The Robert S. Kelder Conference Center was a thriving part of the infrastructure for over 20 years, housing various state and local agencies and providing classrooms for driver’s education. Then about two years ago it was shut down because yearly flooding weakened its roof and boiler and infested it with mold. Its only purpose now is to store old furniture and really old computer equipment until recyclers will take them away, or until a public auction that’s definitely going to happen one day...
Everyone hates the place, especially the people who have to take inventory of everything in it. Guess where I used to work?
I remember once opening a box of crusty Iomega ZIP drives and finding a cute little family of spiders the size of quarters. Thinking fast, I whipped out a nearby mouse and lassoed the box closed. As someone in the IT field I’ve been trained from birth in the arcane art of mouse manipulation.
Despite all the melancholy, I’m very much an optimist; to me the building was always half not infested with mold. Seriously, Kelder was only a small part of an otherwise great job. And the position I recently... let’s say tried out... made me love that haunted-house-in-training all the more.
I wish I’d listened a little more closely to my gut, though, since it was picking up all kinds of warning signs: it was a Tuesday afternoon, yet there were only two people working; half the cubicles were empty — not just unoccupied, but empty; if I didn’t have a laptop I could use a computer that was probably a Pentium III; and I would be paid on a “per-project basis.”
There were also no cups by the water cooler.
On the plus side, I got to stay for two hours after the interview helping the other guy there style a navigation bar. I joked about how we could do it in two lines of code using the
:first-childselector, but since we were developing for Internet Explorer 6 it would be pretty futile to... what? You’ve never heard of the
:first-childselector? Don’t worry, neither had he. But I had fun explaining it; the sound of my voice is very soothing.
Even before the interview, I knew that the company used a content management system called Drupal. Apparently it lets you put together a web site with very little actual coding. I spent the whole week watching online videos on it and reading about it. And the day before I started, my interviewer (who was also the owner) sent me a task list and a podcast about the latest version of Drupal. I skimmed the list. It didn’t seem all that hard, just tidying up a web site. So I listened to the podcast until one in the morning. Surely my first day would be a crash course in Drupal.
Since first impressions are tough, I showed up a half hour early in a display of eagerness... and promptly waited a half hour for the “early” guy to get there and unlock the place. If I’d gotten hired a week or so later, there would’ve been no problem; apparently, an early morning yoga class is subletting some of the cubicles.
When the boss came in forty minutes later, he introduced me to everyone as a “scout,” told me to use my own judgment as much as I could before asking questions (you just know this isn’t gonna end well) and set up my workstation for the day: it was a Pentium III, a five-year-old-laptop. But it was more than enough to run the ten-year-old software on it. It was hooked up to the saddest beige monitor ever, and a keyboard with a broken number pad; the corker was definitely the Apple Mighty Mouse.
From the look of the site I was supposed to work on, it was probably written on this computer. The code was completely invalid and full of conventions that went out of practice a decade ago. When I asked the boss when the site was made he said it was one of his first. In any event, I couldn’t do any of my tasks because of the unreadable code. So I spent three hours making the code valid and readable and adding semantic elements. Surely my hard work will be rewarded!
Then I took my lunch hour. I say “took” instead of “clocked out” because there was no time management system. I ended up going to three different restaurants; the first had no tables, and the other two had just horrible food. It turns out that the place with no tables had once sold my father food with a large chunk of wood in it. I heard there was a pretty good deli around the block, but they were closed.
Feeling refreshed, I jumped right back into de-mangling table layout and using tiny CSS tricks to make the site look more modern. Evidently I did my job a little too well. Just as I was about to update the last page, the boss dropped by to see what I had done all day. Turns out (aren’t you getting to love that phrase?) that what I should have done was use the Dreamweaver template to change all the pages for the site at the same time instead of fix each page individually. Earlier, when I’d asked if I should do something similar with PHP, he said not to bother.
I didn’t know I was supposed to use a template since it was the second-to-last task on my list of priorities. Turns out that I was reading the task list upside down the whole time, and that the first tasks were on the bottom. I hadn’t noticed since the top task was a description and none of the other tasks seemed related.
As far as I know, all the valid code I wrote is gone now. But they were trying to convince the customer to switch to a Drupal-powered site anyway, so none of my work mattered. I decided to just go home without completing my final task, which was quality assurance.
^^ That paragraph is my favorite.
I avoided mentioning money in my “I Quit” e-mail, just to see if I’d be offered compensation for my seven hours of coding, maybe for the two hours of consulting I’d done after the interview... nope. Not even an “attaboy.” It’s just as well; I wouldn’t want to tell him my address and the only reason I would ever go back to that area is because there’s supposed to be a store nearby that sells capes.