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Poor poor me, the final chapter

I can't find the original article, written in June.  Basically I was given an impossible deadline, and worked 10-12 hour days plus weekends trying to meet it.  The title was "Dealing with 21'st century slave labor', Tuesday, June 24.  There was a followup July 16 titled "What happened to poor, poor me".

Due to hardware issues I had no control (nor responsibility) over, I got an extra couple weeks.  Didn't help, the code was beyond hope by then.  It went in for eval at the first of the month, and got rejected monday due to poor quality.  Gee, what a surprise.

An hour ago I got terminated due to "lack of ability to meet schedules".  No severence, and a black mark on my resume.  Never mind I told them at the beginning it wasn't gonna happen.  Oh well.

I sure regret working all those hours now.

What might turn out good for me is, my boss kept telling senior management that all was well, we were on schedule, etc.  Me, I'm not allowed in those hallowed halls, so no suits ever asked me what I thought.  Keep in mind we talked, and were friendly, but they never asked how the project was coming.  Hopefully my boss will follow my ass out the door soon.

The funniest thing was, this thing used to crash often.  So I wrote code to look for dead threads, then restart them.  To the casual observer things worked a hell of a lot better.  To the interested observer, you lost data at odd times with no notice :)

I'm also gonna enjoy turning them into the software pirates watchdogs, most of their PCs were loaded off burned CDs.  I'll be doing that first thing tomorrow.

PPM.

Poor, poor me.
Tuesday, August 19, 2003

PPM, consider the experience to be half an MBA, and an invaluable experience. To those of us with experience, it was obvious what the outcome would be.

To others facing similar problems, recognise when you have bargaining power and don't be afraid to use it. This is scary the first time, because management will try to scare you off.

I recall the first time I stopped work to demand payment of outstanding bills. "You're doing what," the manager asked, "not able to believe it."

Sure enough, they paid in full the next day, even though I had been told they were absolutely broke.

.
Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Should have been:

I recall the first time I stopped work to demand payment of outstanding bills. "You're doing what?" the manager asked, not able to believe it.

.
Tuesday, August 19, 2003

"To others facing similar problems, recognise when you have bargaining power and don't be afraid to use it. This is scary the first time, because management will try to scare you off."

...or do something else. Trust me. :-)

Philo

Philo
Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Here are backlinks:

http://discuss.fogcreek.com/joelonsoftware/default.asp?cmd=show&ixPost=53295
http://discuss.fogcreek.com/joelonsoftware/default.asp?cmd=show&ixPost=57338

(indexing courtesy of http://www.usabilitymustdie.com/jos/ )

Alyosha`
Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Alyosha, thanks for the original link.  There was stuff added I hadn't noticed last June.  I've had more than my normal wine intake tonight (Robert Mondovi special reserve '02 Cab, good stuff), be gentle if I don't make sense.

For those who said to work 8 hour days and let them fire me:  nope.  I have no doubt I'd have been fired after my first 40 hour week.  I'd rather make a normal salary for 2 months than collect unemployment, even if it costs me 20 hours a week.

For those who said to become the JoS of embedded software, it's not my personality.  I suck at telling everyone how good I am.  I suck at networking.  I like to do my job, come home to my wife and kid, and enjoy.  Work is work, home is home, never the twain should meet.

For those (Bella) who said I should have stuck to my guns and insisted the schedule wouldn't happen:  No.  See above.  I tried that route, in fact I tried a couple times.  The guy before me tried, and got fired for it.  I'm not stupid, I can tell when I'm an inch from being fired.  I'd rather collect salary for 2 months, then get fired.  I'd have been a complete IDIOT to have stuck to my guns in this case, there was no point.  I may have painted myself into a corner, but I knew it was a corner while upper management thought it was a doorway.

For Bella, who insists I have niche skills, fuck off.  I understand MIPS, SH3/4, Strongarm, Power PC, 68360, and other CPUs.  By understand, I mean I've brought up boards with these CPUs.  I've written BSPs supporting these CPUs.  I've written *assembly* code for all these CPUs, albeit the bare minimum needed to get C running on the board.  I've written MPEG 1 and 2 decoders, worked on cell phones (CDMA and GSM), designed/written SONAR systems for the Navy.  I've done Tivo type stuff, I've done low level 802.11b drivers, I've done ASIC firmware.  I've done pSos, VRTX, VxWorks, QNX, Linux, WinCE, and systems with no OS.  Hell, I debugged a TCP/IP stack with 802.11b support on an f'n PIC processor last year.  I'm an expert in C, C++, perl, python, a couple flavors of assembly, and some specialized microcode.  I also wrote a Win95 app way back in, ohh, 1995 or so.  That environment sucked.  When I did my WinCE driver 3 years ago, it sucked.  If you think Microsoft writes good code, or good interfaces, then you haven't done anything else.  When you're used to the clean interfaces of a good RTOS, the bloat of the Windows SDK really bites.  When you plan to sell 100 thousand widgets, and want to keep the cost down, then Microsoft's licensing/CPU cycles/RAM/Rom requirements really suck.  Sure, prices are coming down.  But if Microsoft is always at a premium price, then who cares?  I'm not making spreadsheets, I'm making cheap consumer devices.  There's a world of difference there.

As for the victim mentality, I had one when I made that first post.  But I also kicked off my job search that same day.  I'm a victim in that I had a schedule I knew would not be met, knew I'd be fired for saying so, be fired for not trying.  But I've been actively persuing a job search during the past 3 months.  I'm also trying to think of something I can do outside of software.  I see my job going to India.  Or China.  Or Holeinthewalliztan.  And you know what?  I can't argue with it.  Why not hire a Russian to do my job for $20/month?  How are you going to fight that?  I gotta learn something new, I just don't know what.  But I definately see software having lots of similarities to Car building in the '70s.  My job is going offshore, I can't stop it, I gotta learn to do something else.  The good thing is, I see the Windows stuff going offshore faster than the specialized stuff I do.  Buys me another 2-3 years.

The cloud with the silver/black mobius lining around it?  The company is dead.  They have no product, little cash, no income, no prospects, and they just ruined their reputation with a big customer (Uncle Sam).  It's good in that they took advantage of me, and booted me out the door, and will get their just rewards.  It's bad in that some good people, some with more the 15 years at that place, will find themselves in my position by Christmas.  That's why I don't see myself reporting them to the BSA.  Sure, I'll get my old boss fired.  But I'd also get 60+ innocent people fired, and I can't see doing that.

I'm drunk, I rambled, I'm sorry.  But I'm honest :)

PPM

Poor, poor me.
Wednesday, August 20, 2003

*buys PPM another round*

You have quite a string of accomplishments.  I don't think you'll have any problem finding new (better!) work.

Alyosha`
Wednesday, August 20, 2003

If you want to make life difficult for your former employer (plus receive your just compensation), consider suing it for unpaid overtime.  Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, employers generally have to pay most employees -- except 'exempt" employees -- time-and-a-half for overtime.

The critical question is whether you qualify as "exempt."  In general, "exempt" employees are those in quasi-management positions, i.e., those who have significant responsibility and oversigt in the business.  As you've described your situation, you have a good argument that your job responsibilities did not rise to that level. 

Whether computer programmers qualify as "exempt" is a matter of debate -- the Department of Labor has proposed rules to clarify computer programmers are exempt:

http://www.gtlaw.com/pub/alerts/2003/scaliaj_04.asp

However, this suggests that until the rules are enacted (if they are), computer programmers are _not_ be exempt.  (I.e., are entitled to time-and-a-half.)  Ultimately, it's a fact-specific decision that depends on the job responsibilities of the individual programmer.

If you think this might be worth pursuing, you should contact an attorney in your state who specializes in labor-and-employment law.

Robert Jacobson
Wednesday, August 20, 2003

PPM, that's quite a list of accomplishments.
Where are you located geographically?

b

Beantown
Wednesday, August 20, 2003

PPM:

My hats off to you for weathering a horrible situation.

Bella needs to read your response to him, it was dead-on. Bella needs to quit pouring salt in the wound of people in ICU like it's some kind of a frigging religious calling on his part to administer sadistic so called "toughlove".

Another thought: any way you could find out the contract that this company was bidding on and go to a competitor?

That's quite an impressive  list of accomplishments. You (like I) need to be out of that one horse town or area and somewhere that you can work at a principle architect level. However, you are fighting what I have in the past: the fact that embedded skills *are* niche and companies and recruiters don't respect them very much.

Bored Bystander
Wednesday, August 20, 2003

So if a person is fired for 'failure to meet deadlines' even if the deadline is unreasonable, can that stop them from receiving unemployment?  Anyone have any insight into this?

Scot
Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Bored,

People keep saying that embedded development is "niche". I think the numbers show that there are more embedded jobs out there then any other. Shouldn't that make everything else niche?

Of course I don't have said numbers to back up my statement. Curious if someone on this forum does, one way or the other.

JbR
Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Scot,

About ten years ago I was fired for... extra work for the same corporation I worked for. Management later labeled it as insubordination. Unemployment benefits had been denied.

No unemployment benefit for you
Wednesday, August 20, 2003

What I mean by "niche" in the context of embedded isn't exactly that there aren't many jobs in it.

The career problem with embedded work is (has always been) that almost none of the experience is portable to new employers.  Once you're in you tend to get stuck.

What happens is, the diversity of embedded work becomes a continual excuse to pay embedded guys poorly or to not even consider someone. Usually the latter.  Every embedded project is different and is approached differently. Some companies use VxWorks, others Embedded NT, others pSos or Vrtx; similar story with processors, languages, development tools like ICEs, methodologies, etc.

Every single employer can (and does) make the claim that the supremely experienced embedded guy is an also ran newbie because this person doesn't happen to currently live and breath the new employer's design, tools, legacy code, etc.

Embedded is a really difficult way to earn a living as well as to become "useless" by the lights of other employers. It's ball busting, worthwhile, character building work, but also a career millstone.

Bored Bystander
Wednesday, August 20, 2003

PPM,

A short list of companies that are actively seeking folks with your qualifications:

Broadcom, Conexant, Amino, i3micro, Kassena, NDS, Kreatel, Midstream, Tandberg, Harmonic Lightwave, Siemens, Alcatel, Occam, Calix, Cablelabs, Motorola, Nokia, Philips, Pace, ...

just to name a few.  Your skills are hardly niche.  Rather, they are highly valued - though certainly not appreciated by someone who (a) has only done UI/Web design all their life (b) someone under the impression that life begins and ends with MSFT.  So getting advice from this discussion group will not prove very fruitful.

Nevertehless, finding someone who can bring up a new CPU design via JTAG and debug the layout is a skill in high demand - and by good companies at that.  Now that you've dropped the role of victim, its time to perhaps sell your services as a consultant and be willing to travel (hard on the family, but perhaps its time they accomodate your need to venture out for a year or 2).

Advice is free, and mostly useless....

nat.ersoz
Wednesday, August 20, 2003

I can't believe the number of replies to both my original post, and this one.  Thanks for the support.  To answer some questions:

I live in Southern California.

All my contacts are for embedded software, and nobody I know of is hiring.  In fact, a couple friends got back to me today that they had layoffs recently.  Others are looking at looming layoffs.  I think I'm looking at another long stretch of unemployment.

The HR person I talked to was sympathetic.  He had no idea people were working those kinds of hours.  The president of the company is a devout christian, and a stand up guy.  I'd assumed that since his minions (VP of marketing, VP of engineering, etc) knew of the hours, then he did too.  Looks like that isn't true.  The HR person also said he'd check off whatever box he had to to ensure I was eligable for unemployment.

My moles tell me the HR guy talked to my ex-boss last night after I left, and the prez talked to her this morning.  It's also sounding like I'm the fall guy for the failed project, things are being said that aren't true.

I've been turning in weekly timecards showing an accurate account of my hours.  They accepted them without comment.  If I do decide to sue I've got the proof I need.  The only question is, do I have a case?  Thinking of contacting a lawyer on it but I'm 99% sure I'm exempt.  But wow.  Time and a half for the last 3 months would let me relax for a few months.

Finally, as for embedded software being niche.  It's nich in the sense that web development, or database schemas, or whatever are niches.  You can't know everything, in that sense everything is a niche  I started out working with hardware, hence I ended up writing device drivers. 

I think what potential employers look at is I understand DMA, interrupts, bit banging.  I'm flexible in the types of projects I've done, mainly due to consulting for a few years (no, I don't want to consult anymore.  Rather, I do.  But I don't want to look for a job every 3 months, and fight for my check every 2 weeks.  Some companies are slimeballs when it comes to paying you.  But I digress).

I think my job will be at the end of the Indian migration simply because, without hardware, I can't write code.  Until the hardware jobs also head offshore I have some breathing room.

Poor, poor me.
Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Nobody expects a skyscraper to be built in 60 days.  But we do  in software, and then when it's not accomplished we blame and fire the bricklayers, electricians, and painters.

Until strict software engineering standards governing the quality of work are enforced, people will continue to expect the impossible out of programmers.  And we programmers will continue to crank out the impossible because some of us are good enough to pull it off (or, more often, make it appear we're pulling it off).  Thereby helping to perpetuate the cycle.

-Thomas

Thomas
Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Glad to know you kept timecards.  The company probably believes that you're exempt, but that status could be challenged in court.  (No guarantees about success, of course.)

The specific test for whether a professional employee is "exempt" is discussed in this Department of Labor Fact Sheet:

http://www.dol.gov/esa/regs/compliance/whd/whdfs17.htm

For the exempt status of programmers, one key consideration is whether they "regularly exercise discretion and judgment" in their duties.  In other words, there's a difference between a programmer who has influence over the coding project and a lower-level code monkey who just follows specific instructions and cranks out the KLOCs.

It's a fuzzy line, and there's a good argument that you had enough responsibility to be exempt.  However, a good lawyer could make the other argument -- that you fall on the non-exempt side of the line.

If you think it's worth pursuing, you should at least talk with a labor attorney.  An attorney might be willing to take the case on a contingency basis, and should at least offer a free initial consultation.  Even if your case isn't airtight, you might be able to get a nice settlement.  (The company wouldn't want this case to go before a jury.)

Robert Jacobson
Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Boy, on re-reading that sounds an awful lot like accusation/blame.  Just want to clarify that is not what I'm doing -- I'm pointing out what I see as a core problem.  I'm not standing in judgement of your choices, PPM.  And I wish you good fortune in your search for new employment opportunities.

-Thomas

Thomas
Wednesday, August 20, 2003

We are hiring, email me a resume using the link below.
We do wireless and VoIP. 
http://www.spectralink.com/careers/careers-engineering.cfm
If you are submitted through me, I get a finders fee.

Dougwithau
Wednesday, August 20, 2003

On the subject of overtime, I once worked on a contract at a company where such contracts were included in an award agreement negotiated by the relevant union.

Part of that agreement provided that contractors were entitled to pro-rata holiday leave. This has never been mentioned to me, and I had never been given or paid the holiday leave.

When I did find out about it, I approached the financial officer, expecting lots of questions and a big argument. Instead he just wrote me a large cheque in payment for the leave I was entitled to and had not been receiving.

In other words, the company knew all along what its responsibilities were, and hoped contractors wouldn't find out about them. It was only the mention of that magic word: "union" that made them cough up. It was not a small company by the way, or a struggling one.

.
Wednesday, August 20, 2003

PPM "The HR person I talked to was sympathetic.  He had no idea people were working those kinds of hours.  The president of the company is a devout christian, and a stand up guy.  I'd assumed that since his minions (VP of marketing, VP of engineering, etc) knew of the hours, then he did too.  Looks like that isn't true.  The HR person also said he'd check off whatever box he had to to ensure I was eligable for unemployment."

PPM, you gotta approach them about overtime. Mention that you were considering taking it to court since the whole thing caused you a lot of aggrevation. Don't let their sympathy derail you from your course of action. Be polite but firm. Track down the previously fired developer, and talk to him about that. He may testify that you did not have any control over the project, and thus were not-exempt.
Depending on how much your effective hourly rate was, you may get out of them a good chunk of change.



Mr Curiousity
Wednesday, August 20, 2003

I just noticed that you're in Southern California.  There's a top-notch labor-and-employment law firm in San Francisco (where I live) called Atlshuler, Berzon:

http://www.altshulerberzon.com/home.html

I don't know if they'd be good candidates for representing you, but at least they might be able to refer you to someone good in your area.

Robert Jacobson
Wednesday, August 20, 2003

> Bella needs to read your response to him, it was dead-on.

Bystander, you don't need to like my "toughlove" schtick. 
The bottom line, Bella's advice and commentary was DEAD-ON.  Booya!


"....he's done for.  Next time., you do not touch this type of situation with a 10 foot pole, even if you get fired on the spot, b/c youll just be fired later anyways.  Better to leave on top."
Bella, Thursday, June 26, 2003:   


"An hour ago I got terminated due to "lack of ability to meet schedules".  No severence, and a black mark on my resume.
Poor, poor me, Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Bella
Thursday, August 21, 2003

Move on with your life, forget the lawyers.  Don't make 2 mistakes out of one.  Suing is just beating a dead horse, and blacklisting yourself from the industry. 

Bella Toughlove (Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Blaster Worm)
Thursday, August 21, 2003

No harm in suing; Bella is merely being intentionally awkward, or possibly exhibiting that gut loyalty to capitalism that allows so many Americans to get comprehensively screwed.

But don't dwell on it; see if the lawyer will do it on a contingency basis.

Stephen Jones
Friday, August 22, 2003

"Bella's advice and commentary was DEAD-ON.  Booya!"

- Why am I not suprised!

Prakash S
Friday, August 22, 2003

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