This post originally appeared in Human Infrastructure Magazine. You can get Human Infrastructure with a free subscription to our membership site Ignition.
Alex’s phone blew up. Text. Text. Another text. The vibrator buzzed like a shock treatment. What now? He glanced at the screen in the dashboard. CarPlay showed the cursed red dot over the green and white text icon. He sighed.
“Siri, read me my new messages.”
“Cameron My Annoying Boss says…”
Siri robotically intoned Cameron’s latest diatribe, most of which had to do with Alex clearing his calendar Monday afternoon to attend a meeting with a vendor coming in to make a surprise presentation. At least, it was a surprise to Alex.
Jenny, Alex’s wife, crossed her arms in the passenger seat. “Why can’t he leave us alone for one night? I haven’t seen you in months. One Saturday night we finally get the kids sorted and go out, and that guy is pounding on your phone. I know ConFins pays good, but I hate that place.”
Jenny was right. Since taking the Senior Network Architect position for Consolidated Financial Services years ago, Alex felt as if he’d parachuted into the middle of a burning trailer park. Cameron, CTO, was a whirlwind stoking flames and strewing wreckage. Cameron, Chief Tornado Officer.
Cameron never stopped. Calls on Christmas. Texts at night and on weekends. Cameron was bucking for COO, and planned to put IT, operations, and marketing under his control. Every chance he had to push his personal agenda, he took.
Alex was Cameron’s shining star. Alex didn’t just make lemonade from Cameron’s lemons; he made a delicate, multi-layered lemon cake with perfect icing and exquisite decorations. Cameron leaned heavily on Alex to make Cameron’s terrible decisions palatable.
That Monday, Alex found himself in a conference room staring at boxed lunches on an end table. He had no appetite; Jenny had gone quiet for the rest of the weekend, and a quiet Jenny was an upset Jenny. Alex mulled this over as others filed in.
Tony from the storage team arrived, followed by Reyna, devops team lead. And then virtualization master Big Bob showed up.
“Interesting,” Alex thought. “We’re all here.”
“Any of you guys know what’s up?” Big Bob asked, grabbing a box lunch and opening a bag of chips. No one did. The meeting was a surprise to everyone.
They waited a bit before Cameron walked in, just behind a neatly dressed woman in a business suit.
“Team, this is Celeste. She’s the regional rep for Clouderatel, and I asked her here to present an opportunity that I think is gonna be great for us. This hybrid cloud thing is finally gonna happen for ConFins. It’s gonna make us more agile and save us a bundle.”
Celeste smiled at the team before launching into a PowerPoint deck.
“Oh hell,” Alex muttered. Cameron had latched onto this idea three months back, and like a bulldog he wouldn’t let go, despite all the issues Alex and his team had raised: an amorphous business case, fuzzy cost modeling, and a heap of technical tradeoffs. It was flat out the wrong decision, but Alex worried that if he called out his CTO, it might cost him his job.
The last time Cameron’s hard head had resulted in an ill-informed purchase, Alex found himself in charge of a two million dollar nightmare. The product Cameron had foisted on Alex didn’t fit ConFins needs, the hitless upgrade feature was an utter fantasy, and two years later there were still tickets open about the data loss problem.
Somehow, through bloody effort and sixty-hour weeks, Alex had made it work. But it cost him. Towards the end of that project, Jenny had threatened to leave Alex.
He replayed those dark months in his mind as presentation slides flickered on the display: marriage counseling, divorce lawyer research, and emotional turbulence. In the end, the kids had kept them together.
The problem came down to money. ConFins paid well. Very well. Finding a job that would replace that income would be tough. The job kept Alex away rather a lot, but Alex always felt it was temporary. His plan was to skill up to be worth even better money, find a recruiter, and leave ConFins behind.
But Cameron’s political ambition kept Alex so busy that skilling up was not possible. When was the last time he’d been to a training class? To a technical conference? To the local NOG that he’d help start? Cameron denied all the requests, always citing the latest project as a reason to keep Alex grounded.
“Alex? Alex, do you have any input here?” Cameron looked at him from across the conference room. Alex hadn’t been paying much attention to the presentation, not that it mattered. Based on the furrow of Cameron’s brow, the deal was done. He’d be surprised if Celeste didn’t already have a signed purchase order.
Before responding, Alex glanced at Reyna, Tony, and Big Bob. They looked shell-shocked. They knew what was coming; more havoc wreaked by the Chief Tornado Officer.
“No, Cameron. If this is the direction you want to take, go for it. I’ll do what I need to do.”
And this time Alex really would. It was time to go. And not for the money. For Jenny. For himself.