Tunnel Rat posted on November 14, 2006 18:07

Mr. Whiteboard came back from Hawaii. It was my third week, and the Online Inquiry app was still a mess.

“So what do you think? Can we go live this week?” He smiled weekly.

Far from it, bozo, I thought. But I had to break it to him gently.

“There are a lot of open issues. The code is badly designed and not easily maintainable.” I tried to spin without getting too technical. “But I did find a way to get these fixes in and not do a total rewrite.”

“Really. That’s good to hear.”

Cool, I thought, now I have a dialog with this guy. He has confidence in my technical skills, and I’m bailing him out of this jam he got himself in by mismanaging this project. I can bring up the nasty topic of Charlie.

“Did, uh, Charlie expect to take over the position you hired me for?”

He stared at me, blank-faced. “I told him I didn’t think he was ready.”

“’Cause, he’s kinda, uh, adversarial. Like, not very cooperative.” I didn’t want to lay it on too thick and take the risk of looking insecure.

“Maybe he’s just young. A little immature.” He quickly changed the subject. If anything, he was deft procrastinator. “How about the other guys?”

“Oh, they’re fine, real good folks,” I lied. I thought they were lame. “Can I take a look at their resumes? I want to get a handle on their strengths.”

“Uhmm, well, their kinda dated, I mean these guys have been here a few years.” He was dodging. I knew for a fact Charlie had only been there a few months. What was he hiding, I thought?

I moved on. “It’s just taking awhile for them to get some stuff done.”

“Like what?”

“I’ve got the TAC and Burning Man getting me a report on all the production jobs so that we can get the code archived in SourceSafe. I just think it’s taking awhile. I think it just may be the culture.” Your people move like slugs, I meant to say. Like the folks at the DMV. Slooooowwwww. They code like old people fuck. I resisted the urge.

I realized he might take offence at my use of the word culture – as if I was talking about their Oriental culture. I, know I’m not supposed to use that term, Oriental, but fuck it. Asian is getting old.

"To Asians steeped in Confucian concepts, time is an endless river flowing from an infinitely regenerative source. It is a commodity to be valued, but because it is of such unlimited abundance, one can hardly use too much of it. Time to Westerners is always precious; to the Oriental it is something that can be spent with generosity"

-- The Tunnels of Cu Chi

I was dealing with people who were completely lacking a sense of urgency, all because of how they perceived time. No wonder there were no deadlines.

But I wasn’t talking about that culture, I was talking about the corporate culture, the organizational mindset, the company DNA. The hands-off, move at your own pace culture. And I realized that I was talking to Mr. Hand-Off himself, the high-priest of benign neglect.

“You know, I am somewhat protective of my staff. If you have any problems with them let me know.” It was a threat. His boys were made, untouchable. His blank face glared at me.

I was fumbling. “Sure, I understand.”

“Good. Let’s agree to meet weekly. Are Thursday’s good for you?”

“Sure. That sounds great.” At least I would get some face time, I thought. Blank, oblivious, vacuous face time, but face time none the less.

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Tunnel Rat posted on November 14, 2006 18:05

Monday morning came and went. As usual, Mr. Whiteboard was nowhere to be found. Wasn’t this a serious issues for him? One of his staff, this golden boy that he had hired to drag his company into the web age, was snooping around his new supervisor’s hard drive. How about a sense of urgency?

Finally, at 3 PM, he called me into his office. Charlie was there, sitting rat-faced in front of his desk.

Mr. Whiteboard gestured for me to close the door and take a set next to Charlie.

“I think Charlie has an explanation for this, uh…, SafeSource thing.” It’s called SourceSafe, but never mind, you non-technical bozo, I wanted to say.

Charlie started showing me some screenshots. He has taken my documents out of one folder in the archives (which resided on his system), and moved them into a new folder that he named “Documentations.” I didn’t remember checking in those files, but the datestamps were three weeks old.

I reasoned that I could have checked them in, maybe to check if SourceSafe was setup correctly. And a reckoned that Charlie probably was doing some rearranging and moved my archives around into a folder that he created. Reasonable enough.

So instead of pleading guilty to the Class-A felony of hacking my hard-drive, he copped to a Class-C misdemeanor of moving my files around without informing me. Not really a firing offense, but one deserving of a reprimand.

What’s the big deal, you anal dweeb, you may be asking yourself.

Well for one, if you are working on a large project with hundreds of files, and you are mapped to specific working folders in the archives, and if someone moves your folders around, you have to spend some time remapping those folders to your working environment. This might have to happen when a few people are standing in your cube wanting to know if how soon you can fix a hellacious production bug. Trust me, you do not want to be squaring away your mappings in such a situation. Been there, done that – it sucks.

Secondly, moving someone’s files around in the archives without telling them is equivalent to bitch-slapping another developer. It’s like saying “Fuck-you, bitch. I can do whatever I want to the code base and not tell you. You’re my bitch!” It’s a complete and utter lack of professional courtesy, which was not Charlie’s strong suit.

I weighed my options. I could counsel Charlie in a nice, measured tone, demonstrating my soft skills to my boss and proving that I could take an awkward situation and use it as an object lesson. But I sensed Mr. Whiteboards attention span seeping out the room. He had no patience for this sort of arbitration.

I punted. “OK, I guess it was a misunderstanding. Next time let me know if you are going to move some files around.”

That should have been the end of it. Mr. Whiteboard was smiling. Not the spastic grin he got when Mr. Bill was around, but a smile of relief that I hadn’t escalated things.

Then Charlie pulled the pin on another grenade.

“O, ah wanded to show you dad I was correct aboud dad email ding.”

Want the fuck was he talking about? My mind did a table scan.



That stuff about send email via SMTP from…?


…a local mail server?

Record located….

Oh, that “email ding.” A few days before, I was having trouble with some code that sent email from a web page. It took me a bit of Googling to find that Microsoft had reworked the Mail namespace and that it took some tweaking to get it to work in some rare cases. No big deal, but one of this glitches that developers in the trenches face every day.

Most programmers get the code to work and move on. I try to document these lessons learned and post them somewhere so that other developers on my team don’t have to waste their time retracing my footsteps. One of the first things I did at T.C.T.S.R.N. was to setup an internal forum site for such purposes, and I had been posting to it.

But I had started to see a pattern. Every time I posted something, Charlie would respond with his own posting, usually a worthless comment like “You could also do it this way…” and maybe have some code that was sort of like mine, but slightly different. Sometime his code had bugs. Sometimes he would just link to another site. But the point was that none of my posts would go unchallenged.

I had gotten tired of this pissing contest. After he posted some bug-ridden code in response to my SMTP mail post, I had sent him an email and told him to knock it off. I suggested he visit a site that held coding contests, that way he could demonstrate his programming genius to the world. I also demanded that he delete his buggy code from the forum before any other developers get confused. He had done neither.

Charlie let the spoon fly.

“My post was basically correct because de nedwork peeble said dad we should not be using our local mail servers to send email.”

Mr. Whiteboard glared at me with a “What the hell is he talking about?” look.

I went ballistic. Here I was, taking the high road and letting this whole sordid version control episode get swept under the rug, when the least that should have happened to Charlie was a written warning, and this feral creature…this underground-dwelling dweeb…this toxic-breathed maggot, was using my graciousness as an opportunity to score geek points in front of our boss. Motherfucker…Cocksucking Piece of Shit…That Little Fucking Shitbird!

I felt my face getting red. I was losing it.

“That code is wrong and you knew it!” I was pissed. I was on full-auto and firing for effect. “I told you to get that bogus code off of the forum! And now you’re trying to turn it into a network issue. This is absurd!”

It was a good thing that the door was closed, because my voice was above the “touchy-feely/let’s respect everyone’s opinion /strive towards a win-win result” level. Fuck win-win. I wanted his ass, the little turd. The nerve of him.

Mr. Whiteboard was reeling. “Uh, uh, what’s this all about?”

Shit. Now I would have to explain the technical details about this crap to my boss, and indulge Charlie in an esoteric debate about the difference between a programming issue and a networking policy. No way, I thought.

“Look, we don’t need to get into it. I setup a forum to exchange technical details and Charlie’s been using it to demonstrate his programming expertise. This is trivial.” I had lost my bearing and was trying to recover. My ears were still ringing from the concussion of Charlie’s grenade. The office seemed small and hot.

My boss was clearly in over his head. A more seasoned guy with a modicum of gonads would told us to knock it off, sternly reminded Charlie of his place in the food chain, and told us to get the hell out of his office. But not Mr. Whiteboard. Pussy.

“Now, um, you guys need to work together. I, uh, don’t want to see anymore of this stuff.” He was doing his best Rodney King impersonation. I expected him to whine “Can’t we just get along?” God, he was a fucking pussy.

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Mr. Coffee came by one afternoon and invited me to go to Deidrich’s at the children’s hospital. It was a ritual, once, if not twice a day. Sometimes he and his pals would even walk the three blocks to Starbucks. Not wanting to appear anti-social, I joined him and a few other guys.

We made non-geek small talk in hospital’s cafeteria while sipping iced mochas. He mentioned his three daughters, and his long drive from South Pasadena, which didn’t seem to bother him. I figured the guy was on the road three hours a day. But he had been at the company for years, so it probably didn’t bother him. Nice guy, I thought. Articulate, congenial. Very friendly. But clearly a Yes-Man, definitely Mr. Whiteboard’s Yes-Man. Their daughters played basketball together in some Chinese girls youth league. For that fact, he was pretty much untouchable.

I never had my own Yes-Man, and didn’t now if I could put up with such an ingratiating type. Always so agreeable, these guys, never a harsh word. They flourished in companies large and small, and their were plenty in IT.

But they usually couldn’t code.

The rigors of software development require an ability for technical give and take that Yes-Men were ill suited for. So non-confrontational were they that the mere idea of having to defend their code or criticize someone else’s hack was alien to them. It was all about back-slapping, mocha-sipping, and collegiality. Those values weren’t much help when you were tracking down some nasty bug at 11 PM the night before a site was to go live. They were never around.

“Are you bowling tonight?” he asked.

It was another of the many, almost daily, “events” that the company’s glee club was constantly sponsoring. Pot-Lucks, ice-cream socials, fund-raisers. I had signed up for Bowling Night in the hopes of getting to know some of the guys.

“Oh, yeah. Sure.” I faked enthusiasm.

A few hours later, I was fighting traffic, stumbling through a nasty neighborhood in Anaheim filled with Arab markets and pawn shops. I found the 50’s-era bowling alley just as play was starting.

I saw Mr. Coffee, the TAC, and Charlie. My team. Yeah, I’m all for this…maybe.

I was broke and bumbed a twenty off of Mr. Coffee to get a beer. I drank quickly as I waited my turn to bowl. The company had taken half the lanes over, with some of the teams wearing team shirts. I took a look around…I was the only white guy. Period. Oh, there were some hefty white ladies, but no white guys. I felt old, and out of place. I went to get another beer after throwing a couple of balls in the gutter.

Charlie was quite the bowler, at least he had his own shoes and ball, and looked like he’d spent some time in the lanes. I tried to make nice, high-fiving him when he got strikes, asking about where he usually bowled (some place on Brookhurst), talking utter gibberish. I felt like the idiot manager from The Office (not the NBC version, but the BBC one with - Ricky Gervais ). I didn’t like him and he didn’t like me.

Twenty frames and three beers later, I was checking my watch. God, this sucks, I thought. These guys are just dweebs, I can barely understand them, and we had nothing in common. Nada. Nill. Zero.

Some Asian guy from Operations was getting shitfaced on shots a few lanes down and making a bunch of noise, but nobody else was drinking, except the fat white ladies from HR. I find it hard to dislike someone you can have a few drinks with, and I was having fun with those girls. But since my “team” didn’t drink at all, there was to be no bonding with them tonight.

Now, I had heard that many Asians had a some kind of enzyme deficiency that made it difficult for them to metabolize alcohol, but this was fucking ridiculous. Have a beer, for Christ’s sake, you Pho-eating geeks!

God, they were boring. The TAC muttered all night, Mr. Coffee was uh, nice, and Charlie was his usual asshole self. Even my patronizing compliments about his bowling didn’t have any affect on his surly demeanor. Burning Man probably knew better than to show up, and I could see why. His purple haired skinny hippy white ass would be really out of place. But he probably didn’t even drink, because I don’t think you can derive alcohol from pure soy, which is all he consumed. Pussy.

That’s the problem with these company sponsored events, sometimes they just highlight the differences you have with coworkers, and you start realize you want nothing to do with these people after working hours. It was like bowling with the people at the DMV.

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Tunnel Rat posted on November 8, 2006 17:09

Mr. Whiteboard and I met the next afternoon.

“I’ve been thinking about the stuff with Charlie. I, um, stayed late last night after the meeting and did some thinking. Look, I probably should have given you the benefit of the doubt. I was just trying to be fair.”

“I appreciate that,” I told him. Cool; now we were getting somewhere.

“I just want to let, uh, you, uh, know, if we need to do something about Charlie, I’ll back you up. But we have to follow the procedures. I’m not even sure what the, uh, procedures are, I mean I’ve never had to do something like this, but if that’s what it takes, I’m for it.” He was giving me the green light to shit-can Charlie.

“Yeah, sure, I understand.”

“But we have to do this right,” he explained. “We just can’t get rid of the guy, I mean, it’s not something I’ve ever done.”

I bet, I thought. “Sure, gotcha.”

“Ok, we just have to do this thing together, ok?”

“Yeah, no problem. I appreciate this – I know it’s not easy. I mean, I would have hated to be in your spot yesterday when all that went on.” I actually would have enjoyed it, but I faked sincerity.

I looked around his office. He had pictures of his daughters in their basketball uniforms on the wall. I could like this guy, I thought – maybe. I just have to get him step up to the plate, back me, get this joke of an I.T. shop cleaned up, and we’d be square. I thought I could manage up, help him get some balls. Maybe.

As soon as I could, I checked the Org Chart. Under the Human Resources branch there was a “DOD” - Director of Organization Development. I fired off an email:

My supervisor and I have an issue with one of my
subordinates. He’s been adversarial, insubordinate, and absent from work. We’ve
talked about it and agreed that we need to take further measures. Can we talk
about this sometime?

She called me back in 10 minutes. “I’ve got some time after lunch. Do you want to come down?” she asked.

“Sure, see you then.” Nice. At most places, the HR people take a few days to get back to you.

I went down to the second floor and found the DOD. She was finishing her salad out of a Tupperware bowl.

“Hi, am I early?” I asked, leaning into her office.

“Not at all. Have a seat. Close the door.”

I felt like I was in a session with my shrink.

“So, let me guess. This is about Charlie,” she said as she put the lid on her salad bowl.

Bingo! This would be easy, I thought. The little turd was already on HR’s radar.

“Yeah, how did you know?”

“Well, we had some issues with him before. Let’s just say he didn’t really get off on the right foot.”


“Yeah, there was an incident at the new employee orientation. One of the I.T. supervisors gave a presentation on computer policies, and Charlie took it upon himself to challenge the guy. Not good.”

I was starting to like her. “I would think not.”

“So, what’s on your mind?” She was all business. I detected a slight East Coast accent, New York maybe. She had balls.

“Well, this Charlie guy…”

I told her all about the issues I had – the surly attitude, the jacking with my files, the disappearing acts during working hours.

She pulled out a matrix. I recognized it from one of my business school classes. It had five columns, ranging from “Passive” towards “Aggressive”. She started drawing on it.

“Look, on a scale of passive to aggressive, you are probably here.” She circled the column somewhere in the middle of the matrix. “Charlie, on the other hand, is way over here,” she continued, circling the “Aggressive” column.

“I see,” I said, fascinated.

“When a guy on this end of the spectrum,” she said, pointing to the “Aggressive” column, “ comes into contact with a supervisor like you on the left side of the matrix, he will attempt to assert himself.”

“Yeah, that’s definitely happening.”

“Ok, so the question is, what are we going to do about this?”

“Well, I’ve talked to my manager about him, and he said he is ready to follow whatever process is in place to resolve this issue. But he’s kinda of hesitant,” I explained. “I mean, he didn’t even let me see my team’s resumes.”

She stood up. “That’s no problem, I can get Charlie’s resume right now.”

This is cool, I thought. The DOD is so in my corner.

She handed me Charlie’s resume. I took a few minutes to scan it.

“This is pretty bogus,” I told her. “It says here that he has twelve years of programming experience, but he graduated in ’96. That means he was coding in his sophomore year. And this garbage about .NET, ActiveDirectory, CSS, I mean, it’s obviously padded.”

The DOD nodded.

“And it says here that he went to Cal State Fullerton in ‘99, but no grad date. He’s a drop-out.”

I looked at the letterhead. It was from an I.T. recruiting firm I had come across over the years.

“MacArthur Associates! I bet they padded this resume. That is one of the flakiest outfits in Orange County.”

I knew how places like that worked. They were the ones that gave I.T. recruiting a bad name. Body shops. Resume mills. They had been around for years, and spawned numerous clones. They all had offices in fancy high-rises near the airport. They had a formula:

• Do a Job Search on Monster or Dice. Find company XYZ Inc. that is looking such and such skill set. Then do a candidate search for skills that match that job. Call the candidate (lets say his name is Joe Hacker) and tell him you are trying to fill a spot for a company (don’t mention the company) that needs his exact skill set. Get Joe Hacker to let you submit your resume to the company you are “representing”.

• Then call XYZ Inc. and tell them you have a perfect match, several matches even, for the spot that they are trying to fill. Get them to agree to have you send these perfect matches to the desperate hiring manager and have him sign an agreement that if XYZ Inc. hires one of your “candidates”, they will pay you about 20-40% of their first year’s pay as a “finders fee”. You have now become the Joe Hacker’s exclusive agent, and nobody else can represent him at XYZ. In fact, if you piss off XYZ, XYZ is prohibited from hiring Joe Hacker for at least 6 months.

• Lassen, MacArthur, and a few others do ALL their business this way. They post excited, too good to be true job requirements on Dice and Monster with lots of exclamation points. Here’s one from Lassen:

“Orange County based Search Engine Development company is looking for a few good
C# Programmers! They are developing search engines that center around consumer
products and markets. Right now they need at least two C# / ASP.NET Programmers
who have 1+ years of experience, lots of potential, and the ability to learn
quickly from a highly touted team. They are using .NET 2.0, SQL 2005, and other
next generation Microsoft technologies. Apply immediately if you are ready to
see how high your ceiling can be!”

• The reality is that Lassen may not even know this Search Engine Development company. But if you send your resume to Lassen, and it has a tiny mention of C#, they can then call the company and give them the hard sell. They will tell Mr. Bozo IT Manager that they must hire their “candidate” by the end of the day because he is so hot, he is mulling over 10 offers and will make a decision soon. “We gotta move quick, Mr. Bozo! This C# guru won’t be around in the morning!”

• The poor guy on the other end will be forced to bring you in for an interview. And let’s say that you are this VB.NET guy with a little C# experience; the firm may even embellish your skill set to Mr. Bozo (who doesn’t know C# from C++) to make it sound like you have done lots of C# work. When you go out and meet with Mr. Bozo, he shakes your hand, and sends you into a room where you get worked over by a couple of geeks that ask you a bunch of C# questions that you can’t answer. No job, and this company will NEVER call you again, because you looked like a phony who tried to bullshit his way into a job he wasn’t qualified for. You now have been blackballed at this Search Engine Development company, thanks to Lassen or MacArthur.

That is how Mr. Whiteboard had found Charlie. The only thing was, Mr. Whiteboard was too naïve to have someone do a real technical screening, and Charlie had slipped in, smelling like a rose. Mr. Whiteboard’s Golden Boy. He would fix everything; after all, he had the credentials. Years of development experience. Fancy acronyms on his resume. He had to be good.

Mr. Whiteboard had gotten conned.

The DOD got me back on track. “Ok, never mind that resume. The key here is to take measured, firm steps to correct this behavior.”

She outlined a three-step plan of “graduated discipline.” Verbal counseling, followed by written warning, and finally, documented steps of correction agreed to by both the supervisor and the subordinate. It would take months to get rid of this flake, but I was ready to work within the system.

“Thanks,” I said, getting up to leave.

“And if you have any problems, or just need to talk, let me know,” the DOD said. “Anything, give me call. Please.”

“Absolutely.” I really did like her. Competent, to the point. Assertive. New Yawker, probably. We’d get along just fine, I thought as I walked back to my cube on the third floor.

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In my first week as S.A.D. (Supervisor, Applications Development) at TCTSRN, I started looking through some code. Lots of it. It wasn’t hard to find. They didn’t even use any version control, just some rudimentary archiving features of Sharepoint, which sucks at version control.

I started worming my way through the various portals they had set up. All the projects had cryptic names, and they were setup willy-nilly in folders called “Code” and “Specs” and “Docs”. Script files, batch jobs, stored procedures, even Unix Korn scripts (shit - are they running Unix?…That would suck.). I grabbed a handful of stored procedures that Sharepoint said were owned by people on my team and dumped them to the printer.

10 minutes later, they were still getting printed. I killed the print job and took a look at the files. They were massive. Thousands of lines of code in each proc. On and on they went…cursers…temp tables…a few hundred lines of commented-out code…more cursers…some case statements…more lines of commented-out code. Aliases. Eight table inner joins. Crappy naming conventions. Breadcrumbs left by other developers (“Bob – put your code here”).

I was wading through the alimentary canal of TCTSRN. This is where all the shit came from. All the extracts, downloads, uploads, everything. All of it living in hundreds of 5,000 line files. Procedural. Hacked. Undocumented. I felt like Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now, going through the dossier of Colonel Kurtz. Bewildered. Floating up the river on a secret mission to Cambodia.

Speaking of Cambodia, I called TAC into my cube. I pulled out some stored procs with his name in the comments.

“I am trying to sort out this code. Can I get a report on all the production jobs that you guys have running?” I asked.

“Well, id iz so many. Dad wud dake long dime.”

I parsed his response. Hardly fluent English. “OK, I don’t need all the stored procs documented. If you just get me the batch files that call the procs, I’ll track them down.”

He nodded and left.

They must have some idea of what code is actually running, I reasoned. What if there is a disaster and they have to restore their environment? How do they even keep track of who did what? The answer to the former is “they are fucked” and the latter is “they don’t”.

But I was S.A.D. – it was my job to get a handle on the code, improve the process, understand the systems, and be the go-to guy about all things app-dev related at TCTSRN. That’s why I took the $15k/yr pay cut – for the challenge and responsibility.

Or maybe because it was the first offer on the table after getting fired from TJIHFOW(The Job I Had For One Week).

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I went back to my cube, eager to figure out what exactly Charlie had going on with the Online Inquiry App. I cracked open the project.

It was ugly. A big lab experiment. A sandbox. Textbook worst practices.

The first consultant had ignored any new .NET technologies like server controls. He literally streamed out HTML from endless lines of StringBuilder objects. On and on it went…no concept of postbacks, no clue about how .NET manages state, nothing.

That’s the problem with .NET. Anybody can hack out some web site with completely un-maintainable, unreadable, non-encapsulated code, and call himself an expert in an Object-Oriented language. And this consultant had gone to town at the company’s expense.

I examined more code. Charlie had proceeded to refactor, some (but not all), of the code. Refactor is a fancy term for “clean up all the garbage logic and eliminate redundant code.”

I use the term generously; because what Charlie was doing was crap. A stinking pile of spaghetti. He would do things like take an old method named FooBar, rename it to something FooBarOld, and write a new FooBar method. The new FooBar method was sometimes just like FooBarOld, sometimes it was entirely different. If you did a search for a variable name, you’d find two matches, one old and one new. But my biggest problem was the code would not run. I COULD NOT COMPILE IT.

Not at first. I had straighten out some references, clean up some function calls, and in general, take a proverbial plumbing snake to the mass of sewage that was the “Online Inquiry App.”

Two hours later, I had the app running on my system. Cool, I thought. Now I can run through it, figure what doesn’t work, fix it, and get the thing out the door.

Wooah, Nelly. Not so fast. Charlie had added new modules, except that they were written in VB.NET. And they were a totally different architecture than the old stuff. Worse, they didn’t talk to the old stuff very well. If you moved from a page written in the old C# code to one written in VB.NET, you lost your session and got kicked back to a login page. Nice.

I was getting pissed. I dialed Charlie’s extension.


“Charlie, you gotta second to go over this Online Inquiry App with me?” I asked softly.

He stepped into my cube hesitantly. I had pages of printed out code strewn all over my desk. I wanted to send him a message. I DID NOT LIKE THIS KIND OF CRAP.

This was not going to be a tender mentoring session. I wanted to vent. He stood in front of my desk wearing a dingy white button down and gray bell-bottom slacks. Ugly shoes. The black belt was wrapped almost around to his ass.

I pointed out all his bugs. I inquired about his flaky techniques. I wanted to know why a user has log to log in every time he goes more than two pages deep into the app. He got defensive quickly. It got ugly.

“I’m still working on that.”
“That’s not my code.”
“That’s not part of the requirements.”

We weren’t getting anywhere. He had an excuse for everything.

Some of his excuses were outright attempts at obfuscation. Technical mumbo-jumbo streamed at me in rapid fire.

“The viewstate is getting corrupted by session variables that get re-initialized in the post-back!” he said with authority. Bullshit, I thought.

Anything but a concession that there were any problems at all with his code. I pondered how he ever managed to fit his massive head into my cube. His ego was sucking up all the oxygen. And his breath stunk. Really bad.

I knew my face was getting redder. I was deep in the tunnel now.

“…A foot above Flower’s glistening and grimy face, the trapdoor was quietly turned round and slotted into its frame. Flowers froze; the gook was right there. Suddenly the door moved again. Something dropped into Flower’s lap in front of his eyes. He watched it fall, momentarily transfixed; then the danger to his life overwhelmed him as he screamed ‘Grenade!’”

- The Tunnels of Chu Chi

Charlie had dropped the grenade called the “Online Inquiry App” in my lap. It was now my mess to clean up, because there was no working with this bozo. I could work around him, or through him, but not with him. His whole soul, his entire being, was tied to the code he wrote, and he thought his code was great. There was no management technique, no leadership strategy, no computer based training from Human Resources that equipped one to deal with such a personality. His type was known as a “Prima donna” in the business.

Joel Spolsky recommended marginalizing this type of programmer by having him work on bug fixes:

“Even the best teams can have a bozo or two. The frustrating part about having bad programmers on your team is when their bad code breaks your good code, or good programmers have to spend time cleaning up after the bad programmers…

You've got a perfect opportunity to neutralize this moron for several months. Just keep reporting bugs against their code. They will have no choice but to keep slogging away at it for months until you can't find any more bugs. Those are months in which they can't do any damage anywhere else.”

- Joel On Software

But I didn’t have time to have him fix his bugs. First off, he didn’t think they were bugs. Secondly, Mr. Bill wanted the site out, now. And I couldn’t trust Charlie to help me reach that goal.

He would have to be eliminated.

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tunnel rat posted on October 7, 2006 16:53

After a few days at TCTSRN, I got a call from Mr. Whiteboard’s boss. I’ll call him Mr. Bill. I had met him a few times, once at one of my interviews. He had popped in and made small talk while Mr. Whiteboard stood at his side, gleaming.

There was something odd about the way Mr. Whiteboard acted when he was around his boss.

He would, um…throb.

Almost vibrate. Like he was masturbating. Weird look on his face, almost like…pleasure.


As he would bask in the charismatic glow of his boss, I fantasized about offering him a napkin to wipe Mr. Bill’s fecal matter off of his nose. Mr. Whiteboard was Mr. Bill’s Yes-Man.

“Can you come up and talk about a project?” Mr. Bill asked.
He had a nasally voice, almost gay. Not that there is anything wrong with that. In fact, from here on out, I will suffix (a technical term meaning I will follow every mention of a word with something) the word “gay” with the acronym “NTTIAWWT”. I don’t want to piss off any gays (NTTIAWWT). I have some good gay friends, and they would get ticked if my online alter ego were a homophobe.

Back to Mr. Bill. I didn’t think he was gay (NTTIAWWT), just, um, delicate? He had two kids and was around my age. But the combination of his pastel wardrobe choice (lavender and pink dress shirts are very in now), high-pitched voice, and a last name that is a derogatory term for homosexuals had my Gaydar buzzing.

The name thing was out of his control, but everything else had me thinking that if ever got in an elevator with the guy, I wouldn’t be surprised if he busted a move on me, like Donald Sutherland did to Michael Douglas in “Disclosure.” You know, where they are alone in an elevator and Sutherland, who is Douglas’ boss, starts making out with him. BTW, that movie has one of the best damn quotes:

Why don't I just admit it? Admit that I'm that evil white guy everyone is always complaining about? Hey Chau-Minh, come down here so I can exercise my patriarchal urge!

Anyway, I go up to his office on the 7th floor, with the nice view of the 22 Freeway, where everyone wore ties. He tells me about the project, something to do with a web page to log calls that suicidal people make to the company. Evidently, it happens fairly often. A guy with a gun in his mouth will call up TCTSRN because he thinks they can help him get medical help, and starts threatening to commit suicide. They needed some way to respond to and track those calls.

No big deal, I explained – couple of web pages that we can throw on the InfoNet. Mr. Bill liked things on the InfoNet. The portal was his baby. It was nothing more than an intranet site where all things company related got dumped. The online phone director, the help desk app, links to HR forms, even a classifieds section where employees could sell stuff. It ran on Sharepoint. Barely. There were always problems with it. And when there were problems with InfoNet, Mr. Bill would call somebody, like the guy on my team that tried to maintain it, Mr. Coffee. It was his baby, and it better damn well be running.

Then it got weird...

“Uh, I was trying to demo that Online Inquiry App for some people the other day. It wasn’t working. Do you, um, know what’s going on with that?” he asked.

“Online Inquiry? Yeah, I think we’re still working out some issues with that site.” I was bluffing.

I barely had any idea where the break room was, much less why the “Online Inquiry App” wasn’t working. All I new was that Charlie was working on it, and it was a mess. A hacked up goo of a web site, C# layered with VB.NET, written by a flaky consultant and junior developers who didn’t know what they were doing. I had glanced at the code and was going to urge a rewrite.

Bill continued. “It’s very important that we get that site up.” He was smiling at me.

“Definitely,” I said. “I’ll look into it.”

“Good. You know, it seems like this project should be done already. Sometimes Mr. Whiteboard indulges his staff. A bit too much, in my opinion. I mean, we sent this guys to .NET training…”

It was getting dicey. Here was the CIO dissing my boss and putting the squeeze on me to get this pet project of his out the door. I treaded lightly.

“Sure. I understand.”

He smiled some more. “Good,” he said as he stood up.

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tunnel rat posted on October 4, 2006 16:50

On my first day at TCTSRN, I took some time to meet my “team.” Team was a nebulous term, because Mr. Whiteboard had not yet introduced me to my “team”. The admin girl took me around the whole department and suggested that so-and-so may be reporting to me, but she wasn’t sure.

The org chart was six months old, and from it, I figured I had four direct reports. I knew who two of them were for sure – Mr. Coffe and the TAC (Thick-Accented Cambodian). They had been in on one of my interviews. They had asked generic, meaningless questions like “What do you think of design patterns?” and “How do you deal with deadlines.” I had answered with generic, meaningless answers.

The third guy was Burning Man. Long hair, dyed purplish, tied in a bun. In a bun mind you, not a ponytail. More on him later.

When “Charlie” walked into my cube, I did the math and figured that was the last guy my “team.”

He was tiny. Maybe 100 pounds. Short, lean, terrier-like. He even had an odd scar on his nose, like he had been clawed by a simian . Close-cropped hair. Gray, bell-bottomed slacks (Sears?) and a dingy white button-down shirt, and a belt that almost wrapped around him twice (99 cent store?). He looked like he lived on nothing but pho.

I couldn’t stop thinking of the stories I had read about the tunnel rats in Vietnam, the men who went in after the Viet Cong hiding in tunnels.

“Then I cautiously raised the upper half of my body into the tunnel until I was lying flat on my stomach. When I felt comfortable, I placed my smith wesson .38-caliber snub-nose (sent to me by my father for tunnel work) beside the flashlight and switched on the light, illuminating the tunnel.

There, not more than 15 feet away, sat a Viet Cong eating a handful of rice from a pouch on his lap. We looked at each other for what seemed to be an eternity; but in fact was probably only a few seconds.”

I envisioned that this is what they encountered in the dark tunnel complexes of Cu Chi – a diminutave, fierce warrior that my (Marine brethren) had faced decades ago .

I’ve seen his type before. Excruciatingly technical. Zero people skills. They suffer from some mutation of (Aspergerger Syndrom), one that makes them appear normal, except when challenged. So smart that they are stupid, as they say in Texas. I worked with a guy like that at the Fountain Valley contract, another contract programmer that had pulled a typical geek bitchslap when he had emailed me, and a dozen of our closest colleagues, to inform us that he thought I was a big idiot because I dared to disagree with him about some technical minutia.

My geekdar, like (gaydar), started squawking. I tried to get over my initial impressions. We made small talk. Geek small talk is not like normal small talk:

“Yeah, there’s some cool stuff in 2.0.”
“Yeah, have you tried the object data source?”
“No, but the master pages are nice”
“Yeah. And Atlas is cool”
“That new grid view is way better than the old control”

And then it was time to wrap up the small talk. “I look forward to working with you,” I said.

“We’ll see about that,” he responded, grinning. Or smirking. Whatever. He left.

“We’ll see about” ?! What the fuck was that supposed to mean? Cocky smart-ass, I thought. Typical hot-shot young developer. Binary mentality (I am smart, therefore you are stupid).

I could deal with him, I reasoned. I started to fell like a Tunnel Rat, being lowered into the hole to face Charlie.

But I kept thinking of a scene from the Big Lebowski. “The man in the black pajamas, Dude. Worthy fuckin' adversary,” Walter Shobak had said about guys like Charlie.

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Tunnel Rat posted on September 29, 2006 16:47

On the morning that I got fired from TCTSRN (THE COMPANY THAT SHALL REMAIN NAMELESS – at least until I get all my damn severance), I brought in pictures of my family to hang on my cube. I’d been there 6 weeks, Mr. Whiteboard had just fired "Charlie", and I thought it was safe to personalize.

As John Lennon sang, “Instant Karma’s gonna get you, Gonna knock you off your feet.”

That afternoon, Instant Karma landed one to my balls.

At exactly 5 PM, I got a call from the Julie (nice body, but has seen her better days) in H.R. The one who had convinced me that TCTSRN was a great place to work. “Hi Kevin. Can you come down?”

Not a good sign, because all she did was hire and fire. My reptilian brain processed this binary equation:

If (Julie Calls From HR)
If(You are already Hired)
Then (You are Gettting Fired)
End If

I was already hired, so I must be getting fired. I walked down to the H.R. conference room where they did the hiring/firing. Mr. Whiteboard was there, blank-faced as usual. Julie had a stack of documents in front of her. I had seen documents like those before. Three months before, in fact. SIAN (SWEATSHOP IN A NIGHTCLUB) had presented me with those similar pages when they fired me. Legal stuff. Severance agreements, to be exact.

“We’ve come to conclusion that we will have to let you go,” Julie said.

That was it. No job reassignment, nothing. Except six weeks of severance pay – almost one for every week I worked. Mr. Whiteboard said little, as usual. I was graceful, Julie was firm yet nice, and he was stone-faced. I agreed to always speak highly of TCTSRN. Julie looked me in the eye and reminded me that I better, asserting that I should read the legaleaze i.e., if you don’t keep your mouth shut, you will not get this nice package.

“We like to do these things in a dignified manner,” she said. “You can go upstairs, pack your stuff, and I’ll meet you outside to take your badge.”

Mr. Whiteboard had followed through on the threat he made a month ago.

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Tunnel Rat posted on September 28, 2006 16:44

I have a lot of thoughts on how application development should be done. Almost 15 years in the business, and I am now at a point where I have a vision of what it takes to build applications "right". I have also seen a lot of garbage in this business -- this is where I expose it. I may even name names.

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- Vineet Nayar, CEO, HCL Technologies

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