or how I learned to stop worrying and love the corporation

I enjoy my new job.

I thought I wouldn’t. The past few years were spent at dot coms, which present themselves as an employee paradise. Casual dress, flexible hours, innovation, a fun atmosphere, perks, and the lure of possible big money cashouts: everyone wants it! The software tools are sexy and easy open source projects. It’s all very cool. And if you screw up, everyone understands and it’s all play money anyhow.

Now I’m at a large company. I work a fixed schedule and I wear Office Casual Clothing. There are policies and procedures for everything. Rank is important. Everyone is in a cube, some of us two to a cube. The software we manage is almost all proprietary and runs on proprietary operating systems. The work itself is locked into very specific tasks with step by step instructions. And if I blow it, I’m fired. Large sums of money rest on the competence of the staff.

It’s way better.

The dot coms I have known were all doomed. Almost all of them were the classic two-founder startups going after a niche in the market. All of them needed outside money to achieve their goals, and in every case the outside money wrecked the company. Uncontrolled hiring wiped out the competence and the culture of these places within months. Executives who came in with the outside money were out of their depth and resorted to arbitrary decision-making and tyranny, and sometimes deliberately failed at their fiduciary responsibilities.

Here are some examples of things I saw at dot coms: People hired to do nothing to make a company look bigger; openly racist senior executives allowed to carry out their prejudices; nonexistent products fraudulently sold by salesmen who then left with their money; stolen patents; illegal or impossible business plans designed to fail just after an executive had left for a better job; and indecision actually written into the procedures of the company to resolve differences between founders.

These things happen at bigger and better-organized companies, but it’s possible for all of them to occur at once at a startup dot com without any consequences for anyone involved. Too many of those places were all the boys playing the treehouse, complete with NO GIRLS sign, with the difference that being pushed out meant real broken bones down below.

In particular, the “two cofounders” startups were disasters. I’ll make an exception for the last one I worked at, where both of them were smart nice guys who knew what they were doing and cooperated. Everywhere else it was a disaster: Beavis & Butthead meet Leopold & Loeb. They were all white college grad males. Almost always one was technical and the other was business. They were inevitably rivals and often boyhood friends. Neither one could be completely in charge, and neither one could be seen defeated. I’ve seen situations where the two actually alternated between winning and losing the argument, so that the company sailed along zig zag for months.

I won’t ever work for a two cofounders startup again, unless it’s the last two. The rest is just the whole company as fifth wheel in the meltdown of a friendship.

So why do I love my current corporate job? Because it’s just plain old capitalism. Real money is being made and lost, and if enough is lost bad things will happen. Policies and procedures are in place that have been tested, and if they fail they are revised. Quality assurance is done by professionals with reliable tests. Software doesn’t go into production unless several groups agree that it works. Pay arrives on time each time. Insanity in the office is punished. A real HR department deals with out of control coworkers, even executives.

There’s nobody handing out beanie hats or taking us all to Dave & Busters, we have to wear normal clothing and show up on time, working from home is discouraged, the software and tools are totally uncool and often annoying, and there’s absolutely no chance of the company being bought or taken public to make us all millionaires. I love it. It’s just plain old employment at a regular profit-making company, making rich guys richer and slogging along. And the punchline? I’m making more money now.

With great respect to personal friends who are running their own startups well, the rest of you can keep your dot-coms. I’ll stick with the totally uncool skyscraper job working for the Man. He treats us all way better.

Page from a diary found in an abandoned psychiatric hospital

CHICKEN MAN

The clues grow more obscure and ominous each day. This latest confounds me. A photo of a photo: why? The chicken man is presented as a familiar character, in a cheerful pose. The blurriness and stiff pose are uneasy, though. It’s unheimlich somehow, more Wicker Man than Chicken Run.

I see no record of chicken-suited performers locally. Perhaps this is a forgery or a prank. But again I am drawn back to the ritual pose of that photo. Who or what is behind that mask? Am I… is anyone! meant to know?

Tomorrow I will again brave the University’s archives. Chicken Man’s unexplained presence demands answers. Menace or not, he will give up his secrets.

I just lost my sense of humor about American politics.

Hired mobs yelling. Incoherent demagogues. Race hate. Incitements to political violence by broadcasters. Guns brought to political rallies. The worst values pushed by the worst people who have control of media empires.

It feels like a slow rolling coup. I’m nauseated, and I can’t deal. My neighbors are spouting deranged propaganda. The broadcast media is filling up with McCarthy clones and bullies. There’s so much money behind this garbage, from unfunny people who are serious about derailing even the smallest bit of social change.

I used to say that I had confidence in the American people that we would always return to a safer, blander, less crazy vision than the one we might fear. I don’t believe that now. Things don’t look very good to me.

Current mood: somewhere between “this fucking sucks” and “stockpile ammo.”

Annals of Employment: Tony the Ax versus The Phone Company

For a short time I worked at an internet service provider. They served medium-sized businesses. These guys really had their act together. All the tech people were smart. The bosses were hardcore ex Sun engineers. And they had a guarantee of reliability or your money back, which was unusual at the time.

That reimbursement didn’t get made, because they were good. Money was made.

Then one day the upstream provider, The Phone Company, failed. Suddenly the company was not providing any service at all to most of its customers. Not only were they looking like idiots, they were also now paying back all these customers. A gigantic taxi meter of money loss was running.

So our CFO called up The Phone Company. They were evasive in the usual phone company way. Probably told him they needed to "provision" something, or that it was "under investigation." The CFO was a nice guy, easy-going, loved his family and his vintage Corvette. He was also Italian-American from New Jersey. This is what he sounded like on the phone.

STOP, SHUT UP NOW. SHUT THE FUCK UP. I’M TAWKIN. I’M TAWKIN ABOUT WHAT YOU’RE DOING WHICH IS FUCKING FIXING THIS SHIT.  GET YOUR FWUCKING ACT TOGETHER OR I’M GONNA FLY UP THERE AND CUT YOUR FWUCKING BALLS OFF. DON’T EXPLAIN. YOUR EXPLANATIONS ARE FUCKING SHIT, THEY’RE DIARRHEA. SHUT THE FUCK UP AND FIX IT NOW. DID YOU FIX IT YET? DID I HEAR YOU SAY YOU FIXED IT? I DIDN’T HEAR YOU SAY YOU FIXED IT, SO SHUT THE FUCK UP.

I’M SHITTING OUT MY FUCKING BUSINESS HERE AND YOU’RE GOING TO LICK IT UP. DID YOU FIX IT YET? IT’S FIXED, RIGHT? NO? DO YOU WANT TO FUCKING SEE ME IN PERSON? YOU DON’T WANT TO FUCKING SEE ME IN PERSON, EVER.

They fixed it.

I was standing outside his office in fascinated horror. There was spittle on his desk and he was half standing out of the chair, leaning over the desk to scream into the phone. He clicked it off and slumped back in the chair for a few seconds and then looked up at me.

"I really hate doing that."