It’s been a couple of months since I left my old job. Yeah!
Today I wish to present a blast from the past and recount a conversation I had with my office manager that took place shortly before my last day of work.
The background information is this: I worked at the company for over five years. During that time, among my other duties*, I programmed their ecommerce website entirely from scratch. Because the boss was so picky, only a homegrown and highly-customized solution would suffice.
* I was also forced, against my will and under threat of termination, to do things like: Retail sales floor, customer service phones, production, secretarial and janitorial. I naively thought I had been hired as “webmaster” but found out that even job listings can be viciously “bait and switch.” In fact, my actual job title was often just a tiny slice of my day.
So there I was, called into my manger’s office, and this is pretty much how it all went down:
“After you’re gone, when we find bugs in the software, you’ll fix them for free, right?”
Holy crap! What a thing to say. This really floored me. I mean, how rude! The sheer audacity of it is truly staggering.
I’m still so proud of the way I responded.
“Absolutely not.” I was unequivocal.
The manager had the balls to put on a bewildered look. “How can you say that? You wrote it, right? Any bugs in there are your mistakes. Don’t you stand behind what you do?”
Sad. This was truly sad.
“Sure I do. But let me ask you a question. When is the last time you heard something like this? An employee leaves a company and two weeks later a mistake of theirs is found. Have you ever heard of that employee going back to the job and fixing the problem for free?”
Even amongst all the greatest assholes of the world this caught my manager flatfooted. Yeah, delicious!
“Look,” I continued. “When I was working as an employee for this company, I gave it my absolute best. My goal was to provide the highest quality product I possibly could. Even so, there were two problems. First, I’m human, and I will make mistakes. They will happen. Second, I had absolutely no control over my work environment. Computer programming ain’t exactly like painting the Sistine Chapel, but it ain’t ditch digging, either. It’s hard and requires intense concentration and logic. It’s not exactly the kind of work that can be done in a blender. Yet that’s the environment that has been forced down my throat for the last five years. That sort of environment increases the error rate. I’m sorry about that, but that’s just the way it is.”
Of course, I’m paraphrasing just a wee bit here. Call it artistic license. 🙂
“So what happens when we find bugs? We’re screwed?”
“As I see it, you have three choices. Live with it, fix it yourselves, or hire someone to fix it for you. As your employee, when mistakes were found, I could fix them as part of my day. You didn’t require me to clock out and work for free. As your ex-employee, you still have the same option, as long as I remain willing and available, of course.”
And so it came to pass that I would not be fixing every bug from the last five years and doing it for free.
After I left the company we briefly negotiated a renewable weekly contract where I would work from my home office for 20 hours a week. But their final offer was insultingly low and I refused. I now do ongoing work for them, as needed, but at my final offer of an hourly rate, not theirs. After five years the tables have finally turned.
And yes, if I’m working as a contractor, I stand behind my work. That means I fix bugs for free. But I also control my work environment.
Sometimes it is good not to be the employee.