Friday, February 17, 2012


Although I've been physically separated from work for a few weeks now, today was my official final day as an IBM/Rational Software employee. This morning I handed in my badge and got my final paycheck.

It was 12 years ago that I was mired in the worst job in the world, at least as far as I could tell, working 16 hours a day pretty much 7 days a week for a miserable tech start-up company with no end in sight and making no headway. After seven weeks it had gotten so bad that I snapped and walked out, literally. From there I took my time and looked at a number of local mid-sized tech companies. I wasn't interested in working for a large company as, prior to the start-up, I'd worked for and subsequently left an offshoot of Lotus, Iris Associates, that had been assimilated by, you guessed it, IBM. It was unfortunate as this was the most quality, dynamic and interesting group I'd ever worked with. They worked really hard and played even harder. Good times gone bad when the man stepped in.

In my search I gave considerable weight to proximity to my home. I'm vehemently opposed to wasting time and resources on long commutes to/from a workplace. Live and work locally is a much more sustainable and responsible approach. Rational Software and Open Market were the two strong choices and the choice was pretty easy. Rational ended up being the clear winner, partially as it was less than two miles from home and the position was working with the Cadillac of source control products, ClearCase. I clearly recall a sunny spring day riding my bike to deliver my signed offer letter back to Rational. In hindsight it was very fortunate that I didn't go with OpenMarket as that was a huge disaster about to happen.

Things went well at Rational and I really felt as though I'd found a new home. I liked my job and I liked the people there. All good things must end though and three and a half years in rumors of a corporate sell off started to swirl. The stock started to tank because of this and all of us employees with ESPP shares that we had been diligently holding, now saw our real income (ESPP stock is purchased with basepay funds automatically) investments, direct investments in the company which we had faith and belief in, dip under water.

I recall the morning when the news broke, the worst case scenario from my perspective, that IBM had bought Rational Software. The president came around and told some people in person, myself included, soliciting feedback from them. I reacted honestly and bluntly conveying my disappointment and the fact that I'd previously broken away from IBM, intentionally. He took it in stride and moved on. As the details emerged we all understood why the top executives were happy, they all made out just fine as they always do and within six months, when their contractual arrangements expired, were gone. Unfortunately for those of us with recent stock purchases, IBM basically purchased Rational as a fire sale, literally below the stripped capital value of the company. It always seemed to be questionable, at least to me, but there were never any lawsuits so I guess that there was no impropriety. I guess.

Flipping quickly through the years that followed the purchase, we were bent, folded and manipulated into the IBMer mold. I remember them strongly using that term as propaganda in the transition. They really tried to push the IBM family and community values, values and community that I personally never saw. I suspect they were concepts of years long since past, a past that the company clung to at least in principle if not in practice. Morale declined, people left, people just plain disappeared and there was constant management change. You see, the way for the big company is to have constant rotation of middle management, grooming them for bigger and better. Those that drink the Kool-Aid and tow the line will surely be destine for greatness. Those who don't will eventually find themselves without a seat.

Over the years I became more and more despondent. For much of the time I could still focus inward on what I was doing and just let the residual noise flow by. I continued working with the same group on the products I knew and respected and the bottom line was that the pay was good and I worked close to home. I was going through the motions but I was OK with that. I'd come to realize that a job is rarely an adventure. The best case scenario is that you can find something that affords good pay and a reasonable work/life balance. I had that and I made the realization that it was as good as it gets. And so I would question my motives from time to time but always come back to the same realization, that I had it as good as it gets.

A couple years ago, IBM decided to consolidate all of the local MA labs into one giant factory. They would roll the Lexington, Waltham, Westford, Cambridge and other facilities into one site. In these times of increased awareness of the needs for global conservation, where do you think they chose for a site location? A huge, global, environmentally conscious company like that would certainly take public transportation and proximity to urban centers into account, right? One would certainly assume so. However, they chose to the old Digital/Compaq/HP site in Littleton, three miles away from the nearest public transportation and a full beltway (RT495) away from the defacto outer high tech epicenter (RT128). I convinced myself that I wouldn't make the move with them. I caved in when the time came. Alas, we all suffered from the frog in the pot scenario and numbly took the move mostly in silent acceptance.

Last year we had some changes and I got thrust into a no win situation, being lent to another project team part time while still having all of the same primary roles and responsibilities. This is known as the IBM Agile process; acknowledge the core principles of a structured practice and then intentionally disregard them. This was a recipe for disaster and as expected, I failed. For my 50% new project allocation I was expected to have 24/7 availability. The function I was expected to perform for this new assignment, I felt was a misuse of my time. I was a senior person making a boatload of money and they wanted me to monitor a broken system, a job a much less senior person making far less money would be fine for. I suggested a better use of my time and expertise would be in fixing the broken system and they could take my junior people to monitor the system in the interim. Apparently I wasn't respecting their authority and was deemed not moral enough to burn women, kids, houses and villages.

This past summer we had changes in the group that hit closer to home. Our long time manager, a person who was involved in every detail of the operation, was removed and forced to find a new home elsewhere. We then reported to a tiny little woman in Mexico. This posed challenges. Not only was English her second language and she wasn't in the same time zone, she wasn't even in the same country. She was a hands off manager who didn't care about the detail and just wanted the Cliff Notes summary of what we had done at the end of the month. She was also not terribly technical, which posed difficulties when trying to deal with technical issues. This caused confusion and numerous problems. Things turned grim.

As things were already going so swimmingly, the local executive du-jour realized that nobody was actually working from the spiffy new office they'd located in, well, hell. Who would have guessed that if you make the commute to work unattractive and seat people in a huge impersonal cube-factory and then expect odd hours coverage from them to pick up the slack from your global (ie. leverage the low cost centers around the world) development team plans that your employees would tend to work from home. And so the Return to the Labs plan was hatched early in the fall. This called for everyone working from the office five days a week. That is when I decided I needed to jump out of the pot and started looking for a new job and was also when I made a rather snide comment about the program and how I applauded the fact that we could now do work from work and have a clear delineation between work and home. That went over like a fart in church, so to speak. After getting a decent offer from a local company I decided the timing wasn't right and stayed in my old job.

Fortunately, another re-org and management changed moved our group directly into a local development organization under a well respected manager that I'd worked a project with in the past. Things looked better. At the end of the year though, just before Christmas, my review time hit and it was the short term interim manager from Mexico that would be doing the review. This was the person who realistically understood the least about what I actually did. Although there was no fault found in my work I was dinged for not doing other stuff, stuff that was not defined and that they couldn't name but was the extra credit stuff that someone of my job classification should be doing to make myself more visible to those outside my immediate organization such that when they ask someone who has not interaction with me, which they do, if I'm a keeper, they can say "you bet". Pressing the flesh. I've never been good at that and don't really care to. I fix broken stuff and make working stuff work better. I don't kiss babies. Really, babies are nasty, smelly little germ factories. I do have a habit of saying "sh!t" if I step in it and that causes problems. Sometimes it just feels wrong not to swing though.

So here we are. This is my self realization of why I grew to literally hate the company I spent so much time working for. Was it deserved? I don't know, probably not. It was the Rational BOD that undersold the company and sold out the employees. I chose not to look on the bright side and embrace the changes. I chose to dwell on the negatives and I chose to say that, and not just think it. I also chose to stay for as long as I did and not make that move. It's part of my belief though, gained from years of personal experience and the experience of others that in software, the grass is almost never greener. A job is work, otherwise they wouldn't pay you for it. There I go again, being negative. I need to start thinking Smurfs and kittens with whiskers and unicorns sh!tting rainbows. Much better.

Do I have regrets? You know, I thought that I might. I've been somewhat melancholy since the separation plan was proposed, back in December. I take this stuff personally as I do absolutely everything. I always have. I also hold a grudge, forever, quite literally. Just ask some of the people that I used to know as friends. Probably not healthy but it's part of my heritage and a trait that I've reluctantly clung to. How did it feel driving away from the office for the last time this morning? I actually felt relieved. A burden had been lifted from my shoulders and I felt free. It is sad to think that this is what it had come to, that the place I made my way to day after day, week after week and year after year was met with dread and angst.

It's too bad but really, I don't have regrets. This forced a change and in reality, I was the one controlling it, if only indirectly. I'm happy with where I am now and honestly am feeling really optimistic about things. I'm thinking that I may take some classes in my field and try and get some new skills. Maybe give it another go in software. Either that or I'm going to buy a wood-shipper and start an LLC :) Hopefully I can be done with being a miserable, crotchety, disgruntled old man. "You kids get off my lawn!".

Yep, I can do this. Onward and upward.

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