Back for more? Welcome to the second article in a series about the worst job I’ve had in my career. The series was kicked off back in a previous article.
Let me share with you what happened in the first 8 months of joining a company that espouses a fulfilling career and great life balance.
The First Project
Within the first 8 months of joining the company, I realized that I was becoming an alcoholic.
My orientation at the company lasted for two days. That orientation boiled down to things like getting access to internal systems, getting introduced to core business groups, and learning to use the internal expense and travel systems. I wondered if someone was going to tell me what it looked like to do my job well, but nobody would.
By the end of that orientation, I knew where I was going and bought my tickets, booked my hotel, and hoped I hadn’t made a mistake.
The briefing I received went along the lines of this would be a crazy project that is going to be short-lived. We have a really tight deadline to impress a bunch of executives doing something very complicated with a team of people who have never done this before.
Yep, we were all new.
The only one with experience building the type of product that was under consideration was me. I knew that without anyone saying anything I would have to build a team and their competencies.
The pressures from our short timeline were reinforced every day. I remember when caffeine pills started showing up on people’s desks. I recommended that nobody touch them.
I remember the floor we were sent to for work. It was an open floor that was going to be built into new office space for our company, but right at that moment, it was gutted. We made a small space amid the wiring, paint, and construction materials. We worked there under lock-and-key while the floor was constructed for months.
When the fumes became too bad, or the sounds too loud we would leave the building for a little bit to get some air.
Groups of us would get sick at a time. This remains the only clear time I can say I wasn’t physically safe at my job.
We would have retrospectives, and we’d bring an external facilitator in to help prevent someone from dominating the meeting. They would hold a safety check where people would indicate they were unsafe. I remember a facilitator saying, “We need to stop this retrospective. There are bigger problems here and we shouldn’t continue.” I remember one of the leaders saying demanding the retrospective continue and that if someone has a problem they can speak up.
We lost a lot of people during those 8 months. It would average out to one person a month, but some months it would be more, some less. I remember several people asking me if this was normal. I told them it wasn’t. They would leave the project or the company and I would remain.
During the evenings I’d go out to eat. I was one of the few travelers, so I’d do this with another traveler if they were interested. We would eat and drink and blow off steam. We would drink more.
I’d wake up in my hotel with equal amounts of surprise and fear that I made it back and didn’t remember it.
After everyone else was gone, I was going out and eating alone. I was drinking alone. I was finding my way back alone.
One of the leaders of the project was fired. It was confirmed that they sexually harassed someone. This would happen again.
Eventually, we found a room that was far away from the madness of our work environment. I was one of the few people that had a key to this room. This room was a refuge for the team that needed to talk. They needed a safe place. They’d ask me to talk with them in private. They needed help. I listened and I felt powerless to do anything.
Our leadership team was removed, replaced, and partially removed again.
Throughout the company, word was spreading that this project was dangerous and terrible.
I got out of the project, my health was at risk. I was drinking too much, I was angry and depressed. I couldn’t do anything to help, and I was suffering.
This was my first 8 months.
If somehow you’ve survived all of this writing you may be surprised to find out that I stayed an entire year past that first one.
I have to take my own responsibility for every day I stayed in a company that caused me so much pain. I also know that when these are the experiences every day it doesn’t feel so simple or straightforward to, “Just quit.”
The tweet that prompted this woke back up a flood of memories that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. There is a lot more I can write and say. I submitted a talk for Agile 2019 where stories like these and others I’ve seen from the other decade of my career can be shared.
I think the tech industry and numerous companies have become blind to the institutional harm they cause their employees. Even while I may be able to significantly improve the lives around me. It would be a mistake to believe that everything must be fine for me.
The way our industry is now, I assume by default that every day someone is living with a pain that is bound to their job. I was told I was too sensitive at one point at this job I wrote about. That was feedback I maintain that I was right to ignore.