The Office of 1,000 WTFs (or "Hot Water costs money!")



  • Last year I was slightly desperate for a job, after having been laid off with no notice from a job I had only had for 3 months (I think the company was downsizing, since the week before I was let go, another developer quit). I was offered a position as "Director of IT Services" with a tiny e-commerce company consisting of six people. The fact I wouldn't be managing anyone should have been a red flag, but I needed the money and hoped that I could get approval down the road to build a real IT department (and thus build up some credible management experience), so I accepted.

    I quickly found out what a hellhole this company was. Let's start with the basics: The owners (husband and wife, although the wife was the legal owner to get minority business status) were cheap; REALLY cheap. All the computers were refurbished, 5-year old machines that they got from a liquidation auction or something. They ran Office 2000 off of what appeared to be pirated discs, although when I brought it up they assured me that they purchased them legit at the auction. The network consisted of an almost 10-year old domain controller running Windows 2000 that nobody used, and various 5-port Linksys hubs strewn about the office to connect computers. Oh, and they were too cheap to pay for HOT WATER IN THE OFFICE. I asked about this one day, and without skipping a beat my boss says "Hot water costs MONEY!" That should have been a sign of things to come....

    The system they used to run their business was a cesspit of spaghetti VBScript/Classic ASP code based on an open-source package called Comersus that they spent the hefty sum of $200. I can only guess that their rationale was they could buy a bare-bones package and then pay a programmer to make it better. Unfortunately for them, the person they hired, my predecessor, seemed to know as much VBScript as it took to read a "Teach Yourself VBScript In 24 Hours" book, seemingly the same level as the author of Comersus as the code was very similar; a textbook example of cargo-cult programming at its best (or worst, in this case). The code was not commented at all, used cryptic variable names (seemingly all without vowels) and had zero indentation, especially when it came to nested statements, making it an absolute joy (read: terror) to do anything with. Oh, and there was over 15,000 files. To complicate matters even more, this company had entered a partnership with a second company in the same line of work ("license their technology" is how they put it). This partnership consisted of my company doing all the processing work, and the other company... well, I never did figure out what they did themselves. My predecessor tackled this partnership by creating a copy of our database and site, and renaming some 24 setting keys in tbl_settings to reflect the other company. This, of course, meant that there were now some 30,000 files floating about and any change I made to improve (read: fix a bug) one site had to be repeated with the other site. Perhaps the worst part of the site is that it was originally intended to be done in English or Spanish, so there is a "languages.asp" file which contains... you guessed it, a dictionary object mapping certain sections to the equivalent words in English/Spanish. This lead to code snippets such as the following:

    Response.Write dictLanguage("prod_view_45") & ":" & dictLanguage("currsymbl") & prce

    Where "prod_view_45" is the string "Your price". Naturally the site is only in English, but my predecessor never bothered to replace this, making even a mundane fix like changing the wording a matter of hunting through hundreds of random strings, because the displaying page probably isn't using text but using part of the dictLanguage object.

    On the business end, both companies sold products to the federal government, abusing the minority status to ensure that a certain percentage of business went their way due to federal requirements. However, there were absolutely no business processes at all, and no workflow for how to get things done. The whole operation was basically a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants sort of thing, and my daily work ended up consisting 90% of running reports for my boss (the husband, although technically the wife was my boss) so he could make up different pricing. When I brought up the issue of trying to establish a set workflow to avoid just dropping things in my lap, I was told there isn't time for that due to the restrictions. On top of that, even a simple bug took days to fix due to the convoluted mess that was the code, and most of my tasks were aborted because "It's taking too long for [me] to fix". Again, I tried to explain the concept of "technical debt" and how bad the code was, and it was dismissed.

    Still, I put up with this for months, hoping that things could be improved and that I could turn this operation around into a lean, mean business. Sadly, I found out that the reason they wanted the systems automated and set up was to avoid having to pay for extra employees (It was explained to me that they used to have 2-3 other employees performing a task, until my predecessor hacked together a script to automate it and they were able to get rid of them and save money), and that they really didn't know how the systems were supposed to work in the first place - as you can imagine, this lead to all sorts of errors. In fact, the data was completely corrupt and had no constraints placed upon it, nor any in the code itself, so depending on the report you were looking at a product's price could be drastically different. Despite their knowing things were this bad, I still could not get approval to do anything with it.

    Finally, the last straw came - in preparation for a deal with the Air Force, certain items had to be made available and, in a fit of brillance, my boss decided to make it look exactly the same as what was requested instead of applying common sense (e.g. If they want 12 notebooks, and we offer notebooks individually, let them buy 12 individual notebooks instead of creating a "new" item that is sold as a package of 12 notebooks). Part of this required special pricing for the items, which had to go through several channels due to being sold to the government. A third-party vendor we worked with handled this, but my boss made the mistake of telling me to change the prices in one file, when in fact it needed to be in another file to propagate. I found this out and corrected it, but when I told him the first try was a mistake he exploded and began to scream profanities at me, saying how everyone in the office except him was a complete screwup (he used a different word, naturally) and didn't know anything. This despite the fact that HE told me to make the initial change, and I took it upon myself to ask our third-party if this was the correct way to do it.

    In the end, fearing another blowup if something went wrong (which would of course fall on me, despite my only learning the business processes) and not wanting to deal with a company that has no idea what their doing, doesn't want to take the steps to correct it, and doesn't want to improve anything, I gave my notice and resigned to save my own health and sanity. While I don't have another job lined up yet, next time I'm certainly going to make sure that they at least pay for hot water and have some defined processes.



  •  You know, if it weren't for the length of the post and the detail of what you experienced, I'd say this is made up.

     Unfortunately, I've heard enough true horror stories like this to know, this actually does happen.

    Good luck finding another job, being unemployed is better than being in that hell hole. 

    Wow.



  •  I have the distinct impression that this "business" will eventually collapse under its own weight forming a black hole of horror and despair. You were lucky to escape before the event horizon forms.

    On a side note I nominate this post for the hell-hole of the month award. 



  • I can't help but wonder why it is so important to you to have hot water in the office.

    Do you usually bathe there, or something? Or do you have a coffee mug you need to wash?

     

    Anyway, I wish you better luck on your next job.



  • @Zecc said:

    I can't help but wonder why it is some important to you to have hot water in the office.
     

    To wash your hands with?



  • It wasn't important, it was just funny that they were too cheap to pay for it, when it's like $60 a month or so



  • @MasterPlanSoftware said:

    @Zecc said:

    I can't help but wonder why it is some important to you to have hot water in the office.
     

    To wash your hands with?

    lern2tags

    Zecc's post had a closing </serious> tag, so we know he was joking. 



  • @morbiuswilters said:

    Zecc's post had a closing </serious> tag, so we know he was joking. 
    I was entirely serious.   See?..    o_o

    Actually I was genuinely curious about what reasons ObiWayneKenobi might have had to need hot water in the office.

    I usually wash my hands in cold water, for all it matters.@morbiuswilters said:

    butt_cancer_ribbon.jpg
    [url]http://bash.org/?866224[/url]



  • @Zecc said:

    Actually I was genuinely curious about what reasons ObiWayneKenobi might have had to need hot water in the office.

    I usually wash my hands in cold water, for all it matters.

    From what I understand, it's a health issue that you need to have hot water in the restroom. But like I said before, it wasn't so much that we needed hot water, but that they were trying to save money by not paying for it. That would be like not having any lights in the building, because we're all on computers which shed light. Just a funny thing that added to the list of WTFs



  • @morbiuswilters said:

    @MasterPlanSoftware said:

    @Zecc said:

    I can't help but wonder why it is some important to you to have hot water in the office.
     

    To wash your hands with?

    lern2tags

    Zecc's post had a closing </serious> tag, so we know he was joking. 

    Tags are like the subject lines of individual messages, I've learned to completely ignore them unless someone points them out. Most of the things people put into tags is about as interesting as the people who list what their captcha text is.



  • @SuperousOxide said:

    @morbiuswilters said:

    @MasterPlanSoftware said:

    @Zecc said:

    I can't help but wonder why it is some important to you to have hot water in the office.
     

    To wash your hands with?

    lern2tags

    Zecc's post had a closing </serious> tag, so we know he was joking. 

    Tags are like the subject lines of individual messages, I've learned to completely ignore them unless someone points them out. Most of the things people put into tags is about as interesting as the people who list what their captcha text is.



  • @ObiWayneKenobi said:

    I quickly found out what a hellhole this company was. Let's start with the basics: The owners (husband and wife, although the wife was the legal owner to get minority business status) were cheap; REALLY cheap. All the computers were refurbished, 5-year old machines that they got from a liquidation auction or something. They ran Office 2000 off of what appeared to be pirated discs, although when I brought it up they assured me that they purchased them legit at the auction. The network consisted of an almost 10-year old domain controller running Windows 2000 that nobody used, and various 5-port Linksys hubs strewn about the office to connect computers. Oh, and they were too cheap to pay for HOT WATER IN THE OFFICE. I asked about this one day, and without skipping a beat my boss says "Hot water costs MONEY!" That should have been a sign of things to come....
    Although this example is a bit extreme, it is not too far off from every "Mom and Pop" company I have ever encountered, regardless of what businees they are in.  This is usually due to:

    Lack of business knowledge

    Lack of technical knowledge 

    Lack of money -- they probably charged thousands of $$ on their credit cards to start the business

    Need for income -- Any revenue coming in serves as Mom and Pop's paycheck.



  • The irony is that they have run businesses before (a refurbished ink cartridges for printers business, and the husband supposedly set up call centers and things prior to that) so they are quite well off, they're just cheapskates and would squeeze blood from a stone rather than put money to good use in growing their current business. They would go on trips every few months.



  • @Zecc said:

    @morbiuswilters said:

    Zecc's post had a closing </serious> tag, so we know he was joking. 
    I was entirely serious.   See?..    o_o

    Actually I was genuinely curious about what reasons ObiWayneKenobi might have had to need hot water in the office.

    I usually wash my hands in cold water, for all it matters.@morbiuswilters said:

    butt_cancer_ribbon.jpg
    http://bash.org/?866224

     

    Probably depends on where you are.  Here in Texas, the cold water is pretty warm, but I'd wager that in december in Vermont, things may be different.



  • @ObiWayneKenobi said:

    Oh, and they were too cheap to pay for HOT WATER IN THE OFFICE. I asked about this one day, and without skipping a beat my boss says "Hot water costs MONEY!" That should have been a sign of things to come....
     

    Haven't we had a few stories lately about new hires that went out for lunch on their first day and never came back? When you have an employer like this, that sort of response seems to be the most sane thing to do. No good can come from a business owner/manager who thinks that way.

     



  • @Paddles said:

    Haven't we had a few stories lately about new hires that went out for lunch on their first day and never came back? When you have an employer like this, that sort of response seems to be the most sane thing to do. No good can come from a business owner/manager who thinks that way.

    Yeah... I needed the money though, and I thought I could help them improve their IT infrastructure. Naive thinking, I guess.



  • From the sound of you were best to get out before he cut some corners on a goverment contract and you're explaining why you're not an accessory to conspiracy to defraud or similar.



  • @JamesKilton said:

     You know, if it weren't for the length of the post and the detail of what you experienced, I'd say this is made up.

     Unfortunately, I've heard enough true horror stories like this to know, this actually does happen.

    Good luck finding another job, being unemployed is better than being in that hell hole. 

    Wow.

    Nope, he posted about this going back almost 6 months at the JoS forums.  Eyes boggled more with every update, of course.  Congrats on quitting! 



  • Oh yes, that all rings exceedingly familiar. Down to the hot water and the comersus. Horrible horrible memories.



  • Indeed. Of course.. now I'm in the un-enviable position of being unemployed during a recession. But I just couldn't deal with the bullshit from that company anymore. It was giving me nonstop migraines and ulcers... all in all I think I made the right decision.



  • TRWTF is that you expected to manage people in a 6 person company.

    Also, the Tech industry is doing alright, so you should be able to find a job.  What area do you live in? 



  • @tster said:

    TRWTF is that you expected to manage people in a 6 person company.

    Also, the Tech industry is doing alright, so you should be able to find a job.  What area do you live in? 

     

    Well, to be fair I didn't expect to manage people, I had hoped that I could turn things around and get some people hired to help me out with the IT department.

    I live in the Tampa Bay area - from what I've seen jobs are somewhat scarce here, but I have yet to go into full "job search" mode.  I'm working on a web-based application of my own that I hope to be finished soon, although I doubt it will pull in enough of an income to survive.  The bigger issue with this area is that everything is .NET based, while for the past year or so I haven't used .NET and would prefer to learn open-source technologies.



  • @ObiWayneKenobi said:

    I haven't used .NET and would prefer to learn open-source technologies.
     

    I usually prefer to learn/use 'make me some money' technologies.



  • @MasterPlanSoftware said:

    I usually prefer to learn/use 'make me some money' technologies.

    That explains why you're so good with those vibrators.



  • Yes, I'm doing thread necromancy, but it's my thread, dammit! I also have a good reason.

    I just found out that the company I'm talking about here is going out of business. Unfortunately, in the time since I wrote this post I was forced to return to work there until last year where I was "sold" to the husband's partner to work on their (one of many) business ventures. This turned out to be even worse than the company outlined here, as I was kept repeatedly on call 24-7 (early morning, late at night, weekends, holidays, etc) and as of two months ago I literally had to beg for my paycheck, receiving nothing but excuses and "We're on the brink of a million dollar deal here".

    I haven't even gotten my W2 yet because, and I quote, the boss doesn't have enough money to pay the accountant (my last check came 25% from one of his businesses, and the rest from a business I've never heard of run by some investors, who I don't do work for but he says I do) I've had enough of that company as well, and Monday is my final day with them. Thus, I sever all ties with this nightmarish scam organization. I can only hope that the new company goes the way of the old one.

    Note: Added linebreaks -btk



  •  I had not rad it before, soI don't mind the necromancy. I hope you find a decent job soon.

    What I have found is that working in bad working conditions, even if you get a paycheck, is just bad for your health and social life because it wears you out. I had one such a job and would rather be jobless than be at one again. This was a much bigger wealthier company, It still made me feel like Dilbert. I've deciced not to work anymore at places that make me feel like that.


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