Thursday, August 14, 2008

Glum with a capital G

Yesterday I had to sack somebody. It's something I've never done before, but something I felt to do - but more on that later.

When I started with my current employer (almost ten years ago to the day) I was one developer in a team of five. I'd been headhunted from my previous job, and all seemed well for a while until the companies fortunes turned bad and one by one the developers were made redundant. Work would briefly pick up again and we'd employ somebody else, but it seemed for a while that being trained by me in any skill was the kiss of death. Getting trained up by me and then being made redundant wasn't that unusual an event.

We moved offices and things seemed to be okay again, but then we lost a major support contract (not my department, but affected the fortunes of the company all the same) and things got a lot worse.

Two years ago I found myself the last developer. A very good friend of mine who I worked with was the last person to be made redundant. It was bad for a while, but ultimately there wasn't a great deal of work - just enough to tide me over in new development and supporting existing products.

Recently however (I.e. in the last month or so) things have picked up again in a major way. We've scored a huge contract that could potentially change the fortunes of the company forever - five years minimum with serious money associated. I was told by management that we simply had to employ new people and this is understandable. I can't support existing products as well as develop the new one in a very short timescale.

We approached an agency who have usually been reliable in the past and interviewed two candidates. The interview was very informal (as is the way of my company) and both candidates were very good. After deliberating over which one to choose over the weekend I made my decision and the guy started last Monday.

The initial day went very well; he was asking the right questions, seemed to be picking things up and was all in all a very nice chap. Polite yet a little quiet, but I was upbeat about the whole thing.

Tuesday was when we showed him the systems and what he would be doing. He looked a little bewildered but that was fair enough - there was a lot to take in. I showed him the programs he would be required to learn and change, and that was when the trouble started.

I left him alone for an hour thinking he was studying the Oracle forms code, but when I checked up on him a window was visible in his toolbar reading "Oracle tutorial" that he'd quickly hidden. I gave him some simple functions to write but by the afternoon after poring over them for several hours he admitted he'd never written a function in SQL - pretty basic stuff, I would have thought, especially considering his CV revealed him to be a skilled developer "in both commercial and academic fields".

That evening I didn't sleep very well. I wasn't sure which way to take this - was I being too demanding or was it that he simply didn't know what he was doing? I described my concerns to my managing director the next day and said I'd leave it a few hours and give him some simpler tasks.

Simpler stuff still confused him equally. I could hear him tutting, turning pages noisily across all the documentation I'd given him. Stuff I'd explained to him three times still confused him and my heart sank.

I met my MD outside while he was on a cigarette break and told him I didn't think it was going to work. I'd already wasted two and a half days trying to train this guy and didn't want to waste any more. My MD offered to do the deed but I thought it fairer coming from me - I was the one he'd been working with and it would have been insulting to him for the words to come from anybody else.

I took him inside a side room and explained the situation. I needed a developer I could rely on and one who could work quickly, and that I thought he was out of his depth. I explained that I thought he would struggle, especially when the work started becoming more and more difficult over the coming weeks. My MD wouldn't be as tolerant as me waiting for code, and that we would have to let him go.

It became apparent that his skills didn't lie in the work he had applied to do at our company. Whether this was the fault of the agency who had put him forward for the job, or this individual in exaggerating the skills on his CV - Meh, it didn't matter. We shook hands, I told him we'd pay him for the full three days and he was gone. I felt like shit, despite the fact I also felt more than slightly cheated.

Ultimately though, we now need another developer. I had the bright idea of approaching one of my old friends - the last guy I'd worked with there - and we met up this evening to discuss it. I'm not very eloquent and I don't think I could adequately put over how good an opportunity this is. This contract could be incredible for our business and I could comfortably see myself in charge of a large department of people again because of it, and I'd desperately and genuinely like him to be a part of it.

He replied that he was interested but at an unrealistically high fee that I couldn't even put before my managing directors. I explained that we couldn't meet that, and he took it okay, but it doesn't help with the fact that I feel like utter shit. I had this perfect vision of me working with again - we were a fantastic development team, the two of us - but that is not going to happen now.

I'm feeling more than a little down. I wish I could explain the potential of this new business better, but I clearly didn't. A more eloquent man, a salesman could have convinced him, but I can't do so. He's been let down once by my company, and his reluctance is understandable.

Apologies for length - I just felt the need to rant. See ya.

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