The Ethics of Respect

I was betrayed by a senior level manager when I was just starting out at Intel where when at the last minute he withdrew his promised support of providing manpower to a critical project of mine that was set to rollout the following week. I was to learn later that he withdrew his support out of a perceived political expediency believing that his support would help him little if I succeeded and hurt him greatly if I failed.

He had listened to a false shaman – a technologist wannabe – who told him that six workstation conversions per man per day was the upper limit and that three hundred over the course of a single weekend was just plain impossible. The workstations were too complex: Too many variables as in too many things that could go wrong. And multiplied 300 times? It was reasoned a poor risk.

But I knew better. I had shamans of my own and I knew given his additional contributed manpower that the mission was imminently doable.

His betrayal came with a sneer. ‘You’re going to fail,’ he told me. I looked at him with thinly veiled contempt and said, ‘You just watch me.’ And then abruptly turned on my heels and walked away without as much as a backward glance.

I huddled up my guys and my chief shaman – loyal to a fault – assured me we would not fail. Not that we could not, but rather would not fail. So we recruited more guys and when the Saturday morning shutdown rolled around we all went to work.

I created a War Room where we tracked problems and progress on white boards. We worked all day, through the night and all the next day. And by 10 pm on Sunday we were finished. We had a few remaining problems but they were in the single digits and could wait until the following day. I ordered beer and pizza in and we all collapsed in a ring on the floor celebrating as we drank Intel’s beer and ate the company’s pizza.

Monday morning we all got a few attaboys, even the divisional VP sent around a congratulatory email and at some point he shook my hand and thanked me for what he had thought was an impossible job well done.

But our success was never really truly acknowledged in a manner more fitting to have done a damn near impossible job. Those types of conversions to SPARC workstations had never been done before on such a scale, nor in a 48 hour window. And the true reason for the mostly toothless thanks was of course political.

Why? Because the senior manager who had pulled back his support at the last minute pissed all over our success by quietly whispering in other senior manager’s ears that ‘we were lucky.’

Lucky? That tiny testiculated pompous undermining useless bastard. Lucky? I was seriously pissed about it at the time but there was little I could do.

Another contemptuous bastard of a manager once told me, ‘It’s not what you do here that counts. It’s the perception of what you do that really matters.’

As repulsive as I found that statement to be (both then and now) it certainly turned out to be true. Over the course of my 10 years at Intel that first betrayal would turn out to only be the first in a long line of what it was like to be kissed and lied to by upper management.

Company politics. Never understood it. Never practiced it. I should qualify I never understood it in the context of practicality. Yes, it might serve well in the military to sacrifice a pawn or a knight to advance the army down the field but intercompany warfare – while it might exist – is counterproductive to profitability. And company politics as played by management damages moral and runs completely contrary to the manager’s true mission ‘to remove obstacles and free the workers to do their job.’

And I could never understand how one could put extraneous irrelevant factors ahead of the mission at hand. To me as an engineer, the project came first. A solid design: well tested, well executed, and under budget were always my guiding mantras.

And I always believed that ‘sometimes it better to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission.’ And Dave Hudock and I were the first two guys to [ever] install a productional router within any/all of Intel Corp. We didn’t ask, we just did it. I caught hell for it but yes, Dorothy, routing quickly replaced bridging. So while history proved us right, being pioneers was still a political no-no.

I had good teachers so I suppose the drive to do what was best for the project was born from being part of that last generation of old school engineers – slide rule/pre-computer guys – who grew into the profession doing calculations longhand. I was part of those last few Texas trained university engineers who were committed to the discipline because it was [still] a profession for honorable gentlemen.

I cut my professional teeth in industrial construction where there was absolutely nothing (and I mean nothing) that could be used to hide bad design, poor construction, an unmanaged budget, or cost over runs. If any of it was shit, there weren’t enough politicos in the entire Texas oil patch that could help a bad engineer cover up the fact.

In those days there was still profit and loss accountability, right down to the individual. P&L is that ultimate yardstick of success or failure: Are you making money for the company? Good. Or losing money? Bad. Very bad.

Bad engineers had a short shelf life in the Great State of Texas. One of the best chief engineers I ever worked for didn’t ream me out for a $10,000 mistake I had made, instead told our group, ‘We don’t focus on blame. We focus on finding a solution.’ That’s true engineering management for you.

Solution driven. Always solution driven. Mistakes should be caught – and generally were – through the review cycles. Hence blame, in reality, was something to be shared. And logically – just like the discipline itself – design reviews were generally meticulous. That’s engineering practiced at its highest and most professional level.

I learned a lot from that particular chief engineer. He made you take pride in delivering great work. Not just for the work sake, for the quality, but because he created an environment where you wanted to please him, where he challenged you to rise to his level of perfection.

And you respected all the men above you because they got to where they were by consistently delivering great work. Back in those days – in that place – no one achieved power or position because they stabbed someone else in the back. Office politics was not played. The Texas oilfield was meritocracy played at its very best. A person was measured by their respective output. And the cream justifiably rose to the top. I worked for some giants in those days; some truly exceptional great men. And I fear the likes of them are gone, never to seen again.

So to finish on this subject of respect.: I think I can say as a result of my training and some of the examples made by some of those great men I worked for I have never been able to respect a person who can’t do their job.

And I cannot respect a liar. A slacker. An office politician. Or any inferior shit-for-brains for that matter.

I ask how can someone work – and give their 100% – for someone both morally and intellectually inferior to themselves? I ask that because I worked for some lying, cheating, conniving, arrogant and worthless bastards in the last days of my career in Washington, DC.

That was right up until I got the biggest double-headed, triple- fisted screwing of all time. Yup. The last company I worked for, those lying thieving bastards, still owe me $40,000 in back pay.

That’s forty-thousand-US –dollars my friend. That’s a lot of money in any language. And they lied and cheated me out of. Yes, I tried several legal recourses to get my money starting with the Federal Dept. of Labor which was just down the street from me in Washington, DC.

They pushed me to the Virginia State Dept. of Labor who lamely offered to reclaim my work hours lost at minimum wage. Then two local law firms passed on my case citing insufficient assets of the defendant. Meaning they couldn’t recover their $600 per hour given a protracted legal battle.

So the bastards skated free.

And they – the bastards – still do business with the federal government providing – and get this little piece of irony – data and informational security solutions.
Like how can you trust someone so lacking in integrity to provide you with security if they themselves steal? I suppose it just goes to show you how deep and wide the immorality of this trust and integrity problem runs in this world we live in.

In conclusion, my contempt for ambition and profit at any cost partially explains why I am an office fugitive pulling some sort of modern Ambrose Bierce routine down in Mexico. And like him, I don’t expect to return to civilization.

And I would much rather prefer – just like him – to disappear as a bitter and unforgiving old man into the maw of my own revolution than to sell my soul to the company store.

PS – And you ask, whatever happened to that senior Intel manager who shafted me way back when? Well, less than a year after that particular incident those above him saw fit to send him down to the redeployment pool (aka, he was cut loose).

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