After a 6-year enlistment with the United States Air Force, followed by a 4-year degree in Computer Science (paid for by “Uncle Sam”), Tony S. joined with a small company that specialized in criminal background checks. “No more unpaid overtime!” he’d thought to himself upon joining the civilian world for the first time since high school. “No more screaming officers! No more sleepless nights from trying to meet deadlines!”

The crew of Mystery Science Theater 3000 watches planes refueling in the bold Air Force epic, the Starfighters

Tony quickly noticed his new employer had efficiency problems. They tracked everything the company did in an Excel/VBA monstrosity that had been cobbled together. Wanting to show initiative, Tony suggested that he could build a database-driven website to replace it. His boss agreed, and they drew out a three-phase plan to implement and deploy his idea.

Phase 1

After a month of design and development, Phase 1 was well underway. Tony had written the basic data-layer for the application. It didn’t have many features, but could easily show some of the company’s in-progress projects he’d manually imported from the toxic hellstew of spreadsheets. Pleased with his progress, he scheduled a meeting with his boss and the data leads to demo it.

During the demo, his boss cut him off. “Who authorized this project?” she interrupted.

Tony paused. Did she not remember helping him plan it all? “I… um… uh… you did.”

“I did no such thing. How long have you been working on this?”

“About four weeks now,” he replied, acutely aware of the burning sensation on his cheeks as his boss grilled him in front of everyone. “You helped me pl…”

“We can’t have our employees spending this much time on unapproved projects!” she yelled.

The meeting got worse from there. In the end, his boss relented, but declared that Phase 2 and Phase 3 would never happen. In addition, she gave him a list of features that had to be delivered by the Phase 1 deadline- a list that conveniently included everything from Phases 2 and 3.

Phase 1, Part 2

Tony tried to continue on the project, but now that his boss was involved, requirements constantly changed. One day, he was asked to add in a full-fledged help-desk ticket tracker, and the next day he was asked to rip out the third-party helpdesk library he’d integrated because it was a “security risk”. His boss demanded that it be implemented from scratch, and refused to budge on the deadline.

“That’s not enough time!” Tony complained.

“It will be,” she said, fixing him with a stare so cold it could freeze Hell. “Or you won’t be working here anymore.” With a wave of her hand, she dismissed him.

Tony soon found himself working 15–16 hours a day, 6–8 days a week, trying to meet the deadline and keep his job. He worked hard, but the hours took their toll. Life left his eyes and he slowly decayed into a zombie which smelled strongly of coffee.

Phase 1, Part 3…ish?

Two days before the deadline, Tony completed the last of the requirements. The application was buggier than a roach motel, but most of the issues could be worked around and fixed later. He headed home, though he didn’t remember it, and passed out. He’d only had about 3 hours of sleep in the past few days. Simple concepts, like sleep, time, and food, and sleep, and lists were now only vague memories he couldn’t quite grasp anymore.

He woke to the buzzing of his cellphone. The clock read 1PM, and the caller ID was for his boss.

“Why aren’t you at work today? Tony, this is unacceptable! I can’t have lazy employees skipping out on work! I am going to have to discipline you, and this is going in your file. Get to the office RIGHT NOW!!!”

Enough was enough. Tony didn’t rush straight to the office. He spent the next ten minutes typing up his resignation letter. Then he went to work. As soon as he entered his boss’s office, she launched into a new round of screaming anger. “You are the worst employee I’ve ever had! You invent make-work projects, you come in late. Look how late it is! Don’t think I didn’t notice you leaving early and taking long lunches! There’s only one response for this inexcusable pattern of unprofessional behavior- I have to fire you! Stay here for the rest of the day and get your stuff sorted out, and I’ll arrange for HR to…”

Tony mentally phased out at that point. He dropped his resignation letter on her desk, turned around, and walked out. He paid no attention to the shouts that grew louder as his boss became more inflamed from this apparent insubordination. As he left the building, he considered re-enlisting. Maybe scrubbing toilets with a toothbrush at oh-dark-thirty while getting screamed at by a drunk Second Lieutenant with an ego problem, after a double-shift of guard duty, wasn’t so bad after all.

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