A Return to Work


Well, it’s not a return exactly.  Not in the ordinary sense of the word.

What I’ve actually been doing is reading some of my old anger diary entries.  This feels like entering a time warp leading back to my old life, living out days as a technology worker, even though I’m still happily living without any paycheck whatsoever.

Mental. Return. Only.

At this point you’re probably wondering what an anger diary is. Good question!

An anger diary is simple word document that I’ve used over the years to dump off horrible experiences and clear space in my brain. This is sort of like the pensieve in Harry Potter, but used exclusively for negativity.  I originally created it back in 2005 during my second year working for a big Financial Company that was slowly driving me crazy.

And you know what?  More often than not, going to the effort of writing things out helped to compartmentalize the crazy, allowing me to leave it behind and move on. It’s sort of like writing an email to a nasty person to tell them what you really think of them, then deleting it before you hit send.  It’s therapy.

Why was I reading this Document of Horrors?  It happened almost by accident.

Last week I had an unusually rough day.  Without going into too many details, I’ll say that my brother is doing a lot of stupid shit.  To make things worse, he needs money to cover for said stupid shit.  Guess who he is asking?

That’s right.  It’s Captain Moneybags himself.  Me.

I gave him the story I nearly always give him.  Dude, I am your brother, not a bank. I do not loan people money.  Now let me ask you a question. Do you need this money for reasons of personal safety?  Or is it to instead cover up a series of regrettable decisions you’ve made over the last six months?  

Guess which answer he was forced to give.

After we spoke, I opened up the Anger Diary and unleashed fifteen hundred words of bitterness into the ether.  This winds up being a lot like shouting into a pillow, except much more time consuming and with the added benefit of being able to, afterward, articulate perfectly exactly how and when and why you became so incredibly upset. Another plus:  Your face doesn’t get all dank and moist from hot air backsplash.

At any rate, that’s over, and it’s (perhaps surprisingly) not the focus of this blog post.

Once I had the bro-down out of my system, I stuck around in the diary, flipping pages, fascinated.

The previous entry was last June, and it related to the costs of selling a house and what an incredible racket most of the real estate business is.

Before that?  Over thirty straight entries of OMG Work Sucks.

At this point it occurred to me that more than a few blog readers have been asking for more real life office-worker misadventures, similar to the Job Experience set of posts.  This shit will is perfect!  I thought.  And so it is.  I selected the longest and angst-iest of the bunch to be published today.

The only warnings I’d throw in are:

a) They aren’t perfectly edited — I changed names to (new word alert) anonify the thing, fixed painful-to-look-at spelling and grammar problems, and not much else.

b) It’s real-time-unfiltered-in-the-moment frustration so you’re going to have to cut me some slack for being a completely immature jerk at times.  These are my internal thoughts, written in the heat of the moment, and they have not been edited for political correctness or to adhere to corporate standards for speech, etc.  There is also no perspective. I’m 28 instead of 38.  I do not remind myself that I’m grateful to have a job or live in a developed country or that I’m a privileged white male with a very easy life, all things considered.  Back then, I didn’t practice gratitude or care much about trying to see the brighter side of things.  Nope.  I just let it rip because, well, that’s how the day felt to me as I lived through it.

c) As a result of a and b, it’s artless, just like the majority of real life.

If my Job Experience set of posts tried to take a step back and illustrate some generalities about working a full time Software/IT job, this one instead zooms closer to the action, providing a play-by-play of one challenging day.  When I read it, I felt, briefly, like I was back in the slog again, and it made me very happy to be done.

If people like this sort of thing, I’ll consider posting another at some point.  My guess is that if you liked those Job Experience posts, you’ll find this one interesting, and vice versa.

Push v Pull

This one is dated Jan 7th, 2005.  It’s somewhere in my second year of working for FinancialCompany and I’m reporting to a manager I really don’t like that I call Cthulhu.

Nine PM on Friday, finally home. What a day. What a motherfucking day. Law enforcement officials should be grateful I haven’t gone 1-8-7 on anybody yet.

I should go to bed but I’m too aggravated. Will start at the beginning. Up at 6. Went running. Drove to work.

Sounds all right so far.

But it’s never that simple, is it? Let’s unpack that son of a bitch. I woke up at midnight last night after a single hour of sleep because I got a pageout about one of our major trading applications being down.

Turns out someone on the systems team restarted the host to complete some emergency security patching routine and they didn’t notify us. So I had to do a full health check on the system and then open a conference bridge with Operations to confirm the outage and ask for people on the application team to wake up and do a sanity test to make sure that functionality was OK. Because that shit better be working in the morning when people on the business side start moving securities around, or my ass is grass.

Still, when these things happen, I just end up feeling like: Fuck. I made an awful lot of people unhappy last night by requesting those pageouts. We didn’t finish until close to 1:30. That’s what we all do at this place, take turns making each other unhappy.

So this morning when I woke up at 6 I was particularly bleary, coming off 4.5 hours of sleep, but I refused to skip my run so I chugged coffee in a hopeful attempt to add an energy overlay to my structurally unsound mood. It didn’t work that well – I barely felt the caffeine. My run became something of a hot mess.  There was a lack of underlying juice to power the system. I swear there were portions of it where I put one hand on the rail just to help me stay stable and keep track of my position on the treadmill and while I did this I actually closed my eyes and felt like I was half-asleep again even while running.  I read somewhere that some horses can maintain a trot while sustaining light sleep.  Maybe humans can, too.

Then I had to hit the Operations meeting at 7:30 because no matter what the fuck you did last night, no matter what emergency you were working on, you are expected to be in the office and fully functional the next day. Actually, particularly if you were working an issue, you need to be in that meeting so you can report what happened and what steps you took for remediation:  In English:  people gotta know what went wrong, and what you did to fix it.

I give the full report and of course the question becomes: What can we do to never, ever allow this to happen again? It’s the Director of Operations asking this question, and it’s a common one after shit-hits-the-fan scenarios like this.  Although I understand why it’s asked, it always rubs me the wrong way – there’s something in it that refuses to acknowledge the fallibility of both humans and machines that I don’t like. So I’m like: I don’t know. Stop using computers for trading. Move back to paper-based systems to perform transactions themselves.  Instead focus application development on making it functionally impossible to perform any task at all without following procedures.

I meant it as a joke but it came off like teenage sarcasm and I was immediately filled with regret. I think if I was a little less tired and bitter I might have given the proper adult response (Systems team must take steps to enforce Standard Notification policies when patching, our team must be made aware in advance that these events are scheduled so we can coordinate the work, etc) but what I actually said wasn’t taken well at all. The operational director called me a wise-ass and asked if I had any useful feedback, at which point I provided the correct answer on the second try and he nodded agreement which allowed us to, I dunno, move on.

He’s lucky. What I wanted to do was choke him while asking how he slept last night. I mean, not a serious choke or anything. More like a little mini-choke, an adorable baby choke, isn’t-it-so-cute-that-I’ve-got-my-hands-around-his-neck throttle, like the way Homer chokes Bart, who never seems any worse for the wear afterward. In my fantasy, it’d be just enough to make him stop being a robot.

After the Ops meeting I’m at my desk. It’s 8:30. I’m reviewing my task list and reading emails and I have way way too much to do, just like always, but it hits me suddenly that I’ve really got very little drive.  There’s something there, but not much.  My engine is misfiring because of a lack of fuel.

So for about half an hour I fuck off. I get a coffee, email my mom and girlfriend, read Fark. It’s the best part of my day, by far. In the 50’s, office workers had a complete breakfast at home around 7:30 with a physical paper unfolded across a tabletop before lazily reporting into the office around 9. Here in the next century, in the aughts, we eat vending machine pop tarts, skim online news articles and slam coffee between our 7:30 meeting and our 9.  (And the general consensus is that quality of life has improved over the duration.  What a joke.)

Fark says Kevin Spacey = Lex Luthor in the new Supes movie. And Anna Kournikova flashed people by accident. The world is in Uproar.  Hilarious.

Then it’s 9 and I have a checkpoint with Cthulhu, who is my manager if I haven’t mentioned it before. I stop by his office and he impatiently waves me away through a full plate glass window – he’s on the phone. What an important guy.

I head back to my desk and two minutes later he’s in my own office. He immediately launches into a bunch of questions about the incident last night and why didn’t I page him?

It was fine, I had it under control. I asked Operations to page the application team and we did the required functional testing, we followed procedure.

Wrong. You failed to follow procedure because you did not contact me.

What I can’t tell him – what I really want to tell him, and I swear I want to shout this directly into his ridiculous looking pug-nosed face – is that I despise him, that he’s by far the worst manager I’ve ever had, and every time he gets involved in system-down events, he adds additional always-unnecessary bullshit tasks which end up extending the duration you’re working, so I ‘ve learned to not call him as a time-saving measure because, like most human beings, I like to sleep. I know I’m crazy that way. We’re supposed to pretend at work that we do not need sleep. We run on coffee and testosterone and pure fucking guts, 24/7. It is our singular purpose in life to serve the business.

But since I’m a sane person, I instead try to shift blame by explaining that I thought Operations would call him and they must have missed it but he’s got me pinned, says that this morning he spoke to the Operations rep that actually opened the bridge to get the full story and I made no such request.

Perhaps <Ops Guy> forgot to make the request. It’s his memory against mine.

It’s more likely that you forgot. This isn’t the first time this has happened. It’s a pattern with you.

It was midnight you know. The call woke me up. I wasn’t exactly functioning at 100%. It is possible that I forgot, I suppose.  

I’m recording these failures. Be sure it doesn’t happen again.

As he walks away, I’m thinking two thoughts very loudly in my head. They’re ricocheting off of the walls of my skull with such force that they crowd out everything else for at least a few minutes.

One: What was the fucking point of that exchange? He came over here just to point out failures and rile me up.  Bastard.

Two: He didn’t even thank me for handling the off hours event. Fact is, I was home, I took the call, and I promptly did what needed to be done without any errors or oversight.

To get the company back, I waste another ten minutes on Fark reading more pointless news articles. Bevis Lake was renamed to Butthead Lake in Census Data. Bill Gates’ computer crashes at CES. (Har, har!)

Then I try to get some work done. I really try. I look at my emails and tasks and pick the hottest mini-project I have, which is to update some script that our Production Control team executes to add some functionality to it.

I’m just about to dig in when I feel something sort of disappear inside of me. The little bit of drive that I had when I woke up had suddenly vanished, Tank Officially on E. I felt incapable of doing anything productive. This doesn’t happen that often but today the sense of emptiness has been profound throughout, like an abyss opened up across my chest, swallowing everything. I sat and stared at my keyboard for I’m not sure how long.

But then the Windows notification noise starts pinging through the beige Altec Lansing desktop speakers book-ending my CRT monitor: Emails are flooding in. You know, the ones with URGENT in the subject. This shit is broken in this environment, that shit is broken in that environment, some application team needs a deployment RIGHT NOW ALL IN CAPS YES REALLY IT WAS. Cthulhu is CC’d on all correspondence. My instant messenger window simultaneously begins to pop.

The stupidity of the day is now full on me.

The good news is that I no longer need to drive myself. Instead, I will be pulled in various directions until the end of it.

I log into systems to check this and update that and send emails to Muppet Co-workers A through Z telling them that their stuff is all set and can they please check and confirm functionality.  I rip through this stuff mercilessly.  It’s easy enough.  I’ve been doing this kind of work for over half a decade now.  Fixing abstract broken crap.

After an hour of this Cthulhu shows up in my office again, asking for updates on the issues that just came in. I deliberately didn’t CC him on work requests just to upset him up some more.

This is a pattern of poor communication. We’ll need to talk about this in our next one on one.

No, you misunderstand. I know how important and busy you are and I don’t want to bother you with trivial stuff. None of these issues are production-level and you are well aware that I don’t ever let issues drop.

You let process items drop constantly.

I wouldn’t say constantly. But still, my point remains. Functionally I always complete these sorts of tasks quickly and you know it. Why should I clutter your inbox with so much noise? You have six other employees reporting to you, surely you can’t read all of this stuff. And it seems like a poor use of your time if you actually are.

I’d finally landed a punch. He walks away. This is the second best part of my day.

So it’s around eleven in the morning at this point and I’ve cleared out the most URGENT shit and I feel like: Okay. I can work on one of those longer term objectives now. I’m back to that script task that I almost started earlier. It was due two weeks ago – that’s how behind I am.  People tell me it’s important to get it done. Me?  I’m unconvinced.

Anyway, this is part of some overarching automation goal, to get some new functionality working using python and WLST (note: these are programming/scripting languages and apis) to plug into application servers running our trading systems. I open vi (note: this is a geek text editor) and get started. For the first ten minutes I’m reviewing progress to see where I am – loading the structure of the script into working memory, recalling where it was that I left off when I was last in here, on Tuesday. For the next fifteen minutes, I’m almost happy. My consciousness disappears as I get lost in the creation of the thing.

But then at eleven thirty or so, the joints in my hands start to feel creaky, fingers turning to lead. I’ve been typing for two hours straight. Right as I’m considering taking a short break my phone rings. I can see from the number that it’s my manager’s manager – my director. I’ve learned to not ignore these calls, so I pick up the phone.

He’s working with a consultant on some fucking front-end service webpage project that requires integration into our authentication system and they can’t get the crap working. I say I’ll stop by. There goes my five minute break.

Then I’m in his office and we’re looking at this issue and I can’t figure it out either, I say I need to open a ticket with the vendor for help, it might be a bug, and of course he’s like: I need this done by Monday, can you escalate the ticket.

By the time I’m done with this our little mini-meeting, it’s noon and I know should be going to get lunch but I’m mapping my day out: Production deploys starting at 5. I have about two hours of prep prior to those events. And I have to complete my weekly effort report in two different systems or Cthulhu will shit a brick. And send my project status report, which is a word doc emailed to Cthulhu directly. That’s another hour of high-focus boring-as-hell work or more.

I make a decision: I will open the ticket with the vendor now.

I get back to my desk and realize: I will not be making any more progress on that script today. I shut down all of the applications I’d been using for the work, conscious I’d just wasted a whole bunch of time. There’s a lot of overhead to switching tasks and well – I’ve just been asked to switch tasks. This is the practical fallout of being interrupted by Higher Priority Issues and other fake emergencies: Reduced efficiency.

It takes twenty minutes to open the ticket with our vendor. I have to type into little browser fields the full problem description, the business impact, the workflow, the expected behavior, the actual behavior, software versions, etc, into the customer portal on the vendor’s website. Then I upload logs.

My hands ache but I just crank through it and try to ignore the pain. When this is over, I submit the ticket and immediately call into the support center where I’m talking to another grunt, someone like me, someone who is basically paid to do what they’re told, someone who is under fire for large portions of every day.

I tell the grunt I need a response on this issue ASAP. He asks: Is there any production impact? I say no. He says: Well, I can’t guarantee a call today. The severity level of this ticket allows us a 24 hour business day response. So you’re potentially looking at mid-Monday at the latest for the initial response.

Will that response contain a solution?

Probably not.  Most likely the tech will introduce himself and make a request for additional information to clarify the problem.

I decide to push. I can’t see not pushing – the fallout for not getting back to Mr. Director within his time-frame will be painful to deal with. Much more painful than applying The Push.

Right, I understand service level agreements. But this work is extremely high priority for my director and I’m going to catch hell if I don’t have something. Is there anything you can do to help me out here?

I can make an exception if it’s really urgent. I’ll put a note in the ticket and increase it to an internal severity level called “Development-1”, it’s reserved for blocking issues.

Okay — wow, thanks!  That sounds absolutely perfect.

Please be aware that for tickets of this status we expect you to be available 24/7 to work with our engineers on it. This includes evenings and off-hours, it is not restricted to business days. Is there a number we can reach you at?

I provide my cell, thinking: There goes part of my goddamned weekend.

It’s now twelve forty and I have a 1PM meeting with my co-worker [Statler] to talk about some problem he’s been unable to solve. And I realize: If I don’t eat now, I won’t eat until 2, and I’ll be a low bloodsugar mess.

I run down to the first floor cafeteria because I forgot to bring my lunch on account of being exhausted in the morning and pay seven dollars for a turkey sandwich with limp lettuce and a mushy, tasteless tomato, wolfing it down while climbing stairs back to my floor, all the while suspecting the veggies are going to give me intestinal issues later on.

Then I’m in a small conference room with [Statler] and [Waldorf] and we’re talking about that issue.  Some production incident happened back on Monday, and it’s so far in the past I can barely remember it but of course they have been tasked to ensure it NEVER EVER HAPPENS AGAIN. After forty minutes I’ve traced the fucker.  Inconsistent shell settings. The solution is to update the group account environment settings to set an environment variable explicitly so you’re not relying on inherited values.  I show them how to do it.

[Statler] is really grateful. He’s a good guy and I generally like working with him. When we’re done working on the script he starts getting friendly, just shooting it around a little.

Saw you had to answer that event last night, sorry man, that sort of sucks. Everything OK?

Yeah, it’s fine. At least I didn’t cause the issue. Those are the worst, when everyone’s blaming you for what happened.

True. Well if there’s anything I can do to help, let me know.

Actually, there is. If you don’t want me to go to jail, consider preventing me from murdering our fearless leader. He’s driving me nuts.

As it happens, I can help with that by taking him down before you. You can’t kill someone who’s already dead.  Then I can go to jail and I don’t have to work anymore.  Wins all around.

Good points.  Thanks for looking out for me.  See you later.

Hey, btw, man – just remember. You can choose to be happy. Just – poof – choose it. You control how you react to these things. Turn that frown upside down, it’s all good and all that. Synthesize happiness.

[Statler] can’t keep a straight face all the way through his little advice session – he starts smiling midway through and by the end of it we’re both laughing hysterically. I tell him he’s my absolute favorite asshole on the planet and we each go back to our offices.

This is the third and final best part of my day.

I get back to my desk and start prepping for the 5PM work but realize there are additional 1-off tasks that have magically appeared in my in-box and just like that morning, they’re all urgent. Feedback requested on technical document by EOD. Messages stuck on queue for [TradingApp] in QA environment. Consultant wonders if we’re doing cross training at 2PM like we had scheduled. (No, due to unforseen events today, I no longer have the bandwidth. 2nd week in a row we’ve punted this meeting. He asks me to suggest an alternate time. I let it sit in my inbox, adding it to the Pile of Dread that I’ll have to sort through next week but in the meantime will act as invisible weights, dragging me down all weekend. Joy.)

At two thirty Cthulhu pops in my office and asks if we’re ready for the evening production work. I lie, hoping it’ll make him leave quicker.

Yeah, pretty much.

Great. Then you can work on reviewing this guy’s resume. I want to know if it’s worth talking to this guy on Monday or not.  It’d be a hire for our team but on the messaging side. Let me know in an hour.

He drops a document on my desk, two pages of qualifications. He seems to be a decent match on paper I do notice that his certification list is stale, on older product versions, and there’s nothing new added in the past 4 years which probably indicates a growing disinterest with the work, perhaps burnout. I look at how long he’s been going at it – the years of employment date back to 1984. Math says he’s close to 50.  No one else on our team is over 35 and most of us are late 20s — the perfect age for cranking.  Old enough to be experienced, young enough to hack away constantly, to rebound quickly after failures, to continually produce.

It’s an intense job and requires cutting edge skills and a lot of energy. I feel horrible making decisions which are clearly discriminatory, but I can’t be held responsible for recommending we move forward with a candidate I have these sorts of concerns about.  If he gets hired and doesn’t work out, people will absolutely ask who the hell approved him. I won’t be held liable for these things, and I can’t ignore the risk.  But for the record I hate that I work at a place that seems to obligate me to behave this way.  HR policy says I can’t do this, but the reality is that I must.

I can’t mention all of my concerns on via email because of legal concerns and I won’t allow them to be documented. I find myself stopping by Cthulhu’s office to have the discussion face to face. He’s in agreement on all points — especially the age, which he hadn’t noticed himself — and we’re done. Another half an hour of my day burned.

It’s close to 3. I now officially barely have enough time to prepare for the production work at 5. It is exactly at this time that I get a call on my desk phone from Operations. There’s an issue with our second most important trading application.

I’m suddenly on a bridge call with ten other people. Cthulhu’s voice cuts through – he likes to take ownership of these issues and boss people around. He asks if I’ve checked the logs.

Not yet, joined the call literally thirty seconds ago. On it, though, please stand by.

I review the logs. They’re fine. I say so on the bridge. Cthulhu asks if we should restart. I say yes, but we should probably collect additional diagnostics prior to that action, so we have some footprint of the problem to analyze. If we restart, the evidence may disappear.

I take a thread dump and it shows all threads are in use in a certain pool. It’s a pool reserved for external calls – there are essentially fifteen calls all out to the Bloomberg feed.  I know that there’s only supposed to be one of these.

I mention this on the bridge.

Guys, tons of threads stuck on Bloomberg, looks like pool exhaustion. Did anyone check to see if the feed is actually running at source?

Bloomberg’s never down, someone on the app team says.

Well it’s never been down before.  That’s different from stating that it can’t go down. Did someone actually check it?

There’s a pause. We wait ten minutes. During this period I’m prepping for the production work, the 5PM stuff that looms at the end of each and every workweek like a Guillotine specifically designed for slicing through souls of employees.  This work consists of opening terminal windows into machines and documenting specific steps that need to be followed, a playbook of sorts for my team’s end of the work. Every production change requires all of this fucking paperwork to be submitted that outlines all aspects of the updates, and if you don’t upload it to the designated central server, then we could fail an audit. Compliance and controls, baby. Hate this shit.

Okay, so what I found was Bloomberg is down, there’s a report on the support site. (The app team guy says this like it was his idea to check the fucking thing in the first place. )

Will the servers automatically reconnect to it when it comes back up?

I don’t know, we’ve never tested this. It’s untestable. You would have to take Bloomberg down intentionally to test it, and we can’t.

Wait, is Bloomberg back up though?

Uhhh, maybe? Wait… I think so yeah.

C’mon guys.  Can we know for sure instead of thinking so? Check it.

I hate myself for acting this way but it’s something I’ve accidentally picked up over the years.  It’s unintentional. The dicky-ness. It pops out at weird times and it’s only after the fact that I’m able to see what I just did — that I was just being a dick.  There are nicer ways to communicate, and I’m choosing to be mean.

There’s another couple minute delay. I’m typing into word documents, multitasking. Part of my consciousness briefly flickers to take stock of my face for a moment, for what reason I have no fucking idea. It feels heavy, the whole of it, the flesh hanging around my eyes and cheeks, like someone injected a concrete slurry into it.  I’m now peering out eyeholes cut into a motionless, virtually inanimate slab.

It’s up, the feed is up.

What do you want to do, then?

We need to restart, the app will reconnect. I’ll notify the traders.

At least we got our answer – the app will not automatically reconnect when the feed comes back online.


You know you have to fix this so it never happens again, right? (there’s that dicky-ness again…) Next time Bloomberg’s down, the app needs to auto-reconnect when it’s back up.  Also you really should log something.  You can then configure <logging application> to scrape and notify you on this condition.

Okay, makes sense. Are you filing the incident report?

No, I expect you to, being that this is ultimately an application related issue – you guys own it.

OK. I’ll give you the ID when I’m done so you can review it and add comments.  Can you include your suggestions, they’re reasonable and I don’t want to forget them.


At this point, it’s over. It’s 4:30. It occurs to me that I’d better start cutting corners in my prep work for the 5PM changes. I type furiously. I omit steps. Bad English creeps into the text. Incomplete sentences, abbreviations. This is another thing that happens when someone is overloaded: The quality of work goes down. I find myself wishing I didn’t waste half an hour working on that script from eleven to eleven thirty this morning. I should have been working on the production cutover work instead. I mentally ding myself for poor time management. Bad, bad [my_name].

At 4:58 I submit the last of the paperwork to the central server, which clears me to do the actual changes in 2 minutes.

Although it’s already been a fairly horrible day, this is when the real fun begins.

I open a conference bridge for the primary change. It’s an update to our main production app. There are four people on the call – an application developer, his manager, a user, and someone from operations.

Cthulhu stops by just as the call starts. He’s got his jacket on and a laptop bag slung over his shoulder. Heading out page me if anything unexpected happens, he says.

We make changes, deploy the new version of the trading app. Once it’s live, it’s turned over for users to run a set of functional tests against it to validate that both old and new features continue to work. We call this smoketesting.

User reports a fuck ton of smoke, so we know there’s fire, meaning: bugs. I ask why these problems weren’t caught in our non-production environment. The developer sheepishly admits that they didn’t have time to run the full test suite during the week. (In other words, they broke process and shoved this version into production without following standard operating procedure.)

They make a decision on the spot: Roll back to the previously working version. Fix this version, attempt redeploy on Saturday. The business has been promised this new functionality for use on Monday morning. Failure is unacceptable.

Will you be around to help with the work tomorrow? We can do it early, 7AM. We think we know what to fix, we’ll work all night and get ‘er done. With any luck we’ll be all set by 8 or 8:30 and you can enjoy your weekend.

Yes, of course, I say. (There’s really only one acceptable answer to give here and I give it to satisfy expectations despite feeling a hard knot growing in my stomach.)

It’s the worst thing that’s happened to me so far today because it’s ruined part of my weekend. Prior to this, I had this fantasy of actually relaxing – actually getting enough sleep, actually waking up next to my girlfriend at like 11 in the morning, a beautiful, lazy day ahead of us. Instead work is getting in the way of things, as usual, the world’s most unwelcome third in the least sexy threesome possible. And the really crazy thing is, even though it’s the worst thing to happen so far in a day full of absolute shit at the end of an excrement packed week, it’s only the third worst thing of the day.

I just don’t know about the other two, yet.

At this point it’s six in the evening and I’m supposed to start on the production change for the second and third applications (we’re doing three rollouts this evening) but instead I’m working to revert to the previous version of this trading application first. We can’t leave things in their currently broken state.

I am now juggling between three different conference bridges – one per app – logging on and off as I swap through tasks. These exercises, thankfully, complete successfully, although one of the other apps does take a really long time to validate and sign-off.

While I’m waiting for that last app to complete, I take a few minutes to log into my Vanguard account and check the balance. There’s about seventy five thousand dollars in there. I figure, I spend about 28K a year right now. So that’s almost three years of freedom. At least I’m moving in the right direction. If I keep it up, there will eventually be an end to this shit. Right? Right?!?!  There’d better be.  Because this life pretty much blows.

It’s eight thirty when I’m done. I’ve been working for basically thirteen hours straight. I worked nearly thirteen the day before as well, and about twelve the day before that. I don’t know why my brain records these things, but it does.

The only thing that’s keeping me sane is that I’m supposed to meet my girlfriend tonight. I told her I’d call her when my changes were done and then I’d pick her up and we’d hang out, she’d stay over, then we’d have most of the weekend together. Except for a couple of hours tomorrow morning. Which I could probably live with.

I’m late though. We were supposed to be done with the work at six thirty or so, and it’s two hours past.

I consider just for a second calling my manager and telling him about the weekend work and then think: fuck it. I’ll send him an email in the morning when it’s all done. That way he can’t get involved.

I shut Winblowz down, pack up my shit and leave, suddenly aware of just how amazingly exhausted I am. Everything feels heavy. My shoulders slump. My laptop bag feels like a million pounds. And my hands.  God, my hands.  They’re tingling and stiffening. I wonder if I have to see a doctor or something.

Then I remember I never did get time to file my effort reporting docs or update my weekly status: More work for tomorrow. If it isn’t done by Monday, I’ll have hell to pay. Plus those support guys could call back at any time to try to make progress on that ticket for my director.

Everyone else on the planet is happy tonight. It’s Friday night. TGIF.

Except me. FFSIF.

I walk down the corridor to the stairway leading to the ground floor, past mostly empty offices. Then I see a light on in one. It’s Cthulhu’s.

Shit, I thought he was leaving, I think. I take an alternate path, darting left then right, making my way toward the kitchen.

And then I see him. He’s in there, in the kitchen, stirring the contents of a paper cup. I can hear an alarm blasting in my head: Error! Error! I’m just about to turn around when he sees me. (Fuck!)

Hey. We need to talk.

Sure, but I only have a minute. Work done, gotta get home now.

It’ll only take a minute. So, two things. One: Are you done with that script? It’s two weeks behind and I renegotiated delivery to this coming Monday.

(This is the script I’d tried to work on a bit earlier in the day.)

I was planning on doing it this weekend, I just haven’t been able to find the time during the week, it’s been extremely busy.

Fine. Moving on to the second thing: I was on that bridge, listening.

(shit shit shit)

You should have paged or called as soon as you found that the trading application deploy failed. I needed to know. This is the third time in a single day that you’re leaving me out of the loop. I can’t have this, you know that. I need to be aware of absolutely everything that’s going on.

I was about to email you and then decided I’d do it from home.

Unacceptable. If this happens one more time, I’ll be forced to take official action. You must do exactly what I tell you. Like it or not – and I’m beginning to suspect you don’t like it – I am your boss. I can’t have insubordination. You need to do what you’re told and I need to be more involved in your work. Period.

Just out of curiosity, what would you have done if I paged you immediately?

I would have joined the bridge.

Okay. And then what?

The application owner said they didn’t test in the quality assurance [AKA QA, ie non production environment] environment. I would order a full regression to be run in QA after they update code. Only after their QA tests complete would I allow a deploy in production. You need to ask for written validation that the testing in the QA environment completed successfully before you re-try the production deploy.

Since when?  

Since I’m telling you to do it. 

Fine.  (I say “Fine” a lot when what I really want to say is “Fuck you.” I suspect this is true for many people at work.) Actually, I’ll send an email tonight so they know what I’m expecting.

Call them now. No email.

I really need to go home now Cthulhu. It’s almost eight thirty. I’ll call when I get home.

Call them now.

Despite my incredible fatigue, this gets a rise out of me. My face flushes and I’m hot, ready for action. I realize in this instant that I absolutely hate this man, this ambitious, controlling, overbearing and sadistic piece of human feces that is my manager.  I wasn’t sure until this moment — I thought it was just dislike prior — but this exchange has helped to clarify my feelings.  It’s hate.

I figure I’ve got two basic choices: I can either make the call, or I can quit, which would free me to jump him in the parking lot and pound the living crap out of him. In half a second, my eyes flash up and down and I find myself actually considering it. He’s taller than me but skinnier. There’s no way he’d be able to push me off in time, not with those scrawny arms. The whole thing would be easy and fun.

But I’m not ready to quit.

Decision made, I whip my cell phone out and I call the application team guys, telling them about what I’m going to need. They say fine (I hear: fuck you!), but they’re going to need me to do the QA deploy at 7 instead of the prod deploy. Then they’ll run tests and assuming they pass, we can re-try the prod deploy around 8. With any luck, we’ll now be finished around 10 or 10:30. And Cthulhu wonders why I exclude him from these events whenever possible.

Two hours added to my early morning Saturday work. Then I add additional pain to my day by projecting the future: I’m going to have even more involvement with Cthulhu moving forward because I can now never ever ever leave him out of the loop. Because if he catches me even one more time, he’s going to go absolutely batshit.

This series of realizations constitutes the second-worst part of my day.

I shut the lid of my phone and walk out of the building without saying another word. He calls my name but I don’t look back. I need this day to be over. I need it like I haven’t needed anything in a long time.  I also need a drink.  [I was drinking while writing this.]

I get in my car in the parking lot. It’s pitch black out and I’m shivering from the cold.

It’s then that I remember I was supposed to call [girlfriend’s name] around seven and now it’s past nine. I dial her number under the dim glow of my interior lights and ask if she’s ready to be picked up.

Oh there you are. It’s about time.

Yeah, I’m really sorry about that.

You were supposed to call before seven.  What happened?

Work ran late.  You know how it goes.

Listen, I know we were supposed to get together tonight but I think we need to change plans. I’m already in bed, I’m exhausted, long week.

Okay. I understand. I’ll call you when work’s over tomorrow.  I have some morning stuff to do.

Again? Didn’t you have to work just two Saturdays ago?

I know. It sucks. I’ll give you the details later.

You ok?

Yeah, I guess so. I mean, no, not really. I don’t know. 

Just go home and go to bed. Things will look better in the morning. Oh! And don’t forget to eat something first.

I won’t, I say, thinking that I’ll be having a liquid dinner.  See you tomorrow, miss you.

Sounds great, gorgeous. It’s a plan. Bye.

When I started the engine, it finally settled in that I won’t be waking up next to her tomorrow morning.

And in a day full of lousy realizations, this particular one ends up being the absolute worst of the worst. It doesn’t even make me angry. Just sad, you know? I’m home alone typing this garbage into a word document instead of being happy.

It’s all because of work. This job owns my life. I don’t want to accept it – part of me is still trying to fight this hideous fact.

But the evidence sure is mounting, isn’t it.

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92 Responses to A Return to Work

  1. Joe Olson says:

    Hoo boy, that was a doozy.

    The title totally had me tricked.

    Glad you have this to look back on to appreciate your freedom even more, and give us stories to shudder through. 😀

    • livafi says:

      There’s definitely something to the idea that persevering through tough experiences makes realizing the endgame (an end to work) that much sweeter. Thanks for the comment.

  2. Ugh. That was depressing as hell…haha. “Altec Lansing desktop speakers book-ending my CRT monitor” . I’ve had shitty days / weeks, but if that was a regular occurrence I wouldn’t have lasted

    • livafi says:

      They weren’t all this bad. That was one of the very worst days. And for the record I didn’t last that long — just 3 years. If I could go back and do it again, I would have left after about a year and a half — about three months after this particular day’s events. I should have taken this day as the signal to start looking for something new and made plans to leave. Period.

      I do not advise people to stay in jobs they absolutely hate in order to reach FI. Life is too short to completely mortgage years of it unless you’re paid an astounding amount of money — I would say in the range of 250K+. (I was well compensated but fell far short of that mark.)

  3. Michael says:

    Looking back, was what you have now worth it? Do you think you should have just taken a less stressful job and worked 5 more years?

    • livafi says:

      >>Do you think you should have just taken a less stressful job and worked 5 more years?

      Yes. Absolutely. My experience with my final employer (an academic institution) was incredibly nice compared to FinancialCompany. I had something resembling work-life balance most weeks and I was much happier as a result. It would have been worth the trade to work longer to reach FI and have a richer life along the way.

      The goal of FI itself remains 100% worth it. It’s only the aggressiveness of my approach that I think should be called into question. Love my current life.

  4. Seeking FI in Boston says:

    Wow, it’s crazy to hear how stressful your jobs have sometimes been. I’ve been relatively fortunate in that, in my post-academic work life, my job has been extremely laid back. I mean, sure, there’s no real technical track for advancement, I’m underpaid relative to what I could earn elsewhere, and 90% of the office does nothing but play politics, but I don’t have any crazy deadlines and working from home allows me to pretend like a lot of the office mayhem isn’t happening anyway. I don’t think I could handle someone like Cthulhu, and I’m amazed that you were able to put up with it as long as you did. That level of bullshit and weekend work has to be abnormal for a tech job, right? Right? If not, that makes me terrified to think of leaving my current gig.

    • livafi says:

      >> That level of bullshit and weekend work has to be abnormal for a tech job, right?

      I don’t know. It’s an open question I have for folks in the industry. I know for sure that it’s typical for finance because I know people who work at State Street, Wellington, and Fidelity who report, at least occasionally, weeks or even months like this. And I know it’s pretty typical for Amazon employees as well.

      There’s also this blog post by facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz which seems to indicate my experiences are not all that out of the ordinary. Dustin comes out in his blog post and says: Well people are criticizing the Amazon article as being overly negative and one sided. But no one really contests that the culture is one of intensity and persistent hard work.

      Quote: “Fundamentally, this is a familiar part of tech culture: at high performing companies, employees work extremely hard, to an extent that is unsustainable for most people.”

      Another article.

      And another. This one states “Tech workers less happy than workers in other industries.”

      Another, this one a blog post written by a programmer in the Valley. “80-hour weeks are a badge of honor. With all meals provided, showers and couches to nap on, people are discouraged from seeking outside stimulation.”

      I believe this is the reality for a large number of people in startups and other areas of tech. And I’ve also seen that this sort of work culture appears to be spreading. I could be wrong. I continue to be on the lookout for articles which study work life balance, burnout, and overall industry trends.

      Re: FinancialCompany — I found there were really two separate problems. One was the work — the constancy of it, the hours, the stress, etc. And two was the way my manager handled the work — by creating even more of it, and magnifying stress on his subordinates instead of muffling it. (Good managers will take steps to make sure their employees aren’t too overwhelmed and don’t burn out.) My manager’s behavior was generally accepted because the intense culture of ambition allowed and encouraged it, unfortunately.

      • Felicity says:

        Oh wow O.o

        It’s absolutely fascinating reading these kinds of articles and hearing your story! Would you say your past experience working at FinancialCompany affected your ability to let go and retire?

      • livafi says:

        >>Would you say your past experience working at FinancialCompany affected your ability to let go and retire?

        No. I attribute most of the difficulties behind actually retiring to a) overcoming cultural expectations to continually work (which ties into complicated issues of status and personal identity) and b) getting over some amount of institutionalization — I’d been working for so long, moving through the same weekly routines, that it was hard to let go. There are other difficulties as well — I think I articulated them back in my Leaving the Cushy Job post (e.g. greed, not knowing if I had enough, being worried about an uncertain future, etc) but those are really the two biggest.

      • Loom says:

        Guess I just got lucky. Never worked in finance, but tech in SF for a few years now and I rarely have more than 40 hours per week. I’m on the dev side, sounds like you were in operations? We have on call schedules, but we’re only on rotation like once every 4-6 weeks. And usually, nothing happens. I’ve been called at night maybe 3 times ever.

        None of my friends or co-workers reports anything like this. Either it’s finance, or it’s operations, or you just got really unlucky.

      • livafi says:

        >>I’m on the dev side, sounds like you were in operations?
        Not exactly. I was on the middleware team — appservers, messaging systems, other infrastructure components. But there’s overlap with ops, because you’re responsible for the health of these systems so if there are issues with the underlying software, it’s on you to resolve them. (Think: memory leaks. Or bugs with the APIs and other packages the vendors provide. Or a problem with any run-time activity, e.g. some code deployment fails midway through with a fun stack to examine. Etc.) In addition we assisted app teams re: leveraging product features to make their lives easier. I found at one point that a team was writing their own connection pooling code straight to a JDBC driver for example, and almost shit a brick, that stuff is out of box on any app server and can be enabled in 10 minutes.

        Some of it is certainly luck. In my Job Experience posts I examine how this happened and concluded it was because I didn’t take a dev job right out of school. I took a position with an awesome later-stage startup that was both successful and fun. This was in SF. The problem was that the role granted was support. It was engineering support, to be sure, full of developer-speak and analyzing java stacks and running test cases, but still support instead of dev. I will say that there were *intense* periods of dev for all of the engineers at that place, though, people sleeping under desks during coding marathons, that sort of thing. Lots of pressure to keep moving.

        I intentionally took a non-middleware, non-ops role after my experience at FinComp, and things got a lot better in my life.

    • Felicity says:

      I feel the same way – also in the Boston area! Maybe we’re somewhat insulated from it?

      My previous tech position had a lot of frustrations, but there were few if any late nights. My new position (six months in)…I could see still working after FI in some capacity. I genuinely like my management, coworkers, and workload. I could be making a higher salary elsewhere, but my hourly wage would almost assuredly drop.

      • Seeking FI in Boston says:

        > I could be making a higher salary elsewhere, but my hourly wage would almost assuredly drop.

        This is exactly how I rationalize it as well. I have effectively open offers that would raise my salary by as much as 50%. However, my hours would likely double, so I’ve been strongly holding off on those options. Of course it’s not just about hourly wage (if I made $1000/hour but only got 1 hour of work per week, it wouldn’t be helpful for FI), but at the moment I’m able to make some sort of steady cadence towards FI while not feeling overwhelmed in my daily activities. Others might prefer the higher-income, more aggressive approach.

  5. Kevin says:

    Damn dude, I got anxiety just reading this. I know that I would not have survived those pressures or environment.

    • livafi says:

      You might be surprised at what you can adapt to when called upon.
      But yeah, I had a lot of anxiety back then. Almost all of it was caused by work.

  6. ryanrbradley says:

    Top narrative voice yet again. This one made me quite sad as I read it sitting in my cubicle.

  7. StockBeard says:

    Great read as always, glad for you that you’re out of all this, sad for myself that I’m typing this from my cubicle, still experiencing many of the things you wrote back then.

  8. Prob8 says:

    I found myself thinking that your situation was absolutely ridiculous and I have no idea how you tolerated it. Then I recalled many weeks just like that when I worked at BigLaw. It seemed like everyday I was up to my elbows in assholes. The work sucked too. It’s no surprise I only made it 2 years before burnout. Unfortunately, that experience tainted my legal career. On the bright side, it put me on the path to FIRE. Thanks for the post! It brought back some memories.

    • livafi says:

      >>I was up to my elbows in assholes.
      Great image. Yeah, I’ve read lots about the difficulties of BigLaw on personal blogs. Terrific pay, not so terrific day-to-day existence.

      >>Unfortunately, that experience tainted my legal career.
      Know exactly what you mean. After all, I’m the guy who wrote thousands of words about his negative employment experiences. Clearly there’s a part of me that can’t quite let go of it.

      I still worry about people who are still living out those sorts of high-stress lives which are utterly dominated by unpleasant work. I worry about what it is going to do to them, long term. I worry about how it’s going to change them as people.

      And ultimately I want them to see the light, to recognize there are other options, and to get the hell out (either by a) immediately via job switching or b) eventually via saving/investing being able to afford a career downsize or even outright retirement).

  9. Definitely do post more of these, good sir. Though I wasn’t in an environment quite as high pressure as this, I have definitely seen exactly what you’ve described. Working in the IT industry for this long, especially in a support role, can definitely drain the bloody life right out of you. Your life is the business, and worse, the business expects it to be so.

    • livafi says:

      Cool, thanks for the feedback Steve. I’ll push another one up but I think I’ll wait a couple of months — hopefully with some very different content posted in the interim — to avoid publishing too many soul-crushing stories in a row. Gotta have breaks from this type of stuff.

      • Jon says:

        Don’t space them out! A nice block that illustrates the pain and suffering of w*rk is the perfect does of shock treatment to stiffen my FIRE resolve! Need more!

  10. Damn dude. You have talent. If you can write like that when exhausted and pissed off. Any idea where the guy lives? It’s not too late to kick his ass (he’ll never see it coming now)?

    I was in accounting before FIRE. It apparently has a lot in common with Finance Tech.

    I enjoyed especially the part where you checked Vanguard. I remember those days of life sucks but I have 3-5x expenses saved; maybe I should kick the boss-bitch square in the [thingie] and just get sent home? I wonder if Google knows where she lives. Might not be too late for a swift kick to the crotch.

    • Haha. The “C” word is auto censored here. I should use it every post just to trip the filter. Maybe that is “Vitamin A” talking though.

      • livafi says:

        Sorry dude, it’s one of the very few I’ll filter. Mostly I enjoy the salty language, though, it’s a fun time and helps convey emotion.

        Thanks for the comments on the writing — glad you enjoyed it. There’s a final note in that entry that I finished at 1AM, so it looks like it took me about 4 hours to get it all out. I have no direct memory of either that day or the day after, though. Drinking plus a second consecutive night of 5 hours of sleep. It couldn’t have been good.

        Sometimes I get together with an ex-CW from that place and we reminisce about the cast of characters. When this happens we almost always start joking about looking up addresses and saying hi with clubs and chains and spikes. Ahh, the lolz. Although this guy was on a different team, he had exposure to my manager in meetings and also thought the world could probably do without him. Super-inflated sense of importance, absolutely insufferable.

  11. Kfish says:

    I am so sorry you had to live through that. Your writing is excellent and I’m feeling more grateful for my workplace now.

  12. RB35 says:

    Doom, great post as always. Know exactly what you mean – whenever it gets bad and annoying I’ll pull up my excel spreadsheet with my asset valuations and tell myself that this part of my life too, shall pass.

    Do you reckon you could have adopted a more chill the fuck out approach whilst still milking the cow? I reckon that most of the stress is pretty much self imposed, at least from my end of things when adopting a more stoic lens

    • livafi says:

      At that particular place, at least in my role, with that manager, it was virtually impossible to be chill. I am sometimes baffled by the idea that individuals can voluntarily change their own attitude when faced with continually trying situations and everything will suddenly be all right.

      Look, the responses available for individual use are limited to some extent by company culture. Two of my later jobs (a startup, and also my last job, in IT with a university) I was able to assume something closer to the attitude you suggest, to back off and relax. But the reason I was able to do this is because this behavior was ultimately allowed by the culture. Specifically these places did not have the underlying assumption that they owned your life.

      In finance — at least with my own employer — it just wasn’t the case. One of my teammates wasn’t able to work as hard due to massive family obligations (autistic child, other stuff) and he was put on a performance plan and eventually fired, right before he could collect the year-end bonus. Watching the situation unfold was painful. The push was real, constant, and not purely in my head. I understand when people say “it’s your choice how you respond to stimuli, you can choose to be sucked in — you can choose to respond to the demands competitively — or you can, alternatively, choose to let things go, to let things drop, to not worry about your performance too much.” That point of view sounds great on paper and definitely works with some employers. It’s stoic and optimistic and places the nexus of control squarely on the head of the worker.

      But again, it is my observation that some places of employment tolerate this attitude from employees and some do not. Financial companies frequently feel as though they are compensating you well enough to make ridiculous demands on your life, and they expect you to hold up your end of the deal by producing and rarely, if ever, saying no to anything.

      See my response to “Seeking FI in Boston” for some backing articles on tech industry trends on overwork.

      • okits says:

        Thank you for this very coherent explanation why sometimes “you can choose to not be stressed!” is not a realistic solution. Sometimes the environment doesn’t allow it (and, indeed, is configured to encourage a certain outcome.) It’s easier to just dismiss job stress as an employee’s personal failing, but that’s not the whole truth and so doesn’t lead to a real solution.

        Reading your Anger Diary entry, my chest felt very tight and I thought I might possibly cry Stress Tears. OMFG. So glad it’s from the distant past.

        Re: brother. If you haven’t come across this piece of scrubbyfish wisdom on the MMM forums, I’ve found it gives me a lot of clarity and peace when considering other people’s situations: never help someone more than they are willing to help themselves. If your brother doesn’t want your help looking for a side gig or making better choices, your work there is done.

        And hey, good writing from you ten years ago. I’m guessing you’ve always “had it”!

        Happy Easter!

      • livafi says:

        Re: choosing to not be stressed — I believe that in some workplaces, the only way to choose not to be stressed is to quit. Stress is a very natural reaction to situations with uncertain outcomes, an overload of obligation, and etc. Some of it is healthy. We grow and progress as people as we learn to manage it and cope. Too much is obviously not. I think we can to some extent control our reactions to environments – to breathe, to give ourselves breaks, to exercise, to limit exposure to toxic people and increase time spent with the people we like. But sometimes, it’s too much — and it’s not our fault. In these situations, if the stress is too great, the only solution is to remove yourself from that environment.

        But, if you need a paycheck, that possibility (quitting) might not be on the table. For many people, removing the paycheck will result in greater stress (e.g. how will I feed my family) than persevering through the difficulties. And this is why people stay in jobs they’ve come to dislike or even hate. They’re choosing between multiple distasteful options.

        You’ve probably already read this comment in my responses to other people but I should have started looking for a new gig immediately following that day’s experiences. Cthulhu had been my manager for about four months and at that point it was crystal clear that we weren’t going to have a tolerable working relationship. It was 2005, prior to the Great Recession, and I wouldn’t have had much difficulty finding another job.

        But that’s hindsight talking. At the time, toughing it out seemed like the right decision.

        I really like Scrubbyfish’s advice. My brother’s a great guy — he’s just really bad with money. And he doesn’t earn a lot, which magnifies each and every poor choice he makes. For example, he bought a new iPad about four months ago and showed it off a little before Christmas. This fact wasn’t lost on me when he asked me for help with his rent and I asked a lot of questions about where his money is going. (He initially resisted, but the great thing about someone asking you for money is that it’s completely your right to turn it around and say: Let’s talk about your monthly in/out — let’s talk about discretionary purchases and what you can afford and what you cannot afford. If the “askee” takes any offense at all at your level of interest, you can shut down the conversation entirely by saying: “Fine, you don’t want to go into details, then we’re done with this conversation. Apparently you think it’s OK to ask me for money but not OK for me to ask you how your money is being spent — which is clearly how this problem came about. Makes no sense.” Totally appropriate to speak this way, IMO.)

        Long story short, he’ll manage without my assistance. Here’s what I’ve learned about bailing people out: You’re teaching them that there are no consequences for their actions. They’re learning that if they make a similar choice in the future, you will help them out again. You’re enabling them to continue to make bad spending decisions. And at the same time, here’s what you are not teaching them: How to make better decisions in the future.

        We had a long talk about options — ways that he could effectively manage his own situation and pay rent — and that was that. Hopefully he learned something that will help, long term. I will not be his quick-fix solution.

        Thanks for the thoughtful comment, as always.

    • Stevie Wonders says:

      I’ve seen several bloggers and commenters claiming stress (or overwork) is self-imposed, which makes me think they have yet to encounter a nasty environment. I challenge anyone where 70+ hour weeks are mandated (with those unable/unwilling to comply quickly RIFed), or with a boss threatening your job every other week over insanely unrealistic expectations, to simply enter the Zen zone. Even for less demanding roles, with hugely profitable companies laying off or offshoring at the drop of a hat, I find this notion rather naive.

  13. It’s cool bro. Censor away. The “C” word is pretty vulgar after all. [crotch] [crotch] [crotch] [crotch]

  14. rob/d says:

    I have private work diaries back to the 80’s. Sometimes a few words will bring back a full day of crap. I sometimes pick them up but put em back down quickly because it’s mostly hideous shit i would rather forget . Asshole bosses, stupid deadlines ,stupid coworkers , and the hours i put into all this makes me shudder .I miss none of it .

    • livafi says:

      Yep, completely understand. I made it through four entries and had to stop myself, I was starting to get a sinking, horrible feeling in my stomach. There’s a limit to what I can take. I’m so much happier now, it’s unreal.

  15. Scott says:

    “Part of my consciousness briefly flickers to take stock of my face for a moment, for what reason I have no fucking idea. It feels heavy, the whole of it, the flesh hanging around my eyes and cheeks, like someone injected a concrete slurry into it. I’m now peering out eyeholes cut into a motionless, virtually inanimate slab…..”

    I have to tell you that I laughed so hard at parts of this blog post (see above) that tears were streaming down my face. Your description of the soul-crushing nature of stressful, white collar work is truly second to none.

    There is a huge “bright side” though. At least you first saw the concrete slurry in your cheeks in your twenties. This got you moving at a very early age to escape your terrible work situation. Most of us don’t see the dead, hopeless eyes in the mirror until our 40s. As a result, you are out decades sooner than most of us…and as a result you have all the more time to enjoy your sweet freedom.

    A BIG hat tip to your blog. Thanks so much for sharing your story. It is very inspirational!

    • livafi says:

      I don’t blame you for laughing. It’s got a certain brutal, black humor to it. Also, the word slurry is inherently funny.

      Completely, 100% agree with your observation about seeing the bright side. The set of experiences at FinComp really cemented my desire to keep the savings rate high to open the doors for an eventual escape.

      Thanks a lot for the comment, I’m glad you’re enjoying it.🙂

  16. Wow, that job would have sucked. I hate when people make unreasonable demands on you, especially when they say things like “you’ve had this for two weeks and you haven’t moved forward at all”. And they say it like you’ve been sitting on your arse for that whole time, perhaps alternating been watching porn and drinking beer, or maybe even doing both. They probably know that you’ve been working your arse off on other shit that gets dumped on you (sometimes by them!), but they make that your fault because you haven’t “managed your conflicting priorities well enough”.

    I got so sick of hearing that shit as I was climbing the ladder that I do my best to never make people feel like that now. Some of my peers don’t get it though – it’s like they can never manage any client expectations, they will just promise whatever the client asks for and give staff absolutely no breathing room at all.

    I can see how you don’t miss that crap, and even though you’re out of that shithole of a workplace now, Cthulhu is probably just terrorising a whole new generation of poor suckers!

    • livafi says:

      I loved this comment. And yes, Cthulhu is in fact abusing other people, but he’s doing it for another employer — he was let go from FinancialCompany about 6 months after I quit (another CW of mine quit 4 months after me, and losing 2 high performing people in under half a year made higher-ups take a closer look at him — at which point they found that he had virtually no support from peers or underlings. Bye-bye, Mr. TentacleHead.

      Still, I’m sure he’s doing pretty much the same thing somewhere else. The thing about working for finance is that it pretty much always looks good on your resume, allowing you to find a job somewhere else quickly and easily. No doubt he’s up to the same old tricks… I have trouble believing that he has become any nicer in the years between then and now.

      >>I got so sick of hearing that shit as I was climbing the ladder that I do my best to never make people feel like that now.
      On behalf of office workers everywhere: Thank you.

      • Stevie Wonders says:

        Which makes me wonder all the more why your former manager was eliminated in favor of Cthulhu? Did the company think the IT group was underperforming? Were they just totally clueless about the people they hired/promoted? I’ll never understand how companies permit this type of wreckage to occur.

  17. Mr. SSC says:

    You know, this post was timed perfectly. I have been too busy to read it until this morning, and um, thanks for the perspective. Even though I’ve been working with 4 other teams to get together 1 powerpoint from 5 different powerpoints, all saved in different places, for a meeting with bosses, and their bosses and other bosses in about 45 minutes I realized one thing. Yep, I still like my job.🙂 Even when it gets Bat sh!t crazy and people want stuff on ridiculous deadlines and all of that, I still like showing up and I only have 1 pseudo-Cthulu around here, and he’s not even on my team – Win!!

    Thanks for the perspective, and no wonder you wanted out as soon as possible. Hopefully, the creaky, achy hands have cleared up. I’ve had my bouts with that, where I ended up with Thoracic Outlet Compression – think carpal tunnel issues that start in the side of your neck and get worse by the time you get to your fingers. It took 2.5 months of PT to get that worked out and thankfully it hasn’t come back, but I don’t type nearly as much as programmers though.

    • livafi says:

      You’re welcome. 🙂

      I enjoy looking back at those years once in a while as well. Really helps me to appreciate not only other employers and managers (where things were much more reasonable) as well as the state of not working.

      Sorry about your hands. Yeah, mine are fine, I have no lingering issues. They just need rest periodically.

  18. G-dog says:

    Horrors! Absolute horror – I cannot imagine living like that for three years! So, did you get a visceral reaction reliving this shiteous day? I’ll admit, I still get emotionally sucked into some ongoing crap at my former workplace. Mostly because it is shifting on some friends that remain, but there is also an element of personal outrage.

    • livafi says:

      You have to remember, it wasn’t constantly like that. That was one of the top 5 or 6 worst days. There were periods where work was tolerable — Cthulhu was sick and OOO for two straight weeks once, which made me so happy that I still remember it😀 My basic reaction was disgust — with Cthulhu, but also with myself. Fact: My life would have worked out fine if I’d quit that very day, and as I read through the entry I found myself wishing that I was going to, all the while knowing I didn’t.

      But that’s hindsight for you. At the time I felt a very urgent need to continue to acquire skills, pad the resume, and make a lot of money. That drive powered me through the unpleasant days and continually told me to just tough it out, that it would be okay.

      (And it was ultimately OK, obviously.)

      • Stevie Wonders says:

        Don’t beat yourself up about not quitting. I wound up in a very well paying job with a godawful group having several semi-Cthulhu bosses. Despite knowing it wouldn’t likely get better, wrongly figured if I just tried harder it would work out. Won’t make that mistake again. On the other hand… being unemployed beforehand, first experience with that bad a boss, Great Recession still in progress, other opportunities weren’t plentiful. There is research showing high stress damages long-term decision making ability. Retrospectively, it appears much more obvious I should have bailed earlier, despite the obstacles.

  19. B Smith says:

    I love your writing, its so visceral I feel like I am the one that wants to kick Cthulu in the balls. This was amazing expect for the fact that now I feel like I need to go back and read about those years again. Damn it there goes my day.

    • livafi says:

      Thanks for the kind words. I had dreams about him for a few months even after I left that job. Most people have some redeeming qualities. Not sure about him. Fact: Cthulhu was a performance engineer for two years at FinComp before getting promoted into management. Multiple people confided in me that he was promoted primarily because he was so useless as an individual contributor — there was a need to move him to something else so a different (read: competent) engineer could be hired to function in that role. Yet, he chugged the kool-aid so thirstily that the company didn’t want to just fire him — most companies love dedicated sycophants and this place was no different. And that’s how that clown fell into power — through incompetence and ass-kissing. Beautiful.

  20. Boondoggler says:

    Great post. It brings back memories of my time in IT, with installs and updates going sideways. Basically winging it, weekends ruined. I thought I was going to die in a car accident early one Sunday morning driving home and having a hard time staying awake. After a jacked up install that took over 24 hours that should never have been green lighted to begin with.

    I once had a boss that terrorized his employees, but for some reason treated me well. Shortly after I started working for him (we’re talking days later), he sent me one of these emails he was famous for, written in all CAPS, telling me that he didn’t want to hear what I “thought” but instead wanted to hear what I “knew.” He was replying to an email I’d sent him earlier saying I wasn’t sure that his suggestion would work. There was no way to be certain if his idea would work without trying it. I was just dubious and had spelled out my reasoning pretty clearly. So I emailed him back and said “I wasn’t being wish washy, I was being deferential. Your suggestion will not work.” I refrained from ending my email with “asshole.” I never got an email like that from him again, even as he continued to use that technique on others. One guy with a lot of tenure actually quit after receiving one too many of them. The boss cc’d the whole team, saying basically “hey look at what Jim did that was so fucked up, no one else ever do that,” and “Jim” put in his notice.

    • livafi says:

      Awesome story. Loved your comment to your manager: Just being deferential. The thing about tech is that either something works or it doesn’t. There’s virtually never an in-between. Results quickly decide who is right and who is a moron.

  21. I moved properties and didn’t bother getting internet access installed to escape this shit. Half the people I work with are off on stress leave and the other half are qualified by…. I talked to a bloke in a pub once about this config. I know exactly what this is like I took a $50k paycut just to get a little bit of breathing space

  22. Matt says:

    Did they do an exit interview when you left? If so, did you actually point the manager was the biggest problem?

    I work in IT too, and after leaving one job (for another in same company in a different business unit), I wrote this long letter explaining the many many problems. While I found it cathartic, much as your diaries, it didn’t accomplish a damn thing.

    Workplace inertia is a powerful thing.

    Love the blog, have read nearly every post, but first time commenting, Really enjoy your writing, and it is very inspirational. I’m a long way from FIRE, still slogging my way through the trenches.

    • livafi says:

      >>Did they do an exit interview when you left? If so, did you actually point the manager was the biggest problem?

      Absolutely. I went to the extent of saying: “I generally like my job. My direct teammates are great. I want you to know that I’m leaving entirely because of my manager and I have no other negative comments about my experiences here.”

      They asked why I didn’t try to transfer teams, too, and I said that once you realize you’re working with someone like this, you don’t ever, ever want to see them again, and all teams interacted with him at least occasionally.

      I’d like to think that’s a large part of why he was let go about 6 months after I departed. (Well, actually he was put on ‘special projects’ which is a nice way of telling an employee that they’re done and need to look for something else while allowing them to collect a paycheck for a while. And he did leave very quickly after that.)

  23. Jamie V. says:

    What a shit show. Thank you for sharing such a personal perspective. You continue to be an inspiration to me. I don’t even have a years worth saved up yet (still in the paying off debt stage) to check to see, “what if I just quit now?”. There are so many of us at any one given time trudging through these trenches. As alone as we all feel at the time, we’re not the only peons. Group misery gives some tiny bit of dark relief. I wonder, of all the people I talk to throughout the day, how many are feeling just like me, the dirt under the foot, trying to just make it til it’s time to go home again? How many of us poor saps work together each day, unknowingly, not speaking about this boat we’re both in, but can’t actually make a human connection in acknowledging it? Thank you for this post.

    • livafi says:

      >>I wonder, of all the people I talk to throughout the day, how many are feeling just like me, the dirt under the foot, trying to just make it til it’s time to go home again?

      Plenty of people feel this way. I can offer a bit of proof by mentioning the popularity of that sitcom The Office, which is about white-collar toil and the obligations of work. Both versions had a good run, lots of interest from the public (UK and States). But still, the sense of loneliness can be real, since we’re not allowed to talk about the nitty gritty details of experience when it comes to “trudging through the trenches.” Hell, most of the time I didn’t even really go into detail with my girlfriend (now my wife) and she’s in a very similar field to me — she would completely understand it. Instead we usually kept conversations limited to executive summaries and moved on to focus on other, more pleasant things. For example, I’m pretty sure that if we ever talked about that particular day, the conversation would have gone more like this:

      Her: How was your day?
      Me: Oh, horrible. Maybe more horrible than usual. Botched evening work, had to put in an extra 2 hours. Had a fight with Cthulhu about keeping him in the loop. You know how it is — it never ends..
      Her: Yep. I know. I’m in the same boat, basically. Let’s put a movie on and chill on the couch…

      So that would have happened instead of the tiresome and bleak 6,000 word verbal dump into the journal. And to be honest, it was probably good that we didn’t focus on it too much. Endlessly ruminating on negative experiences is probably not a great way to live out your time on the planet. (That being said, it wound up being helpful to spend some amount of time thinking about these experiences, as eventually the persistence of these types of horrible thoughts motivated me to decide ‘enough is enough’ and ultimately move away from that job; I finally took action to fix the root of the problem and quit, found something new, became happier.)

      Thanks for the comment.

  24. Katie says:

    Story time! I love story time. When I was in eighth and ninth grade, I began a blog which was pretty much just a journal. It never received any comments and I had no idea how to check if people were even reading it. I was fourteenish and using Blogger. To make a long story short, people were reading it and just as I was starting to get in the “in crowd” in my freshman year of high school, the blog BLEW UP. Everyone knew about it, everyone was reading it and it was even described as my own “personal burn book” (think Mean Girls). It was fantastic. I burned a bunch of bridges because I didn’t change names and also revealed quite a bit of personal feelings and experiences. Learned my lesson though! But seriously, having a convenient online journal was so helpful during those turbulent times. I wish I hadn’t deleted it, but archived it instead. Oh well. Thanks for sharing your experiences!

  25. ralucacoldea says:

    Reading this post made me think about my worst work experience. I’ve never had it so bad, but it was plenty ugly, with bad managers and working overtime in order for some client or other to look good in front of his manager. And firefighting, every single day.

    And it makes you think, how much of our work is basically useless. How much sweat, blood and tears are poured into changing the color for the logo on Candy Crush level 21. Or helping Bernie Madoff’s descendants skim a bit from the top of our pension funds. We’re not doing anything important, but we’re pushed into this environment where every day is the appocalipse.

    This work will never end. This work will never matter.

    • Kfish says:

      I agree. That’s one of the most draining things about work – a lot of it isn’t actually helping the world function.

    • livafi says:

      Brutal but true. On my worst days I would frequently exit my building and walk back to my car, mentally going over what I’d done that day, and more often than not I’d find myself mouthing to myself “What exactly was the point of the day?”

      More often than not, the only answer I could come up with was: Nothing.

      I often have days full of very little productivity now that I’m not working, but at the end of them I instead look back and say: I was happy. I spent time with my family. I saw something cool outside on a walk.

      It’s a hell of an improvement.

  26. dude says:

    I cannot even imagine being that busy at anything. My typical day involves about 0.001% of the shit your day did, and I still can’t wait to get the fuck out!

    • Controller guy says:

      I second that, I’ve never been that busy in my 10 year career in finance. Closing a month/quarter/year can be hectic but everyone knows to leave finance alone during those times so I can just focus on getting shit done without interruptions. I’m at a point now where I make a decent 6 figure salary and only spend maybe an hour a day on actual work, and I am still checking my accounts every day wishing I could be done.

      • livafi says:

        Curious, were you on the business side or tech?

        If tech, were you on an application team or rather a centralized team (e.g. systems, middleware, database, etc)?

      • dude says:

        HAHAHA!! Damn, I’m reluctant to admit it, but yeah, there are a lot of non-work hours in my “work day”! Also can’t wait to be done. I realized the other day that I’ve been driving to and from the same office day after day for going on 10 years now. And with a horribly environment-degrading, health-destroying 70-mile per day (r/t) commute, I’ve logged a lot of hours sitting on my ass — and spewing carbon — over the past 10 years. Three more to go, because there is a golden handshake at the end of the line that is well worth the continued drudgery, but sweet jeebus I can’t wait for that day to come.

      • Controller guy says:

        For some reason I can’t reply to the below comments so:

        @livafi: I work on the business side, have gone from staff accountant to financial analyst to financial controller. I started my college career as a computer science major, after reading your work experience series I’m really glad I switched to business.

        @dude: holy god that’s an awful commute to be doing for 10 years straight.. Anytime I’ve been faced with a bad commute I made it a priority to fix it asap.. Now I have a 6mile commute and my wife 9miles, so great and yet I still dread every day I have to go into the office.

      • livafi says:

        Thanks for confirming a suspicion of mine, that folks on the business side were generally under less stress than those in IT. At company outings they always seemed more at-ease. FWIW, I get quite a bit of mail from people who read the job experience posts and say “Wow, I work in the same field and have a ton of very, very similar stories…” It does seem like you made the right choice.

      • Controller guy says:

        I think the business side is generally less stressful than IT since we can always go back and fix errors or resolve past issues without too much fuss. You see public companies release financials only to make massive retroactive changes 6 months later, it’s all a total scam. It seems like you IT guys are always dealing with time sensitive issues that need to be resolved “yesterday “for the business to function properly.

      • livafi says:

        >> It seems like you IT guys are always dealing with time sensitive issues that need to be resolved “yesterday “for the business to function properly.

        Yes, this is an accurate take on the situation. We’re simultaneously doing a few things: a) pushing new changes out (think: some new version, new functionality, etc that the business needs in order to improve applications which ultimately allows them to remain competitive ) b) upgrading/patching/maintaining environments and c) fixing problems that arise as a result of all of the moving parts from a and b

        Thanks for taking the time to reply — your explanation of why you are able to push work items out completely makes sense.

  27. ickabug says:

    I sure enjoy your writing. You paint with words. I started watching the first season of Mr. Robot last night and I thought of this blog posting. I’m so glad that I’m too dumb to use a computer. I would never have survived your work world.

    • Controller guy says:

      When I read livafi’s work experience series I thought of Mr. Robot during the justifiable sabotaging of “evil Bert’s” systems.

      • livafi says:

        Looks like I have to watch Mr. Robot…

      • Controller guy says:

        Mr. Robot is great, I think it would be especially enjoyable for someone who’s worked in IT. Also has a lot of anti-consumerism type themes which is relatable for those of us on the FIRE train.

      • livafi says:

        Yeah, I started watching it, saw the first two episodes today. Reminds me a lot of Fight Club, but with a hacker straight out of Anonymous instead of just some standard business dude. The dialog is not bad — actually referenced the shellshock vulnerability, and the techs use real linux instead of some fake OS like in dumb movies like Swordfish. What I find most interesting is that shows of this type are actually able to be produced nowadays, actually — this means that the number of people who have some kind of tech background has reached some kind of critical mass which creates a sustainable revenue stream. Fascinating. It used to be that my type of person was fairly rare but they’re now apparently ubiquitous.

        It’s well put together. Thanks for the recommendation.

      • Controller guy says:

        The show definitely has a Fight Club vibe, glad you are enjoying it! I think you are right about the demographic shift towards “your kind of person”. Technology is so pervasive in our lives now that children are plugged into the Matrix at disturbingly young ages, it’s only natural for more and more people to gravitate to the field of IT. It will be interesting to see how things like the Occulus Rift and other VR technologies influence societal development.

  28. effigy98 says:

    Thanks again for a great post. Your really “bad” experience posts actually help keep me motivated in my job on the journey to FI and makes me feel better about the day to day crap we all have to put up with.

    Wanted to share my insight. I’ve been in tech for 15 years now. One thing I do not like about media and analysis of burnout and poor treatment of tech employees is they lump all the disciplines together into one big collection of “tech” workers. They are not the same. I believe the lower paid jobs are actually some of the hardest and most demeaning, they should be the highest paid but they end up being the lowest… it’s so backwards.

    Software Tester: I started in software testing, you are typically treated like a 2nd class citizen and
    dumped on by developers as your job is to support them. The company sees you as an expense so they treat you like a “tax” and you are first to get reorgs, layoffs, etc and you generally get paid way less than other tech worker. You also get stuck with the tasks the developer feels are beneath them or boring to do (aka harder as they take motivation to bulldoze your way thru). You also got blamed for developer crappy code if you missed a bug and it went to production. It’s your job but lazy devs would take advantage of the scape goat and do really horrible things in code knowing you, the tester would take the fall.

    Operations: I then moved into ops where it matches a lot of what you experienced. After getting what seemed like 1000 certifications I switched from software tester. I was handling support tickets, rebuilding servers, configuring networks, doing support calls, website deployments, going to customer sites to fix stuff, designing the next environment, writing automation scripts, giving status CONSTANTLY to management as this was the critical “can take down your business” part of the tech world. I was paid at least 50% more than the software tester job, but the stress was overwhelming at times and I can related to almost every single story you have done about previous job experiences. The hours were crazy, the expectations were equally crazy, the responsibility…. crazy. The funny thing is the pay was not “crazy” despite the stress and responsibility. The only thing I liked about the job is it was firefighting so you have downtime and fire-drills which were sometimes exciting and it was satisfying to be the savior of the business sometimes. I could not keep a good social life going as my schedule was 48 hours streight, sometimes 7 days a week for 2 months, or 9-5 if everything was going well, shrug, who knows what my schedule is… You also get blamed a lot from the devs in this position if a deployment falls over even if it was their crappy code and lack of QA.

    Developer: Well after the tech crash, it was so hard to keep a “good” job in operations and I bounced between testing and operations depending on my level of toleration for this stressful jobs that were thankless and demeaning. Constantly put in many situations you describe here and is was misery. My dev friends had none of this anxiety and got paid at least double what I did, so I worked really hard learning how to code for the next year or three. I finally got full time in a good developer job and it was NIGHT AND DAY. I was treated like some kind of rock-star, royalty. The other disciplines were very respectful, my work life balance was in my hands as I could work as much or as little as I wanted. There was a HUGE carrot to work harder, however, because the bonus could be as much as my previous salaries so being the greedy-wanting-to-FI-sooner type I would burn myself out occasionally, but I learned much faster to stay on top of my skills. I then started settling in and slowed down with fewer hours, the bonuses were unchanged! Unbelievable, so you are telling me I can work the 40 hours instead of 80 and still get the same compensation? I think the better you get as a dev the easier it is to slow it down as you are more efficient and that efficiency is actually rewarded as long as you play politics and maintain a perception you are always busy.

    So what I learned is, go to the right position in tech and things can be ok. I still have several bad days but the worst day as a dev is like a normal day as ops or test, people just treat you better and you are paid to endure more crap.

    • Controller guy says:

      How much do Developers usually make? At my company they are making 100-110k, is that considered underpaid?

      • effigy98 says:

        Developers are making 160k to 800k total comp in Seattle/SV depending on bonus/stock grants. Bonuses are getting a little crazy at some companies.

      • livafi says:

        Heavily dependent on area of country, experience, type of business you are working for (startup versus established company, e.g. the Oracles of the world). In the Boston area — which has a relatively high COLA but not as crazy as SF or the Valley — it’s 120 to 200ish for most companies, some with decent bonus structures.

    • livingafi says:

      Thanks a ton for this comment. I couldn’t agree more with the various types of tech roles. They require different types of people because of the very distinct demands. To lump them all together when doing employment satisfaction surveys is perhaps not getting to the heart of the matter – As you mention, dev/ops roles have the potential to be very different from strict dev.

      After I left Cthulhu and FinancialCompany, I went to a late stage startup and took a role that was part dev, part super-backline-support, and just a little bit of product management thrown into the mix. It was great, overall. A few heavy weeks here and there, sure, but really nothing like FinComp. I think a large part of that was simply that I wasn’t in the firing line every day. And, as you mentioned, I had a level of respect as a developer that I never achieved with either of my first two positions. Support is much, much more consistently stressful than straight dev.

      That being said, there are places were developers are pushed to their limits as well — usually startups who have a lot of pressure to deliver their software quickly, and are competing with others to be first to market with whatever service or solution they’re producing.

      >>I believe the lower paid jobs are actually some of the hardest and most demeaning, they should be the highest paid but they end up being the lowest… it’s so backwards.

      Strong point, completely agree. The world’s got it backwards in many cases, IMO, and it’s not limited to tech. Why are teachers paid so little, for example? We always say that we value our children and their futures. There are songs written about this. And yet, the money isn’t there. Why aren’t nurses and medical assistants paid more? Social workers?

      Completely agree on the increases in efficiency that come with experience. The last position I held was a joke, overall. I remember getting projects my 2nd year that would take me very little time to crush, and being just sort of bored for stretches with little to do as a result. It was great. The perception was that I was plenty busy enough and always had things under control, and that’s all that really mattered.

      • Loom says:

        Ah that explains it. I started as dev, so I never saw the hell-holes you’re describing. Even at my startup, we’re doing 40h weeks. (No ops, as our servers are in the clouds lol).

        Why does anyone do these crazy stressful jobs for such low pay? The jump from QA or Ops to developer can’t be that hard. Not harder than living under this crazy regime of stress and mean bosses and constant overtime?

        Like, I could physically not work 13 hour days for an entire week, or function on 4 hours of sleep like you mention. I’ve emailed in saying “Can’t come in today, need to sleep”. Our on-call policy is basically that if you take a call at night, you get the following morning off.

        And to do that for 15 years?! Sweet jesus. Sign me up for flipping burgers!

      • livingafi says:

        >>Why does anyone do these crazy stressful jobs for such low pay? The jump from QA or Ops to developer can’t be that hard.
        It’s not necessarily “such low pay.” The pay I received for my first job as eng. support was, at the time, equivalent to a dev. Pay at FinComp was also awesome although perhaps 10% lower than straight dev. The problem really is that dev salaries go up quickly for the first ten or fifteen years but support/ops don’t.

        And I think this is due to barrier-to-entry differences. Companies are more willing to take chances when hiring support and ops reps. They might go with that 35 year old who is making a career switch from accounting to tech. There are also huge teams of offshore techies with the skills to function in these roles. Companies are typically more willing to delegate this type of work offshore than their actual dev, which is typically kept in house (perhaps with a smaller team offshore to handle less important programming or QA tasks..) These trends increase the available pool of people who can slot into those positions, making it a simple supply/demand problem, explaining some of the lower overall pay. Strict dev jobs have higher barriers to entry: Unflexible requirements re: Computer Science degrees or masters programs, maybe they require a U.S. Citizen, etc.

        Jumping is another story. To jump, you must successfully convince an employer that you can be a dev, despite the fact that your resume has an awful lot of related-but-not-really-similar experience on it. Do you really know OOP? Can you set up a dev environment and check things into source? Do you know how to merge and collaborate with teammates, i.e. do you actually have Software Engineering skills or are you just good at playing around with software as a user? They’re different skills and many dev teams are not willing to take a chance on this sort of person, who is much more likely to be an Xer instead of a 10Xer. I was fortunate to find a place that took a chance on me — but then, I’m actually a dev, I have a CS degree, I was able to talk about my project experiences from college, etc. But it’s tougher then you think, IMO, especially in a depressed environment (see: 2008-2011). When the economy sucks and jobs are scarce, employers will hold out for a candidate who is a close to perfect fit.

        Then there’s also the inertia problem. Many people fall into the more support/ops roles and find they can hack it, and after a while it just seems like *so much overhead* to improve skills and switch tracks that they just don’t bother. Never underestimate the desire of a mind at rest to stay at rest, even if the body is working 10 hour high stress days. It can seem both painful and risky. (Also see: Most people hate and fear change.) When I see these situations, I remind myself that people are not completely rational beings — even in our field.

  29. SpacemanFry says:

    My brother worked in the financial world as a developer for a 4-5 years (works for telecom now) and if I showed him this article I bet he’d get flashbacks. He was always working weekends and all available time. My brother said he put up with it because he had 2 kids (3 now) and there was intense pressure on him to provide for his family. He was terrified of losing his job and he hated looking for jobs too. Eventually he did it but it took him far longer than it should have.

    What I don’t understand, is why did you put up with it for so long (3 years of that is way too long)? In the above story you are not even married, no kids and with fairly low COL (you mention 28K). Why the hell would you put up with that? I have worked in tech world for almost 15 years now and I would never have put up with a day like that and especially with a boss like that. I’ve had my share of super stressful days but the above is just ridiculous. I guess I’ve never been that worried about losing my job, I always know I’ll be ok (even before I discovered FI and got my act together). I guess I have a very hard time fathoming why anyone in your position would put up with that garbage (you’re not the only one though, I’ve known a lot of people in the tech world that put up with a lot more abuse than I would).

    Great writing btw. You really should consider writing a book or something🙂

    • livafi says:

      I didn’t know any better. Really.

      At that point in my life, I thought that all jobs were garbage. I thought if I left that maybe I’d go work for another manager that I didn’t hate quite as much but still disliked. To that point in my career, I’d disliked nearly all of them – it wasn’t until the position I got *after* that job that I realized: Wow, some managers are pretty good. Likable, even. I liked that particular manager so much I followed him to another job. So in my head it wasn’t a choice between a terrible job and a good job. It was a choice between a terrible job with outstanding pay and benefits and a job with marginally better working conditions and significantly lower pay.

      This is why I repeat in my responses to other people with comments similar to yours: I should have left. Knowing what I know now, I would advise 27 year old me to spit in my manager’s face and leave that very day. The extra money wasn’t worth it. I would have found something else and been a lot happier… and in fact, that is exactly what I eventually did. But I waited too long.

      >> I always know I’ll be ok (even before I discovered FI and got my act together).
      That’s great, and is a healthy attitude.

      I have not always felt like I’ll be okay, to be honest. I grew up poor and trace some of my insecurities in this area back to my childhood. I’d like to think I’m basically over that stuff.

      Is Spaceman Fry a reference to Futurama? Man, I hope so.

      Don’t show the writeup to your brother. There’s no need to inflict unnecessary pain on him. Unless you have that kind of relationship…

      • SpacemanFry says:

        Haha, yes Spaceman Fry is a reference to Futurama, which is one of my favorite shows of all time.

        I’ve always been more laid back about stuff than my brother. We both grew up with fairly f–ed up childhoods in a former Iron Curtain country and immigrated to US in our teens in the 90s but we’ve come out the other side quite differently. He still gets angry about stuff that our parents did during our childhoods whereas I’ve long learned that it’s not worth holding onto that kind of stuff.

        Anyway, one event that crystallized for me the power of walking away was in graduated school. One day my PhD advisor was laying into me for some reason or another (as he was wont to do — he was a very driven and demanding person and was used to slave driving his students like all the other professors) and something clicked in my mind and I told him in a very calm voice something to the effect: “I guess since I seem to be constantly disappointing you perhaps this PhD path is not for me and I will transfer/drop out at the end of the semester”. His face changed immediately in a very surprised manner. Don’t think anyone else at that point had talked back, much less in a calm manner. He immediately changed his tone and basically said that I do good work and it’s not as big of deal as he originally made it out and all is good and we’ll work together to get on same page etc etc.

        In that instant, the power of walking away, even in instances where I hold almost no power, became very apparent to me. Our dynamic changed significantly after that and mostly for the better.

        Now, whenever I’m faced with hard or seemingly scary choices I just ask myself “what’s the worst that can happen?” and most of the time the worst case is nowhere near as bad as other people would have you believe. I’ve seen and experienced much worse things in my life and not only survived but thrived.

      • livafi says:

        Awesome, that’s what I wanted to hear. Futurama is incredible. Favorite episode is the Yancy one, with the 7-leaf clover. It’s one of those great ones that’s both funny and touching.

        Sorry to hear about your own childhood difficulties. I could write an entirely different blog about how nutso my life own life was between ages 8 and 18 — basically from my parents’ divorce up to my escape to college. If I didn’t have a set of terrific friends I wouldn’t have survived. Whatever, I’m not going to go into a lot of detail here, I don’t feel the lousy childhood defines my life much at this point — I moved on a long time ago.

        Loved your story about the power of walking away — I think of this as the power of “no” but it amounts to the same thing. Most people have an extraordinary amount of difficulty pushing back, and it’s mostly due to fear of consequences. But those consequences are, in many cases, imaginary, as your story clearly illustrates.

  30. effigy98 says:

    Agree 100% with your points. Your insight into the field is dead on.

    I wish the powers that be saw (or cared) how destructive outsourcing is to the IT side of the tech field. I personally think it is the biggest problem of getting Americans into tech now even though many developer jobs are bad ass. They saw their dad/friend/brother/news article talk about outsourcing and decided to not pursue tech. It seems to be depressing wages by A LOT in IT (at least on the west coast) compared to development. I think companies have tried to outsource their devs but the quality was so bad, they bring it back in house again.

    There is a rising trend of DevOps around here which is highly paid and respected like a dev now so maybe that trend will continue even though it squeezes the worker out of more productivity and responsibility.

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  32. OnlyKetchup says:

    Wow..powerful story. It definitely makes me realize my job isn’t that bad at all. It also shows the power of having FU money or in your case (at the time) the problem with not yet having enough FU money. Thanks for sharing!

  33. Karen F Thompson says:

    Wow! what a wonderful description of the life of an IT worker (I’m one too). I share all this inner life as well and when I ask myself why am I so unhappy with work I want to re read it. I’m in my last year of IT work. People ask why I don’t just get another IT job on the path to bliss? You confirmed it for me. All these jobs are the same why bother.

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  35. FI Champion says:

    Wow — couldn’t help but read that to the very end. Great writing style for the story too. Kept me hooked! I’ve seen myself in parts of that story. Both sides too….worker and manager. I’m absolutely certain you don’t miss all of that in early retirement.

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