April 22, 2005

Friday Morning Epiphany

8 AM, Friday. I pulled into the parking deck about the same time as a shiny BMW 7-series. A 40-something man in standard-issue pressed khakis and an oxford shirt stepped out of the car and slung his laptop bag over a shoulder. I picked up my fake-leather portfolio folder and we walked to the door. Halfway through the elevator ride, he regarded my short-sleeved black shirt, jeans and New Balance sneakers with a raised eyebrow.

"Casual Friday?" he asked. It was more of a condescending rhetorical than a question.
"Yes, we hardly see clients, so they don't mind if we're comfortable one day a week."

I got off on my floor and swiped my badge on the magnetic pad to open the door. As my computer booted up, I became less offended by the snarky comment and more depressed about the truth of the current situation.

The truth is that I don't see clients at all. I don't even see the people I work with anymore. My new superior works out of Little Rock, and any potential team members on a project will either be working from their homes or out of a satellite office in Denver, Texas, Jacksonville or Philadelphia. In this entire office, I know three people, and I will never work with any of them. Any work I do will be coordinated and delivered across the network, and I will seldom meet with clients or even team members in person.

I could show up in jeans every day if I wanted to. Who would know, or care? I could report to work in a Hawaiian shirt and flip-flops five days a week. Who would they report me to? I could become the token wacky take-slack-dress-code-too-far person that exists in every I.T. shop in America. But I won't.

I am a voice on the end of the line. I send my work in e-mail attachments and on networked databases. My name and a circa-1998 photo in the company directory are the only thing that anyone in this department will ever know of me. Little separates me from a guy calling himself "Steve" in a Bangalore, India call center except a few time zones. Add to that the fact that your division's stated mission is to become the leading outsourcing services provider in their industry, and it makes you feel about as secure as your average National Guardsman in northern Iraq.

I have to get out of here.

There is no way up in this department, it's a body shop. A corporate temp agency where you have no ability to find yourself work, yet they count it against you in your annual review if you're not on projects enough. I even got a promotion this year, to a second-degree programmer. That plus a merit raise added up to the scant single-digit percentage I got four years ago for simply doing my job.

I must get a transfer out of the department this year. I take pride in my work, and I don't mind my work speaking for itself, but I can't deal with never seeing others in-person. Call me old fashioned.

My life is on the edge of change, with my work and at home. A life shift is about to happen, and it feels like cresting the first hill on a roller coaster. Only it's a lot scarier, since my wife and kid are riding with me.

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