This story is the quintessential definition of “messed up” from every possible angle. And, to be honest, I think I sympathise with ALL sides of it.
I’m a software developer. I’m not in games but I’ve been in THIS game for some time, now, and I’ve worked in many companies in many cities and many countries. I know these types.
I’ve been stabbed in the back by colleagues. I’ve stabbed colleagues in the back – not intentionally, with regret, but, sometimes, mistakes happen and, sometimes, you look out for yourself and – whether it is due to ineptitude or tiredness or a momentary failure to think clearly or simply a lack of worldly wisdom – you find yourself in a corner with your back to the wall and make the wrong decision for the “right” reasons.
I’ve also lived with abuse in the workplace and I’m happy to say that those days are behind me. Perhaps, similarly, someone else who once worked with me (or was managed by me) feels that they could say the same.
I’m lucky that I’m not in games and I carry a resume that will open some door or other – better or worse – just about anywhere. Read: I can get out if it goes bad.
In London, things went BAD bad. Like, really really bad.
It ended with me on a train with every possession I owned, minus my bike (which I posted for 23£ with some hole-in-the-wall service and fully expected to never see again) crossing the channel, bound for Germany. (Hey, it was to be Germany or Scotland and I thought German was an easier language to learn than English up North.)
Sitting on that train, I knew three things. The first was that I was lucky to be alive and on my way out. The second was that I’d never work as a developer, again. I was done with that. The third was that I had a lot of money in the bank (Thanks to Brexit, the remaining portion of those savings is now worth a whole lot less.) and, in exchange, I had lost everything.
My life was dead. My career was dead. My friends were 9000 km away, back in my home country, and, where I was, I was now literally scared of people and strangers and too defensive to want to try make new friends.
And, so, I arrived in Bavaria. I met some people and made a small handful of good friends. I flew back home and crashed at my mother’s house for months. I sat on the beach for a good long while. I found a startup, back in Germany, and joined them as an experiment and I’m still there, actually working as a developer, again, but every day is a struggle and I know its not sustainable.
Why? Because I was damaged in London and, were I to lose this position or move away, I am not sure I could or would take another risk. It is a place of safety for me and, given past baggage, I NEED that.
Apart from verbal and emotional abuse, exploitation, together with a good helping of general nastiness, I was also treated as an outcast because I wan’t into the footie, didn’t call any team “us”, was a foreigner by birth, pronounced my English instead of swallowing it, and actually dared (the cheek!) to relate real, personal stories about mountains and other countries and wildlife and rock climbing and snow and funny things that happen related to all of those and yet, somehow, aren’t about the footie. I also actually worked and I worked hard. I got stuff done and dared to go home by the clock instead of wandering in late, spending all day on Ebay flipping luxury watches or on Facebook talking about footie, dragging the work-day out until all hours of the evening by procrastination and then bragging about how long my work week was and how dedicated I was to the job. Actually completing tasks and accomplishing things did not spare me the hate for leaving at a reasonable hour.
In London I learned that the worst thing you can do to a “creative” (Yes, software architecture and development IS a creative job.) is to deny them respect for ideas – even when, time and time again, their experience and judgement proves to be correct at the end of the day. Belittle them, ignore them, deny them, contradict them and shut them down often enough, in reality, while continually praising them on official record for how much they are the leading expert and the voice of experience in the whole department and you will effectively amputate their creativity.
A creative without creativity is just a husk.
The moment at which I tendered my resignation was one such moment on official record and my response was to tell my line manager, to his face, that his words were all very well but his actions said otherwise and that the time to act otherwise was long since past. It was too late for any semblance of flattery.
I should point out that the abuse that I experienced was not really sexual in nature. Although a lot of the things that were said or done were things that I, personally, did not consider appropriate, it is my understanding that they’re permitted by British cultural norms however uncomfortable they might make me feel so who am I to complain? Or, conversely, just the fact that I wrote this paragraph would be enough to banish such things from the workplace or at least require that friendship and familiarity are EARNED before being taken for granted?
Oh if only the world were simple.
Why am I writing all this? I don’t know. This story has triggered me and these forums are as good a place as any – old RPS yet lives among these dusty soap-boxes, Horace hair and all.
It’s relevant. Abuse in the workplace is real. Messed up people – myself, included – exist in the world and we all have to work and we all have to work with others.
Some of us can get out before it is too late. Some of us find our hands on that door handle – even open the door and peer through – and turn away. Some are not so lucky and, sometimes, it’s just a matter of timing or mood or what we had for breakfast that determines whether we walk through it.
There are no answers, here. There are only strategies to provide some semblance of safety: professionalism, good manners, politeness and respect-by-default all go a long way to avoiding disaster when workplace relationships are concerned.
In this industry, none of those exist. We pride ourselves in how unencumbered we, as developers, are in our casual, familiar attitudes and crude, chummy mannerisms. Until that very familiarity leads to occurrences that cannot be undone. Words, touches, jokes, jibes, “friendly” insults at just the wrong moment… and all the rest could just be the jostle when the other party – “mate” – is teetering on the brink and you could never have known.
Depression – even to the extreme before the precipice – is easy to mask and we, the sufferers, are masters of that art.