Information Technology Dark Side

Struggles of a Self-Taught Coder

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Seven Ways People Deal with the Soul-Sucking Nature of the Dark Side

December 12th, 2008 · 7 Comments

I’ve observed five common ways corporate IT denizens deal with the gradual loss of their soul as they toil away at the dark side. Here they are, in no particular order. I’m not offering these methods up as prescriptions – just observations.

I almost titled this alcoholism, but I’m not sure what the exact definition is. I’m pretty sure that using alcohol as a coping mechanism for an unstoppable problem that grows worse every day makes it an ism, but hey, I’m no doctor.

Alcohol helps people cope with the negative effects of being soulless, faceless, and generally unimportant because, for a brief period of time, none of that matters. It has some other benefits, if you are lucky enough to be either a fun drunk or a quiet drunk, such as:

  • The other alcohol copers in your company will like you and help your career
  • You can access this relief nearly anytime you want
  • As long as you don’t drive, you’re not breaking any laws
  • Rehab is usually covered by your insurance!
  • Like most things, coping with alcohol isn’t a viable option for everyone, and is probably not a good option for anyone. Here are some of the downsides of boozing it up as a way of dealing with the hate you feel for your job.

  • You can’t control what kind of drunk you are. I’m a mean drunk, at least I think I am. I’ve never actually been drunk, but I’m descended from a long line of abusive alcholics. Mean drunks suck and they destroy their own lives as well as the lives of those around them.
  • You can’t drink at work. You have to wait till you get home.
  • Booze is expensive. It will take a big chunk out of that bloated IT salary of yours.
  • Eventually the negative effects of coping with alcohol will outweigh the benefits and is likely to kill you.
  • Adopt Intense anger and Bitterness as a Personality Trait
    Don’t bottle those feelings of frustration over years lost toiling away in an unfulfilling career that piles misery upon misery and disappointment on top of that. Let it all out, in the form of unpredictable hostility towards lesser mortals that dare to challenge your ideas. Be bitter!

    Somehow, bitterness, from the mild to the extreme, is one way people cope with hating their jobs. I’m not really sure how it works, but there is apparently something therapeutic about wallowing in the misery of working on efforts that are often doomed to fail from the very start.

    Note that to pull off the whole bitterness gig, you have to be REALLY good at something if you don’t want to get canned. If you are, then that whole aspect of you becomes a personality trait that people will identify with you and will, oddly enough, come to like and respect. When they hear something they think is a bad idea, they’ll bring it to you to reinforce that assessment, because darn it, Gloomy Greg will tell them the truth. People will want you on your project, because they’ll value the “sanity check” you provide.

    One problem with the doom-and-gloom coping mechanism is you have to be one of those people who can pull it off without ACTUALLY becoming clinically depressed. It has to be part of your schtick, not a true descent into total despair. You have to hold on to some tiny shred of hope that keeps you going. If it goes too far, you can take comfort in the fact that psychiatric help is probably covered by your insurance, but you should also remember that anti-depressants are probably not going to help your job performance.

    If you’re not good at something, you’ll just get fired. It might take a while if there aren’t any layoffs, but in this economy… you’ll be at the top of the list.

    Drink the Kool-Aid
    Remember that speech your CIO made at the beginning of the year about faster, better, cheaper? About how process improvement was going to make everything better? That plan to save all the projects by only hiring PMPs? Buy into it. Believe it. Soak it in. Be glad you have a PMO. Defend the status reports as being crucial communications tools. Champion your management me chain as corporate IT uber-geniuses.

    This will definitely help your career. Leaders will appreciate your support, your optimism, your can-do attitude. The downside? Like sinners in Dante’s inferno who were condemn to chase a banner blowing on the wind while being pursued by hornets for eternity, you will have no professional compass to guide you, no philosophy or founding principals for building and shipping software to the corporate world. You will become a parrot, mindless repeating back the CIO trend of the year without any appreciation for the goodness or badness of what you’re about. You’ll have become a complete and total suck-up.

    The first year of every job I’ve had has been the best. Everyone’s nice, you’re still excited about all the things that made you want the job in the first place, and you haven’t really felt the pain of the particular shortcomings of your new gig yet.

    So just change jobs every year or so. Hop! You can stay in the “Honeymoon” period forever!

    It takes a lot of energy to do this, and it can have a high cost on your personal relationships if it involves relocation. It’s also really only acceptable in the first decade of your career unless you are exceptionally skilled at what you do, at networking, and building consulting relationships. Once your 30 or so, you got to start sticking for at least 2-3 years.

    Punch the Clock/Abuse the System
    8 to 5 baby. With long lunches, personal errands, and plenty of time cruising the internet. “It’s just a job,” you tell bitter Bob when he complains about the design readiness stage gate form. “Geez.”

    This approach works. You can do this your whole career and be a relatively happy human being. You can even climb to middle management this way. But… that’s where the fun ends. If you want to go further, you’re going to have to work.

    There are lots of nice things about this approach. You’ll accumulate a nice 401k, if you’re not stupid, and you’ll have a stable lifestyle, until you’re laid off. If you’re reasonably competent, you should be able to get by in the corporate IT world and only put in about 30 hours of real work each week, with occasional spurts of long hours in project crunch time. The other 10-15 hours will be spent reading my blog, shopping at Amazon, running personal errands, and arguing with your large work-oriented social network about the latest management trend.

    You can be happy this way, and you can have a nice life, so long as it doesn’t bother you to spend half your adult waking life at “just a job.”

    Embrace the Dark Side of the Force
    This was my approach – I accepted the dark side for what it was, and then tried to use its dark powers against itself. I trusted in the ineffectiveness of bureaucracy to protect me from being disciplined when I broke the rules, and it worked. I learned to spend just enough time on status reports, stage gate documents, requirements, and other unnecessary artifacts to avoid scrutiny but not absorb all my energy. I focused on what I knew really mattered (relationships) and as a result was almost always able to skirt the “official” process and get things done.

    If you take this approach, you will be effective. There might even be times when you will enjoy your job. But you will also value your work product, and when others don’t value it, you will feel stung. It will hurt when your projects are canceled, your products are retired, or your design rejected. Go back and read that section on bitterness.

    Ultimately, trying to use the dark powers of corporate IT against itself ends the same way it does for every dark jedi who thought he could use the powers of evil to make a difference. You become swallowed by the evil you thought you could control, and it controls you. You become the dark side.

    Get Out
    Why put up with all this crap? Just get out. If you’ve got the skills to write software, you don’t have to do it in corporate IT. Pay the price to leave, and get a job somewhere where your work product is sold on the open market. That’s what I recommend.

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    Tags: Job Advice

    7 responses so far ↓

    • 1 Dennis Gorelik // Dec 12, 2008 at 1:06 pm

      What was your price to leave corporate IT?

    • 2 freak3dot // Dec 12, 2008 at 4:30 pm


      I drink more.
      I am more and more bitter.
      I abuse the time and surf the net way too much.
      I think I am past controling the force and am almost swallowed up by it.

      It must really be time to get out.

      BTW, when I read the section on bitterness, there was a guy I work with that came to mind. Surprisingly his name is actually Greg. I assume you picked that name at random?


    • 3 David Christiansen // Dec 12, 2008 at 4:45 pm

      I don’t know Gloomy Greg, at least not by that name. I picked Greg merely for its convenient quality of alliteration with Gloomy.

    • 4 David Christiansen // Dec 12, 2008 at 4:47 pm

      Just as a side note, the ads on this post are cracking me up.

    • 5 Allen // Dec 13, 2008 at 6:36 pm

      The Google adds are a nice Zen way to look at your own righting through an objective eye.
      “Is that really what I am talking about? Wow”

      PS there is something screwy with the Spam words. This is the 4th time I have tried to submit. And when it tells my its a wrong spam word my only choice is to go back to the previous page where the same picture exists and my comment is gone. It seems like the page should give me a “try again” button and remember my message.

      It is especially annoying about either the small L or #1. I can’t tell the difference.

      Thank God for Ctrl-V and the ability to anticipate trouble 😉


    • 6 Allen // Dec 13, 2008 at 6:39 pm

      LOL… interesting Freudian there

    • 7 David Christiansen // Dec 15, 2008 at 10:08 pm

      Hey Dennis. Sorry, but my comment spam filter thought you were one of the bad guys. I just recovered it. To see the price I paid to get out of corporate IT, read my boss’s comment at the bottom of this post.

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