Monday, September 07, 2009

Late Night Listening XXXI: For the Love of Labor

Tonight's selection is an obscurity... Thompson Twins' "You Take Me Up".

This track is not my absolute favorite from this group, but since it touches on the theme of labor, I thought it appropos for a posting on this holiday.

Within the depth of this Aspergic mind of mine, there is a region that obsesses over the reinterpretation of songs in different styles, much like what Jack White did with the Racontuers' "Old Enough", by getting Ricky Skaggs and Ashley Monroe to sing a bluegrass version. I could see a rearrangement of "You Take Me Up" sung in a more traditional gospel/bluegrass style, and having it work pretty well.

On a superficial level, Jack White creeps me out. Yet, the Skaggs/Monroe recording and his work with Loretta Lynn (c.f. "Portland, Oregon") hints at a musical transcendence that bespeaks creative genius. I'll drink a slow gin fizz to that any time.

Getting back to Thompson Twins... my favorite song from their canon is "Lay Your Hands on Me", which has a refrain that has a religious revival feel to it. (looks away wistfully) I... miss touch... badly.

So where are things with me? Overall pretty good. House is a disaster area, mostly toy scatterage. I'm starting to catch up on laundry. Bills are paid, and the bank account balance has been slowly and steadily rising.

STBX has a couple of very part time jobs lined up that should allow her to keep our younger daughter in the preschool cooperative for her last year. First, she got on as a substitute cafeteria worker where our older daughter goes to school, and she's going to be working a couple of days a week for a frozen custard chain, doing detail on their cakes.

I didn't do too much over the weekend. Wrapped up some odds-and-ends tasks, and I'm code complete for the Tuesday end-of-business cutoff, save for some fill-in-the blank things I'm waiting to get from a coworker. That's a good thing because I have 4 1/2 hours of meetings scheduled on my calendar for Tuesday, which leaves very little for coding tasks.

I wasn't supposed to have the girls this weekend, but I got some Daddy time in. They went down to my dad and stepmom's on Friday, and I went down to pick them up yesterday afternoon. STBX had to go to training for her cake detailing job today, so I came over and got them. We took a bus trip to downtown, which is something they have been wanting to do ever since I started riding what they refer to as "the work bus". We met my mom for lunch at the big mall (those of you at the blogger gathering last October would know where this is). We also stopped at a chocolate shop for some ice cream. Here is a picture of them ogling the deserts...

... the moment that picture caught was one of those warm-and-fuzzy times that makes being a dad so much fun. Just watching them off by themselves... in a state of wonder... enjoying life.

Let's pay a visit to the office now...

Getting used to the management role has been fairly smooth. I am now at a point where I have an idea of where our department is and how the other departments are doing, and I've been able to keep up my coding commitments.

The feedback I have gotten from my boss, the President, is that I am doing really well. She also added that if I needed flexibility in my schedule for family stuff, she's give me leeway since she knew that I had put in a lot of extra hours through all of this. Their main concern is that they don't overwork me to the point that the "break 2am".

One sign of confidence from upper management... Back when I took on this role, I was promoted at a "Director" level, not the "Vice President" level that my boss held. They envisioned getting someone who was more into doing business development work for that role, and that was fine by me. I've been able to keep things going well enough that they've decided that they could postpone hiring for that VP role, with them reconsidering reopening that search on a month-to-month basis.

We've made good progress on the big project that we started at the beginning of August. My ex-boss chipped in some trailblazing work, and I was able to use that as a starting point, and refine it to handle all of the edge cases. What emerged from that is a really good system that should make our customers happier than the old system. However, our customer service team is nervous and needed more in-depth data over the impact of the change, so its release has been delayed by a week. I have been more than transparent, giving them solid and complete before/after data sets.

The one thorn in my side is the guy we hired on back in mid-June. He has been something of a slacker since day one... coming in late morning, cutting out some afternoons early, missing deadlines, writing shoddy code. Before he left, I know that my ex-boss had a talk with him about his performance.

And when I took on the director role, I had another talk with him. I had learned that he had gone to the President with his complaints... including our rapid development pace and the fact that our developers also had to do testing. He thought we needed to hire on a full-time QA person. I tried to address his complaints and explained how our system had some benefits for him as well.

When we started this new project, I gave him more leeway than usual to work on the design for a new user interface component. He spent way too much time on it, and again, deadlines crept out and out. This was starting to really annoy the other UI developer, too. We reached a point where I told him that we needed to move from the prototype to a full version. We mapped out a day-to-day schedule to ensure he understood that we needed to see this into production this past week.

Still, he dragged his feet. My boss was concerned about his progress, and she could tell he was starting be a real problem for me. We talked about what we could do, and agreed we would try to keep him on board until we wrapped up this project and then look seriously about getting rid of him.

On Tuesday afternoon last week, just before the code-complete deadline. We realized that there would be more time needed to get things done, so I agreed to have the first release candidate cut on Wednesday morning. I didn't see the slacker online when I signed on at 9 pm that night. The diligent UI guy was online, too, and was miffed that the slacker had not been available to help with some code integration work, so he started working on the slacker's code to fix the issues.

The slacker signed on after 11 pm, irritated that the other developer had worked on his code, and then he IMed me saying he wanted to speak with me the next day about his future with the company. I told him that I would be willing to speak with him, but not on testing day, when things are super hectic. I opted for a meeting after lunch on Thursday.

During the meeting, he rattled off what was bugging him about the job... his ideas weren't taken seriously, he didn't like our frequent release schedule, we put too much time into engineering things, he felt like he was being micromanaged. Everything was everybody else's fault.

His solution? Move him out of the department to be a "product manager", so that he could concentrate on less time sensitive things that required creativity, like prototyping. I asked him whom he thought he would report to. He said he thought that he should report directly to the President, my boss. He also said that if this move wasn't possible, he might have to start looking elsewhere.

The sense of entitlement was completely annoying. This was basically a shoot-from-the-hip whiz kid in his 20s who was being paid way more than what he had given us in output, and at no point had he ever owned up to mistakes he had made along the way, many of which resulted in either bug reports or emergency fixes.

I spoke with the President after that meeting, communicating what he had told me. We both agreed that he needed to go. Keeping him on while he was looking made no sense because he had never put in full effort at this job. The checkout would have made him complete deadweight. Since he had already scheduled to be out of the office on Friday, I arranged for the axe to fall on Tuesday (tomorrow), at a meeting with the Presdient, him, and me late in the afternoon.

So with two months of experience in this role, I've managed one of the largest development projects the company has had, and I've had to fire someone along the way.

On other matters...

The system engineer who overslept a few weeks back took a much deserved vacation the last week of August, half of it spent at Hilton Head, and the other half at Sin City. I went out of my way to make sure that I did not interrupt his vacation for anything, and fortunately we did not encounter any issues that would have required his help.

Also, Anais has recommended that I get involved with the local Mensa group to build some new friendships. It turns out they have admissions testing this coming Saturday. If I can get my mom to watch the girls for a few hours then, I will head out to do that. If I can't make it then, there is a larger testing event in town in mid-October.
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