We missed the flight.
After we returned the car – dented, and with half a tank of gas – we learned from a young ticket agent that one of the hourly Calgary-to-Vancouver planes had required emergency servicing. Things were a little tighter than usual, she explained, and there wasn’t room for everyone who was scheduled to fly back tonight, and surely we understood that the passengers who had already purchased tickets for the later flights had priority, yes? Roger managed to negotiate complimentary hotel rooms for the two of us, and I spent the evening in mine, having begged off an opportunity for us to “get to know each other better”.
The next morning I stumbled straight into the office from the airport, suitcase and laptop in hand, to meet with Sanjay, my project leader and boss. Sanjay had founded the startup where I’d worked for two years before it had been purchased by Stratitech, and the agricultural cooperative had been one of the last clients we’d taken before the buyout. “So basically,” I said now, “there’s a lot of redundancy in their current system. They’ve got data for their suppliers stored in three or four different places, in different formats. Every sale they make goes into a new record that’s linked to something – usually the customer, but they have this system where some transactions are filed under ‘sales’ and some are under ‘purchases’, and half the time you have to search by hand to figure out if the supplier and client have a prior relationship. Whoever designed their current system should be blacklisted. All of this, by the way,” I finished, looking at him pointedly over the frames of my glasses, “I could easily have found out remotely.”
Sanjay closed his eyes. He’d heard this before; I’d said this before. For years I’d done virtually all of my work from home – a common setup for small tech companies that had neither the money nor the use for office space. The arrangement suited me – I had always done my best work alone – and six months into my new job, I had yet to adjust to the chaos of an office. If it had been up to me, I’d have spared Stratitech the expense of the extra cubicle, and Roger the headache of having to interact with me, but that proposal was dead in the water before I could even make the case. The problem with my previous arrangement wasn’t that it wasn’t working. The problem was that it was working too well – and not just for me. I didn’t have to design databases from an office, and clients were starting to realize that no one else did, either. With programmers from India and elsewhere overseas willing to work for what in Vancouver didn’t even count as scraps, there was little reason to hire locally, or even nationally. I saw this as an inevitable trend, and had long resigned myself to having to look elsewhere once Stratitech had rendered itself obsolete.
In the meantime, I continued to design and develop software, figuring, as did Sanjay, that the best way to lure prospective clients away from the temptation of inexpensive, high-quality work overseas was to appeal to national pride; and that the best way to keep those clients was to deliver high-quality work. Roger, of course, had disagreed, and had convened a morning-long meeting to roll out his Action Plan for the New Economy, which saw us “rebranded” with more “relatable” titles. For his part, Roger shed his formal title of Vice President of Sales to become Stratitech’s Director of Customer Engagement, and he assiduously enforced the use of the latter in all interactions with him. Sanjay and I became “Solutions Manager” and “Solutions Engineer” respectively, and neither of us ever referred to ourselves as such unless Roger was party to our discussion – something that, alas, was occurring with increasing frequency lately.
What clients needed, according to Roger, was the human touch. And this called for humans to be present in the office at all times, in the event that any clients should drop by unannounced and dangle a contract in front of us, ready to withdraw it at their whim if we weren’t sufficiently personable. It hardly mattered that this had never happened before; that, theoretically, it could happen was enough to end the odd day of productive, pyjama-clad telecommunication.
I had no choice but to surrender, or face unemployment sooner than I’d wagered. My cubicle was flush against a corridor, right in the thick of traffic. I’d spent that first week back distracted and disoriented. Every time someone interrupted me – and this happened frequently, as my colleagues were a friendly bunch and Roger felt the need to check up on me several times daily – I grew more frustrated, and more agitated. I had learned, years ago, that I was better than most people at getting my head around large blocks of information, but only upon starting to work in an office did I realize that I had trouble dealing with smaller blocks. Every time I got distracted, I had to mentally reset myself when I got back to work.
During my time as Roger’s pet project, I had yet to overcome that particular weakness, and it wasn’t for lack of practice.