements.
To make this readable, I’m going to move to the wonderful world of analogies. Our engineering team has, to this point, been asked to build a corral for dogs and some surrounding support structures to ensure their health — maybe a silo for canine food and an on-site medical expert who lives in an adjoining bungalow.
Suddenly, Satan says: Lets add cats. This creates a lot of extra work; the virtual fences erected to keep the dogs in place are not effective for cats — the felines have fundamentally different attributes; they are climbing up the poles and escaping.
Plus, now now we need cat-food and litter boxes and a veterinarian who understands how to care for this new animal type. Satan doesn’t quite realize that adding cats isn’t as simple as just dumping another animal into our existing pen. There’s a ton of additional work to do behind the scenes. To make things worse, cats and dogs are now fighting with one another — they just won’t play nice. Still, our engineering team persists, and eventually constructs an area suitable for both cats and dogs to co-exist together. The cats are de-clawed, the dogs are muzzled, all animals are spayed and neutered to prevent any inter or intra-species hanky-panky.
On a skype group call, Satan asks why there are no pigs in the corral. Our engineering manager (my old manager from StartupVille) is perplexed.
Namager: Pigs, what pigs?
Satan: The pigs I asked you to add along with the cats.
Namager: You didn’t tell us to do that.
Satan: Yes, I did, I remember very clearly. We need to add pigs and cats. Are you calling me a liar?
Namager: No! Of course not! We must have forgotten!
Me, chiming in: Namager, you didn’t forget. I have the feature requirement document right here. It just says cats.
Satan: The person who typed that doc must have made an omission. I remember saying it. Just get it done, this needed to be implemented YESTERDAY. I told you we needed this feature.
Namager: Okay! Sorry about that! We’ll get on it right away.
This sort of thing happened more often than I care to document in this blog post. Satan would pretend that he asked for <feature X> a long time ago, and then would get upset that it wasn’t already implemented, when the truth was that he never made any such request.
People were deathly afraid to point out the obvious truth: The prince of darkness had a fondness for making shit up in order to put everyone on the defensive and work a billion hours of unpaid overtime.
And so it went.
A Late Night
In Hell, we’re doing application releases every week. Sometimes multiple times a week. Think of a website update, where all of a sudden users can see a new feature that wasn’t there before, or some existing problem has been fixed — it’s like when Yahoo! adds a new link to allow folks to see the hottest new celebrity news. Behind the scenes, some tech guys have programmed this new feature, and some other guys push the updates to the public site. We’re doing the same sort of thing to Hell’s online service.
And we typically do this at night, at ten o’clock, to ensure that our west-coast users aren’t using our stuff anymore. Note that I do the actual release-pushing task as it’s part of my job function.
After the push, we do testing. One particular night, Satan starts clicking around the updated application and he finds an extensive set of issues.
At this point we have two choices: Revert to the original application which we know is working fine (i.e. remove the hottest new celebrity news feature), or do a fire drill and try to get development to fix stuff on the spot.
Satan chooses option B. It takes engineering three hours to fix it. I’m working during this entire period, helping to deploy the proposed fixes to a non-production environment so we can test things. without messing up our live site again.
It’s now 1AM. We make the fixed version of the application available for use. Satan is unhappy. Something is still wrong.
I’m exhausted. I’ve been working since seven AM, nonstop. I missed dinner with my wife. I missed my exercise. When I look at my computer monitor, text looks blurry to my tired eyes. It’s been an intense day. So I make an unpopular suggestion.
Look, Satan, I think we need to roll back at this point. We can regroup tomorrow and people can check out their favorite celebrity gossip some other day.
Excuse me? This is not your decision to make.
Yes, it is. I’m the director of operations and it’s my call.
No. We are going to fix this, tonight.
These issues should have been identified earlier in the day, in the non-live environment. I’ve been lenient as it is to allow engineering some additional time to make fixes. We’ve past our outage window and I am going to roll back to the previously working application.
I don’t see why. We have engineering right here to analyze the problem, find the solution, and resolve it. I need this feature for a sales demo tomorrow.
I’m calling it. We’re not moving forward with this.
It’s not happening. Let’s all get some sleep. I’ll roll it back and do a bit of testing, shouldn’t take me more than half an hour. I’ll send an email when it’s done.
We’re going to have to discuss this tomorrow.
You’re right. We will. Call me after your demo, which, I might add, should go smoothly because of this decision. You’ll be working against a stable product release instead of something that exhausted engineers shoved into place in the middle of the night.
I’m not happy about this.
You will be tomorrow. Just give the presentation without the feature and it’ll go great. It’s not the end of the world.
(Namager, voice heavy with fatigue, pipes up here): I agree.
2AM, I finish the remaining work and slip into bed
In the end, I’m not sure why I went to the trouble of pushing back. It’s not as though I could sleep.
It’s time for me to voice a few opinions instead of tiredly recounting details of disaster in my life.
I believe that these scenarios are playing out constantly across the globe, from tech company to tech company, every day.
People’s lives are being devoted to pushing new applications and features out, at a faster and faster pace.
And for what? On an individual level, people are hoping to keep their jobs. But at higher levels, certain people are counting on eventually cashing in on the backbreaking efforts of their contributing staff.
Greed and the unending quest for positive feedback is ruining peoples’ lives, for essentially nothing.
Do you really think that humanity as a whole is better off for being able to check out the <new celebrity gossip> feature a few days earlier because a group of people sacrificed sleep and sanity for a while to “get ‘er done” as soon as possible?
Is this really improving the aggregate levels of human happiness, comfort, and satisfaction on our planet?
You tell me.
Wow, the $250 visa gift card is almost like a slap in the face. It would have been LESS insulting to give you nothing. O.o
Funny, that was the exact same thing my wife said when I showed her the card.
Yep. Totally agree with you about CEOs being batshit crazy, or just awful people. I once wrote up a 10 page proposal to overhaul my current employer and eventually spike it because I realized how much closer I’d have to work with ownership. Ugh.
The only work I’ve ever truly enjoyed is physical labor. Editing is a close second. Both of these are incredibly fulfilling personally, but good luck getting paid….
Funnily enough, the Alchemist came home and complained that all of the executives at her company speak an alien tongue and might as well be psychopaths…
Thanks for the comments, GC. I’m with you on physical labor — it doesn’t bother me much because it doesn’t ask me to be a different person. When we first moved into our house seven years ago I worked on it constantly but it didn’t feel like work in the slightest. Also I’m not too surprised you do some editing as your blog is really clean and well written.
So is Hell still around today? Would you be a multi millionaire now if you’d have stayed longer?
Ha! Great question. Yes, they are still around, but they only have three clients. This info comes to me via my old manager friend who is still there. It hasn’t gotten any better, but somehow they continue to receive additional funding. BTW, I’ve been out of there 2 1/2 years now and I’m *still* glad I’m not working for them anymore. The best thing about bad jobs: They make your other jobs feel much nicer than they really are.
My favorite post in this series – thank you for sharing. Really admire the way you push back against your bosses! That must have been marvelous for your rescue-human coworkers to witness. Although, the moment they knew you were leaving must have been especially bleak for them.
Re: Pushback — I have to give the nod to FU money again on this. I found that having financial security makes me unwilling to put up with so many behaviors that I would otherwise accept, and I think this is true for just about everyone who achieves it. Being FI allows you to make use of the backbone you’ve always had 🙂 Glad you’re enjoying the stories, and thanks for stopping by.
I am seriously loving this series of posts.
I too read YMOYL when I was 26 and miserably fed up. Unfortunately for me, I was still in grad school so still not making very much (though thankfully, also not going into debt). I ended up switching programs.
Anyway, I had one corporate job as a temp for 6 months and that was enough for me. I swore Dilbert worked in the next cube. I’ve completely avoided corporate jobs since–only academic or self-employment. This has definitely slowed down my FI plans, which was always the goal, even before MMM. I’ve lately been wondering if my first corporate experience was the anomaly and I should have gone for higher pay. I’m 44 and still probably 8-10 years away from FI. But I’ve (mostly) enjoyed my work all along and have managed to work part time for all but about 2 years. Your series is confirming my original instincts were spot on. I’m still ready to be done though.
It’s terrific that you figured it out so quickly — 26 is pretty young to be getting the FI pieces together in your head. Re: academia versus corporate, I have to say, I’m in academia now and it’s a completely different world than the private sector. And by “different” I mean “better” – in virtually every respect save salary. Occasionally I wonder if I might have been happier being in lower stress positions throughout my career and reaching FI much later in life, but most of the time I just accept where I am.
Everyone’s personality and path are a bit different, and it’s not a race — it’s just about being aware of your goals and finding a way through the jungle to reach it within a timeframe that you’re OK with. To make you feel better, I will say that I know very few people in my field who work for private employers who are not stressed and burnt most of the time. They get paid a boat-load of money, sure (low-to-mid six figures) but it’s not a smooth ride. There’s no shame in enjoying your job and getting to FIRE a bit later…
Thanks for posting this series, I’ve really enjoyed reading about your experiences. As a software developer in the midwest, I’ve generally worked in lower stress environments – with matching lower compensation, of course. But the day-to-day work of meeting client and management demands remains the same. Kudos to you for focusing on your long term goals and living the life that you want. Sounds like you would have been a great co-worker to have.
I headed to a lower stress environment myself on the next place myself — and I’m glad that you’re doing OK with your own employer.. I know what you mean — even at my current job (which I generally think is OK) the underlying problems remain. They just rear their ugly heads less frequently because the volume (quantity) on everything is has been turned down.
FU money is a wonderful thing. I had a maniac boss from 2011-2013. The only thing good that came from working under him was a heightened resolve to get the F*ck out of the rat race ASAP. Most of the time it is better to have a low paying job when working for these type of individuals. If you make a lot of money, these psychopaths think they own you and many times they do! I found out that having FU money along his knowledge that I had it made him much more bearable. The other high paid managers were brutalized daily.
Thanks for the whole series FI, it has been very enjoyable!
Hey MDP — I agree 100% with your statements. There’s very little worse than feeling like every single day at work is going to be hell. These types of jobs definitely strengthen one’s resolve to say on track, get FI, and get out. I remind myself that even when you have a good thing going on — a decent job, a good manager — you’re only one reorg away from everything changing. Thanks for reading!
Another great update in the saga!
You made an excellent comment some episodes ago, about how people leave bosses rather than jobs. I wholeheartedly agree – the one time I quit a job with no new one to go to was because of a wholly unreasonable boss, who headed up the marketing dept in which I worked. She’d been promoted recently, and was totally not able to cope with the responsibilities required.
Because she couldn’t delegate – loss of control, loss of control! – she would hoard all the work on her desk, try to struggle through it, then eventually fire it out in desperation at a minion. My personal straw-breaking point was being asked to bend the laws of physics, and produce a printed brochure within a timescale of mere hours, at a rate faster than printing presses could actually operate. When I had to go and apologize to the (internal) client who’d originally requested the work from the marketing dept, he said he’d asked for this to be done about 8 weeks ago, and it had sat… and sat… and sat… until it was due in less than 24 hours…
I typed up my resignation letter that night, with my husband urging me on. We were living below our means, and with some frugal cutbacks, could get by.
It felt SO good to hand that over, and watch my boss’s jaw drop!
I worked a month’s notice, and during that time I had the following conversation dozens of times:
Work colleague: Hey, I heard you’re leaving already – wow, you’ve only been here a few months. Did you have a previous job application going through somewhere else that’s only just come good?
Me: Nope, I’m just leaving.
WC: With nothing to go to, no other job?!
WC: You’re sooooo lucky! I wish I could just leave, but with the mortgage and everything… I hate this place, hate it so much
I went contracting after that – got a temp job, and within 2 weeks that company offered me a permanent position which I happily took, having just conducted a 2-week ‘interview’ on their suitability as a decent place to work. I stayed there for 4 years, then stopped working altogether when the kids came along. Now we’re just plugging away at the savings, so hubby can join me – 2022 at the latest, sooner if the markets are kind!
That’s an incredible story, thanks for sharing. I thought of the peter principle with regard to your marketing department boss. I don’t blame you for leaving after the set-up-to-fail brochure debacle — I think that would make absolutely anyone with the financial means to do so quit. Very glad you were able to fix your situation fairly smoothly. There’s just no point to suffering needlessly with an employer you can’t stand.
Yeah, the impossible-to-print brochure was actually quite helpful. Until then, I’d been somewhat internalising my ‘failure’, doubting, and wondering if maybe I wasn’t working hard enough/ managing my time well enough/ wasn’t good enough… But when the brochure thing happened, it was so comically not my fault that I was able to see the black humor in it and get some perspective, and move on to an excellent employer/ manager who valued me.
Wonderful story, thank you!
Just read the job series. OMG! It’s like we are living the sane god damn tormented life! I am in a different industry – but this is so accurate and so true, including your thoughts, realizations, and reactions – it’s scary. It is so hard to take the BS anymore.
But I have a timeline, a goal, and a plan – for me (not them). And I will tell them as little as possible as late as possible.
Hi G, thanks for stopping by. I remember your date is soon, early next year if I’m not mistaken, yeah? Nice work! It’s so nice to be on the final lap. The discomfort of work feels muffled now that the end is in sight…
That is the plan, though I promised my SO I would look for other opportunities at work. SO is not on board yet, I am new to this FIRE realization (~March 2014). I have been saving and doing some investing since I started work, I had some if the habits but was just in the cultural lockstep of work until 65. Now, I am a rebel that wants to scream “fuck that shit!” But still need to ease the SO into the information, etc.
Totally get it. It took me 2 years to get my own DW totally on board, and actually, this is a pretty recent development — there was a long period of time when the FIRE thing seemed ridiculous to her. Thankfully, that’s in the past now. The good news is that some people can be convinced, over time.
What a great read. Sorry you had to live it. As someone who generally likes what he does for a living, and who he does it with and for, I sometimes have trouble understanding others’ burning need for FI. A brush with Satan would certainly accelerate my own FI plans considerably.
Yep, I generally like what I do — I mean, the underlying function of it is interesting. It’s just problem solving, plain and simple. You have a toolkit and something that needs to be either created or fixed, and you go to work. But the surrounding stuff (people, politics, rigid scheduling, red-tape and other process-oriented ridiculousness, pressure to overwork, fear, mismanagement of human resources, and on and on) is what most of us are really striving to get away from, I suspect. I’m glad you like your own employer, for the most part.
I enjoyed reading this, thanks a lot for posting! I’m a developer at a Mega corp, 32 years of age but I have about 10 more years until FI. Thinking of taking a break from working for 6-12 months though … just to travel and learn new (coding) skills. Do you know anyone that did this, what’s your take ? I know it will delay FI but I feel like if I don’t do something like this now I won’t be able to do it when I have kids …
Hi George. There’s nothing wrong with taking a break. A while back I had a co-worker who wasn’t interested in FIRE specifically, but nonetheless had some similar ideas. He was a contract IT worker and he liked to take a 6-month gig, work really hard, save as much as possible, and then take the next 6 months off. During this time he’d blow through the money he’d earned while enjoying a quality slow-vacation. Since he was always working 6 months out of the year, his skills never got stale and he didn’t worry too much about finding his next contract. He loved this lifestyle. My own approach has been different: No employment gaps, get it all in as early as possible (i.e. I’m frontloading the formal office-type work I’m planning on doing in life) and then be done with it forever. Thing is, neither of our approaches is right or wrong. It’s about picking an option that works for you. As long as you go into your break with full awareness of what you’re doing in terms of extending your time-to-FI and any associated risks (e.g. making sure you have health care, you’re comfortable with the idea of searching for a new job after the period is over, etc), and you’re still really gung-ho about it, then it’ll be a good choice for your own personality and situation.
Also, if it’s a short break, consider asking your employer if they’ll hold your position. Some will.
Another thought: See if you can frontload your 401(k) for the year, then take your break. That’ll mitigate how much your date will get punted.
Thanks a lot for the reply and the tip about front-loading my 401(k) !
I’m looking forward to reading the happy phase of this story, let’s face it you deserve some respite after going through this nightmare 🙂
Pingback: Leaving the Cushy Job |
Pingback: Midlife FI-sis |
why did you find it important to comment on the attractiveness of your CSO in this post? you did not do a similar assessment of physical appearance for any of the other cast of characters in this (very amusing) real life story. I hope that my business associates don’t pull up my looks as the first thing to talk about when discussing me with others, I would find that embarrassing and disappointing.
The appearance related details stuck out in my head because a) because it was the first day I met her b) her first week with the company and c) she clearly put a lot of time and energy into her appearance in order to look slick and professional (to make a good initial impression) and she was rewarded for these efforts by immediately being crushed by the CEO’s ridiculous expectations; I wanted to show how hopeful she initially appeared prior to the meeting. Maybe I could have found a better way to do it.
>> I hope that my business associates don’t pull up my looks as the first thing to talk about when discussing me with others, I would find that embarrassing and disappointing.
Same here. Please keep in mind the context here. I’m writing for blog readers, not co-workers.
Yes, that makes sense. I guess your intent didn’t come through for me personally – I got that she was “a little chubby, but she tried”, and that you used that as an introductory comment, similar to “he was the type of guy missing a personality chip”. I suppose, as a female in a leadership position, I am more sensitive to this kind of thing because I have never seen it happen to my male coworkers, but I am 100% sure it has happened to me (thanks to it being related from friends – so how many more times outside of their earshot?). So I guess it took me by surprise to see (what I perceived as) the same kind of thing elsewhere.
Regardless of these subtle gender issues, I have greatly enjoyed your blog since finding it, even though it has made me incredibly jealous. I’ve been talking to my boss about having him help me take more scheduled vacation time because I’m really prone to burnout. I’ve been luckier than you in place-of-employment so he’s helping me out, and I have a week in July and a week in September planned out! Still many years to go for me even at 60%+ ;___;
Rock on, I can’t WAIT to hear about what you do with your time now that you have it back!
>> I am more sensitive to this kind of thing because I have never seen it happen to my male coworkers,
Sorry it’s happened to you — point of fact, a female ex CW at my final job occasionally commented on my physique (and by commented I really mean “complimented” me, yuck) which made me feel, obviously, uncomfortable. (I have a top-heavy build, large chest and arms relative to the rest of my body.) Her behavior didn’t make me feel unsafe or professionally threatened, thankfully, but rather a mix of awkward, embarrassed, and irritated. This kind of behavior has no place in the office IMO. (She’s actually the Cruella character in my Daylight post, aggressive, strong personality. I just let it go the couple of times it’s happened, but internally — blah. Not OK.) On the plus side, she made her comments directly to my face – I guess that’s a good thing.
Lots of well documented sexism in software/IT. Male-dominated industry. Not a good thing. It does seem to be getting more exposure and press recently, though, which is a positive development.
My wife also deals with issues of this sort as she is in the same field. She’s a manager nowadays and occasionally overhears someone calling her behavior “bitchy” when in actuality she’s simply displaying qualities of leadership and authority necessary for her to do her job. Same behavior from a man, and he doesn’t get called out. He’s “confident” and “decisive.” He “knows how to control his team and get things done.” My wife? Nope, just a bitch. It’s upsetting as hell, but the question is what do you do about it?
>> about having him help me take more scheduled vacation time because I’m really prone to burnout.
That’s awesome, your boss sounds helpful and human – very important. Enjoy your time away recharging.
“What if I’m able to get that bonus to go through?”
You’ve admitted to sabotaging a coworker and lying to promote the company, which I wouldn’t fault you for at all. But you’re still a better man than I. I would’ve said, “Well, yeah, that’s what this is about” until the bonus check cleared and then walked.
(Thanks for writing your blog, it’s been great to get to read your calculations and tradeoffs along the hard road to FI.)
If I were a little smarter I would have done as you suggested. In the heat of the moment I was so pissed with Satan that I wanted to throw the fact that he was an awful person directly in his face. (As if he gave a flying F about morality.) Also, retrospectively, I decided he probably would not have coughed up the full bonus anyway, given his personality. I believe it was just a carrot he wanted to dangle in front of me again, to see what I would do.
I loved all your posts so far. I worked as a QA at a SoftwareCompany for my first job out of college. It was almost exactly as you describe your experiences above.The CEO was crazy to say the least Our support people were always stressed out and the “debuggers” were pushed on by hard by management. As QA there were a lot of late nights testing right before the release, which we did bi-weekly for the whole two years I was there.I moved to a different industry to an Analyst role and I am happier for it. My FIRE path is just started and I have a long road ahead of me. Thanks for sharing your experiences
Sorry, late to the party, found your site from a link to your ‘that guy’ post.
Wow, I loved reading this!
I’ve been working in software since the 90s also. I’ve had a few bad jobs, but nothing quite like this (I guess if i took the worst parts of the worst ones, it would be close!)
I agree with you that, in general, most places tend to have this kind of cr@p going on to some extent.
Maybe I’ve been lucky, but the startups I’ve worked with have been by most fun jobs by far, and apart from the odd exception, were not super long hours or stressful.
I do remember interviewing for a few positions in the bay area just before the dot com collapse, that sounded like they had terrible culture.
I did start one job that may have been something like your Hell job, it was also via a friend (who, to be fair, did warn me it could be a stressful role). It also was going to involve support.
After my first day, I was so wound up I couldn’t sleep properly that night. I could see the months ahead being hell. I quit an hour into day two.