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Thursday, May 9, 2013

Getting an offer when the whole team collapses around you

I've been thinking about the differences I've encountered over the years at companies of different sizes. A lot changes in terms of what you do and how you are expected to find it.

At a company where I had a three-digit employee number, once I got off the "feed lot" support floor and into more of a development role, things got interesting. I had an actual manager who would knew the sorts of things I had done, and had some idea of what I could do. He'd go off and talk to people on the floor or elsewhere in the company and would return with a project.

It was basically myself and a friend who had also escaped from the larger world of support who directly reported to this one person. Collectively, we were rolled up in a bigger meta-support team which had eight people total. We all had the same administrative boss, but there was an extra "firewall" type person between my little sub-group and the rest of the world.

A bunch of stuff happened this way. In the short time this scheme existed, we completed a whole bunch of interesting tools. There was also my "fallback project" which got cycles any time other things weren't going on. This was my little pet idea of putting a "helper agent" on customer servers to handle repetitive tasks automatically. When people weren't asking me to run reports or come up with some new way to audit the customer service world, I'd work on my agent project.

The problem is that this boss wasn't especially loved by some of the people with more political power in that company. He had a way of telling them the truth instead of what they wanted to hear, and they didn't like that. People who spent time blowing smoke actually went places around there, and he wasn't one of them.

Maybe four or five months into my tenure on this new team, he was "sent back to support". He had to join one of the support teams and go back to taking calls and working tickets. Instead of building the future, he was forced to stay and mop up the present. Not surprisingly, this didn't last long, and he quit.

My friend and I continued on as our little subgroup, and had another person from the larger group assigned as our new firewall. This guy probably meant well but he was no replacement for the original. While this new one had a reputation for being some kind of technical ninja at the company, that was probably just because the bar had been set so low historically. We basically humored him and kept working on the existing projects which our previous boss had queued up.

Eventually we cleared out the backlog, and in theory that meant my agent project would have more time to go places. Indeed, my friend started working on it as well, and we tried making a port of it to Windows using Cygwin. We actually managed to get a fair bit of this code to run and do useful work. At one point, we had it graphing disk utilization and other banal things like that just to show that yes, it is possible to create this sort of thing.

Nobody really cared, though. Some people really wanted to plow money into things like BMC PatrolExpress and other products which managed to be even worse than that. Many of these products had no business being used in a web hosting environment where every box may belong to a different customer. They usually also didn't play nicely with the ground truth that most techs, even the ones supporting Windows, tended to run Linux. Monitoring systems which demanded ActiveX controls forced IE, and that forced Windows. It was incredibly stupid.

My friend wound up finding another job, and he left. Then the rest of my larger team disintegrated as our admin boss followed her boss the VP downstairs to run the "big expensive customer" division. I also coincidentally got kicked out of my cube with higher-than-normal walls at the same time.

In the space of a month or so, my former boss (and friend) who had been kicked out to support quit. Then my friend and coworker who had been working on projects with me quit. Then my team imploded when our boss moved divisions, and I lost my nonstandard cube. I wound up back in a normal support cube working second shift tech support yet again.

It was fortunate that I had started the ball rolling on finding another gig about six weeks before this turn of events. By the time those guys quit, I had already flown out to the west coast to interview in person. Once I got back, it was just a matter of waiting to hear back from them. This was one of the longest waits of my life.

I mean, I had interviewed here in the valley on the 21st of one month, and they finally sent me an offer on the 14th of the next. In the middle, I just had to hold on and wait to see what happened. During that time, rumors were swirling around. Everyone at this place basically knew I was probably the next to go.

Everything was changing around me, and while I had a stable place to "land" back in support, it wasn't a fun place to be any more. Many of the people who made it what it was had quit, and I had been put back in the trenches.

Is it any surprise that I went for that offer right away?