Monday, November 17, 2014

Introspection on why I left...

This is a story about a job long, long ago. 
In having gone through this, I developed a system of heuristic flags to look at an organization that you work for. While these are context sensitive, I tried to keep a little of the context in the flags to give the reader some idea of what I saw. Seeing these things as they happen is extremely difficult. When you are in the moment they can look like a compromise, yet remove yourself from the situation for 2-3 months and suddenly they become “OH MY GOD, I can’t believe they even asked us to do that!”
The reason that some of us persevered through lots and lots of these yellow and red flags is many. People don't like change, interviewing is change. People like to see things through to the end, quitting feels like you failed. I genuinely liked the people I worked with, or at least lots of them, but that doesn’t change the culture of the sociopaths in charge (Gervais Principle). Hindsight is 20/20, looking back, I should have quit way earlier, but recognizing the signs in real time is much more difficult then it would seem when writing this down years later.

(the stuff in italics are the warning signs)

It all started slowly. That’s the best way to disguise failure. It’s how we can convince ourselves, “we're just learning"…
I had been working for this company about three months when it was decided that we needed to go Agile. We hired 2 product owners did a couple of days of training. Made a backlog, estimated, planned a sprint and brought new team members on board. We didn’t have a scrum master but we ‘were’ looking for one. Can’t have everything at once we told ourselves.

Yellow Flag 1: Starting a process by ignoring pieces of the process before trying them is folly.

We start this grand adventure with a meeting where it was deemed, the biggest oldest crappiest hard-to-read, difficult-to-modify code would be the starting point for the new hotness. Not lets rewrite it, but take the ‘scroll of insanity’ as it was called, and use it to build on for the new hotness. But we sallied-forth, new process, one bad decision won’t kill us, and we plodded along for a couple of months. 
Then the QA manager had a life event and never recovered, he left the company and the rest of this story is sans QA having a voice. We told ourselves we can work without a manager ‘for the team’.

Yellow Flag 2: Working without a direct supervisor for more then 3 months. 

Don't get me wrong I don't want to work for just any manager, and neither should you. But if a decent (notice NOT GOOD) manager doesn't show up within 3 months, I can think of 2 things. The company doesn't attract quality people. Or they aren't making it their highest priority.

Soon our VP was walking through the building explaining to other people / board members the agile process in exquisite detail. Basically lying to their face, in front of ours.

Red Flag 1: When management tells everyone including you, we are Agile. Then proceeds to prevent you from being a self-directed team, doing backlog estimations, working on a single sprint at a time or defining done. Now that I see this, I wonder if it was a sadistic way of daring us to challenge him.

At this point we had a new development architect team. They had a working pre-alpha. As a concurrent B2B web application the VP decides we should load test this. I can handle a new challenge and was excited to get started.
First round of testing showed two concurrent users crash the new hotness. Spent a week tweaking on load testing cause clearly I’m missing something with the load test. After showing the development manager and VP the results. I was called a liar, and the load part of testing was given to someone else. Two weeks later he has the same results I do, and the development manager admits maybe there is an issue in our session management.
Meanwhile I'm off to functional automation. Automation is brittle and the 3rd party GUI libraries aren't helping. No hooks, dynamic id’s, I can’t work with this.  I of course had no manager to explain this to, but was informed, “It helps the developers move faster.” Which just puts QA, without a voice, further behind…

At this point the only thing keeping me at the company is the Warhammer Fantasy board between a developer and myself.
A co-worker and I start to share any job openings we find in an effort to get out, but due to the recession, there isn’t much.

As all this is happening, we move to production with two active sprints. In and of itself wasn’t insane until you note that shortly we had 3 active sprints in production with only two sprint teams. At one point we had three active sprints in production being worked on with bugs, an active sprint in stage, one in QA and a sixth in development.

Yellow Flag 3: Is having multiple sprints active per sprint team. 
Red Flag 2: Is having six different sprints being actively worked on, by two sprint teams.

We had a sprint board which was viewed as sacred ground, only the PO could touch, move, write, etc. on or with it. At one point one of the testers called the board the joke that it was, and said that without the ability to move, edit or touch things, it was stupid. He said this to the POs face. Within 10 minutes he was in the VP’s office being told to apologize or he was fired.

Red Flag 3: Anyone who criticizes the process, being threatened with their job. 

So, we were fast approaching an imaginary deadline of an alpha version of our software, and we were behind, working OT and generally trying to get 'er done. This particular company prided itself on the 2 weeks over christmas only requiring a skeleton crew, so most of us didn’t mind the OT, in a couple of weeks most of us would get a respite and then come back refreshed. When the VP came out and announced, “ very one will be working over christmas, no PTO except on the holidays themselves, and mandatory 50 hours every other week“, yes they had canceled christmas. For a date that only they believed in, never mind that most people were doing 60-80’s.

Yellow Flag 4:(approaching red) Is when management changes work schedules for you.  

Projects dead. QA ignored. Automation maintenance nightmare. VP unwilling to compromise. 5 active sprints. 

The day I gave my two week notice I had to write a letter to quit, cause I couldn’t find the VP (who was my manager) for the entire day. He never did show up.

So he politely asked me to not inform people of my two week deadline, he’d like to handle it. Of course I was more them willing to allow him to  handle it in his own way.  A week rolled by, with no announcement, so I was unable to tell anyone. As a result no one thought it important to learn and take over the tasks that I was doing. Week two started with a scum where people started to assign me work, and at this point I was tired of waiting and kinda upset. I told the entire team that most of that work needed to be someone else’s cause Friday was my last day. Everyone was upset, and yet officially my leaving still wasn’t announced till one day before my last.

To top off a wonderful last week of trying hard to make sure people are prepped for me being gone. My exit interview consisted of HR telling me over the phone, “No, that’s not why you’re leaving.” What do you say to that?

Red Flag 4: The process of handing off your knowledge to someone is stymied, and no one in management cares why you are leaving. (Albeit this flag is more for people still there.)


  1. JCD, I was in a very similar situation to yours, but I waited for less red flags than you did. At 4 pm on my last day, I was informed that I had an exit interview at 5 p.m.
    They obviously were not interested in what I had to say, so I simply didn't go to it. I never looked back and live happy.

    1. Actually that was Isaac's experience and writing, however I worked there as well and did some of the editing. I suppose I should take it as a compliment that our writing styles are similar enough to be confused. :) The "Posted by" section tells you who wrote the post.

      I know what you mean by 'never looked back', but I find that looking back is somewhat interesting. I know it can be a terrible idea to look back, but looking back can also help 'prove' that your opinions were not in fact wrong. What I think you mean is that you never wanted to go back, and in that opinion, I have to agree.

      - JCD