Thursday, April 06, 2006

Episode 2: A house deserted

Before I get too much further into this, I should probably point out that while my former place of work--henceforward referred to as "the hive"--might come off as dysfunctional mess, it is actually an extremely successful and well regarded company.

In the almost ten years I spent there, we outthought, out-designed, out-programmed and out-marketing-ed each and every one of out direct competitors, were profitable every single year, grew consistently, and arguably did change the world. Which squarely put the hive into the top 1/10th of one percent of all software company ever started. Or, to put another ways, we were less screwed up than most anyone in the business.

Most of what has been going on at the hive is fairly standard fare in software companies, but for all of this, no less insane.

After a few frantic weeks, I defended my thesis, got special dispensation to be able to pick up my printed degree the same day instead of two months later, got off the plane and took a cab to the hotel next door to the office.

"Your room reservation has been cancelled." were just about the first words out of the check-in person's mouth. After the rushing sound in my ears has subsided a bit, I asked them to call across the street to clear up what could have only been a misunderstanding. Nobody answered the phone, so with a sinking feeling, I left my 100 pounds of luggage with the very suspicious concierge, walked across the street and took the elevator up to the office.

The empty receptionist's desk comforted me a bit, because it explained why no one picked up the phone. But the fact that the entire 6th floor was completely deserted at 3pm on a workday was highly puzzling and unnerving.

Checking the offices at the hive one by one, I finally ran into a 16 year old kid who after a series of Kafkaeske misunderstandings informed me that "Everyone is at the company picnic and I don't have any idea how to reach them." Amazingly for a computer company, they picked a site that had no cellphone coverage at the time.

So I went back to the hotel, checked in with my own credit cards and consoled myself with the fact that even if they had decided that they didn't want me anymore, I had gotten a free flight to the US out of it. Unfortunately, only the outgoing portion since they were to cheap to spring for a return ticket.

The next morning I learned that at least the HR manager was aware that I was coming, but she was apparently fairly alone in that. A few calls back and forth cleared up the room cancellation. Since the hive is named after the founder, the hotel took the call canceling his room as a blanket cancellation of all company rooms.

Tracking down who I was going to report to took some more doing, though. Due to the glacial pace of the INS, I had been hired by the European division and started working as a consultant on special projects for the CEO, but I still needed someone to show me the ropes, get me an office, a computer and in general be responsible for my unavoidable screw ups. After an hour and a half of calls, I ended up working for the web manager (19 or 20 and with the company since she dropped out of high school after her internship), mainly because the interrim R&D director was out of the office, the marketing director was in a 4 hour meeting, and the marketing manager had a doctor's appointment.

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