Hat on Top, Coat Below


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November 4, 2002

This week is crunch time on my albatross project at work. It’s a module that was promised to the customer in the original negotiations almost three years ago. This was the first big sale closed by the account manager, and he way underbid the overall project, with the result that the fixed payments ran out long before the work needed to meet the requirements did. His lying about that to our boss was one of the reasons, along with padding his hours and generally not being reliable, that he got fired about two years ago, six months into the project. Shortly before he got fired, I took over the account manager role for the customer. Even though there was (and still is) another much more experienced and well-rounded programmer on the team, the customer liked me better, so when they became dissatisfied with the original guy, they wanted me. Looking back, I shouldn’t have been so quick to take on the assignment. Yes, it’s what the customer wanted, and yes, it was an ego boost, and yes, it did raise my boss’s opinion of me when I proved I could handle it, but on balance, it’s been a huge drain on my job satisfaction.

There was so much to clean up in the wake of Mr. Lying Slacker Guy’s departure that I didn’t even get started on the albatross module until about a year ago. Again, I jumped in and took it on, somehow thinking that since I’d managed to manage the customer, I could manage to bang out a module that even my boss, an experienced engineer and programmer, acknowledged would be difficult. It’s so far removed from my area of expertise, accounting, that I had to spend tons of time just getting familiar with the basic subject matter before I could even begin. Once I began, I wanted to run and hide. This was more than I bargained for. I tried to enlist other people to help, and I did get one guy to do a couple design meetings with me, but no one is really interested in getting involved in a project that yields no billable hours. The customer has already paid for this, so each hour spent on it is an hour down the drain as far as revenue is concerned. As the account manager, it’s my responsibility to get it done however I can. Oh, how I wish I weren’t the account manager anymore.

Mr. Lying Slacker Guy had done a little work on the albatross module before he left, but none of that was salvageable. If anything, the stuff he’d done made my job harder. He’d made changes to some of the key tables in the database to accommodate his whacked out approach, and I had to undo those before I could do it the right way. If I end up in Hell, the evil thoughts I’ve wished in his direction will probably be the major reason why.

It’s been almost a year since the first design meeting on this module. I really hoped it would be done long before this, but I hate working on it so much that I’ll use almost any excuse to do something else. The customer has continued to request new modules and changes to existing ones, and those requests generate revenue and are almost invariably more fun to work on, so I’ll do them first. I have other customers to support, too, and their needs get put ahead of the albatross. But now, now I can’t delay any more. I have a meeting on Thursday to review the module with the customer. When I set the date with them, it seemed comfortably far away. Now, it is so close it’s scaring me. How will I ever get enough done to have something reasonable to show? I’m not even going to try to get it all done—that’s impossible at this point, really and truly impossible. I just want to have the basic structure there, so they can start playing with it and finding the problems. Right now, I don’t even have that. I have about half of the steps programmed, and I don’t have any reason to think that it’s the hard half and the rest will go quickly.

I’d really like to run away, pretend I don’t work here, get the flu, anything so I don’t have to work on this. That’s irrational, I know, but I’ve painted myself into a corner where irrational seems to be the only way out. I’ve got to stop freaking out about this long enough to figure out where I’m really at, but that’s so easy to say and so hard for me to do. This module is like the monster under my bed; if I don’t look, it can’t hurt me. But I’ve got to look. Maybe running away is the best plan after all. Run away and leave no forwarding address. I could pack up my desk and clean up my hard drive and be on the road before rush hour. Yes, I’d miss Mr. Karen and Bubba, and winter is a crappy time to be homeless in Michigan, but I wouldn’t have to stay in Michigan, would I?

Gah. I have got to stop this nonsense. I am a smart person, and I can figure this out. Maybe, just maybe, focusing on nothing but the albatross for the next two days will get me past the hard part. Just taking the energy I’ve spent avoiding it and using that to work on it instead will give me a major boost. If I don’t have the whole structure in place by Thursday, then I’ll just have to show them what I do have and go from there. Right now, they’ve got nothing, so anything I come up with has got to be an improvement on that. Plus, once they’ve seen it, they’ll start coming up with suggestions for changes, and then the momentum will start building and I’ll be done before I know it. Well, maybe not, but someday I will be done, and then I can get back to the things I do best. After the albatross, there’ll be sun.

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