I’m about to make a major life change. I’ve never made one this big but when I come to these cross-roads, I usually take a flashlight up into the attic and poke around to see what I’ve forgotten. Here’s one that I feel it necessary to share.
It was during the dot.com bubble. I was the manager of a small but growing software development team. Those that know me know I love managing development teams. So I was having the time of my life. Well at least at first. See I took the job under a bit of a false pretense. I was hired in March and told I had to staff the team and complete version 1 of the software by the end of July. (By staff the team I do mean from scratch) It was a company I really wanted to work for. I had interviewed with them 12 months before and had been turned down. This time I really wanted the job. I wanted it too much because I agreed to the terms knowing that there was no way it hell that the software would be done by then.
Off I went on my merry way, hiring developers, buying lunches, having a grand old time. Eventually, as all software projects do, it got to crunch time. On more than once occasion, the C.O.O. of the company (the world’s only living brain donor) sat in my office and said the words “…the fate of this company rests on you and your team.” Yep, no pressure here. So I did what any incompetent development manager does, I started mandating longer hours.
Starting in September, I actually REQUIRED people to work 12 hr days, and 6 day weeks. We were in over drive. I had people sleeping on couches overnight; I had people staying at nearby hotels because they were too sleepy to drive home; (I paid for the hotels. it was a standing rule, I’m not a monster) and I even had one girl (Lady, but we’ll use girl cause it sounds nicer) rent a small trailer nearer to the office than her house so she didn’t have a 1.5 hour drive each way. We will call her J.
Nashville is cold in the winter and one December morning J awoke to find that the pilot light on her furnace had gone out. (I’m telling this from memory so J if I get the facts wrong, feel free to correct me) J, wrapped in a blanket because the Trailer was poorly insulated and hovering in the low 30s, went to the furnace to light the pilot light and warm things up here.
Something happened. When she lit the match, there was a pocket of gas that had built up or a leak or something. The end result was the same a ball of flame hit her in the face giving her 3rd degree burns over 40% of her body. Worse yet, since it startled her, she gasped and sucked the flame down into her lungs scarring her lungs.
I never saw her again. I left that job in January (after the project was successfully rolled out in December) because the pressure was too great. As soon as we had the first version out. We hadn’t even begun to work the kinks out of it, management called me into their offices and wanted to start pushing the development team hard for the second phase. I knew then that it wouldn’t end. They had already replaced me functionally because after J’s incident, I lost the will to beat the developers. They brought in a woman who did an excellent job of “whipping the puppies” till the software was done. I just couldn’t do it.
I knew in my heart that I was responsible for J. If I had had the balls to stand up to management and tell them we wouldn’t be done in time and that we will stop this death march, she would have been spared. There were so many times when I could have reversed that situation but I’m ashamed to say I didn’t. Like every other incompetent development manager I thought you could continue to push people past their limits for the sake of the company. The end never justifies the means.
J, I’m sorry. I’m sorry I did that, I’m sorry I never visited you in the hospital (it was shame that kept me away) and I’m sorry I moved you up from Florida only to ruin your life.
Please forgive me.