Tuesday, May 10, 2005

A Disheartening Discovery

January was a long, cold month. Like a Polar Bear Club member's inaugural dive, knowing in advance how much I was going to be working didn't prepare me for actually working that much. George worked three days per week, so Mondays and Tuesdays (nights included) were our days to really shine. As the nights wore on Ted worked alongside me out of loyalty, but he would eventually wear down and call it a night.

Getting George to work more hours was like pulling teeth, and since he was training for an upcoming marathon he liked to go out for a nightly run. I was envious that he was going out and taking care of his body while mine was slumped over a keyboard.

I persuaded Rutherford to let the company reimburse me for working dinners. This soon settled into a routine of Panera Monday, sandwich Tuesday and Chinese Monday. By Thursday and Friday we were so exhausted we just worked late and went straight home.

By midnights I was physically spent, but my mind wouldn't stop racing. To fall asleep I started reading Showstopper, the chronicle of Dave Cutler and the development of Windows NT from 1988 - 93. As a software developer on a death march reading about other developers on their death march, it was remarkably prescient--and sometimes depressing--reading material. Though I was falling asleep later and later, I found myself waking earlier and earlier, eager to get back to the project and implement a new idea.

But even though our project productivity soared, it seemed as though outside events were conspiring against us. Nitin, our new Systems Administrator, had been on the job about three months and was finally taking charge of all major systems. But two mission-critical systems crashed badly one week, and as the resident expert on the systems (I had written one of them) I was called on to resurrect them.

Also, the project's popularity was its own enemy. Everyone wanted to see a demo of the mock-up screens I had done in Visio. I wound up performing at least half a dozen demos of the software. One for the field servicemen's annual meeting, one for the salesmen, one for visitors from our UK division, etc. We even jury-rigged a complete demo controller running off of a laptop input for a trade show.

Every time I was called on to do the dog and pony for the project, that meant that I wasn't working on the project. It was frustrating, but not as frustrating as what I found out in our annual year-end meeting.

Every year at the end of January the entire company gets together for a year-end review. If we hit our sales target for the previous year, everyone receives a 3% bonus. Having already spent the money five times over in our minds, we all cheer, shake the president's hand, and go home happy. But this year--even though we had hit our target--I was more interested in the projected numbers for the upcoming year. On the charts, in big, bold fonts, were revenue numbers from the Oswald project starting in May. May!

I tried to ask a few shielded questions about the sales numbers, but my answers were deflected. John Dell (no relation), our ebullient and well-loved Sales & Marketing Director, was confident in his sales team's ability to sell our finished-by-May project. And then I realized that even though I had told my boss and our Engineering Director that the March demo with our OEM was in jeopardy and the May date wasn't going to be likely, either, no one else knew.