Robin de Voh
writer, developer, nerd

Nanoprep 2016 Day 6: the Coworker

By Robin de Voh on 2016-10-16

The building was a drab block of concrete, and the Firengine sign didn't help much to liven it up. Neither did any of the other company signs plastered next to the entrance, but most of them were just patent holding entities rather than actual companies. Mitch parked his car and walked towards the door. He hesitated before opening it, knowing that it would probably be another 11-hour day. After a sigh he felt he could probably get through it. Maybe it was a good day. Statistically it was about time he had one of those again.

Firengine used to actually develop software, but had stopped releasing new products years ago. Mitch had been there before that happened and it had been a booming startup-turned-moneymaker. But as the years went by, Firengine didn't change along with the market and they couldn't keep up. Engineers left to start their own startups and what was left was merely enough to support existing products. Mitch had stayed. He hadn't had a bright idea for his own startup and nobody had asked him to come with them to theirs.

So for the past 3 years, he'd been the only engineer left, keeping everything running 'well enough'. To keep income coming in from existing platforms and apps. He'd asked management many times for at least one more person, to take some of the load off of him. The answer was always the same, they were not in a position to grow. They regretted that he had to work overtime so much, but hiring another person would just be too expensive.

He pushed through the door into the office, greeted the receptionist and went straight to the coffee machine.

They had recently switched from okay machine coffee to the frozen liquid kind. But it had caffeine and he was addicted, so the ritual hadn't changed. Large mug, 4 coffee, half a sugar.

With what his coworkers used to call his 'bucket', when he still had real coworkers, he walked to his office.

As he opened the door he noticed a smell. Something new, different. Not computery.

He went in and saw someone sitting at the previously empty desk opposite him. He'd been using it to store a collection of random bits of server hardware, and there was a girl moving all of it off there.

"I'm sorry, who are you?" he said, putting his mug down.

She looked up, startled.

"Oh, hi! I'm Ella. Ella Alvarez."

She walked around the desk with her hand extended and a smile on her face. Mitch shook her hand and looked at her.

"I'm Mitch. Mitch Hayes. I'm sorry if this is rude, but what exactly are you doing here?"

She waved a hand and shook her head, "Not rude at all. I'm new here, I'll be working with you as of today."

His mouth opened halfway and just kinda stopped there. New? Working here? They hired someone? And they didn't tell him?

"And you'll be working as a...", he stammered eventually.
"As a developer. I'll be part of your, err, team."

Mitch laughed.

"Well then, I guess I now do have a team. Sorry for the confusion, I wasn't told anybody had been hired."
"Oh, no problem," she said as she winked, "not the first time I wasn't announced."

He wasn't even going to cause a stink about the terrible communication. He was just glad there was someone to help him out. Someone to spar with and talk to. Someone to teach and learn from. They talked for a while, about her experience, what her expectations were of the job, and what the current situation at Firengine was. She was relatively experienced, and that gave him a good feeling about how this would turn out.

Mitch gave her a simple first assignment, a tiny bug somewhere that wasn't necessarily a breaking issue, but it would get her into the swing of things. She managed to get through that faster than he'd expected, and they discussed her fix and he gave her some tips about how he preferred the code to be. Ella was obviously a quick study, as she picked everything up quickly enough that by the third month they were really functioning as a team, equal in all but title and years at the company.

"You know, I can't tell you how good it is not to be alone in this room anymore," Mitch said, leaning back in his chair, his mug in his hand.
"I can imagine! How long were you the only one working on this?"
"Three years, sadly."
"Wow. Not sure I would've been able to take that. But at least they hired me, right?"
"That they did. Hey, did you finish that new feature?"
"Yeah, the statistics page is working. Management'll be happy about that."

Working with Ella had been a breath of fresh air. And she was motivated too. She wasn't bitter about Firengine like Mitch was, so she didn't mind working long hours.

Funny thing. When Mitch first considered having a new person working with him, he'd figured that his work days would also get shorter, as they could spread the work between the two of them. But as soon as a second person had been added, they were no longer just supposed to fix bugs. Some new features were now also requested, and the days got maybe an hour shorter. Not as much as he'd hoped.

The extra sleep and free time had done him good though.

And seeing how quickly Ella had picked up on everything, how well she could handle the code, management's requests and the work load, it really gave Mitch the feeling that she would be able to handle all this.

"Yeah," she said without looking up from her screen.
"I'm considering quitting."

She looked up instantly.

"What? Why?"
"Because I'm burned out on this place. I was here when it was a completely different company, bustling, busy, innovative. And now it isn't like that anymore, hasn't been for years, and I'm just kinda done."
"But I can't do this by myself!"

She sat back in her chair and crossed her arms. She didn't look angry, more annoyed.

"Actually, I'm pretty sure you can. I was just a junior when everybody else left, I'd only worked here for half a year."
"Really?" she said, uncrossing her arms.
"Yeah, really. I didn't know much at all, and I just had to step up. There was nobody else. And I just learned on the job."

He put down his mug, empty by now.

"Look. I've seen what you can do. I think you're probably better at this than I was back then. You're as good as I am now."

She smiled.

"But I can't grow here. I can't learn truly new stuff. Today I fixed two bugs I've already fixed 10 times before. I'm sick of it. I want to go work somewhere I can feel like a junior again, at least for a little while."
"You want to be challenged."
"I do."
"I could probably challenge you," she said with a grin.
"I'm sure you could, but it's not just that. It's also the company itself. After almost 4 years, I'm also ready to let this place go. Like I said, I remember what it was like before it became this."

She sighed.

"Hey, look. I would prefer it if you stayed, obviously. I could use the help and you seem like a nice guy. But I get it. And I'm not going to say you shouldn't follow your heart."
"Thanks, man."
"Man," she laughed, "no problem. Just make sure you make it worth it, yeah? Like, really go for it."
"I don't think that's going to be a problem."
"You quitting today?"
"Nah. I want to check job openings first and want to make sure you've got everything you need."
"Alright. I won't tell anyone. Just make sure I know what I need to know and I'll give you an endorsement when you need one."

They both laughed.

Mitch turned back to his computer when he remembered something he'd wanted to say.

"Oh, and make sure that after I leave, they hire someone to help you. Don't make my mistake and work alone for 3 years."

She grinned.

"I will."

When Mitch left a month later, he did need an endorsement and she did provide one. They're still facebook friends and they've met up a few times after, sharing stories of their work environments. Hers at Firengine, where they actually did hire someone new; Mitch's at Boomerang, a startup from a former Firengine coworker he got hired at.

A funny thing happened during his interview there. Darren, the founder, remembered him.

"Finally decided to join us?" he had said jokingly.
"What do you mean?"
"You don't remember? When I left, I asked you to join us."

Mitch had forgotten that completely, but he was right. Then he remembered that at the time, he had just started at Firengine and was afraid to switch so quickly.