Learning Corporate Culture

After getting my first offer to get paid for actual development, I was elated. I couldn’t wait to start making a name for myself and building innotivate solutions. Keep in mind, I was still pulling in 38 hours a week at the grocery store, full-time school, and this internship which was 40 hours a week.

I began the internship at the Housing Authority Insurance group and was placed in a software subsidiary company called Housing Systems Solutions. They positioned me in the team responsible for taking a popular system that was widely used amongst housing authorities, and reverse engineer some of those features inside a new, modern product. To be blunt, that task was daunting for a brand new intern. It took my team 6 months before I even started to get the code for Midas to even compile. It was written about 8 years prior in Asp.Net web forms. I believe it was .Net framework 2.0. For the first two weeks of my job, my tasks was “figure out how this works”. It was the most boring work to a fresh developer. I wanted to write code!!

My dissatisfaction didn’t go unnoticed. Eventually, I was given some tasks concerning the database. I was delighted at this because I was currently taking a database class focused on SQL Server at my community college; so I wasn’t completely lost. My manager gave me what would’ve been, 1-2 days worth of updating stored procedures but with a little googling and some regex, I was able to complete the task in 30 minutes. My manager was shocked and incredibly pleased at the speed at which this was completed.

I often times would talk to a friendly, talkative contractor on my team named Muzzy. He was an incredibly gifted developer but he had an very apparent stutter that made longer conversations a little cumbersome. Him being an contractor and not a salaried employee, he was not under the same loyalties as the rest of the company. He was on contract and was incredibly aware of the separation of employee and contractor. Having been a contractor at Northeast Utilities gave us things to bond and talk about since I understood, at a basic level, about contractors being “outsiders”. My experience with Muzzy was education to say the least. He mentored me in his own way, telling me things like “don’t drink the red kool aid”. Meaning, don’t buy into the corporate culture that was almost cult like at that place. Dissatisfaction started to grow as a saw a preference for politics and procedure over logic and reason. We were a god damn software company and we were getting bogged down with corporatism, just like Muzzy was warning me.

The main developers of the application were located in Belarus. If you’ve never heard of it, it is on the European side neighboring Russia. A tiny poor country with a unique Belarusian culture. I asked my managers, “Why did you guys outsource to Belarus, everyone uses Indian sources?” His response, “Indian developers always agree with everything you say. You tell them to do something, they do it. There is no push back; they aren’t thinking, they are doing. The Belorussians will question whether you are making the right decision for the good of the company.”

This was my first entrance into a distributed team. We practiced agile scrum and had the Belarusians on the conference line every day at 9am (5pm for them). They often ignored what our project managers suggested and did there own thing. They had an attitude like, “We’re the experts, do it our way.”

Every few weeks, a couple of the business analysts, develops, or architects would come in person to visit. During one of the visits, the lead architect on the Belarusian side, tasked me and Muzzy with creating a stock ticker application in Asp.Net MVC 3, Jquery, HTML, IoC container, etc. I had never used so many different concepts and technologies at once. I was overwhelmed with anxiety of the unknown. Imposter syndrome, feelings of not being smart enough to finish this application; feelings that I am a fraud. But Muzzy and I rallied and took on the this fool’s errand. The rationale for having Muzzy also work on a sample application, was to help demonstrate the capabilities of MVC’s scaffolding and code conventions. We both made pretty weak applications but proved to them that we were capable of contributing to the actual software product they were trying to build.

This was all in the time during which I’m realizing the type of corporate culture they had at that company does not match with my needs which enable me to thrive. Individual needs are often overrun by the needs of the company as a whole. I do not like that one bit. So I began interviewing at many other companies. I was tired of the indirect disdain that senior developers showed towards interns. That their work is less valuable, that they are less of a contribution.

I eventually found a company called SMC Partners in Hartford, CT. I literally had no “real” development experience. I haven’t wrote a single line of code that had seen production. The interview seemed to go on forever — 3.5 hours to be exact. I met with 2 developers, who then passed me onto a manager, who passed me onto another manager, who then passed me onto the CEO. This was unlike any interview I had ever experienced because whether it was intentional or not, it had a dynamic feel to it. The interview was long but the content of our conversations were free-flowing and non-monotonous. I could tell right away that this company would help me grow into my career.

That same night, I received an offer letter with a salary much higher (in comparison to the $20/hr as an intern), that I couldn’t have dreamed that it would be this easy. I was so excited, I didn’t even think to negotiate and eagerly accepted the offer. That was my first big mistake. Always negotiate. Know your worth. Do your research. Research the role, research the company, research what the company pays that role. After, ask for 10% more than what you see. Managers and executives are given a lot of wiggle room with salary negotiations and will respect you more for knowing your worth.

Lessons Learned:

  • Spreading your focus seems like a good idea in the moment to accomplish a lot. Be mindful of getting burned out.
  • Never call a Belarusian a Russian. Two different cultures and they will be offended.
  • Consider the culture of outsourced work. It will be embedded into your project.
  • Always negotiate. They will never offer you what you’re worth, you need to tell them your worth.

All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.

– Walt Disney