not paid by the hour - Tuesday November 30 1999
Ever since I've become fully aware of the way bonus money flows under my company's management system, I've become cautious about how I spend my time on the job. No longer do I do things just because they're cool, fun, or simply because someone asks me to. I want to know what the incentive is. The incentives, the bonuses, you see, comprise the greater half of my income. When some juniour programmer comes to me wanting to know why the file system object is letting him down, I have even less patience than before. My usual way of expressing impatience is to continue my work as before while asking, "what were you saying?"
Whoah, hold on a second. A year ago I was a juniour programmer and knew only what I'd learned over the course of a month of on-the-job experience. I'm being unfair. I'm hurting the company with my selfishness. But that's the reality of the situation. It's the way I'm incentivized to behave.
Marty is the erstwhile VP of IT, the guy who joined our company back in February with great fanfair, the guy who led us through the ill-fated "New Architecture" project, the guy who has (also with great fanfair) quit at least twice. He's back of course; he's been back. It's really as though he never left. Somehow he still has a lot of clout in the company, and today when he announced that I'd be spending all morning helping him with our site's crippled polling system, I knew I had no choice. Under the management system, I'm supposedly free to choose to do whatever I want with my day, but with Marty that's not entirely true. He may no longer be the VP of anything, but generally, within reasonable limits, he gets what he wants, especially with the humble likes of me.
So there I was, sitting with Marty at his workstation as he painstakingly attacked the whole issue of polls. Soon into our effort I saw it as a lost cause, simply because of all the undecided variables involved. These were too many things I could easily see us getting yelled at about later. Such uncertainties are "business decisions," related to how the company wants our business to operate, related to the things we want to be able to tell advertisers and E-commerce partners. With something like polls, we have to decide whether or not a user must be logged-in in order to vote, and, if not, how we track him and forbid him from "stuffing ballots." The old method tracked IP addresses, which, for some universities stuck behind proxy servers, meant one vote per university per day. A cookie-based system that we'd put live last night allowed one vote per browser session, but first thing this morning I'd been yelled at by two different camps, one telling me that this was too restrictive, the other saying it wasn't restrictive enough.
But I stayed with Marty, being a second set of eyes to correct him as he left out quotes or left his parentheses unbalanced. As my valuable time slipped away, I faced it with spartan existentialism. But on some level I was still pissed off. Marty probably earns three digits per hour, while I get an unremarkably tiny flat salary. (I'd be sending my resumé around if it weren't for the bonuses, and this "helping Marty business" wasn't good for any bonuses.)
Oh well, despite the stress, despite the nagging, I realize that this stuff is stressful only because I'm good at what I do and I'm in demand in a cutting-edge industry flooded with investor dinero. I would have never imagined this day was coming back in the Summer of 1998.
Hey! - I like that new Red Hot Chili Peppers song "Around the World." It sounded corny the first times I heard it, but I love geographic references, even in a pop song. You and me girl sitting in the Swiss fountains.
Next stop: last month before Y2K.