Somebody posted on Slashdot asking what was your worst development job experience. Well, I have so many that I decided that it was probably best if I did it as a series.
Probably the worst ever experience happened in the course of the best job I ever had. Several times on this job I went to sites where this good company did subcontract work for Andersen Consulting.
At the time I didn’t understand what was going on, but many years later (when I’d become an hourly rate contractor instead of a salaried full timer) I had an amazing insight. The insight was that Andersen’s main product isn’t software, it’s billable hours. They don’t actually want to produce workable software, because then the billable hours will stop flowing in. So instead they do everything in their power to fuck up the project royally. At the time, I was baffled by their behaviour because I was driven to produce high quality software that did what the customer needed, and I couldn’t seem to get that done under Andersen conditions. Understanding that simple fact about their main product made all the following experiences make perfect sense.
– Andersen always operates in “crash mode”. Their people work incredible long hours, and if you work along side them they expect you to work the same hours. On one 9 day long project, I got an average of 3-4 hours sleep a night. I once saw one “Anderoid” yell at another because she was leaving at 11pm, to which she responded that her boss told her that she had to work 36 straight hours the next day so she was going home to get some sleep. One time one of the Anderoids and I were trying to solve a specific problem, and I was having a hard time concentrating and it seemed we were going around in circles, so I went home to sleep at around 1am. The next morning, I came in rested (by Andersen standards) and the guy I’d been working with was still going around in the same hopeless circles. I restored the hack job he’d done on the source code from my personal backups, and tried out an idea I’d had in the shower that morning, and it worked perfectly first time. Subsequent times working together, I told my company that I wouldn’t go unless I had control over my working hours – I’d work long hours if I had to, but they wouldn’t be the norm.
– Andersen hires idiots. They used to boast about how they didn’t care about qualifications, as long as they had the “Andersen Attitude”. One of the guys on the projects I was on had a philosophy degree. He knew about as much about programming as I did about Cartesian Dualism.
– Andersen is more concerned about looking professional that actually getting work done. One job we were in a large echo-ey room – about 100 of us at big long tables with no partitions or anything to deaden the sound. I brought in a Walkman because I was having trouble concentrating, and was told that I couldn’t wear it because Andersen didn’t think it looked professional. Evidently 15 people standing around having animated conversations right beside my chair was “professional”, but listening to some music with headphones wasn’t.
– Andersen are slave drivers of the worst sort. As well as the long hours, they also don’t seem to pay that well. And they can transfer you around the country (or overseas) with almost no notice and you have very little say in the matter. One guy on the projects we were on together said that in your entire career at Andersen you can only refuse one assignment – if they wanted to transfer you to Antartica tomorrow, and you’ve used up your refusal, you have two options: go buy a down parka or quit. He told me that he hadn’t been back to his home base in over two years. It was little wonder that the only married Anderoids I met were married to other Anderoids. And even that was no guarantee – one guy I met had been transferred to another city from his wife, and since they’d both used up their refusals already, they hadn’t lived in the same city in over a year.
– Andersen enforces their bizarre behaviour requirements on their people by holding this carrot and stick: If they do what they’re told, work long hours for little pay and have no sleep or personal life, they will eventually make Jr. Partner. The working conditions don’t get any better, but the pay does.
On the first project we did together, my company actually poached one of the Anderoids to come to work for us. On the second project, he came along – you should have seen the faces of the Anderoids when he and I got up at 10pm and said we’re going home.