Skipping the Super Bowl to debug the system

Go ahead. Volunteer for weekend crisis management. Your contribution will not go overlooked

A few years ago I signed up with a large, multinational lingerie retailer I’ll call “LaceLand,” to oversee its migration to a new inventory system. I was joining a team of three “computer migration specialists,” all of whom had been hired by “Edmund,” the company’s IT director. As far as I could tell, these guys’ real specialty was avoiding work. They seemed to spend most of their time yakking about sports.

The company whose solution we were implementing -- let’s call it “Acme Data” -- was a market leader in supply solutions. We were given a six-week deadline, by which time 3,000 cashiers around the world needed to be able to log in to the master system and check out customers. In addition, store managers needed to be able to check stock and make adjustments with the new retail tagging system.

When I’d been there a few weeks, Edmund called a meeting. This was LaceLand’s first major infrastructure upgrade in more than 12 years, and management was nervous. Edmund wanted to make sure that everything was cool. In fact, the project seemed to be going smoothly, and after he relayed the good word to LaceLand’s CEO, she was so pleased she gave our entire migration team tickets to the Super Bowl game (which was local), three weeks away.

Unfortunately, as game day approached -- with our deadline only one week behind it -- we hit a snag. Much of the existing data, especially from certain foreign countries, was stored in a weird format that resisted all our efforts to suck it into the new system. I didn’t care about the game that much, so I volunteered to work on the problem while the rest of the crew enjoyed their party weekend.

For the next two days, working at home, I dissected the data and finally managed to convert it to a format that the new system would accept. At midnight on Sunday I stumbled into bed, fully expecting to be hailed as a hero the next morning.

I figured it would be OK to show up a few hours late. But when I walked in, Edmund started yelling at me, fuming mad because I’d “breezed in” at noon on the first day of the last week before the big deadline. When I told him what I’d been doing over the weekend, he acted like I was making up some ridiculous excuse. Apparently my football-crazed co-workers had never mentioned it to him. Cursing me like a drill sergeant, Edmund went on to praise my fellow IT comrades, who had apparently clocked in at 4 a.m. so they could begin feeding “my” newly converted data into the system.

I was so upset I could hardly utter a coherent sentence. Worst of all, Edmund started referring to me as “Lazy Lester.” OK, my first name is Lester, but I resented his adding insult to injury, especially when the whole thing was so unfair. One week later, when the project went online, my team members were given bonuses. I was let go.

Two months after that, the system developed hiccups -- and my ex-team members couldn’t iron out the bugs. The CEO called to apologize for the way Edmund had treated me, and she asked me to sign on as a consultant. I told her that I had a new job, a new company car, and a new boss who appreciated my efforts. One who happened to be the CEO of LaceLand’s major competitor.