IT contract from hell

An IT tale that begs the question, Why won't the boss let me do my job?

The startup where I was working had massive layoffs -- nearly 50 percent of the staff -- and it was my turn to cast my net out to find a new IT position. A contract-to-hire opportunity came to my attention the old-fashioned way: through family connections. The cousin of my dad's wife was a VP in a service provider to the financial industry and agreed to forward my resume to his friend, the CTO. I heard through the grapevine that my resume was well-received, which was nice to hear since I had more than 15 years experience in the business.

I finally interviewed with a manager in a satellite office. The job was gathering and documenting business and functional requirements for an ongoing project. She demoed the current application, which was three years in the making. I was seriously underwhelmed. There was a UI shell and really nothing else.

[ Want to cash in on your IT experiences? Send your tech tale, lesson learned the hard way, or war story from the trenches to If we publish it, we'll send you a $50 American Express gift card. ]

I felt from the beginning that we weren't connecting, but she must have been told by the CTO to try and get me on board because she kept casting about looking for something that resonated with her. When she learned that I started my database designs in the 3rd normal form, she finally got behind me and gave me the contract. I told a friend that it was the strangest qualification I ever floated to land a contract, and one of the most meaningless, but it did the trick.

Very quickly, it was clear that things were not going to work. Within the first week, she curtailed the times I could physically be in the office and laid down the maximum hours per day I could bill (no making up for lost time). Then she canceled my access to the system with the existing functional requirements. My requests for things like project charter, statement of work, functional specifications, use cases, and stakeholder interview notes were denied. They existed, but I couldn't see them.

I couldn't meet with the executive sponsor nor could I meet with the key stakeholders until she arranged it. I got into trouble for making an Access database to track user statements, business requirements, and technical requirements because it was "programming" and I was an analyst. She threatened to have Access uninstalled from my desktop.

When I finally got to work with the key stakeholders, we made good progress. For a few weeks, great information was coming out and I wrote some solid reports and requirements specifications. The stakeholders and CTO were all very pleased with the quantity and quality of work I was producing -- but no feedback from the manager.

After that first round of interviews and business requirements, she had me cancel all future meetings until she could review the work done to date. Naturally, no review was ever done. No meetings were ever scheduled. When I asked about the review, she said that I was aggressive and pushy. So, two weeks went by with nothing really happening. I couldn't interview stakeholders, I couldn't use Access, nor could I write VBA to automate Excel spreadsheets with the data I collected.

Finally, she came up with some busy work: clean up a huge database dump. By hand. Within one day she had written a dozen e-mails to me complaining that the work was incorrect (but no corrections were provided), incomplete (but no indication of what should be done), and too slow (although automation tools were prohibited and she wasn't available for questions for hours on end).

The next morning, my account was disabled and the contract was terminated. I think that she never wanted me there in the first place, but hired me because her boss told her to. Plus, from everything that I saw, the project was a serious train wreck and she didn't want anyone else to know about it.

I had only ever read about managers like this, but now I can put a check in the "been there, done that" box labeled "have worked for incompetent manager."