Hudsonblick 22: Where“™s Carlito?


Carlito meldet sich aus den US von A exklusiv für Spreeblick. Mit einem Einblick in die amerikanische Realität der New New Economy…

Where“™s Carlito?

When I took that new job, I knew what I was getting into. I knew that my afternoon naps and feckless blog posting would have to go. I knew that startups have a different kind of pace. For the last five years I had been in research, and since I didn“™t actually discover anything, you could say I was a failure at it. But it was a nice five years. It was one of those jobs where you could show up half-drunk without anyone noticing. It“™s a job with enough eccentrics so that no one much cared if Carlito looked a little shaggy around the gills sometimes. (The guy across the hall had seen Cats over three hundred times. Seriously.)

I was a computer genius back then; I worked outside the normal 9 to 5 framework. I was a programmer, I created shit. I dreamt of strange algorithms and solved multi-dimensional logic puzzles and sneered at the demands of the business folks. If you think Axl Rose is a petulant prima donna, you have no idea. 90% of the time no one really knew what the hell I was doing, and generally didn“™t feel qualified to ask.

The mystique and fulfillment of being a hands-on developer is another thing I left behind. Now I was hands-off. Way off. Where once I wielded my mind as a sharp instrument, deftly whittling down a problem to its fundamental elements, now I was a professional nag. Once I answered all questions of „Can we..?“ with an unflinching „YES“; now I was the nay-sayer. I was a manager.

The new place was a typical start-up: an egalitarian arrangement of people and machines piled too close together. At least it was in an actual office. Some of these places are just repurposed studio apartments, fitted out with sagging cubicle dividers. They threw me into the speech application designers“™ room, which, truth be told, had no designers in it at the time. Instead, my officemates were the company secretary and the (solitary) quality assurance (QA) engineer.

I quickly discerned that this was a perfect setup for someone who aspired to carve out a fiefdom for themselves. Almost every shred of corporate communication went through Pamela, the secretary. By my physical location, I was immediately privy to HR information, resource requests, and the best of the office gossip. On the technical side, no code went to a client without going through Hunter, the QA engineer. Moment by moment, I knew exactly how well or how badly things were going for every project in the company. Shortly after I arrived they offered me a more private space, which I declined. I was no longer a burrowing creature. I had become a spider, sitting in her web.

My new office mates seemed happy to have me there. Pamela, I think, because I said „fuck“ at least twice as often as she did, and Hunter because I, too, recognized work as that thing that happens between drinking binges. Both of them turned out to be solid drinkers, actually. Pamela had been a military brat, raised in a variety of jerkwater locales. She had an accent that was a little Florida panhandle, a little Ohio prairie, and a little of many other places where the best entertainment is a shot and a beer and the kind of drugs you make from over-the-counter cold medicine. Hunter was Canadian. It wasn“™t long before we self-organized into a regular Friday drinking group, like three magnets swinging north.

Typically, a visitor to our office found me with a phone headset on, rubbing my eyes, grimacing and shaking my head. Pamela was usually swearing at her computer or looking for a misplaced file. Hunter was almost always staring into space, testing an app by barking commands into a microphone: YES. NO. CONTINUE. I WANT AN OPERATOR. Often, a line of people were waiting for Hunter or me, or not waiting at all, just talking all at once. I quickly adopted coffee as a crutch to help me handle the simultaneous flow of phone conversation, email, instant messaging, and in-person badgering.


Even as I developed a physical addiction to caffeine (accompanied by splitting headaches), I discovered the varieties of dysfunction about me. First it was my fellow middle-managers. On arrival, I was immediately bombarded with directions to set up meetings, write documents, and create new processes that no one would ever attend, read, or use. I was buttonholed into long monologues about evolving corporate structure and technological excellence. I was encouraged to hound and abuse my reports when they most needed to focus. As best as I could tell, the goal was to create the appearance of productivity, without actually producing, and the trappings of management, while not actually managing. Surprisingly, this type of fakery doesn“™t actually make the job easier.


Then there were the offsite application designers, or the „splinter cells“, as Hunter called them. Before my arrival, they worked directly for the head of the department. Now they worked for me, and they were a little petulant about having a new boss. Maybe petulant isn“™t the right word. I suppose that by refusing to tell the new boss what they were doing or when they would be done, they might actually be called „insubordinate,“ but either way my wife pinned the blame on my karma.


Even after the CEO airlifted the splinter cells to HQ for deprogramming, things continued to be rather wobbly. Then the real karma bombs started dropping.


First a cold bug ravaged the office, taking out most of the other managers. There was a brief increase in productivity before the engineers caught the bug as well. Even as the first group returned from sick leave, a new wave of sickness struck. It didn“™t help that some of the stricken felt compelled to work through their illness; ensuring that we all got a chance to enjoy the malady. Even the splinter cells were somehow affected.

Then, Pamela“™s boyfriend dumped her. This set off a chain of binge drinking in our office that put the final nail in both Hunter“™s marriage and my immune system. I worked from home for a day, but honestly it wasn“™t much better than being in the office, what with my cell phone ringing every ten minutes from 8:30 AM to 10:00 PM. At least when I commute I can“™t get calls when the train goes underground.


On top of it all, a project for the company“™s biggest client had gone into a day-by-day schedule slip because some web services didn“™t work as advertised. Days of panic became weeks of panic, until I became numb to the daily demands for solutions and clear milestones. My position on Maslow“™s hierarchy of needs dropped steadily until I only cared about the ten minutes a day for lunch.


Finally, after the plagues, the Day of Judgment arrived. Pamela was first to fall. One day she put her face in her hands and started sobbing. She tried to leave the office to compose herself, tripped on a chair and went sprawling across the middle of the room. I tried to ignore this, as I was on a conference call at the time. After a few minutes of writhing on the floor crying, she managed to get to her feet and leave the office, a little dazed from clipping her head on a table on her way down. Before she left, I promised to tell the company president where to find this month“™s transit checks.


Pamela didn“™t come back to the office the next day, which was just as well. The next morning there was a sign on the door directing everyone to a meeting room in the basement. I expected plastic sheets on the floor and Russian thugs with baseball bats. I was close. The CEO had called a meeting to announce that the backers of the company had backed out. The computers, the printers, and the coffee makers were being collected by a liquidation company, and would we please wait until they were done before collecting our personal items.


Since there were no thugs with baseball bats, I went directly upstairs to see what was left to steal. The servers were already gone, but I managed to grab a laptop and a fire extinguisher (Safety first!) before they shoo-ed me out. There were some nasty phone calls over the next month about the laptop but they stopped eventually, and through some accounting strangeness I continued to be paid for the next three weeks before they pulled the plug. I haven“™t seen my co-workers since then, but I“™m sure that, like me, they“™re at another small software company, another place to call home. At least for another three months.


I think when I saw it, my reading of it was that the auteur existed. I mean there was the director – the Fellini character – played by Marcello who they’re all looking to for the answers. They’re all doing their jobs, but the centre man, the one who makes the decisions ultimately is the director. And maybe that’s why I wanted to become a director. I wanted to be that person that they all came to for answers.“¨“¨Once you become a director you realise that’s the last thing you want because you don’t have the answers, and they all think you do. I’m convinced films don’t need directors to be made. I think that they need somebody who pretends to be the director so that they can all go and blame them for everything and not get the answers they need so they get on and do their job as best they can. Films can be made that way. The director is more of a myth than anything else and I’m happy to be part of that mythology.

–Terry Gilliam, on Fellini“™s 8 ½

10 Kommentare

  1. 01
    Don Piefcone

    Carlito….is he the modern middle manager role model? Is this company a sterotype startup? It all sounds so familiar, very American (I mean the lifestyle) and like a very unsexy working class hero… Carlito is a hero. He figueres the easiest way through life and gets away with it! Did he enjoy working there? I don’t think so! But did he enjoy to have the power to do what he wants, choose to be lazy over productive and set an example for the company’s working habits as well as just following and being a part of it? Questions that arise when I read this article.
    What forces drive you to continue to work like that? Is it society that puts your mind in a drawer it doesn’t feel comfortable in…? Although we are comfortable while being in such a situation, we are driven or forced out of it. We get fired or the company goes bankrupt and we reflect what we did. Still nothing forces us to change it.
    If you are intelligent enough, you will find another badly paid job at a disorganized company that doesn’t give a crap about your working style. They just need to show the venture capitalists that people are being productive. A fake productivity who’s image Carlito seems to draw quite well.

    Ich wusste jetzt nicht genau, ob ich auf Deutsch oder Englisch hätte kommentieren sollen. Aber die river liver sind ja mindestens bilingual!?

  2. 02

    Don, beides ist völlig in Ordnung! :)

  3. 03
    Don Piefcone

    @Johnny Jetzt seid Ihr in meinen Augen noch cleverer… :-)

    Mal ne andere Frage: Who is Carlito???????

  4. 04

    Klick mal auf den Link bei seinem Namen oben. Dann zum ersten seiner Einträge gehen, ist ein Kumpel von mir, der hier ab und zu schreibt.

  5. 05

    „Wer von seinem Tag nicht zwei Drittel für sich hat, ist ein Sklave.“ — Nietzsche

    (translates to: „Someone who does not control two thirds of his day is a slave“)

    I hope nowadays you’ve got out of this world?

  6. 06

    Nietzsche, the old Schlaumeier.

  7. 07

    Auf all Fälle. ;-)

  8. 08

    Are lethargy and panic my only choices? Probably. Don’t blame the jobs though, I think it’s just me.

  9. 09

    by the way …

    funny google ads – the drinker´s check up, or the addiction treatment

    just my 2 cents (as no one else is commeting anymore (?!?!!!))

    A personal request from me to Carlito – what do you think about the recent elections? step forward / step backward / Hillary – go for it?!

  10. 10

    I got an ad for „Employee Misconduct Investigations“!

    These last elections were amazing; a huge step forward. „Stay the Course“ was just not cutting it. I don’t know why they didn’t figure that out two years ago, but better late than never.

    As for Hilary, I’m not really a huge fan, but I’m pretty sure she’ll run. Funny thing happened at a shooting match I was at a few weeks ago. A bunch of cadets from West Point showed up and, to the surprise of the resident gun nuts, one of them defended Hilary’s record as a supporter of the military. Maybe the Clinton „triangulation“ trick still works?