Bare Minimum
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Web developers are assholes. I know. I am one. We think we know better than you and, frankly, we do. We have a skill and we know how to use it. We know best practices. You come over to ask us to do something for you, create a new page or alter another one, something like that, and we sigh heavily. Why do you want that? We know what’s going to happen. You’re going to ask us to do this thing, then in a week, we’re either going to have to change it back or the project is going to get scrapped.

The web developer is the ultimate back seat driver for the corporate world. Tasks trickle down to us because of decisions made by managers and CEO’s and VP’s and we know how it’s going to go wrong. We see it. We tell you or we roll our eyes and then, later, we see how the thing we thought would fail has failed.

I was at my last full time job for four years and, toward the end, my job was fixing bugs for a finance tool we created that, to my knowledge, no one used. It was the least intuitive web application I had ever seen, requiring a bizarre sequence of clicking, selecting a checkbox, and saving just to get anything done. The code had been Frankensteined together from years of different developers working on it. Too many managers gave too many opinions about it. And we were left with an application for which there seemed to be no application.

Around the time that my boss started asking me into the conference room for one-on-one chats, things weren’t looking up at the company.

Our CTO who had been hired a year before was on a week long vacation after he had given notice that he was moving on to another company. Employees were leaving the company steadily, around five people a month for three or four months running. The one upper management consultant who brought in any work in the past five years had been let go after her account failed with our company. And my boss, a man who freely admitted that he hadn’t coded anything since Fortran, was constantly riding me about my performance.

Up until this point, I had another manager who was acting as a buffer between me and my boss. My previous manager was great. You’ll encounter developers like him in the dev world. He knew everything and could knock out entire sites in a day. Anything he didn’t know, he could figure out in a matter of minutes. He did the lion’s share of the work for our department. I used to see him stressed and he would talk about pressure from management. Now that he was gone, I knew what he meant.

My new boss’s main skill, other than taking cigarette breaks, seemed to be justifying his job to upper management. I don’t really know what his main skill was but he thought I needed to step it up, so, he invited me into the small conference room to discuss it. In the course of this talk he said that he would be requiring me to send him a list of every task I worked on or fixed that day. Then he said, “look, I think you’re doing the bare minimum.”

I resented my boss in that moment for two reasons. First, he was being an asshole. I didn’t need my activities monitored by a man who, frankly, didn’t know code well enough to judge how well I was doing. I was also pissed because he was right. I was doing the bare minimum.

As a web developer, I have a skill and I can take that skill from job to job. I get to come in, do my job, and then leave. I would my headphones on, listen to a podcast or an SNL sketch on youtube, and tune everyone else out. I’m not going to care about this job or this mission statement or this product because I don’t. I’m just here to code.

Have you ever heard your co-workers complain? Have you done it yourself? It’s maddening.

How are we supposed to get Blah Blah done when Clark doesn’t allocate the resources?! Doesn’t Clark know that it takes twice the amount of time to create a site like this?

I’ve never worked for anyone named Clark but you know Clark. Clark is a C-something-O and he wears an expensive suit without a tie and escorts other important business people around the office with a politician’s smile. He couldn’t code a web page with a gun to his head and he makes eight times your salary.

Your co-workers hate Clark.

I, however, am in the zone. Headphones. Podcasts. G-chat. I am exempt. I’m here to do a job and then I will leave and get to my real life.

You’re goddamn right I’m doing the bare minimum. What’s the use in doing more than that? Why should I care?

On some level, I had always understood that I was doing the bare minimum but no one had ever said it to me. Now I felt confronted by it.

I had been at this job for four years. I had done this same thing before at another company for five years. I had a job where I would show up, be not particularly necessary, then I would go home. I loved it because I wasn’t too drained at the end of the day. I got to pursue comedy and whatever else I wanted outside of work. I wasn’t caring about trivial crap. I wasn’t caring about Clark or the new release or which bug fixes made it into the dev cycle or whatever.

I felt superior, above it, Zen like.

The problem with not caring at work is that you work for eight hours a day. I was getting up, getting ready for my day, heading into work, all to not care. I wasn’t caring about anything for eight hours a day, forty hours a week, fifty-two weeks a year. Well, fifty, we got two weeks of paid time off, which was criminally little but I digress.

I had things that I cared about – comedy, storytelling, writing. But would I ever try to make that work? They are each, after all, extraordinarily lucrative career paths. As much as I resented my parents for instilling in my this bizarre value that you never quit a job, I still felt like I should pursue safety.

I continued to send daily emails of my progress. Some days were good. Some were just acceptable. My boss was either silent or he would send one of his self-described blunt emails (though, I don’t think he truly grasped the subtle difference between “blunt” and “rude”).

A couple of weeks later, he called me into his office for another brief meeting. After two years of a freeze on wages, our CEO was authorizing raises again. My boss wanted to let me know that I wasn’t getting one. He said that we should start with a clean slate and, if I showed progress, we could revisit in six months.

I believe in skills. I believe management is a skill. I also believe, as an asshole web developer, that few people possess that skill. In the midst of people leaving the company with resources stretched thin, do you think it’s wise to call one of your remaining developers into your office to explicitly tell him he’s not getting a raise?

Shortly thereafter I lined up a small freelance gig and I gave my two weeks notice.

That was just about two years ago. I’ve done more web development but I’ve also continued improvising, started coaching improv, put up two solo shows and, finally, started auditioning for things. I’m just kind of tired of not caring.

When I was a kid, my mother had this thing that she would do when she was in between tasks at home. She’s have been taking care of something and needed to remember what was next on her to do list. She’d say absentmindedly to herself, “okay okay okay, what am I doing with my life here?” I don’t think she ever figured it out. God, I hope I do.

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