A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away (from galaxies that are far, far away), I worked in IT.
I supported a massive financial software system at a billion dollar company that spanned several continents and nearly thirty countries. I was part of a large international team that was constantly fixing, configuring, and testing the accounting system and then training employees on how to use it.*
From time to time, the software manufacturer would release a bigger and better version of the software package and when that happened, the company would ask us to upgrade the financial system to the latest and greatest version.
The accounting systems of billion dollar companies are monitored and maintained with mind-melting precision. Whenever you change the tiniest configuration in the most insignificant area of an application, you need to present incontrovertible proof that you have tested the change exhaustively and that having done so, you would wager your children’s eyeballs that in making this teensy little change, you have not fucked up everything all to hell.
To change the whole blessed system is NASA-esque in its complexity. Such an upgrade is a multi-million dollar project that requires roughly a year of planning, testing, re-configuring, data conversions, etc.
It’s a big fucking deal.
The upgrade of our company’s system was an international project coordinated from our corporate headquarters on the east coast, where I worked at the time.
After a year of preparation, we were ready to “go live.” This meant that we would turn off the company’s financial and manufacturing systems at the end of business on a Friday, and then all hands in the IT department would work around the clock and through the weekend to install the new software, configure it, move all the old data into the new system, and then test the bejesus out of it to ensure that when our European colleagues showed up for work on Monday morning, all systems were error-free and fully-functional.
The database guys would do their thing all night Friday and all day Saturday. When the new software was installed, it was time for my team and me to do our thing.
On Sunday morning, my two co-workers and I would march into HQ with bucket-sized coffees and boxes of Dunkin’ Donuts and we would run through a series of test scripts over the course of a few hours. We would have a TV on somewhere so we could watch football, as the test script process was fairly mindless by this point: “Click this button,” <check>, “Open this window,” <check>, “Enter a transaction,” <check>, etc.
But as anyone who has ever owned a computer knows, shit will always crash at the worst possible time.
Brian, Hammer**, and I all performed similar roles within our team, each specializing in a different area of finance. We had worked together for a couple of years and we were sarcastic, disrespectful, profane, and apathetic. And that was just towards the employees we were hired to support.
We arrived on Sunday morning at around nine a.m., ready to go.
The project manager greeted us with, “there’s been a little problem guys.”
He advised that late on Saturday evening, a rather significant step in the upgrade had gone quite disastrously. He further advised that the delay in troubleshooting this issue had pushed the entire project plan back several hours.
He suggested that we go get some breakfast and be back at noon.
Upon arrival at the Irish pub down the street, we noticed that the Sunday brunch menu included drink specials.
“What time do you guys start serving,” asked Brian.
“Eleven,” said our waiter.
At approximately 11:00:15 a.m., the pints hit our table, and two subsequent rounds arrived in quick succession.
We were pretty comfortable in the pub, and with the beers going down like water, we decided to check in with the upgrade team and make sure they still wanted us back at noon. Hammer called in to the office.
“What? You’re kidding? That’s horrible,” Hammer said into his phone while smiling and giving us a thumbs up. “Two o’clock? Yeah, OK, we’ll see you then.” He hung up.
“Yeah, they’re fucked. Let’s get another round.”
We finished a few more rounds and then I opted to run home to check in on my dogs. Hammer and Brian relocated to another pub near our office, and I agreed to meet them there for one last round before we’d all go to work at two o’clock.
As I drove home from breakfast, it occurred to me that I had no business driving.
It was about 12:30 p.m.
When I arrived back at the pub an hour later, Hammer and Brian were steaming drunk. The empty glasses in front of them told a story that their glassy eyes and slurs confirmed.
I had quite a bit of catching up to do.
“Hey, can we get some Jameson’s chilled over here?” I called out to the bartender before even removing my jacket and sitting down.
By the time I had satisfied myself that I was sufficiently caught up with my colleagues, we learned that while some progress on the upgrade had been made, delays persisted. Nonetheless, we should report back to the office for a team meeting.
This would have been an appropriate time for us to order a couple baskets of fries and Cokes to sober up before returning to work.
Instead, we agreed, “yeah, we have time for one more.”
When we arrived back at the office, the rest of the team was gathered in a semi-circle of swivel chairs in a large, open area of the floor. The project manager’s horrified expression indicated that he understood how we had spent our day. Certainly the odor of booze was a strong indicator but if anyone harbored any lingering doubts, it was likely removed when Brian kicked Hammer’s ankle from behind as he walked towards a chair, sending all of Hammer’s two hundred plus pounds crashing to the floor in front of the whole team.
Our total inability to stop laughing at this seemed to somewhat irritate our sober colleagues.
We were advised that the issue would likely soon be resolved and that our testing should begin shortly. However, the risk of failure was sufficiently high that the vice president of our department was driving in from the suburbs to receive a full briefing. Should the upgrade fail, he would be required to face the CEO in the morning, hat in hand, to explain why millions of dollars had just been urinated out the window. In such dire circumstances, terminations would almost certainly ensue.
Therefore our inebriation was met with some concern by both our supervisor and the project manager.
It was suggested that we get some food, in the somewhat likely event that we find ourselves in a team meeting with the vice president.
“Hey, what about the pub at the Marriott next door?” I asked.
Our boss was a good-natured, quiet type who generally gave us wide leeway to do our jobs, so long as we eventually got our work done. However, in the throes of a disaster-plagued upgrade, his patience was thinner than the ice on which we were skating.
He enthusiastically discouraged us from visiting the pub at the Marriott for dinner and suggested we repair to our cubicles to come up with a better choice for dinner- preferably a place without a liquor license.
It was on the way to our cubicles that our vice president arrived on the floor, almost bumping into us.
He took one look at us, shook his head, and said, “You guys should go get some food,” before storming down the hall in search of our boss.
While we sat in our cubicles, trying to resolve the food dilemma, Hammer and I indulged in a name-calling contest that ended when he abruptly leapt out of his chair and dove into my cubicle, pile driving me out of my chair, onto the floor, and practically folding me in half.
It felt like my spine was going to snap and so I unleashed a torrent of screams and profanity that generally accompany particularly graphic murders.
Our boss soon careened around the corner to see what had happened. Unbeknown to the three of us, he, the vice president, and the project manager were in the room across the hall from us, with the door open. They had been listening to the entire incident.
He glared at us, suggesting that we find something to do that didn’t involve wrestling, and retreated back into his meeting, probably five years older.
As we sat in our cubicles, twiddling our thumbs waiting for our blood alcohol contents to decrease, we still had no plan for food. Brian had been asking where we wanted to eat, but we were ignoring him. Just because.
Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the huge un-potted plant fly over the wall from Brian’s cubicle into Hammer’s. It was a volleyball-sized mass of leaves, vines, and a large clump of roots caked by about five pounds of dry soil that seemed to fly in slow motion.
When Brian inherited his cubicle, there were four potted plants hanging along the side. These plants were likely never watered, and I doubt if anyone had ever paid attention to them. Until then.
The plant hit Hammer’s bald head with a dusty thud, sending dirt and leaves everywhere- all over his keyboard, his desk, his clothing, and his floor.
Before I could fully process what had just happened, Hammer calmly stood up, walked over to Brian’s cubicle, removed the rack containing the remaining three plants, and hurled them at Brian, point blank.
Dried soil and profanity flew, and Brian looked like someone had just dumped a wheelbarrow full of dirt on him. He sprung up and advanced on Hammer.
I had just jumped up and ran over to assess the disaster, when our boss again came storming out of the conference room.
“What the fuck are you guys doing?” he demanded as his final nerves unraveled. We stood there weaving, slurring, and blaming each other.
Then, releasing his hands from Hammer’s neck, Brian, drunk as a hobo and covered in dirt, looked around and replied without a shred of irony, “You know, Chief- I can’t help but feel partially responsible for this.”
We were asked to leave the building until the executives completed their meeting.
We decided that our only viable option was the bar at the Marriott next door.
At ten p.m., we had yet to begin our testing, and the three of us were drinking at the hotel bar, waiting for them to call us back to work.
Suddenly our boss stormed in, pointed at the village of empty beer bottles in front of us and inquired why we were not answering our phone. He had apparently been calling us for the better part of an hour before finally put two and two together and walking over to the nearest bar to find us.
He directed us to put our beers down and get back to the office, toute de suite.
Brian gamely offered that we’d meet him over there as soon as we finished our beers.
To say that this comment did not go over well would be a spectacular understatement.
We weaved back to the office and began working.
Somehow the testing was completed without further incident and the system was turned on just in time for our European colleagues to log in on Monday morning. Despite all of the excitement, the upgrade was ultimately a success and our group was commended for our diligence and perseverance through the challenges we had endured during the weekend.
Our team even threw a party to celebrate going live.
Our boss eventually forgave us, although on his final day with the company, he admitted that the one time that he ever got really mad at us was when he had to go pull us out of the bar to do our jobs and we said we’d be over as soon as we finished our beers.
I think back on that comment from time to time and feel shitty and embarrassed about how selfish and immature we were that day. We were disrespectful to our boss, to our colleagues, and to ourselves. I would have to guess that most people in our shoes would have made very different choices that day- ones that didn’t involve 12 hour drinking binges, wrestling during meetings, and office vandalism. In fact, when I look back on all the problems that occurred that day and take an honest look at my part in everything, I too can’t help but feel partially responsible.
*To this day I have very little understanding of computers, networks, servers, and the like. Back then, I didn’t know a UNIX script from a movie script. I could not install printers, and when people would call my desk looking for help mapping to a network drive, I would change my voice, adopt a vague foreign accent, and replied “Joe’s not here. You call someone else,” before hanging up and going to lunch.
**Names have been changed