Early in my IT career, starry-eyed and naïve, I landed a job that put me in a terrible situation -- and I made a few mistakes myself. At least I can now say that I'm older and wiser to the ways of the tech world.
About six years ago, I was contacted by a temp agency with news that I'd landed a job at a small software development company. I was slated to handle a short project first, then move to a larger one with a chance of permanent employment. The agency sent me the contract to sign and told me where to report for work. At this point, I hadn't interviewed with anyone from the temp agency or the company, and I didn't think twice about it.
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On the first day, I discovered that the company was located in a converted family home in a suburb of a large European city. I was greeted at the reception desk -- smack dab in the entryway -- by my project manager. He led me past the living room/conference room to another chamber that was so packed with worn-out office furniture and my new colleagues that each workplace was smaller than 10 square feet.
My task sounded easy. The company had one customer (the second red flag I missed, if you're keeping score at home): a financial institution that had tweaked its corporate look -- most notably, a lighter shade of its chosen color. The external design agency had already updated the templates for the Web application. I was to implement the new templates in the legacy system, one of many apps the company had designed and developed for this customer.
It seemed simple, especially when the project manager confirmed the system's MVC (Model-View-Controller) structure. I assumed the task had been handled adequately and I could switch out the parts quickly, without repecussions for the rest of the software.
He then asked how long I thought it would take to complete the task. Thrilled by the job and foolishly expecting no problems, I told him a couple of hours, including settling in. He was glad to hear this and left me to it.
Then the unpleasant surprises began to surface. I first suspected that the software was not structured when I looked at the new templates and found that they were different from the templates in the system. Then I noticed that parts of the old system interfaces didn't come from the old templates, but were mixed into the Controller, which is meant to prepare data, not format and display it. Then came the realization that the new templates didn't match the old ones at all and had been entirely redesigned.
As I uncovered these problems, I started to get to know my co-workers. What I heard didn't make me feel any better.
They told me about my predecessor. He had worked alone on the system, designing and building it by himself for eight years. Out of the blue, he quit his contract and left immediately. He didn't even take the time to document or hand over his software project. As the story went, he was last spotted at the airport with a large backpack and a one-way ticket to a faraway country, with no way to communicate with him.