For nearly three years, Bill has worked for this firm. In the first, he was
lucky and wrote a time-tested (invented in the early 90's) central piece of
system software. Under 3000 lines, it was probably the best code he had ever
written and, even amazing to himself, so far bug-free. The experience seemed to
validate and grant him the mental poise that he used to lack. No matter what
others say, he could tell himself that he was OK at what he did.
But soon the manager who appreciated his work left, the company favored
"innovations" that could lead to a sales pitch and bring a quick buck, senior
engineering folks seemed threatened, and he kept snubbing the upper crust.
Among his many faults, Bill seems to have the rebel gene. He does not work
well with people he does not respect. He has no problem with the humble
programmer, seasoned or fresh, but toward the higher-up, his attitude is often
arrogant*. When he thinks he is safe, he does not tolerate status-based authority.
Titles only mean that the bearers have to earn his respect and merely being
capable is not enough.
As a result, during the next two years, he has been sidelined and given only
one task. The folks must think they avoid headaches by giving him little to do
and they have kept postponing the release of his code. It is amazing that this
trivial piece has taken almost two years and counting.
He could have panicked and moved on to the next sweatshop, as he would
have in his 30s, and maybe that was expected or even desired. But strangely he
enjoyed doing nothing and thought this his luckiest break. For one thing, now he
had plenty of time. The thought "What a pity if I die without enjoying
Shakespere?" had always bothered him and he could start to address it now.
He was not bitter, either. He knew that he was not easy to get along with
and he did not hate the bosses. They probably suffered him more than the other
way around. This gig was first the most fulfilling and then the most relaxed.
What to complain about? At least they hadn't put him on a performance
improvement plan (aka the PIP) yet.
Gone are the desires to play hard, to please and win approvals, climb the
ladder, and make more money, for FOMO or Fear Of Missing Out. He does not
mind writing good code, given a chance, but has zero interest in office politics.
After seeing living cost almost nothing in his hometown in China, he has decided
he can live without an engineering career, peer recognition, or even income from
a regular job.
He was daydreaming Thursday afternoon when Sandeep S. leaned over the cube
and informed in his Delhi accent,
"I will forward you a meeting invitation."
Sitting next to each other across the asile, they had not spoken for a week.
Sandeep stood 5'8", fit, dark and with a full head of well groomed short black
and gray hair. His black eyes under heavy eyebrows looked chronically tired and
his handsome face was covered with stubble.
"What? NF3?" Bill was still struggling after 20 years working with Indians.
"No. No. V! V! NFV! Network Functions Virtualization.
Let's go and find a meeting room."
In this team, he managed but did not lead. To lead would require knowledge
of the code. Sandeep lacked no talent, however, in both grasping the big picture
and avoiding technical details and focusing purely on managing, i.e., checking
progresses, setting up meetings, coordinating tasks, etc. It was puzzling to
Bill but the guy seemed enjoying this "managment" job. His English was fluent
and he could chat and joke but showed no strong feelings toward anything. He
smoked eight cigarettes a day, played good Bowling, had two kids and lived
outside the valley.
Sandeep must revered the corporate hierachy and was devoted to upper
management. He was shocked when he came back from vacation to learn about
Bill's little run-in with his superior, Raman.
"You yelled at my boss?!"
"Yes. I did."
"He's one level above me!"
"Sure. I thought I was going to get fired the next day."
"That might have happened."
"In the end, he was the one who left. What a strange world!"
"But it was very likely you got the sack."
"Indeed. Then that's that."
"Anant was trying to help with the bug and you yelled at him, too."
"He was more self-serving than trying to help me."
"You've got to get a grip on your temper."
"You think I don't know that?"
At the following NFV meeting, Bill kept a straight face, listened carefully,
made eye contact, and nodded timely nods, but his mind was elsewhere. In the
midst of a dozen grave-looking and mostly out-of-shape guys and gals, discussing
vital software changes and bouncing serious ideas, he did not feel inadequate,
shamed, or belittled in anyway. He was wondering how each one would fare in the
second or even later part of the first half of his or her life. Do they seriously
believe tech and money would take care of them? His thought turned to something
he read lately:
From now on, little by little,
you must prepare yourself to face death.
If you devote all your future energy to living,
you will not be able to die well.
You must begin to shift gears,
a little at a time.
Living and dying are, in a sense,
of equal value.
-- Haruki Murakami, After the Quake
The meeting lasted one and a half hours and showed no sign of ending and
Bill had survived by not uttering a single word. When it was time to pick up his
son for wrestling lesson, he left.
* Bill felt at least Taleb could understand him as the guy said "English does
not distinguish between arrogant-up (irreverence toward the temporarily
powerful) and arrogant-down (directed at the small guy)."