17 Fucking Crazy

Returning to Manchester, I make a decision. I've got to get another job. This job is making me ill. The stress is too high, the work is unorganised, the bosses are, for the most part, ignorant. I study C & Unix again, working hard in any spare time I've got. I shave off my beard. My skin is blotchy but improving. I get a haircut. My scalp still has lesions but they are improving too. I still binge drink on Friday or Saturday night, but it is manageable.

After 5 months, I decide it is now or never. My employment contract has a 3 month notice period, which is a fucking liberty (I am not management) and probably legally unenforceable. It makes me unattractive to new employers who don't want to wait that long for a new employee. Fuck them all. I write my letter of resignation. I have already planned a two week holiday in the Philippines for the start of the second month of my notice period. I hand deliver my letter. My old boss Phil has left Imasys by now and my new boss hates my guts. He reads the letter. He is angry (he needs me) and happy (he hates my guts).

I don't have a new job to go to but I don't care. I'm getting out of this hell-hole and going back to my house in Colchester. My tenant is leaving shortly so my house will be available. If I can't get a new job, the endgame is to sell the house, move in with my parents (they don't know this) and live off the equity until my luck changes. The final endgame is, of course, suicide but now I have Marcia so suicide isn't an option, is it?

I keep a low profile at work for a month and then escape to the Philippines. Marcia and I have been corresponding for the last six months and we have a great reunion. It's as good as before, if not better. We talk about getting her a visa to visit me. It's difficult, expensive and the British embassy don't want to play ball. The two weeks is up and I have to return home but I tell Marcia that I will persist and write to the embassy from England.

Back in Manchester, I turn up for work at Imasys.

"We didn't think you'd be coming back," laughs my boss. At the end of the day, I pack my things and leave without a word. I never go back.

I hire a car and shuttle my belongings back to my Colchester house. It's good to be home but I am worried because I still can't find a job. I drink Friday nights and Saturdays but not heavily. Not for me.

Scanning the computer press, I see what I have been looking for: C, Unix programmers wanted by Marconi in Chelmsford - 25K. Not a lot of money but Chelmsford is only about 30 minutes from Colchester by train and I can walk to Colchester train station from my house in about fifteen minutes. I ring the agent. They want to interview me and test me on C and Unix before sending me on to see their client.

The next day I put on my one suit, hire a car and drive to their office in St. Albans. The interview goes well. I am sober and attentive. Then it's the computer based test. I do well enough. The client (Marconi) will see me in two days time.

I get the train to Chelmsford. Marconi's New Street factory complex is right by Chelmsford's station. My luck's in - the commute is reasonable. Almost easy. After a quick introduction to the company by the human resources department, the prospective employees (there are 5 of us) are led one by one to our interviews by management. I am interviewed by John Coster. He is a Marconi veteran, grey-haired, a little disheveled, intense blue eyes. I like him immediately.

He tells me about the system they are writing. They have an international team of engineers spread across three sites - Chelmsford, Borehamwood in London and somewhere in Italy. Together these teams are building a leading edge managed network system for HF radio. No one has successfully implemented such a system before although several companies have tried. It's an 80+ man year project for the Swedish armed forces and is known as KV90. It is over half a million lines of code already and is two years and five million pounds over budget. They have got to be joking. This will never work. International teams spread across three sites. Fucking crazy.

"Do you want the job?" John asks.

They are fucking crazy.

"Yes, count me in, John."

I start a week later and work frantically. This is a very professional setup. The best software engineers I’ve ever worked with - better than Philips, even. But they are building a state of the art system and things are not going well. The international spread of the teams is a huge handicap. Eventually, the Italians deliver their database code and disappear from the project.

The system still does not work.

The team in Borehamwood is moved to Chelmsford. All the engineers are now working at one site so communications between teams becomes easier.

The system still does not work.

I survive at Marconi for eighteen months and am promoted to become one of the team leaders. Then I begin looking for another job - the work has become repetitive and frustrating and I am underpaid.

The system still does not work.

I hear later that it takes another 2 years and 7 million pounds to get the system to work. KV90 finds service with the Swedish army in the Kosovo peace mission.

I find a new job at a software house in Chelmsford. They will pay me five thousand pounds a year more than I was getting at Marconi to help write an insurance system for a major British insurance company.

I arrive for my first day at work to discover I have made a big mistake - they are a badly organised rabble. One recent new recruit walks out in less than three months. Another is fired, while I search for a lifeboat. It is this kind of stress that can drive a man to drink but I resist the temptation. With my C and Unix experience, I am now pretty employable.

I ring a Chelmsford company called Netforce who specialise in internet systems. After two interviews we strike a bargain and I add another two thousand pounds to my salary (32K now). I am very interested in working on internet systems but they are very interested in my Marconi real-time messaging experience (KV90).

One of Netforce's key employees is a Dutch guy called Pieter from Rotterdam, who has written a real-time messaging system for a company based just outside of Chelmsford. The system is written in Microsoft technology (Visual Basic and Access97), which I know virtually nothing about. The system works but has problems and needs to be upgraded. Unfortunately for Netforce, Pieter wants to go back to Holland and has already resigned. He has only two weeks left to hand the system over to someone. Me.

Pieter is a young computer science wizard and has spent about 18 months writing this system - it is very complex. It was supposed to take only 3 months to write (young computer science wizards aren't generally very good at estimating) so it is hugely over budget and the customer is unhappy. He wants his upgrade as fast as possible.

Pieter has been much to busy to write documentation, so I try to figure out what the system does by looking at the code. I quickly realise it will be impossible to understand it in just two weeks.

"Pieter, it's not possible for me to take this over in two weeks is it?"

"No" admits Pieter "but that's your problem."

Fuck. It's good to know who's on your side.

To take over a system, the minimum requirements are:

1) Be able to test it working.

2) Be able to make changes and compile them.

3) Be able to test your changes and debug any problems.

I focus on these three areas and leave the code until later. If necessary, I will pick the code apart line by line until I know what each one does. This would clearly take several months.

After two weeks Pieter leaves. I am able to perform the three tasks listed above. Six months later the upgrade is installed. It is a great success but my boss is not happy because it has taken so long. To be honest, he's an arrogant, ignorant git and I don't like him. I also find out that he's earning about 80 thousand pounds a year, which is about double what he would get at any other company. There must be some office politics going on here and I am on the outside. I resolve to change jobs as soon as practicable.

My boss assigns me to a new project. The deadline is frankly impossible or at the very least unrealistic. He expects me to work overtime for nothing to produce the goods. I tell him to "Fuck Off" but rather more politely.

I have been working on the new project for about a month and I am behind schedule. Out of the blue, my boss calls for a 'code review'. A code review is essentially a meeting where the programmer explains his code line by line to interested parties for constructive criticism. It's supposed to reduce the number of bugs in the final code. At Marconi we had them all the time and they are very helpful in ensuring a robust product. In all the history of Netforce there has never, ever been a single code review before. I smell a rat.

In order to try and stay on schedule, I have taken some coding shortcuts to get the system working. I intend to clean the code later and I explain this at the code review. Some constructive comments are made.

The next day my boss calls me into his office and hands me a letter. It's an ultimatum. Either I clean the code and get back on schedule in my own time or I face the consequences. 'Be prepared' is my motto, if you remember. I reach into my pocket and pull out a letter of my own. It's my resignation. I have been carrying it around for several weeks. I date it, sign it and hand it to him. Fuck you sonny, I think (he's several years younger than me) - you're playing with the grown ups now. Plus I'm stone cold sober.

Desperately Seeking Sex & Sobriety - Copyright Paul Pisces 2002-2004

(A Cautionary Tale of Sex Tourism, Drugs, Alcohol, Prostitution & Suicide)