I had a date in Seattle this past week, and I'm still not sure how I feel about it.
Not the date itself. It was lovely having dinner and meeting my partner for the evening at the theater, lovely getting drinks, lovely retiring afterwards. Lovely wandering around Seattle in the late morning, seeing the shining expanse of Lake Washington, enjoying the sunlight, grinning in the warm weather, and generally having a good time as the fog rolled back out.
But on Friday morning, I was meeting an old coworker for lunch in Belltown.
Belltown is beautiful. It's down close to the water of the Sound, but lies further east of the Pike Place Market. Gentrification has taken the neighborhood, leaving a chain of overpriced, locally-sourced eateries and bars. For folks like me, for folks like Erin, it's a nice spot to meet for lunch, gossip, and the latest on our love lives.
We're from the Company, though. We can't avoid it. We're probably evil twins of each other, and both of us are hideously workaholic. Organizational changes? Yes, certainly. Oh, that manager sexually harassed me. Oh, that one grinds women down habitually. Oh, that one is prone to bipolar syndrome, but only in the context of the Company. It's not unusual to be driven crazy cyclically there - one friend of mine turned up with serious psychological problems requiring intensive therapy and three rations of meds after a particularly stressful release.
And the worst thing is, it never stops. It's all emergencies - theoretically little tempests that will never occur again. But after the first year, you start getting the idea that nothing ever really goes away. Our problems are buried in shallow graves there, shallow, hasty graves that rear their heads in back-hall politics, shortages, and budget cuts. Infrastructure bleeds to death with reactionary behavior and two-year management change cycles.
We just got done driving the old Sun folks out a year or two ago after they half succeeded, half failed. We eat our own, and your own too.
I don't know how I feel about that.
Still too much identification with the Company. After lunch, I missed my bus and hung out in front of one of the offices of the Company. So many familiar faces. So many spooked double takes. Some assessing looks. There's a practice here.
You burn out.
They never give you a raise.
And then, one day, you realize your own agency. You turn in your two weeks notice and you go work for Microsoft or Google or some local load balancer firm. You go found a coffee shop and sell crystal art on Etsy. You go back to getting your week back - there's a surprisingly empty hole where 80 hours of overtime used to rule you.
You learn to stop talking about years in terms of release cycles and projects, you learn to stop texting coworkers in Brazil and Virginia about bugs.
You learn to have a life.
But it never really goes away. Five years of your life are gone. If you're lucky, you have a family waiting to take you in, a lover, another city, another life. You drink, not as much as you did, and you wonder why whiskey doesn't taste as sweet as it did when you never slept.
And one day you get coffee with your successor at the Company and wonder why you feel so old at twenty-six, nearly twenty-seven. You give up the launch codes, surrender your network of contacts, take painstaking notes on scraps of paper for her. You send her on the trajectory you took, cleaned, polished, with the madness in the back halls at 3AM and Roger throwing motherboards across the server room, removed. Sanitized.
You watch her eyes glow with the promise of adventure in the place that broke you. You take down phone numbers and make plans to get lunch.
They call it getting a raise, at the Company. A quarter to a third never escape the Company, they just circle like moths on separate trajectories that still return to the burning flame of a Mothership. You'll find coworkers across parties and talk architecture. You'll compare scars, because who the hell else knows?
That quarter returns to begin the cycle again, back at the Company for more money.
They call it getting a raise.