18 Consultancy Sucks

Back at home, I have a new full-time job. It's called job hunting. I've pretty much exhausted the Chelmsford job market, so I start looking farther afield. I put my house on the market - I'll probably have to move. I finally get an interview with Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC), a big American computer services company. They have 50,000 employees worldwide and 5,000 in the UK. Their consultancy division, based in Farnborough, employs 1000 people and they are looking to expand. The new area of their interest: the internet.

I talk up the internet experience I gained at Netforce. Also I've been studying the internet programming language called Java in my own time for the last couple of years, so I can talk a good Java story. They are interviewing a lot of people but, surprisingly, I convince them I know my stuff and they offer me a job. The package is worth around 40 thousand pounds and is to be based in Farnborough. This is not a lot of money for a forty year old programmer with twenty years of development experience. Unless, of course, you're an unemployed forty year old programmer.

I work out some logistics. During the week I can live with my brother in Hammersmith (West London) - he has a room available to rent in the house-share where he lives with his girlfriend. I have a company car, so the 45 minute drive from Hammersmith to Farnborough is manageable. At the weekend I can drive the three hours back to Colchester and live in my house. I still can't seem to sell it but I have had quite a lot of viewings.

I get bad news from the Philippines. Despite my best efforts with the British embassy in Manila, I have been unable to get Marcia a visa. She emails me from Subic and tells me that she has met a 31 year old American who is serving in the U.S. Air Force based in Korea. She has a licence to marry him and she's got a U.S. visa. She's sorry but she's going to Korea.

It's not entirely unexpected - the last time I visited her in Subic, she got drunk once and told me there was someone else interested in her. I am upset but it's her future she's thinking of. She's 25 now and in a hurry to make something of her life. From her point of view it makes perfect sense. The effect she has had on my life has been enormous. It was with her that I discovered how to enjoy myself and stay sober. The fact that she's now out of my life is worrying - I hope I don't start to spiral out of control again.

My first week working for CSC in Farnborough is an induction course at an expensive hotel. My health has improved and I look the part of a computer consultant with a new suit and now quite close cropped hair. There is a group of about 15 inductees and I am towards the upper end of the age range. I don't really like this sort of gathering - I like computers, not small talk and horseshit. Over the next 8 months at CSC I am going to become very familiar with horseshit - it is the stock in trade of the consultant.

The other problem with this kind of induction week is the pressure to socialise and drink. You put 15 strangers in a hotel for 24 hours a day and compel them to pretend to like each other. You then force-feed them on a diet of team building, bonding and company horseshit. I spend every evening in the bar drinking. So does everyone else.

One evening we are all assembled in the bar for a drinking game. Shortly into the game I come to my senses, tell the leader I have a migraine and go to bed. The next morning at breakfast I feel OK - the others look terrible. Drinking games are almost never a good idea and not recommended for recovering alcoholics.

Life tip: If you are an alcoholic, do not indulge in drinking games.

I emerge almost unscathed from the induction week and I have learned something useful. CSC is full of horseshit.

At work, I am surprised to find I know my new colleagues, Henry and James. Both interviewed me when I applied for this job. I didn't realise at the time that I would be working with them. Henry is a black doctor (academic not medical) eager for promotion and happy to toe the company line. He is already a senior consultant and the project manager for this development. Henry is not technical. James is a young Java consultant who is surprisingly cynical about CSC. You will probably immediately guess that I like James enormously.

James is one of the two programmers already working on this project but he is going on holiday for two weeks, so Henry instructs me to ring the other developer, Gary, to determine what I should do first.

James and Gary have written a prototype of a demand forecasting system, which is to be deployed on an intranet at Dupont. It is all written in Java but the prototype is rudimentary and needs a lot of work. I ring Gary. He is based in Leeds - this is another project suffering from multi-location syndrome.

"I don't care what you work on," he says. "I'm too busy working on the server here and my wife's having a baby so I can't come down and talk to you."
"Fucking marvelous," I think.
I spend the two weeks working on the GUI (Graphical User Interface) software that James has been writing and ignore Gary. I will spend the next 8 months trying to ignore Gary.

James returns from holiday and is impressed by what I've accomplished. We split the work up. I'll continue writing the GUI client. We'll leave Gary doing the server software. James will try and get the two to talk successfully to each other. That means he has to talk to Gary. I don't.

To complicate matters, there is another project manager on the scene. He is Colin and he is the guy from Dupont. Colin really just gets in the way - he doesn't know anything except he knows his ass is on the line if we screw up. We try to leave Colin to Henry - they have heated arguments.

After a couple of months, we seem to be making progress. And there is good news on the home front. A young couple have made an offer on the house and after a bit of negotiation we settle on a price of 77,500 pounds. It's less than I wanted but a fair price and after paying off the mortgage and the legal fees etc, I should be left with a cheque for about ten thousand pounds. That's around 1,000 bottles of cheap whisky or two and a half years drinking money.

I arrive for work early one Monday morning and have a very unexpected email. It's from Marcia. She is now in America - her husband has been transferred to an air base in Mississippi. However, they are not getting on and she says she is missing me.

My pulse is racing as I email her back. Eventually she sends me her phone number and I ring her every week. We become very close again. I am already aware that there is a huge shortage of Java engineers in the U.S. because the internet is booming. I start sending my resume to U.S. recruitment agencies.

The system is slowly taking shape but I am finding it increasingly hard to believe that it will ever do anything really useful. It is a demand forecasting system that is being written on the basis of a few mockup screen-shots produced by Colin. And he keeps changing his mind about what he wants. Where's the beef? James is also depressed. I think he has similar doubts and he leaves CSC to take a job for less pay and stock options. Everyone wants stock options now.

I am promoted to GUI team leader and get a new enthusiastic but inexperienced recruit. In Leeds Gary has become server team leader and has a helper also. The good news is I am a team leader, the bad news is I have to talk to Gary on the phone.

Gary keeps changing the server software without telling me and then blaming me because the GUI software doesn't work. Henry gets involved. Gary is adamant that the problem is on the GUI, not the server. I am sure the problem is on the server. Henry believes Gary; Henry and I have a difficult relationship. We have a teleconference and Gary starts examining the GUI code remotely from the Leeds office. He keeps picking holes.

"Look, Gary - nothing has changed on the GUI. Not a thing. You must have changed the server."
"I haven't," Gary insists. He has not found a fault with the GUI and is now rechecking his own server code. Suddenly he goes quiet.
"OK, I think I may have found a problem." Gary breaks his silence.
"I'm sorry Gary, what did you say - I didn't quite catch it." I am dancing around the office but Gary can't see this.
"I said I think I have found a problem on the server."
"I am surprised," I say sarcastically, while grinning victoriously at Henry. He is not amused.

Later, when the project is over, Henry writes my project evaluation.
"Not a team player," says his report.
Fuck you, Henry - it doesn't matter what you think, my American agent has got me a year's contract in San Francisco. All it took was a twenty minute phone interview with the client.

I'm not sure if the system installed at Dupont ever did anything useful. Probably just gathered dust. I am glad to be getting out from under all this CSC horseshit.

I send out the following email to all my CSC colleagues:

Paul Pisces/UK/CSC
03/03/2000 09:39
To: UK/CSC
cc:
Subject: Ooooooh Eer Missus
Hello Everybody,
I'm the dude who used to wear a dodgy blue cardigan (and at one time was aka 'super-cardigan man') and who has recently been sporting a loud, tasteless series of waistcoats.
Today is my last day at CSC, not because of my poor sartorial style but because I've been offered a contract to work for a dot com in San Francisco.
The decision to go or stay was a close call - I am after all a natural masochist or I wouldn't be here.
However, I wish you all the best of luck.
God speed, God bless.
In life it's not the surface but the substance that matters.
-Paul

My U.S. work visa has arrived and I am to fly out on March 16th. I will spend my 41st birthday (March 18th) in America.

Desperately Seeking Sex & Sobriety - Copyright Paul Pisces 2002-2004
(A Cautionary Tale of Sex Tourism, Drugs, Alcohol, Prostitution & Suicide)