The Mantra That Will Get Me Through My Last 4 Days

Today I discovered a mantra that I hope will get me through my last four days in this place. And I wrote it on my dry-erase board.

If you recall, I quit my job and struck out on my own. But I still have a few more days before my last. Four days, to be more precise. You see, the thing is, I had already prepared a smooth exit even before I gave notice. So everything’s all set for me to go. Except now they’ve got me hacking a new feature into another impossibly low-quality module. I’m somewhere inbetween demoralized and just plain exhausted.

Alistair Cooke said, “A professional is someone who can do his best work when he doesn’t feel like it.” This quote is sometimes used by the more pointy-haired to brow-beat their underlings into a sense of pride. And that’s complete B.S. Each of us, professional or otherwise, does his best work when he’s engaged and happy. A professional is someone who can do a competent job when he’s disengaged or unhappy. But he’s not going to do his best work.

(Note: My manager is not quoting me Alistair Cooke. But bear with me.)

Ever since I started here, I’ve billed myself as the guy who can help them improve their codebase. I know how to turn it around, change it from a time-wasting, bug-ridden disaster into an architecturally sound, maintainable work of art. And I still sell myself as the good-code guy.

But I ran out of energy a long time ago. I’m tired of being the only one on the team who is actively improving the codebase. Fixing this system is a gargantuan task, one I can’t do on my own. I mean really: I physically and mentally can’t do it on my own.

What makes me good at what I do is that I’m both innately artistic and fundamentally lazy. On the lazy side, something deep inside me can’t stand to waste hours wrestling with problems we ourselves keep causing. But more than that, it physically pains me to churn out ugly code. I intuitively know high-quality code from almost 20 years of programming. And what I’ve got here goes against my nature. It’s frustrating and stressful. It makes me angry, and it gives me headaches. Literally. I have to pop a few ibuprofin.

This is an unhealthy situation. But they said the bad design was the product of contractors who are no longer with the company. And they said they wanted to redesign the system. I can help with that, whether it’s a rewrite from scratch or whether it’s a systematic refactoring. But what actually happened was I led cheers for improving the design and the process. Meanwhile, everyone else went on doing what they always had.

A capable team will make great software with very little help. A mediocre team will make poor software, no matter what you do.

I discovered a great truth. A capable team will make great software with very little help. A mediocre team will make poor software, no matter what you do.

I’m still willing to do contract work here, but on my terms. In particular, what I’m working on now is not a feature I would have contracted to deliver under these conditions, because the code is impossible. I don’t understand how this code works, or even what it does. I talked to the guy who wrote the module. I walked over to his cubicle and asked him, and he doesn’t understand it, either. There is no way I could possibly deliver any new features against this module without first refactoring it or rewriting it. And that will take a long time and involve a lot of risk. As a consultant, I would refuse this job under these conditions.

I actually considered refusing, even as an employee. Why should the two be any different? The worst they could do is to fire me, ask me to go home 4 days early. That can’t be as bad as losing my temper and wanting to put my fist through the computer monitor. Or feeling like I’m going to cry, for all the grief this mess is causing me. Or going home every day with a headache and taking a nap to avoid snapping at my wife and kids.

But I think I’ve discovered a mantra that can get me through. I drew it on my dry-erase board. I wrote “4 days left,” and under that “IDCAM,” which stands for “I Don’t Care Any-More.”

But what concerns me is professionalism. Is it okay for a professional not to care? Maybe. Because I didn’t promise to care. All I promised to do was to stay for 4 more days. And in my weekly status, I even told my manager that it was unlikely I’d work all the bugs out of the stuff he left me with.

I wonder what he’s thinking about this. Does he realize how dissatisfied I am with the task he gave me? Does he know I’m just wasting the company’s money? Sitting here, bashing my head against the cubicle wall. Is he disappointed in me? Does he want better “performance” out of my last four days of hell? I could ask him. But that would require that I take the initiative (again) to open up the lines of communication between us. And I just don’t care anymore.