Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Living on the Edge of the Night


I went back to the Cool Team and found myself as bored as ever.

ATB continued to grow. They wanted to hire a man called Jacob from interstate.  Jacob was a famous thinker in the domain, and I liked him immediately, but I didn't know why they were hiring him. The company was too focused on rolling software out of the door, and all of the teams were completely siloed. What were they going to do with an R&D department of one? It felt like hubris. It felt like they were hiring him just so they could tell people that he worked for us.

It was November when I got call I was expecting from Elvis. This was it, I thought. Reassigned to the Enterprise team under Irwin.

But I was wrong. He pulled me into a meeting with Vikram, Judd, and the CEO. "We're starting a black operation," Elvis told us. "Rewriting the entire Consumer product from scratch. In C++." The codebase that Ralf and Dennis were working on was Visual Basic.

"You will build the engine," Elvis said to Vikram. "You will build the realtime monitors," he said to me. "We want you to pull out all the stops. Do whatever it takes to get it done in one month. Work night and day. If you can pull that off there's a five grand bonus for you."

There was that one month deadline again. I didn't know the first thing about the project and  couldn't even begin to estimate how big it was, but I knew there was a piece missing. "What about the databse?"

Elvis dismissed my concern with a wave of his hand. "Vikram already built it."

Vikram already been separated from Irwin's team, I discovered, and replaced by a new hire, Davis. He had been since been tasked with building an ISAM layer specifically for this project. There was no good reason that we had tasked an engineer with building an ISAM from scratch, but it was obviously one of Elvis' pet projects and it was already fait accompli.
"From now on," said Elvis, "You report to Trent."
Vikram spluttered angrily. He has been reporting directly to Elvis for about six months, apparently. "Oh," said Elvis. "Not you, Vikram."

Great. So we had an impossible deadline and Vikram wasn't even on my team. Or on anybody's team. That was gonna work nicely, I could tell.

Elvis relocated both of us to the under-construction area of the building where Enterprise and Consumer had their space. Vikram and I were installed into a small office already occupied by Ralf and Dennis. The mysterious Trent had his office next door; in a windowless room. He liked to keep the lights down low.

The new office was tense from the get go. Vikram, I discovered, would blow his nose and clear his throat all day long with an utter lack of self awareness. Ralf,meanwhile, was becoming more and more irascible. I didn't blame him: having two new engineers dumped in his space and being informed that they are rewriting everything he'd been building for the past year in a single month was surely an insult. Having Elvis boasting that we were going to be working in C++ was another insult: Ralf had been an experienced C programmer when I was in nappies. It was very uncomfortable. I wondered if Trent, my new manager, was going to welcome me to his team, but he barely even poked his face into the room.to see that we were all situated okay. 

At least I wasn't bored anymore.

Day 2, Trent called me into his office and closed the door. After an awkward moment, he got up and switched the lights on. "Sorry," he said. "I'm kind of a cave troll."
"Okay."
"So," he said. "I see that you've worked on every team in the company at one point or another."
"Yeah," I said. "I've been here longer than every other engineer, too." I didn't feel even slightly proud of that achievement.
"Well, you're on my team now, and you're here to stay," he said. "No more team-hopping. You understand?"
"Trent," I said, "It's never been my choice to move around. Not even once. I'd be more than happy to stay on one team and work on one product long enough to make a lasting difference."
He seemed surprised. I don't know what the others had told him about me but I was starting to get an idea that he didn't have the whole story. I also realized that me the 'black operation' project was as much a surprise to him as it was to me... and that Vikram had probably known about it before either of us. 
"Well, this is how it's gonna work," said Trent. "I'm gonna just let you do your job as you see fit. Long as everything goes smoothly I will stay out of your way and let you do what you like. I'm not going to interfere unless you start fucking up."
"Sounds good to me," I said. I meant every word of that. Finally, a chance to do some things my way.

Now all we needed was for Elvis to tell us exactly what it was that I was supposed to be doing.

At the Monday morning staff meeting Elvis announced the 'black operation' to the whole company. I don't know they thought a 'black operation' was, but I was pretty sure that whatever it was we were undertaking, at the very least they had chosen the right colour for it.

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