story 14

Man, this really hit home. That guy’s life could have been mine.

I had this almost this same experience 2 years ago (we were at the job for the same length of time even, five months), and it led to a long period of depression for me. I didn’t kill myself, but I have to tell you, I could see how someone could.

In my circumstance I interviewed as a Senior Engineer, and got offered a Lead engineer position because apparently I had impressed everyone so much (this is important because later, they would claim I wasn’t even good enough to be a senior engineer). I erroneously thought that I would get support and encouragement, I got none of those things. Worse still I was the only black engineer in the entire company at that location, which left me incredibly isolated during my work days, when things got really really rough.

Essentially, 70 days into my tenure, despite 30 and 60 day reviews that seemed fine, my manager and architect of the codebase I worked on, decided I wasn’t up to snuff, and essentially started a process of managing me out of the company. My manager was a very smart engineer but a world class jerk, so when I complained to HR about the unfairness, he was demoted so that both of us were now leads, but guess what?

The Performance improvement process continued … I got a new boss, but he just picked up where the other guy left off. The kicker?

He worked in another city so he actually got feedback on my performance from guess who? my new peer, who clearly now had an axe to grind.

Everything was downhill from there, everything I did was shit, everything. I remember going into work one day and my boss sending me an email that essentially said "you’re not performing at lead engineer level, and you are not even at senior engineer level, if we’re being honest", great morale boost.

When I tried to ask for help (remember I’d never been a lead before) it was turned around as me trying to assign blame to other people. I had nobody to help me, and worse, I was the only black engineer at that location. I felt like and absolute failure everyday for 30 days (they had a 90 day introductory period, so they gave me an additional 30 days to "prove" myself, but in addition I had to agree to that Performance improvement plan, I mentioned earlier.

At one point, I was barely sleeping, was super stressed out and anxious, even on weekends. I’d go into meetings with my new boss, and the old one (remember he’s my peer now) with his superior knowledge of the code base (he built it) would throw me under the bus, claiming I wouldn’t hit my dates, or that my estimates were wrong. Openly, in front of 7 or 8 people, and the new boss would tolerate it.

To add to all this, I was on an h1b, and had left a job that was processing my green card to join this new company. So if I lost the job, I would be right back to square one with everything, and I’d have to find a job within 30 days. Throw that in the mix with being told everyday that I was crap, not having anyone at work to talk to about what was going on, being on a performance improvement plan and walking around totally humiliated wondering what everyone must think of the dumb black engineer who couldn’t even hack it a couple of months.

Anyway, the final straw came when I delivered my project pretty much on time, but my boss changed his tune from "poor performance" to "culture fit". I had known the game was rigged and I was just being managed out, but at that moment I knew it for a fact, and asked to be allowed to give 2 weeks notice, but spend the 2 weeks at home not working for the company, but looking for a job.

They agreed to that, and I was gone.

But that wasn’t the end of that. turns out that at the end of that 2 weeks they had my h1b revoked (usually companies will let it sit a few weeks, especially if they know you’re looking for work). This meant that when I landed a job 30 days later, my visa couldn’t be transferred, and the company had to take back their offer, and move on.

If not for an amazing lawyer who worked some black magic to get my green card 8 months later, (I had an approved i140 from an earlier job, but didn’t realize the significance of that, turns out, its VERY significant). I really don’t know what I would have done.

Those 8 months were truly some dark times, I left the job in October, and let me tell you, being out of work over holidays is no joke, everyone is out making plans and traveling to see family, and there you are contemplating the epic shit your life has become, almost overnight. In addition to failing so badly at a job I desperately wanted to succeed in, I couldn’t work for 8 months, and even worse, didn’t know if I’d be allowed to stay in the country. I was pretty depressed, but I had a group of engineering friends that helped me keep my spirits up, and listened to my rants (no idea how they put up with it honestly), and I think the biggest thing was that a good friend of mine (pretty much my sister), got me into therapy. That was MASSIVE.

If not for that … who the fuck knows.

So yeah … I can totally see the cascade of events that lead to this mans death, I lay the blame squarely at the feet of horrible management, as was the case for me. I wouldn’t be shocked to find that he was placed on a performance improvement plan, and just … gave up.

PS: I’m a bit of a fighter, I don’t shirk from an argument, and I’ll call bs when I see it. This has got me in trouble at a couple of places I’ve worked, but ironically, thats probably something that helped me power through the absolute disgrace of an experience that I went through. I could see how a more mild mannered person, especially a high achiever would just … not.

I mean, can you imagine having to explain to your wife and Children that you’re on a performance improvement plan (which I’m almost 100% sure that this man was on). As a man that has to absolutely destroy you. I didn’t even tell my parents and brothers what had happened for several months, I was just too ashamed.


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