Back in 2005, I worked as a contractor for a major software company in Redmond Washington, which shall remain nameless, for a month. This is the story of that month.
I had been out of work for almost half a year, I’d left Orrtax, or whatever name it was since we’d been acquired, for the final time. It took all that time to accept I wouldn’t be gong back because for years I’d work 6 to 9 months at Orrtax and then take the rest of the time off. So, my noodle had this idea I was going back. Finally, it accepted it was time to move the hell on.
I put out my resume and there were two jobs that were looking good. An Alaskan Airlines job, and a job with this other company. To tell the truth, I took the job with the better commute.
I don’t remember what software I was even testing, and in reality, the software doesn’t matter to this story.
The first day, I got my computer all set up for working, like any other position I’ve ever had. I even started testing.
Day 2, the rest of the staff tried to indoctrinate me into the political/social realities of the group. They explained to me about how scary the manager was. They tried to teach me how act toward the leads. They tried to instill a sense of fear into me.
Side Note: I’m not good with fear. I come from a lower-middle class conservative family, and like many who come from that environment, I don’t cower. I poke the bear. I’d rather get it all out in the open rather than living with fear.
I marched into my lead’s office and asked her point blank, “Is it a requirement that I be afraid in this position?” After all, Alaska Airlines still wanted me. “No,” she said, “fight for yourself and what you need.”
So, I stayed.
She was such a liar.
The Trouble Begins
There I am, day 3, working away at testing. There’s a box of cookies on my desk that the contracting company sent me to share with the team. I hadn’t gotten around to it yet since I was focused on work.
Suddenly, the manager was standing my door. He looked at me, he looked at the cookies, he looked at me again, grabbed the cookies and headed down the hall.
I went nuts.
I jumped up and went charging down the hall, yelling and carrying on.
I got to the conference room and came in like an enraged rhino with fire coming from my nostrils. All the Devs were in there, looking completely alarmed by this turn of events.
I glared at the Devs, I glared at the manager, I glared at the cookies.
Having made my point, and because I was supposed to share the cookies anyway, I said, “Okay, you can have the cookies.” And I left.
When I got back to my office, the rest of the team was there, all of them visibly upset.
“Karin, we usually let him have whatever he wants.”
What a crock.
“Are you kidding me? That was a clear challenge! There was no other way to handle it!”
I go back to work, shaking my head.
Karin the Counselor
It didn’t take long for me to figure out what was going on.
It started with one of the testers who shared with me that he wanted to become a Project Manager. The problem was that the leads had told him that he had no backbone for the job. They wouldn’t be able to recommend him.
At this company, it’s very political. If your leads don’t support you, you can’t move up.
The leads had created an environment of fear.
First, they isolated the manager by convincing the team that he was an asshole, a hard ass, and that they should act like sniveling cowards around him. Then they used that fear to acquire power for themselves.
I had never seen anything like it. I saw a whole team of depressed tech workers, filled with the stain of learned helplessness.
Even the language fed into it. I was trying to talk to one of the leads, who of course found reasons to not see me, only to send someone to get me. “Karin, you are summoned.” I kid you not. I’d already figured out what I wanted to know so I said, “Thanks, I don’t need him anymore.” You should have seen the look on that guys face.
My job was now not just testing, but also counseling.
First, I worked on the tester who wanted to be a Project Manager at this company. He didn’t want to leave the company, but he knew he was dead in the water. I told him to go somewhere else, get the experience, and then come back if he really wanted to. He put out his resume and had a new position in a week and was gone. He was ready to be a Project Manager.
Then, I worked on the Devs. I spent a lot of time talking to the Devs, trying to help them see what was going on. Trying to help them get back on their feet.
I pushed back when needed. The leads were very surprised that they couldn’t beat me down. Very surprised. And they didn’t take it well. Quite the sore losers.
Side Note: There are people out there who will do anything for power. Even though they are not really powerful. They use their position to create an environment of fear, distrust, and paranoia. I call these people “petty power tyrants” and I have no use for them.
After about a month of this, I decided this was a lot of hogwash. I didn’t need to be there. I got my fellow tester out and I had done what I could for the rest of the team. Why put myself through all of this bullshit?
I wanted to just leave, but I put in my two weeks’ notice instead like a good little girl. The leads went to lunch, giving me a weird smile as they left. Then my contract company recruiter showed up and looked at me.
“Is it time to go?” I asked, highly relieved.
“Yes, it is”
“Let me pass off my work first.”
To her amazement, I passed off my work, and we walked out of that building. We sat down on a bench and she told me that she had another position lined up for me at Cingular. Apparently, they knew I wouldn’t last. That team had a bad reputation. But they had to keep sending contractors there to stay in the companies’ good graces.
For fuck’s sake…
Toward the end I’d started talking to the manager, we were slowly becoming friends. But we hadn’t gotten to the point where I felt I could tell him what his leads were doing. Plus, I didn’t know yet if he didn’t already know. If I had, maybe it wouldn’t have gone down so badly.
I get a call from one of the other testers a couple of weeks later.
The Devs had finally gotten their spirit back enough to go to HR and tell them what the leads were doing. The company investigated and the leads and the manager were fired.
I did a good thing, saving the sanity of a whole team.
I do regret the manager being fired. I don’t think he knew what the leads were doing. But he did let it happen. He didn’t investigate why his team was full of wusses. (He complained about that.) Maybe this was the way it had to be.
Weird how things turn out…