Christian R. was in trouble. Despite his experience across hardware and software, desktops and server clusters, thumb drives and SANs, he hadn't found any freelance work in weeks. It was clear that he'd have to figure something out to pay the bills.
In August, Christian applied at Drab's PCs, a large retail chain focused on computer hardware and software. He'd shopped there for years and had an impressive level of knowledge about their products, so he accepted a position in Technical Sales.
After a few months of working at Drab's PCs, Christian grew tired of one of his tasks — manually keying in orders from the online store. The online store worked by emailing orders to individual branches across the country, which were then printed, given to the branch manager, and then distributed to employees. The employees would then key in each order, line by line, item by item.
Entering orders was more time consuming than it had to be. Since each system had a barcode scanner, it didn't make sense to totally retype UPC codes and serial numbers. Having worked with PHP's image manipulation functions, Christian decided to take on a hobby project — a quicker interface to enter online orders.
He bought himself a barcode scanner and got to work. After a few evenings of coding, he had a working prototype. It would take in an order email, convert UPCs, serial numbers, quantities, and prices to barcodes. The barcodes were aligned on the page such that the barcode scanner could simply be dragged from the top of the page to the bottom, generating a complete, accurate order.
For a few weeks, Christian would use his application rather than typing orders in manually. Even after verifying that the order was complete and correct, he would still finish well before his coworkers. Gradually, word spread about his application, so he shared it with a few friends at his store.
His circle of users were happy, but when word of Christian's application bubbled up to management, Christian was called into his boss's office. "Let's have a competition," his boss, Warren, began. "I'll have Bill enter an order against your program," he said. "He's the fastest at this, and I want to be sure that we're doing this the most efficient way we can."
Christian and Bill started, and before Bill had fully keyed in the first item, Christian had processed an entire order. Happy with the results, Warren thanked Christian for his work and told him he'd talk to the branch manager about it.
A few days later, Christian's branch manager, Larry, called him into his office. "I saw the order entry program you made," he began. "You're lucky I haven't fired you."
"I... I'm sorry?" Christian was dumbstruck. "Did it mess up an order or something?"
"No. I just don't appreciate your interfering with the deployment of the new system." The "new system" had been coming soon since the day Christian was hired. Christian had never intended to interfere with plans made by corporate, he just wanted to make his life a little easier. He tried to defend himself, but Larry was unconvinced. His application had put him at odds with corporate.
A year passed, the following winter came, and Christian was due for a performance review. After his boss, Warren, and the branch manager, Larry, had finished Christian's performance review sheet, he was called into Larry's office to review. Christian took a deep breath before walking in.
Before Christian could even sit down, his review began. "You're not smiling enough," Larry began.
"You have the best feedback out of all of our staff, though." Warren was happy. "Customers love yo-"
"But they think you're cold and unfriendly. Why don't you smile more?" Larry interrupted.
"Really, though, your technical knowledge is great," Warren said. "And I've had more customers thank me for your hel-"
"I see here that you were almost ten minutes late on June 8th. You missed a team-building exercise!" Larry scowled and leaned forward. "Why don't you tell me about that day."
"Well, there was a car accident which caused a delay," Christian began, "and I don't really have a good direct route in anyway. Still, I was still at my desk, ready to serve customers when the doors opened, so I don't think it was that big a deal..."
"Yes, yes. Well, let's cut to the chase. We've decided you can keep your job," said Larry with an insulting smile. "Sound good?"
Christian was speechless. He looked to Warren for help, but Warren was timidly staring at the ground. He stumbled while mentioning a few improvements he'd made to the store, some thankful customers he'd served, but those comments were barely acknowledged.
"I'm not being considered for a raise then?" Christian finally asked.
"No, but you can keep your job," Larry reiterated.
"Will I be eligible for a raise next year?"
"The year after that?"
"So, to get this straight, I have to work three years on my best behavior, be essentially the most incredible employee the store has ever had, and then, maybe I'll get a raise?"
"Well, if you put it like that..."
"Understood." Christian sighed and went back out to his desk. Two months later, he found a new position and has been there for several years now. He found out that corners were being cut across the board not only because the store didn't have a great year, but a new, expensive corporate office had been built that year.
And that new system is still coming soon, but it's seriously right around the corner.