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May. 27th, 2011 @ 05:57 pm in which kevin is fired for working too hard
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(Written on the Amtrak to Oberlin on Thursday.)

Hey dames 'n' fellas. Been a while. I imagine you're wondering where I've been.

Long story short, I got fired from my job three weeks ago, a month before my evaluation period was up. Went home and slept for a week; emails piled up, phone calls went unanswered. Fell into some sad times.

Short story long? Here goes.

So. First established game industry job, right? Wasn't working on a game. The market for small-budget games in NYC is unreliable at best, so my employers sometimes did interactive iPad apps for healthcare industry ad agencies--"PowerPoints on steroids," my boss called them--in order to secure funding for their own game projects. They put me on one of those. Seemed like a pretty good deal at the time--they'd hire me as an independent contractor to do a dull, easy project, and if they liked what I've did after three months we'd have a meeting and talk about whether I'd be a good fit for permanent staff.

They showed me some PDF mockups the ad agency had sent--about twenty slides, eight of which had bar graphs, maybe five or six which had unique features like videos and animated content, with a note saying that more slides were coming soon. The higher-ups at the ad agency hadn't approved the art yet, but they had sent us some placeholder graphics so I could get started before then. According to the impenetrably marketingspeak-dense timetable document the project deadline was May 31. Definitely looked doable to me.

So I hit the ground running and churned out a pretty little tech demo by the end of the first week, with skeletal implementations of all the major unique features, and even some minor miracles like a clever solution for iPad 1 support for external monitor mirroring (a task far more difficult and complicated than Steve Jobs's presentations make it seem), and everything was good for a while. I made brisk enough progress that my boss and co-worker let me take a little time out each day to join their design brainstorming sessions for future game projects, in which I had the time of my life coming up with new gameplay elements and modeling tactical situations with toy soldiers and coming up with player decision trees and systems for balancing risk-reward and all the other things real designers do. I was doing both my job and the job I wanted to do; I was making up for lost time in a hurry. And I don't know what my boss thought of my abilities, but he was certainly impressed by my enthusiasm and my extraordinarily broad knowledge of game mechanics--not a day went by, it seemed, when I didn't astonish him. By the end of the first month, he'd already picked out the game project I'd be working on after my evaluation period was up. It looked like I had more than already proved my worth.

And then the final art came in, a month and a half before deadline. Along with thirty new slides. Some of which showed different images and bar graphs depending on choices the user would make in an interactive segment in the middle of the presentation.

Okay, I thought. I can still do this. I'll have to redo my bar graph class, and do a lot of the bar graph slides individually by hand (I have no idea why some artists insist on making very subtle aesthetic changes to each of two dozen bar graphs, so that no two are alike--it means the difference between two hours of work and two weeks), and tear out each of the slides I've done already and redo them according to the new designs, but if I put in some extra hours it should still be doable in the 90 or so days I have left. So I started working longer hours, coming in at nine in the morning(everyone else began their workday at like noon) and leaving at nine at night, copying and pasting placeholder graphics from the Photoshop for the bits I hadn't gotten to animate right yet. There was a lot more to do than I had originally scheduled for--more than double, in fact, as the ad agency had decided to make a lot of the slides I had already finished much more complicated--but I was still working quickly and none of the slides were technically challenging. I was making good progress. It would be tight, but with a bit of a sprint at the end I was still going to make it. It was hardly impossible.

And then, at the beginning of the seventh week, my boss said, "So, you're basically done, right? We can send them an alpha by next Monday?"

Uh, what?

No. Of course I wasn't "basically done." I was about 60% done, since we were just barely less than two thirds of the way through a three month project. But, of course, I didn't tell him that in so many words. I showed him what I had, and what I expected to be finished by the end of the week, and he seemed pretty satisfied with my answer.

I worked over seventy hours that week.

It started off pretty reasonable. Monday I stayed until eight, which is no big deal since most of the stuff I like to do in my off time starts around then anyway. Tuesday I realized this wasn't going to be enough, and I stayed until ten. Wednesday I stayed until midnight, Thursday I stayed until 2 in the morning. Friday, figuring I didn't need to get up for work the next day, I worked until the sun rose at 5. And then I kept working until 8, just to make it an even 23.

When most people work those hours they are slacking off. Nuh-uh. The commit log does not lie. I've never been so focused in my life--and I will never, ever think of myself as a lazy, all-talk-no-action slacker again.

By next Monday we had a second tech demo. I'd made progress, in leaps and bounds, but it wasn't alpha. Not even close. I was stuck on some of the bugs in the bar graph class--remember, I'd only started programming for iOS in earnest several months prior; I had to pick up subtleties like function arguments in local versus global coordinate systems and the relationship between bounds and frame rectangles during the project--and my boss had expressed dissatisfaction with the fidelity of some of the visuals in previous slides to the mockups the ad agency had sent, so much of the time I'd planned for fixing bugs went into tweaking color values and adding drop shadows. My boss was slightly displeased, but far more alarmed by my behavior--he noticed that I was really nervous and high-strung, and asked me to chill out. I explained that I was nervous and high strung because I had worked 23 consecutive hours Friday-Saturday getting this done and it still wasn't finished to my satisfaction.

His reaction: "Jesus Christ, Kevin! Don't ever do that to yourself again."

My other co-worker, the marketing / amateur genius lead coder, raised en eyebrow, less nonplussed but still somewhat disturbed. "It's just work," he told me. "You're not even working on a game."

I smiled. It's good to unexpectedly see your hard work appreciated. But the simple truth was that there was no way this project was going to completed in twenty eight-hour days--even if I worked my fastest, there were far too many slides left to implement even if all the technology behind it was complete and problem-free (which it wasn't). At my current rate, with the overtime, I could finish maybe two or three easy slides a day. Of the fifty slides we had to do, we had maybe a dozen, all of which needed to be redone--and a few of the ones we hadn't even started yet had animated content that would take about a workday each to finish.

I told my boss this at lunch, and he nodded gravely and said, "I believe in you, Kevin. You can get this done."

Of course, confidence had nothing to do with it. But how was I supposed to tell him that? I racked my brain for ways to automate the process, improve my efficiency, cut technical corners without affecting the aesthetics--computer science is, after all, the science of saving work--but I could come up with nothing. The designers of each slide had been careful to make each slide totally unique in some way, preventing any sort of template or factory class from being useful. (Even the colors and font sizes varied subtly from slide to slide, and, well, we weren't being paid to make something almost like what they gave us.) Worse, as this was a traditional print media agency with little understanding of technology, they had paid meticulous attention to the layout and formatting of all the text in every slide--despite my boss's assurance, for some reason, that we'd read in all the text from XML so they could localize it. (Any experienced web designer will tell you that XML and the art of layout are two things that just do not mix. Not to mention that things like superscripts and copyright characters in XML, which our mockups were riddled with, turn out to be things iOS handles very, very clumsily.) Copying and pasting text from labels in the Photoshop files the ad agency had given us yielded lots of unprintable characters, meaning we had to either run every bar graph label, every disclaimer, every header and subtitle and bullet through a script to strip them out--or retype all the text in 50 slides by hand. (The latter, ultimately, was what my poor co-worker ended up doing. But I'll get to that later.)

This was a mountain pretending to be a molehill. We'd been door-in-the-faced at the halfway mark. I had misjudged the size of this project. My boss had misjudged the size of this project. My co-worker had misjudged the size of this project. We all did. But, at this point, it seemed like I was the only one who understood by just how much we had misjudged.

And I couldn't help but think, given my inexperience, that maybe my boss hadn't misjudged at all. Maybe this is how big their usual projects were, and I was just pussying out because I'd never worked on a project on this scale under this deadline. Maybe this was not an unreasonable task for an experienced, capable worker. Maybe this was a test to see whether I could handle it. And maybe I was falling behind not because the project was too big, but because I wasn't good enough--I wasn't fast enough, smart enough, experienced enough. Maybe it was not the time to throw up my hands and say "fuck this," but buckle down and tattoo "OR DIE TRYING" across my forehead.

Sure, this situation was a bit of a clusterfuck. But maybe that's just what software engineering of any stripe is--one big clusterfuck. And if I couldn't handle a clusterfuck in a three-month pimped-out PowerPoint presentation, how could I expect to handle a clusterfuck in a two-year triple-A title?

I already know I'm not the world's best programmer. Not the world's worst, either; not by a long shot. But I don't have the ego, the mathematical ability, the coolness under pressure, or the sheer genius resourcefulness that typically drives programmers to greatness. What I do have--my sole natural talent--is stubborn, bullheaded perseverance.

Might as well play to my strengths.

So I cancelled my commitments for the week, stocked the office minifridge with caffeinated soda and TV dinners, and redoubled my efforts. I let the emails pile up in my inbox; I left 30 Facebook notifications unread. I stopped reading webcomics, abandoned all my monsters on Castle Age, cancelled all my pending dates on OKCupid. Anything that could serve as a distraction was put aside. I left the office at 9 that night, 11 the next, 4 in the morning the next. I was like the Minecraft guy in his Global Game Jam video. I ate, slept, breathed Objective-C; my dreams were arranged in confusing, exploding view hierarchies that never quite seemed to be where their X and Y coordinates said they should be.

In the middle of the week my boss and co-worker pulled me aside to perform an intervention. "You're freaking us out," they said. "You're no good to us dead."

I wanted to tell them, "Look. I was unemployed for two years before I started working with you. I've been rejected by all 34 game companies in New York. Yours is the only one to give me a second chance. In the past four weeks I've been rejected by two grad schools, one MFA program, one summer workshop, three literary journals, the GDC volunteer program, and four women. Showing myself I can do this is all I have left." But what came out was, "I guess I have a lot to prove, huh?"

The next week--first week of the final month--an email from the ad agency arrived in our inbox. Paraphrased: "We have decided to push forward the deadline to May 21 in order to give the presentation time to clear health approvals in Europe. Please send the completed presentation to us by Wednesday for our final internal review."

My boss was livid. "Final internal review?" he bellowed. "It clearly says on the timetable, 'Development phase concludes on May 31!"

"And before that, it says, 'Internal review and approvals,'" said our marketing guy irritably. "If you had actually read the timetable, you would have known that 'development' means something very different in marketing than it does in engineering. They want the final month for us to make final changes as approved by the regulatory agencies, not rush the first draft out the door."

I was, by this point, far too tired to be upset. After all, I'd crunched through all of the previous two weeks under the expectation of an early May alpha. This news changed nothing for me except for the stakes.

"How much do we have left," said the boss to me. I told him.

He threw up his hands. "Let's just get this done," he exclaimed boldly. "Tonight. All three of us. Let's power through this entire thing and get it done and over with tonight."

I wanted to say, "You've got to be fucking kidding me," but I knew better than that. I knew if I said that, he'd think I was saying it because it meant we'd have to work through a grueling crunch. I didn't care about that--I was already in the middle of a grueling crunch. I knew there was no way to explain to him that there were literally not enough hours between that day and the next to deliver a finished copy to the agency. Not even close. So I said, "Fine."

Then I excused myself, went out to the emergency stairwell, and threw a furious, screaming fit. And then I came back, struggling to preserve a cool, professional calm, and we worked on the blasted thing together until two in the morning.

Did we get it done? Of course not. Not even close. When we went down to the agency's offices on Wednesday to show them what we had they were quite disappointed. In part, of course, because they had no idea how it is that we did what we did. I have a feeling they thought we had some kind of machine that magically changed Photoshop PSDs into interactive animation, and that we had been sitting on our asses for three months playing video games instead of remembering to put their mockups in the paper tray. "Why don't you add a Gaussian blur over the text layer, maybe a color filter," one of them suggested. "Why did you make this text Helvetica Neue plain instead of Helvetica Neue Condensed? In our mockups it's Helvetica Neue Condensed. Can you change the kerning on this paragraph here?"

I held my tongue the entire time, letting the other guys speak unless it was a grunt of approval or an explanation how a certain feature was implemented, because otherwise I would have answered every complaint with, "Look, you're not paying us nearly enough, or giving us nearly enough time, to implement Microsoft Word on top of Photoshop in iOS from scratch. This isn't print. You can't just pull down a menu and have all that happen magically. iOS doesn't do any of those things. It'd take a week apiece for us to fake each of those features ourselves, and a month to do them properly."

(iOS doesn't even let you have bold and italic text in the same label--you have to create separate rectangles for each part of the text that has different formatting. Don't even ask how we ended up faking the superscripts for the presentation's many footnote citations.)

After the meeting, our liaison talked to our boss about future projects, and said, "I keep telling my superiors to put you guys on our interactive stuff, but they won't listen. This is why we need a game company like yours. We're not paying to train contractors. We need veterans. We need people who already have experience doing interactive, who know exactly what they're doing and can just sit down and get it done. Fast. We can't afford to let people learn on the job."

"Well," said the boss, smiling embarrassedly.

"Well what?"

"Well," he repeated.

We went back to the office and worked 28 hours straight. Then we all went home, slept a bit, came back, and did it again.

By this point I was beyond burned out. Not to the point where just looking at a computer monitor causes your stomach to tie up in knots. Not to the point where you freak out in the middle of an empty office and make weird sobbing noises and then start laughing uncontrollably. Not to the point where you wake up, your face sore from the pockmarks the keyboard has made from you inadvertently using it as a pillow, in the wee hours of the morning, babbling a nonsense proposed algorithm for an impossible problem in an imaginary programming language. Wusses. That's undergrad stuff, the kind of thing would-be CS major dropouts experience after pulling two or three all-nighters to finish a three-week term project they put off until the final weekend. No. This was the point where I had to squint at the monitor to even read the words on the screen because my vision had gone so blurry, the point where I had to look at an eighty-character plaintext text string four times to transcribe it from memory. This was the point where when I finally staggered home I'd vomit nothing into the toilet bowl, long dry heaves, despite not having had a drop of alcohol for weeks.

And yet, I'd still play with the toy soldiers before I left work. I'd position them on the hex grid in the visitor's lounge, imagining tactical situations, flanking mechanics, mentally drawing up relative attack and defense charts, dreaming up grand battles between exotic, never-seen-before unit types…

Naturally, the hours just got longer and longer, and my productivity got worse and worse. It took me a full eight hours to do what at the beginning of the project I could have done in twenty minutes. My boss and co-worker, now finally appreciating the sheer scope of this workload, nonetheless grew immensely resentful of me. Neither of them were programmers by training (though they were both quite skilled by experience), and I don't think they'd ever seen that degree of burnout before--I doubt they even knew what it was. I imagine they must have thought, "So this is what Kevin's been doing, working late all these hours? Staring at his screen like an idiot, whining about how tired he is, getting nothing done? God, no wonder we're so far behind. What an incompetent jackass." Their words were polite, but their tones grew snappier, more irritable. They'd jump in their seats at the sound of my voice, no matter how much I sieved the stress out of it. And I didn't take it out on them, and they didn't take it out on me, but something was clearly very, very wrong.

This is a team that, by their telling, had seen and fired a fair number of programmers who didn't work hard enough--stoners, lazies, complainers, suicidal folks whose heart wasn't in it anymore. I don't think they knew how to deal with a new hire who was literally prepared to work to the death. Maybe they didn't have the legal resources to deal with a karoshi. Maybe that was it. Who knows?

At around 9 PM on the Friday night before client review--the biggest of a series of big deadlines, as this was when, in their quaint print-media way, the client was going to put our app on an iPad and mail it--in an envelope--to their guy in Switzerland, I ordered a sandwich from the local pizza place and stayed late, struggling to work in corrections the agency had given us a few days before. It was a task that should have taken me five minutes, but in my current state it had taken me three hours. My boss asked me what I was doing, and I told him, and he told me to finish up what I was doing and send it to him. I did, and he handed me a little slip of paper. It was my last paycheck.

There was a long pause, his face stretched in a mix of furious anger, regret, disappointment, bitterness, and resentment, and finally, he said forcefully, "This isn't working out. Give me your keys."

I was too tired to protest. "I'm sorry I let you down," I said weakly, and gathered up my stuff and left.

I liked that job, despite what I put myself through to keep it. I liked my boss and my co-worker. I was so close, so close, to what I've wanted to do my entire life. And here I was, walking out the door after two months, not even at the end of my evaluation period, with a black mark on my professional reputation and not even a spot of relevant game development experience to put on my resume.

No one had asked me to put myself through all that. It was all my doing, my choice, to work those ridiculous hours, to bite off more than I could chew and then attempt the impossible in a vain attempt to save face. And even then, in the end, after having done my best, it wasn't enough. I could point fingers all I wanted, claim the project was impossible, blame my boss (it wasn't his fault), blame my co-worker (it definitely wasn't his fault), blame the agency (they didn't even know what they were doing), but ultimately what it boils down to is that I told them I could do something they thought I could do, something not totally unreasonable, and I couldn't do it. So the blame, no matter how you frame it, rests with me. I was the weakest link. Goodbye.

I spent a good part of that night on a bench in a park five blocks from the office, feeling pretty much exactly like the Bulletball guy. Enthusiasm and hard work are one thing, but, well, if I just don't have what it takes, I just don't have what it takes. I'd always had to work my ass off to accomplish what other programmers seem to be able to do effortlessly. Maybe, like the proverbial surgeon with the wobbly hands, I'm just not cut out for this kind of work.

I called Lisa, who struggled through the Oberlin CS program with me and now works at Sony ImageWorks, bought myself a bottle of Red Stripe, and went home, lying awake in bed, wondering if this was the end of my game development career. What an anticlimactic finish, if it was.

Guess what? It isn't. I haven't lost everything yet. Not by a long shot.

But I did lose something very important--my biggest career motivator up to this point, which has time and time again brought me to the brink of annihilation. My deathwish.

I have decided that, if I can help it, unless someone else's very life depends on it, I am not going to die at a desk.

God willing.
About this Entry
dd2guy
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From:persistent_sun
Date:May 28th, 2011 09:05 am (UTC)
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This all is a lot like how I've always felt about research in Chemistry, and my experience at P&G. For me, it lead to me eventually leaving the field for the related yet distinct field of pharmacy, which seems to be a much better fit for me. It's good to know you haven't been broken from the experience, and I hope it will lead to better things for you.
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From:cougarfang
Date:May 28th, 2011 05:13 pm (UTC)
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I'd guess that also they needed a scapegoat to fire so as to stay with that client's good graces.

*hugs*
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From:erf_
Date:May 29th, 2011 08:44 am (UTC)
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Possible. But considering that the entire company was three people (two now that I'm gone), and they let me go a week before the final version of the project needed to be ready, that would have been a very high price to pay for a scapegoat.
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From:alierarobot
Date:May 28th, 2011 09:50 pm (UTC)
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You're being way too hard on yourself. You did the best you could, it didn't pan out- that's just how things happen sometimes. Remember it's only a job!
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From:alierarobot
Date:May 28th, 2011 09:53 pm (UTC)
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That being said, I wanted to point out a couple things: The first being that you weren't fired- fired implies being hired in a full position in the first place. They hired you on a trial basis, as a contractor. They decided you weren't a good fit for their company and elected not to hire you. Business-wise this is more of a "didn't work out" job.

This might not sound like much, but it's a big difference in the business world- when something like a temporary job doesn't turn into a more permanent position, that's just business, it doesn't count against you personally or hurt your career. When you work for a company in a permanent position, it's much harder to get fired- usually takes ruining a server or missing a year-long deadline sort of thing to get fired. That's not what happened here.
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From:alierarobot
Date:May 28th, 2011 10:32 pm (UTC)
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Last comment (I swear xd)

Quite frankly, their behavior, particularly your boss strikes me as being less than stellar. He knew your abilities and experience when he hired you. He irrationally hoped that somehow you would be able to do the impossible (with almost no help even!) It's sounds like typical small business owner cutting corners here- he hired you in hopes that you would work super hard, and that he could pay you less. He didn't count on having to train you (imagine that! easing in new employees) And of course, having your work load more than double, and then reduce the deadline by a third is just... impossible.

You tried to make up the difference in your own, quite valiant effort, but really- most business work is teamwork, you aren't supposed to dump it all on the new guy and then go off to do the fun stuff. This is primarily your bosses fault- bad work delegation. You shouldn't be expected to take up so much slack beyond what the project initially was, when you were just hired. I think this is what he realized, in the end- that it was his mistake, and how unrealistic it was to expect a person starting off in their career to act like a seasoned industry professional.

So. I imagine that you are still beating yourself up over this, trying to figure out what went wrong. The only thing I would suggest, is to develop better communication with your boss in the future. If there's a problem and the work won't be completed on time, you need to be frank about it. Don't apologize (it's not your fault) but do be clear that your workload just increased 250% and no, it's physically impossible (in a normal, 9-to-5 day) to finish it. Yes, I know programmers have crunch time, but that's towards the end of a big project! It should not rely on permanent crunch time all the time- that's just unreasonable, inhumane even. It's also a sign of bad management and unrealistic expectations. Similarly, if there is a stumbling block on the technical side that you're struggling with, a good boss helps you out, doubly so as a new employee.

And lastly, Don't be so willing to kill yourself for your job. It's not worth it and a good boss would expect that you would want to balance your work and personal life. I can see a lot of mistakes I made myself in here- being so eager to please my boss, so willing to go the extra mile, trying hard to cover up when I thought I couldn't finish in time... respect yourself more, relax (easier said than done, I know) and find a job that is more than willing to teach you when you don't know something, instead of incriminating.

Good luck!
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From:_pensword_
Date:May 31st, 2011 08:05 pm (UTC)
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*co-op knocks* Exactly.

Kevin, I'm sorry to hear about the job, and I hope you had a good respite in Oberlin. I'm glad you're not totally giving up on everything, but it's good to have a little breather between this and whatever comes next. Last year when I lost my job (a situation that had some similarities, but some differences, from yours), it was a real downer for a little while, but then I took the chance on trying something new (i.e. massage school), and it worked out really well. So...keep that in mind? *hugs* Good luck with everything!
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From:erf_
Date:June 1st, 2011 11:12 pm (UTC)
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I posted this entry three weeks after it happened. Long enough a rest. :]
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From:erf_
Date:June 1st, 2011 11:11 pm (UTC)
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I would agree 100% if I had been working at a big company. Given that I'd been working at a company that, at the time I was let go, employed three people (including myself), I can only agree 50%. It's not really feasible to swap out a burned-out employee for another if you've got a skeleton crew to begin with. (Bear in mind the company was also working on multiple other projects at the same time! Putting the entire team behind mine a week before deadline came at a tremendous work cost.) With such a small team, there's also the expectation that everyone will learn as they go rather than being experts right off the bat, so I am sure my boss factored in the time it would take to get acquainted with my tools. The agency who gave us this project, on the other hand--who are a big, traditional print media advertising company--probably didn't understand that, though.

In the long run, anyway, experience would have only helped so much. (Remember, they hired me on the expectation that I'd be their programming specialist, the guy who could do all the coding stuff they couldn't. Seeing me ask them for help must have been a huge disappointment to them.) We just didn't have the time and manpower to finish everything they wanted in the time they gave us. And we let them do that because our perceptions of their expectations were way off the mark.

As for the karoshi element, it wasn't because I cared about my job that much. It was because I was still in the frame of mind where I felt like I had nothing else.
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From:alierarobot
Date:May 28th, 2011 11:00 pm (UTC)
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Oh and please stop telling people you were fired. You were let go! It didn't work out. That's a big difference! You make yourself look bad even though it wasn't your fault. Very important difference.
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From:virtualstar
Date:May 29th, 2011 12:41 am (UTC)
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Well, you know, failing is better than not trying. Sartre would say so too. We are only are actions, existence is before essence and all that. I know I'm not being comforting, or saying the right thing. There's next year. You have six months to revise, write and edit your graduate school applications, so they're better.
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From:virtualstar
Date:May 29th, 2011 12:45 am (UTC)
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And, knowing what you want to do is half the battle, in its way, then you know what way to throw yourself, metaphorically. Although, wall hurt when you're thrown against them.
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From:erf_
Date:June 1st, 2011 11:14 pm (UTC)
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Sartre was a philosopher. If he truly believed that we are only actions, he wouldn't have been much.

Oh man I am not even sure grad school is right for me anymore.
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From:retch
Date:May 30th, 2011 08:38 am (UTC)
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you were contracting, you weren't fired, they terminated the contract. Which isn't anything you need to tell anybody. You had an X month contracting gig with this company programming whatever it was, that's all.

Sorry about the death march. Don't do that in the future unless you really love the work. And as you have hopefully learned now, crunch has a finite time it is effective. Two weeks, in my experience, with the need for a recuperation period after that. Past the two week mark, your productivity drops to baseline, then rapidly falls below your non-burned out pre-crunch rate. Do a two week crunch to a hard deadline where you are guaranteed some time off afterwards (E3 demos for instance), do not try and do that for an extended period of time.

Odds are good they didn't decide not to keep your contract going because you didn't produce enough at your normal rate, from the sound of things, it is more likely that the over-working and crunch induced slowdown that was the problem they reacted to.

HUG.

Sorry it didn't work out.
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From:erf_
Date:June 1st, 2011 09:41 pm (UTC)
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Excellent advice as always. I will keep all this in mind. It's always sobering to discover your physical limits; it distressed me how quickly I hit mine. Never again.

By the way, I met your pal Grigsby at the Oberlin reunion last weekend. He says hi!
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From:retch
Date:June 1st, 2011 11:32 pm (UTC)
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yay Grigsby. :)

Yes, it really isn't hard to burn yourself out working. You can only do so many 100 hour weeks before things slow down.
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From:oceanruins
Date:May 31st, 2011 07:41 pm (UTC)
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I had no idea what you meant by 'programming slides' when you said it, but now I realize you actually had to program font spacing and backgrounds, blurs and drop shadows from scratch? That is ridiculous. Having worked a lot with Indesign and photoshop and the like, (which makes those things as easy as a right click menu) I can say it's no surprise purely graphic design pros would have no idea what they were asking when they wanted all this programmed as an app. I also think that it was your boss's prerogative to be reasonable about what could be implemented as an app in the first place.

And the project should have been reevaluated when the deadline was moved up. If it's the difference between delivering a product and no product, the terms of the project should have been revised (e.g. no or less unique backgrounds, less animations or whatever), delivered, and then revised again with whatever time was remaining. Not delivering because it can't be completed exactly as was ordered in the beginning actually makes the company look worse.

Also, if this company was planning on giving this project to someone new, I feel that only if they had the template code already written, and then asked for the specific text and effects to be added/implemented that it would have been doable for just one person.
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From:erf_
Date:June 1st, 2011 09:37 pm (UTC)
(Permanent Link)
We straight-up told them we couldn't do font spacing because that would have taken, like, years of labor. Backgrounds are easy to do in iOS, as the view hierarchy model is quite similar to the concept of layers in Photoshop. The rest was from scratch, and by goodness, ARRRRRRRRGH, I KNOW. My boss was generally not terrible about showing backbone but I think he passed up a good opportunity to do it this time--possibly because this was a very lucrative project for an agency with which the company had a strong relationship. I don't think the scale of the project was apparent to him, either, at the time it was proposed. I mean, none of the slides posed a huge technical challenge. It was just that there were so many of them--and that a lot of the more trivial-seeming features the client wanted were things iOS can't do without custom engineering. And it wasn't until they sent us their final mockup, halfway through the project--which was immensely more complicated than the initial mockup they'd sent us--that any of us really got a sense of how big this was going to be.

(Why my boss told them they would do all the text in XML for localization purposes is entirely beyond me. Given all the iOS work the company had done previously, he really should have known better.)

They did give me template code for this project, but the slides had so little in common with each other that it didn't save me all that much time. There was also several degrees of bureaucracy between us and the original clients; by the time we had enough art to work on the project in earnest there was no time for us to bubble change requests up the chain of communication for approval.

The more I think about it, the more I suspect this clusterfuck was a case of my employer and the agency both trying to skin their golden goose at the same time. My employer had done some much easier, superficially similar projects for that agency before, and been paid well for completing them months in advance. It is natural that my employer, believing that future projects from this client would be just as easy, felt like it could get away with hiring a rookie programmer to do the next one so the rest of the staff could work on riskier, more important game projects. The agency, on the other hand, noting that we had a reputation for finishing smaller projects well ahead of time, must have decided to step up their expectations and give us something more ambitious on a tighter schedule. When things didn't go the way either the agency or my employer planned, it was all too easy to blame the new guy for fucking up a relationship that was going so well before.

Or so I speculate, anyway. There's no way I can tell for certain, given that my employer wasn't terribly specific about their reasons for letting me go.