Head on over to that bus, and get under it (2/3)

(Continued from What's the deal with Hanzo? (1/3))

All I Hear Are Excuses

By February it was clear I had a serious problem on my hands. Now reporting to a CIO that fundamentally misunderstood the basics of managing a software development organization at scale, I poured nearly all my energy into managing up. This meant constantly setting & resetting expectations while she loaded me up with more work.

A common technique in managing irresponsible bosses that have no concept of time or effort is to identify a list of goals, throw them into a spreadsheet, prioritize them, and then regularly check-in (weekly or bi-weekly):

“Hey, boss. This is the current list of things you’ve asked me to do. Here’s what I’m able to do in this timeframe. Can we take a few minutes and make sure I’m tackling the most important items first?”

The boss then sees where the constraints are (eg. there is only so much time in the fucking day to work on something) and guides/adjusts the top items.

Whenever I’d present this list to her, she gave me the same response,

“I don’t know what to tell you. These all seem important.”

Translation: I can’t be bothered to understand how my own demands defy the laws of time & space, but you still need to execute on all of them.

“Ok,” I’d say, “I’ll need to hire this many additional resources to complete more work faster.”

“Oh, no, no…there is no more budget to hire anyone.”

Well, then I guess you don’t fucking get what you want, then, eh?

Death & Decay

By March, COVID-19 was ramping up and our offices were locking down. We moved into full WFH mode and I knew it was going to have an effect on our teams. Us nerds / introverts are already primed to WFH - most of the developers were completely happy WFH: less interruptions, less opportunities to have to interact with other teams (particularly the snarky, shitty ones). That wasn’t who I was concerned about.

I had Product Owners reporting to me who had to face (pissed-off) clients regularly, and these were more extroverted, well-rounded people. You know, the kinds of folks that enjoy social settings? (shudder). But I get it. These folks communicate well, thrive off of being in an office environment where there are others in close proximity to bounce ideas off of…never mind the fact that some of them have families, small children, etc.

Sure enough, these POs soon began to struggle, both emotionally/psychologically and in terms of plain ability to manage time. With their SOs also WFH and no childcare open, they were juggling the demands of the job with this new pandemic.

My boss wouldn’t relent. “Why are these projects still late? Why is the quality of this software still awful? Why are bugs still leaking into production?”

Uh, well, we were already off to a bad start with your garbage opinions on how to lead a software development organization, but now that we have actual team members struggling with loved ones keeling over dead from the virus, maybe you could back-the-fuck-up a notch and show a little compassion?

Her response?

“Shawn, we’re all dealing with the pandemic.”

Right…but they’re the ones with small children also trying to do the work. You’re the fucking CIO, sitting in your office in Chicago, with no kids, sipping Mouton Rothschild and barking orders. Not the same thing. Nice try, though…you fucking heartless, selfish piece-of-shit.

Dunning-Kruger’s Revenge

She started including me in meetings with the CEO, where she would present our “plan” to resolve outstanding bug counts, where I basically just sat in silence, shaking my head. There was no plan. Not without radically changing our management style, empowering specific people to make hard decisions, hiring more folks, accepting some short term losses, but inevitably building a better path for the forseeable future.

She wasn’t interested in any of that “bullshit.”

She wanted line graphs pointing “down-and-to-the-right” to show our bug counts dropping, but had zero interest in understanding what it would take to accomplish that.

As it turned out, the CEO also wanted to see line graphs that pointed down-and-to-the-right, which started to paint a very clear picture me. The CIO had unrealistic demands…because her boss had unrealistic demands. But (and this is the key, here!)…it was my boss’s job to communicate to her boss why those demands were unrealistic.

And she couldn’t.

Because she didn’t know how.

She didn’t understand or comprehend what was going on.

And when we (not just me, but all of her direct reports) tried to explain to her, she couldn’t see her own shortcomings, or trust her experts to make the right decisions. And so brushed those explanations away.

In short: my boss was unqualified for the job…and in way over her head.

She was so unqualified…she didn’t realize how unqualified she truly was - that wonderful Dunning-Kruger effect we’ve seen countless times, just by playing WoW with other “expert” players.

So! The CEO finally realized this, shit-canned the CIO, promoted one of my colleagues into her role, and by May, we had an actual plan in place and were off to the races…right?


Not quite.

The Writing on the Wall

At the start of May, my boss brought a representative from HR to our 1:1 meetings. Because of a continued lack of performance and “continued warnings”, I was to be placed on a PIP. For those of you not versed in this, a PIP is a “Performance Improvement Plan” - a series of items that a company outlines that you will complete…or you will be fired.

It’s also garbage.

PIPs are seldom used to actually straighten out a poorly performing employee. A PIP is more a means for a company to cover its own ass when it comes time to terminate a hire. If the hire were to claim that they were unfairly or illegally fired, the company could say, “oh no no, that’s not true, look at this PIP! We tried very hard to work with X employee, but they were unwilling or unable to cooperate.”

I say again: garbage.

On May 13th, I was in the middle of a conference call with several teams, trying to rectify a problem that was one of the actual bullets on the PIP, when I was pulled into another call with my boss and HR and told that I was being fired.

They didn’t really need a reason: Colorado is an “at-will” state, meaning the company can fire you whenever they want, for whatever reason they choose. But I’m quite certain I know the reason: it was because I made her look foolish to the CEO. I was the reason the line graph wasn’t “down-and-to-the-right”, so the fastest way to solve that problem was to throw me under bus and say, “Welp! That takes care of that.”

I admit. Not a particularly great ending. So, in order to get there…I have one word for all of you: