The Flatliner

The re-org happened while our Big Manager was away on a long vacation, and though he’d prepared for his absence (we didn’t lose anyone important, and we kept our desks and chairs and cubicals and we still had paychecks), it must be said that we also got shafted, too.

The shaft in question was the arrival of Person X, a Software Quality engineer none of us knew even existed until he showed up. One morning there was a new person in our little area, unboxing his stuff. Who’s this?

The Q/A manager held a short gathering. Obviously unpleased, he said “This is Person X. He’s going to be doing Q/A for [redacted] and help us ship the new version.” The X in question had been bounced from group to group for quite some time, and we were the lucky recipients.

It was soon apparent that Person X was uncomfortable speaking english and much preferred his native Qwghlm. When he found that one of the other Q/A engineers also spoke Qwghlm, he was overjoyed.

“Grkewgh sych plmrwquwh!” he said happily.

“We are going to use english,” the other Q/A engineer replied, a little frostily. She was looking worried.

“Rlyeh ftaghn fyyff?”

“Absolutely not. English.” She did not add ‘… motherfucker, do you speak it?’, but it was plain on her face.

But she’d been given the responsibility to bring Person X up to speed on the product. This did not go well. She told the new guy about the documentation, the firmware, the tools, the database of test cases, and how the various processes worked. A mix of english and Qwghlm floated over the cubical walls. By the end of the first day she was madder than hell and it was the first time I ever saw her visit our group’s secret beer fridge. By the end of the second day (honestly, by lunch time) she ready to quit. Serious, no-kidding quitting and high-frequency spitting noises were coming out of her. We talked her down, I don’t remember how. I think we might have bought her some ice cream.

Then Person X started in on the engineering staff.

“I understand this . . . blvwgph. This . . . why you not use standards?”

“What?”

“There are standards. Ex dot two five. VBH. RFC. Why did you not use them? And what is this ‘scrum’?”

“What?”

“You did this all wrong. You should use DCOM and SMTP and SNA.”

We backed away from the crazy guy slowly. We thought that ice cream might be in our near future, too.

My manager asked me to give him a better technical overview of project. Well, let’s be truthful; we were really doing a somewhat shitty post-hire interview. I wasn’t terribly subtle about it. I pointed him at the technical documentation, asked him to read it, and that we’d chat in a day or two. He returned a couple days later with a copy of the documents marked up in red Qwghlmian squiggles, and we found a small meeting room.

I don’t remember much about the next hour or so except that after ten minutes I wanted out of that room really bad. Not only did he not understand how the product or the underlying technology worked, he was actually arguing about what the product should do and how we’d done a bad job. While I’m happy with technical debates, I’m a lot less happy about clueless attacks. We had a firmware update system that he called stupid. There was a USB protocol that he didn’t understand, and while I never clearly grasped his objections, he was clearly upset at pieces of it.

I reported back to the minibosses. “The guy’s a zero. Maybe a negative number.” And the minibosses expressed a kind of smile / grimace thing that meant both, “Thanks” and “Damn, now we have to fire him.”

Now, it takes six months to fire someone at BigSoftwareCorp. Short of some public and spectacular transgression it was possible for someone to utterly turn off their brain, show up at their desk every day and just play solitaire, and it would still take half a year to can their sorry ass. Person X was no different. We did take away his ability to do any damage to the source tree, and his line miniboss probably gave him something to do (“We need these 1’s and 0’s sorted into neat little piles. It’s very important. Slide a monthly status report under my door.”)

Then one happy day he was gone. The sun came out and we had a fine spring day in December. Somehow there were birds in trees, the temperature shot up ten degrees, coy little breezes played with our napkins at our outdoor (outdoors! in December!) lunch, and none of the builds broke.

Now, you ask most managers about what it’s like to fire someone and they will get depressed and maybe teary-eyed; it’s not easy to tell someone they no longer have a job. In this case the Q/A manager was smiling. And he bought us ice cream that we ate in the sun.

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2 Responses to The Flatliner

  1. Justine says:

    I’ve seen a few of these in my day. Love the write-up! Solidarity!

  2. George Nakos says:

    And off Person X went, to find his buddy Figby so they can both exchange glorious stories from their past jobs…

    (cue Portsmouth Sinfonia : “Also sprach Zarathustra”)

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