Monday, April 27, 2009

The long awaited Part 2 in the Series: How Open Source Ruined My Life

After the government job that introduced me to Linux, I took a job with a consulting company in New Jersey. The salary was higher, but the cost of living was WAY higher, so the joke was on me. The company sent employees to bodyshop, seat-warmer jobs all around the country to support the elite group of 3 working on what was to become Sapphire/Web, a Java-based Application Server that had the first-mover advantage of getting a couple clients before the next wave came along and ate their lunch.

Mostly what I remember about my time there is roller-blading and watching the Rockford Files. I also remember some locals telling me to 'get my hocking playing ass the fuck out of here'.

The next gig involved testing embedded software for a medical device company in Indianapolis. We had to use those god-awful PCs with the abysmal Windows 3.x, but I had the sense to install Perl for a lot of my testing (to compare results to the expected results and so on and so forth). This was cool for a while, and I was surrounded by some smart and interesting people, but I was young and stupid and didn't know a good thing when I saw it. Also, with the dot-com boom heating up I felt like I had to get in on the web development game, and the opportunity came in the form of a job with some research scientists at a major pharmaceutical company in Indianapolis (the reader gets 3 guesses as to that company's name).

After an initial 2 week period of waiting for the corporate IT slugs to get their shit together enough to give us machines to work on (PCs again, f00k!) we hit the ground running. All the real work, fortunately, was to be done on UNIX machines, and an order was put in for us to get SGI workstations of our own. In the meantime, I figured out a way to get X Wndows running on my crappy PC, but before I knew it our O2s were in, and I was back in the high life again.

This job totally ruled at first, because we were working for and with very smart people on very cool stuff, and were pretty much set loose to use what we wanted to do things as we saw fit, but even early on I sensed something wasn't right.

There was an official corporate-sanctioned IT department that allegedly served our bosses, but I guess he got impatient with them and picked up some temp/consultant dudes to get his project rolling. This was all well and good, but the head of said department was Darth-Vaderesque in his enmity toward free and open software! A million years ago he had written software focused on his research domain (I think when he was a lowly grad student), and a few newsgroup searches revealed unhappy users wishing they could get a hold of the source so as to make necessary modifications to keep the software relevant to their field. Too bad for them, because dude didn't have time for coding, he was too busy playing the political game, and he for damn sure wasn't going to let anybody see or change his precious (although rapidly losing value) code.

Meanwhile I convinced my boss we needed a proper database b/c the text files of his hacked together version 1 just weren't going to cut it. He saw the light, but quickly got discouraged after we met with one of a thousand Oracle DBAs employed at this corporation. He (my boss) could see that the future involved many weeks, months, and perhaps years of waiting for the schema to be finalized, so he insisted on going back to text files. We (the team) saw the app hitting the ceiling really quickly, and the solution we came up with at the time (about 10 years ago) was to use MySQL (recently bought out by Oracle after first being bought by Sun).

Development barreled ahead. A clumsy assortment of HTML files assembled nightly by the monster batch script from hell were replaced by dynamically generated pages using Perl, the wonder language of the 90s. The researchers were pretty happy, but Darth and his gang, not so much.

Also around this time the company brought on a new CIO. He made his mark on the company by taking the Macs away from the Scientists and Programming types so he could 'standardize' on Windows (NT in this case: the NT stood for 'Nice Try'). This was a great way to make it look like he did something of value, when really all he was doing was pissing off all the people the company relied on to find new products so that the people on the business/marketing side (who loved them some Windows) could keep making money off the nerds' labor. Of course, this kind of thing was happening all over corporate America at the time, so he was not outstanding in his lameness, it was more the case that he was standing proudly atop the mountain of mediocrity!

Things gradually and slowly but surely slid downhill from there. Somebody caught wind that my boss was being a rascal and using us instead of the wonderful internal corporate IT resources, so I was thrown to the wind again. I ended up finding another job with the same company, but the stage was already set for more and more decrapitude as the result of a 'perfect shitstorm':
  • The Mac to Windows migration made all the scientists grumpy, so working for them sucked ass
  • The Mac to Windows migration made the 'senior' programmers grumpy, so working for them sucked ass
  • The imposition of standards from above enforced a 'not the best tool for the job, but the tool I told your sorry ass to use' policy
  • The dot-com explosion had the effect of 'bright flight' - all the bright people in corporate IT ran for the hills in search of millions, leaving the spiritually and mentally bereft behind.
It was a mess. Within 6 months I ran away screaming. Maybe a week or so before I left, a helpful Oompa Loompa from IT informed me that something I'd asked for whilst on the previous project (which by now seemed like a previous lifetime) would be ready REALLY SOON. Maybe he was joking. Maybe one day they did take care of my request, or perhaps their successors in India fielded the request. It didn't really matter anymore. But that's enough for now, and another installment will follow.


Jen S. said...

Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

I would try and leave some witty, knowledgeable comment over here, but I'm not in IT and I have no idea what you're talking about! :) Thanks for the support, though!

SDC said...

Thanks for dropping by. s'OK, I am thinking of getting back to less nerdy material in the future...