I graduated at the top of my class with a degree in IT and several appealing job offers. After scoping out my options, I signed on as a systems analyst at a manufacturing plant for a Fortune 500 company, where I was tasked with supporting a real-time production reporting system developed by the corporate IT staff.
Sunday evening, prior to my first official day of work, I received an urgent call from the plant indicating that the system was on the verge of going down. My predecessor was already on his way to the islands, so I ended up working the entire night to get the system back online.
Sometime around 8 a.m., I rushed home, bleary-eyed and beat, to shower, change clothes, and return to the plant an hour later — as ready for work as I could be after a difficult and sleepless night. I was 15 minutes late.
My new boss, the plant controller, greeted me at the door and let me know, in no uncertain terms, how much he appreciated my showing up late on my first day. When I pointed out that I’d worked all night, technically on my own time, he was unimpressed and reminded me that 12-hour days were expected. He had never mentioned that fact during the interview.
Later that day, he brought me a pager and instructed me to carry it at all times. As the weeks passed, he got in the habit of setting it off at all hours of the day and night; when I called in, he’d ask some dumb question. I think he just wanted to make sure I was still wearing it.
The job turned out to be a 70-hour weekly grind, with those extra hours kicking in at the most inconvenient times, with never a word of appreciation. Once, on a Saturday, when I had rented a U-Haul truck to move into my first home, the call-out was long enough that I had to pay extra to keep the truck a second day. When I asked if I could bill the company, my boss told me the extra expense was a built-in consequence of my job. Reimbursement? No way.
Another time, about a year later, I got married and slyly chose a honeymoon spot in the most remote camping area I could find. Just as we finished setting up our camp, a ranger on horseback arrived with a message from my boss: major emergency; return to work immediately. Sheesh! After I resolved the problem, my boss reminded me that although I had taken a week of vacation for my wedding and honeymoon, the weekends on both sides belonged to him.
I don’t know how, but I managed to stick this out for four years, hoping to vest in the company’s retirement plan. I didn’t make it. In the end, just one year short of vesting, I reached the end of my rope and accepted a position as IT manager with another firm. I still work there.
The sweetest part was that, since the authors of the system had long since left my old company, my ex-boss had no choice but to beg me to sign on as a consultant. I’ll let you use your imagination as to what I told him.
The last time I saw my pager, it was making gurgling noises in the bottom of a urinal at my favorite bar, more than several Jack-and-Cokes into my departure celebration.