I do not usually enter rooms I shouldn’t. I do not even like being in most rooms I am expected. My work as a software programmer at a large firm kept me in comfortable anonymity and modest plenty. I had few reasons to do more.
The latest year end review did not please me to say the least. It did not go badly per se but an hour of talk about my so called potential, the need to “step up” and be “proactive, and other such corporate jargon had been quite mind numbing. To make matters worse, I walked out of that meeting only to walk into a field issue I needed to solve. The only one in the team left in the office on a cold December day. God forbid people couldn’t play games online, if I went home for the weekend. Then the storm started to hit. It turned into a blizzard, mild annoyance, the numbing effect of antidepressants and a nerdy drive to solve problems kept me at my desk past nine at night, typing into my terminal, watching the gears turn.
As I waited for a process to complete on my screen, I looked around. The floor full of open sit-stand desks, Apple computers, stickers, ironic mugs, electric skateboards and bright colored bean bags appeared to be an odd pseudo utopia that was both addictive and repulsive to me. I looked at the desk next to mine. Raj had worked here for 10 years. Every five or seven, he would get a promotion and a modest raise. He always missed his train home. Yet, he never missed a soccer match with one of his daughters. He worked more than he should for less than he deserved and never thought of going elsewhere. On the other side of me sat Leah. A psychology major, who fell into tinkering with code while working at a Whole Foods. She had spent her savings on a coding bootcamp, in hopes of a better future and changing the world. So she landed here, in a junior engineering role, “mentored” by others so she could reach her potential, apparently. Across me sat Chung. He had a master’s degree from Stanford. Math was his love. As was his motorbike. He kept his lifestyle simple and enjoyed a technical challenge. Everyone had their reasons to do what they did. I too, I really wanted the optimal proportion of pizza, beer, ice cream and late night comedy, every single night. This was my merry band of misfits, turning the wheels that propelled the machine of corporate greed in a large online gaming company. We were fortunate to be here, we were changing the world.
I got antsy waiting for my code to deploy, as always and started to stroll. For some reason, thinking about my review earlier that day, I walked towards my manager’s office. He was a good man, middle aged with a nice family, hard working with minimum drama and a politically correct demeanor at all times. God, I never wanted to be him. I couldn’t say why though. Perhaps because he was such a square. His door was a crack open. I walked in aimlessly. I saw something on his desk. It was a printout of some kind of lab report. I should not have read it. But I experienced no emotion at this point and started to read. My heart sank a little. I sat down on his chair, and continued to read. It appeared that his little had been diagnosed with something rare and complicated. He seldom spoke of his personal life. I had always wondered why he was so robotic. This was disturbing though. He had not mentioned it earlier, choosing to keep our topics strictly professional. I had worked for him for six years at this point. I looked around the room. His college degree, a corporate award, a picture of his family, a company branded coffee mug and a bunch of papers. The whiteboard was full of todos. I shook my head then thought about something. What if I had a whiteboard of todos, and a child with special needs. How would I manage that, and conduct myself. Perhaps I too would choose to “step up and take ownership.” More head shaking, “He sounded like my father, oh God!” I mumbled to myself.
I started walking towards the next room, the corner office. The “leadership path” he had explained to me, would lead here. Obviously I had to walk in and check this out for myself. Now this mad was even squarer than my boss. Even more middle aged, more corporate, dressed in a sport coat and luxury jeans, drove a Tesla and was everything that the tech executive was supposed to be. I had no desire to be him. Signing deals to outsource for a fraction of operational cost, streamlining resourcing and other such vomit inducing achievements were quite repugnant. Therefore, I had to go and sit on his desk too. I wondered how many cows had been killed to make this throne of his. The small light on the bluetooth headset with the boom mic flickered in the darkness. A leather notebook sat across the mahogany desk. I started to flip through it. “Reduce costs through bonus optimization and merit increase limiting.” Said a scribble. I checked my phone, the build still had a while to go. My fidgety hands made their way to a drawer. “Who leaves the key in the keyhole? What is even the point?” I wondered. This guy even used binders. Oh God. I had to read this.
It appeared that our company had decided to use the global pandemic as a reason to reduce budgets. Our profit had not gone down, on the contrary, more people were playing games online. Then why would we reduce budgets? We were working harder than ever. It did not make sense. Perhaps I could not comprehend it. I didn't have the experience or mindset. It irked me nonetheless. Most things irked me, but this much more than other things tonight. I wondered if working late had made me extra cranky. It wasn’t like I had too much to go home to or do this evening though. “Why would someone stick it to hard working folks like that? So they could get another stock incentive for meeting targets so they could upgrade their Tesla and buy a vacation home.” I heard myself grump. This was ridiculous. I should not be here. Hey, I did not want to be here.
As I walked back towards my desk, I thought of Raj. He would still work harder than needed. He would not get the promotion he deserved and would struggle to put his daughter through college. He was a good man. He deserved better. I wondered why he never fought for more. Then there was Leah. She would be alright. She kept herself busy. She learned all she could, volunteered on weekends and gave talks hoping to help other women. She was kind and ambitious, annoyingly so and would hopefully do well. Though who was helping her. Yes every person should help himself and all but it had to become easier for people like her. For people like Raj. They represented everything we wanted, diversity, passion, dedication. Nobody represented them. Certainly not that guy with the leather everything and the Tesla with premium leather. Why couldn't that guy represent them? He was supposed to. Wouldn't it just be better for everyone. How important was that upgrade to the gaudy gull wing door?
I walked by Jung’s desk. “...ride on and leave your worries behind...forgive ‘em all!” A poster said. It really appeared to be his motto. He worked hard and rode on. “Seriously, he should hit the brakes once in a while and look around!” I thought. I walked back to my desk. It would only take another few minutes. The build had succeeded. The field errors were dropping. I was going to get out of here. I pondered what I should eat. Naturally, I settled on a pizza and some beer. A pint of cookies and creme went well with the late night shows. Then it occurred to me. Five percent. The numbers I saw in Tesla dude’s binder were stuck in my head. I questioned myself about why I thought so much about this, and why everyone else did not. Perhaps because they had other more important things that kept them busy.
Five percent would help Raj significantly in paying for his daughter's tuition. Leah could move to a better apartment. And Jung, when he would probably ride on either way. But five percent for these folks, would not even be one percent for the one percent that Mr Leather back there represented. Someone had to bridge the gap and speak both languages. Someone had to stay back in the office and fix things, while Raj could spend some well earned time with his daughter, Leah prepared a blog post to motivate other minorities, and Jung probably rode his bike to stay peaceful. Someone had to really cut down on the beer and pizza and ice cream. My boss was a good man who worked hard but he too had a lot going on I now realized. Perhaps, there was a reason for his spiel earlier today. I had nothing to lose, perhaps I had just found a few reasons to do more.