two guys from corporate
Thursday, March 3 2022
I'd had so many meetings yesterday that I'd never made it to the office to meet the head guys from the "tax vertical" who had flown in to see the picked-over skeleton of our software firm in Red Hook. But late in the day Jason had written to me to say that those guys definitely did want to meet me, and if I could come in today by noon, that would be great. So this morning I drove to the Red Hook office and arrived a little before 9:00am to find Jon and Jason (the only other people with access to the office) and the two guys from corporate there to investigate what, if anything, remained of their three year old acquisition. When I arrived, Jason was holding forth in his somewhat-too-loud voice, telling the corporate guys in excruciating detail about the Delphi-based software he'd written for water utilities (which, I should note, doesn't properly belong in the tax vertical at all). They weren't asking questions, possibly because there was no pause in Jason's monolog allowing them any opportunity to interject. I said hello and then spent the next fifteen minutes scraping together the equipment necessary for me to work. And then it was already time for the first of what would be an endless stream of meetings that were scheduled to last until noon. While these were happening, I did my best to grok some code that I would need to understand before a meeting this afternoon with my boss, the CTO of the company I now work for.
In among all these things, I managed to briefly chat with the corporate guys while Jon was giving them a brief. Jon's monologues are quieter and more articulate, but they make even less sense to the uninitiated than Jason. But at least he pauses occasionally, opening up possibilities for questions. I noticed that Jon's avoidance of eye contact had somehow proved contagious and was now a behavior manifested by G, the squat Indian guy from corporate.
My boss the CTO was trying to arrange a meeting with me and one his developers (a gentleman with a PhD in computer science he calls "Dr. Dan"), and U, a software architect from corporate. But this was running up against the designs of the guys from corporate I was supposed to be having lunch with. Eventually, though, we figured it all out. The plan was for the guys from corporate to take us out to lunch, and if lunch were moved up a half hour, I'd be able to make a 1:00pm meeting with the CTO et al. But of course, just as we were heading out to our cars, the CTO wanted me to walk him through some code I'd written. "I'm out of the office," I said, explaining that the guys corporate were taking me out to lunch early so I'd be able to make our 1:00pm meeting. "What a dumbass!" was how I explained it to Jon, who always gets a kick out of disparaging remarks made about those high in the corporate hierarchy.
Those guys from corporate would've taken us to any restaurant, but somehow between my dietary requirements, Jason's apparent plans (dubious though they are) to slim down before a trip to Rumania, and whatever it was Jon was thinking, we didn't go to Yum Yum or the Red Hook Curry House but instead went to the Golden Wok, the Red Hook Chinese restaurant that is surprisingly ghetto given its location. (I think the last two times I've gotten food there I've vowed to never return.)
Some mask culture bears mentioning. I never once saw the guys from corporate wearing masks. They're from other states, and the corporate headquarters is now in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia, so they haven't been steeped in the strong mask-wearing culture we have here in New York State. Infection rates here are low again, and I've stopped wearing a mask within the office complex itself. But when we rode together in Jason's car and when we went into the Golden Wok, all three of us in the skeleton office crew wore our masks, as did the Golden Wok employees and all but one of the rando other customers who came in. But the two guys from corporate never put on a mask through any of that.
Not only were we going to one of Red Hook's crappiest restaurants when we could've gone anywhere, but we weren't even having a proper sit-down meal. While we waited for our Chinese take-away to be assembled, Jason was telling the corporate guys all about his plans to spend a couple weeks in Rumania this spring. Jason used to have an internet girlfriend there, but now they're "just friends" and he's visiting her anyway. "You'll be arriving just in time for the humanitarian crisis," I said, referring to the Russian invasion of neighboring Ukraine. I then mentioned the time my wife and I took a cruise down the Danube and ended up in a village in Ukraine that was full of canals, "a poor-man's Venice." G, the squat Indian guy, asked if I lived nearby the office. "No, I live 20 minutes away," I said. "What town?" "Kingston." G said he and his buddy had spent the night at the Marriott in Kingston. I told G that that was the ugly part of Kingston, and that it had a more beautiful part with stone houses from the 1600s. "It was settled by the Dutch," I explained. G then told me a not-too-interesting story about a town somewhere between San Francisco and Los Angeles where everything was Dutch. The rest of our time waiting for our food was occupied by Jason regaling us with dull stories of the times he'd been to various Disney properties. He even said that when he goes to Paris (on his way to his non-girlfriend in Rumania), he will visit the Paris Disneyland. And he wasn't being ironic in the least.
Back at the office, we pulled out a table and had our meal or Chinese take-away together. We spent a fairly large amount of time talking about marijuana legalization, with nobody offering that they themselves smoked marijuana. And then we spent the balance of the meal talking about the war in Ukraine. I mentioned the Ukrainian woman who offered sunflower seeds to a Russian soldier so flowers would sprout from his corpse when he was inevitably killed. And I also mentioned how Russian intelligence had leaked to President Zelensky that a Chechen assassination squad was inbound, allowing Ukrainians to neutralize the threat. The only discussion of what I do for the tax vertical came when I mentioned in passing that, oh yeah, I wrote the import software for New York's largely-undocumented RPS file format.
And then I was back jacked into the matrix, physically in the office in Red Hook but in a meeting near Boston. Earlier today, I'd been feeling imposter syndrome, that maybe my ignorance or lack of preparation might be exposed in one of the meetings later today. But by the time my lunch with the corporate guys was concluded, I was familiar enough with the code that I could ask U some really good questions. I should mention that U grates on me. He's got a patronizing quality to nearly everything he says. I was suffering through this in silence up until he looked at my super-simple design for a DynamoDB database and proceeded to hem and haw and talk about some service offered by Amazon Web Services who could look at and critique database designs. It's not great to demonstrate frustration less than two months after joining a team, but I couldn't take it. "You're acting like there's something wrong with my design, but you're not saying what it is," I pointed out. U then hemmed and hawed some more and then mentioned some team at Amazon that could look over our database design and suggest changes. At that point I was losing it, and said, "I could've saved myself some trouble if I'd known all along that someone else would design this database." Then I immediately felt like I'd overstepped with my annoyance. I was keeping things professional, but only just. And now the CTO seemed irritated with me. So from then on I adopted a more magnanimous attitude. I find social interactions to be something of a minefield. I'm usually pretty good at building and then benefitting from my relationships when I put my mind to it, but one false step (often made in an attempt at humor, though not in this case) and I blow my foot off. And then, after thinking that I might've been a little off in my socializing, I hang on every word or action made by the people I might've upset, looking for clues about how they're feeling about me. I noted, for example, that in the "quarterly roadmap review" the CTO presented at 3pm (and which I joined from home, having left the office a little after 2:00pm) he never mentioned me at all, even though he spent a lot of time talking about the project I am working on. Instead, the only developer he mentioned was Dr. Dan. I don't really crave attention or accolades in a professional setting, but this seemed a little weird. My reaction to it is to keep my head down and grind out the work.
Part of my problem today was that I was nursing a mild hangover, which I now seem to reliably get after take psudoephedrine and drinking any amount of booze. It was putting me in a mindset in which my brain was trying to connect the horrors happening in Ukraine with the mild despotism present in any office environment. It's definitely an unwarranted stretch, but for some reason I keep connecting the two in my thoughts.
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