This is a story about nth chances...
Is the UK so short of people with the technical skills and experience that I possess, that I would suffer no career setbacks even if I literally curled out a turd on the table in front of the entire board of directors, having waltzed into the boardroom, leapt onto the boardroom table, lowered my trousers and squatted?
I've been doing more-or-less the same job for 21+ years, and every single enterprise CRUD app for a large organisation is exactly the same as the rest. Yes, I switched from one programming language to another. Yes, I switched from one kind of way of managing a project to another. Yes, I learned a load of technologies that do a lot of 'magic' for me, so my job is 95% plugging things together, and only 5% 'programming'. It's not even programming any more... that 5% is just renaming stuff that you've copied and pasted, so it's not so obvious that you copy-pasted it, and then sorting out a bit of rewiring and configuration.
The last couple of projects I worked on, I got so bored and I had so much spare time, that I was able to do things properly for once - I did things which are hard, so most people don't bother; I was thorough. I didn't cut any corners. When I found the inevitable complex technical problems which defeat most people, I didn't kludge round those problems... I spent those days and whole weeks, tearing my hair out with frustration, to arrive at a "textbook" solution. I should write a frigging book: "How to write nice elegant software in a horrible corporate environment where nothing works like it's supposed to". I guess the title could be a bit shorter.
The main project I worked on last year involved a lot of conversations like this:
- CEO: I want the app to look like this
- Me: I'll make an app that has the essential features, but it'll be ugly, then I'll work on the other 70% of stuff that needs doing
- CEO: Yes, but the app needs to look and work exactly like this
- Me: Ideally, in a year or so, it could do yes, but right now you've only got me, so if you want to launch something in a couple of months, I need to do lots of other things as well as make a pretty app
- CEO: OK, but it'll look like this, right? The design is 100% complete
- Me: It won't look like that because the design includes things that are impossible
- CEO: OK, but it'll look almost like this?
- Me: I think you're getting too hung up on the app. There's lots of other stuff to do too.
- CEO: But it's important that the app looks like the designs we've produced
- Me: I think you should hire somebody else who can tweak what I produce to make it look the way you want it to look, and I'll get on and finish all the other essential bits
- CEO: We already had 6 different freelancers from 6 different countries produce 6 different apps, and each one looks nothing like the design I want. Can you re-use any of their code?
- Me: No
- CEO: OK, well, I'm sure you'll have it all done in 2 months
So, I worked on the thing that I usually wouldn't bother doing, because it's not my core skill, which was to faithfully reproduce the design that the CEO wanted. I spent a lot of time making a really really pretty app. I learned a lot. I stopped being so afraid of UI/UX work. I started to feel quite confident building attractive and complex user interfaces; pretty apps.
Then, onto my bread-and-butter: take a load of data, convert it and store it somewhere, create some means of retrieving it, and create some means of users interacting with it, plus gathering loads of data and analytics on who they are and what they're up to.
Only, almost all my time had been wasted making a stupid pretty app, and when I came to look at the source data which has supposedly been analysed, it turned out that the analysis was total BS. Half the data which the pretty app was going to display to the users quite simply didn't exist - it was fiction; fantasy. "We'll scrape that data together ourselves" said the CEO. The price of a pint in 120 towns and cities. The average rent in 120 towns and cities. The total number of students in 120 towns and cities. The number of nightclubs in 120 towns and cities. Lunatic.
So, I've had occasion to become somewhat obstreperous. Rather than just plod along and ignore the lunacy, and waste my time on wild goose chases and impossible tasks, I've gotten stroppy; I've let my frustration be known loudly and clearly. I stop doing what I'm asked to do - because it's lunacy - and start working towards a finished product.
I wonder how many times I've left a project, and the CEO or whoever has been thinking "thank God we got rid of that guy who gave us a complete working application, and who told us in precise and concise detail all the problems that we were going to face if we continued on our chosen path, which we've repeatedly refused to deviate from". It's actually interesting to see the pretty app that I developed, live in the App Store, exactly how I left it - none of the impossible lunatic things are there, unsurprisingly
Given that each of the 6 previous freelancers had looked at the previous developer's code and thought "nah, this is rubbish, I'm going to throw it away and start again" but whoever it was who took over the complete and working system that I left behind, decided that it was actually exactly what they wanted and needed, so they released it to the App Store.
On another note, I keep getting sick. I work very hard, I try very hard, and I immerse myself it what I'm doing - I live and breathe the projects I get involved in; I care. It's the caring part that's the problem. When you care too much, you get upset and then you start to get frustrated, which is exhausting and it makes me sick. I literally get sick: I get too unwell to work.
I bust my balls, then I get sick. When I get sick, all kinds of bad stuff happens. I might end up in hospital. I might end up in trouble with the police. I might end up falling out with friends. I might end up running out of money. I might end up homeless... who knows? It's anybody's guess how bad things are going to get when I get sick. I've attempted suicide 3 times already.
So far though, nobody seems to have gone out of their way to do life-changing damage to me: to black-ball me from ever being able to work again, to punish me, to give me black marks against my name that would exclude me from civilised society. Nobody seems that keen to see me dumped on the enormous pile of humans who we've decided serve no useful purpose. Nobody seems that keen to prevent me from ever having another chance.
The last couple of projects, I didn't get obstreperous and I didn't get so sick that everything got badly messed up. The last couple of projects, I gave the client exactly what they asked for, more or less... I just ignored the lunacy, and built useful high-quality working software and ignored all the questions like "where's that [impossible/useless] feature I asked for?" and sure enough, they forgot all about it in the end, and they were happy.
In my personal life, I don't know why my misbehaviour when unwell hasn't landed me in more trouble than it has, and ejected me from civilised society and consigned me to a life that a great many of our "unwanted" and "unwelcome" members of society suffer, because they've caused trouble and they're now permanently branded as "trash". It must seem very unjust to those who have been branded as "human trash" to know that the rules and regulations of life are supposed to be applied fairly and evenly, but evidently they are not. Maybe it's because I can pretend to do a posh accent. Maybe it's because I try to remember to say please and thank you lots. Maybe it's just because I've been lucky up to now, but luck won't last forever.
I know people have found my blog and they know that my visible tattoo advertises that I've got problems, but nobody ever says anything, except for the occasional "do you wear contact lenses?" or other hint that they've seen my bespectacled profile picture: my alter ego.
My plan is to try and get myself onto page one of Google (I'm on page 2 at the moment I think) but the truth is, I don't think people - the decision makers - actually care that much, when they find somebody with the skills that are apparently in such short supply that a person like me can limp along and suffer the horrible manic highs and depressed lows in full view of my office colleagues, when economic circumstances force me back into that environment.
Ideally, I'd like to send out my CV and have my email address as firstname.lastname@example.org and list my website, as well as including details about exactly what's happened in my life since I got sick. I'll just write a summary of my life and career to date - good and bad - rather than the corporate friendly horses**t nonsense that conforms to the expected standard.
At the moment, do I require mercy? Yes, a little. I'm in a precarious situation. There are a few people who could choose to bring the full force of the blows raining down on my head, but they've been merciful, so far.
At the moment, do I require an nth chance? Yes of course. I always feel like I'm on the back foot; I always feel like an imposter or a fraudster, even when I've just finished a big project and the client's really happy. I always feel like my not-so-secret website and the stuff that's happened in the recent past - which would usually be confidential - somehow disqualifies me from doing the job that 21+ years of evidence shows I'm very capable of doing to a high standard.
For the first 11 years of my career, I had an unspoken agreement with my bosses: they'd let me have days off sick or come in late when I was depressed, because they knew I'd be so productive when I was manic. It was a system that worked well. The trouble is, with short projects, it's so much harder to establish the trust in that relationship and accept that a member of your team is not a regular 9 to 5 Monday to Friday mediocre plodding drone who doesn't give a f**k.
It would be arrogant and unreasonable of me to expect special treatment in the workplace, or indeed in society in general. I don't know why I keep getting more chances. Do you think it's fair?