Welcome To The Company!

A story of HR mishaps, crappy startups, and disappointing first days.

(This piece was originally published in my previous personal blog. It has been edited for readability and grammar.)

During my career I have changed jobs quite often. The reason to this stands in between my own curiosity to take on new challenges, and the levels of psychopathy of the various employers I had to deal with through the ages. As an example of the latter, here goes a true story.

Prologue

Years ago I applied for a job as a PHP & JavaScript web developer in a small company in Geneva, Switzerland. I remember going to their offices two or three times, and having several interviews with various people there. One of them was the lead PHP developer of the company, the other being the CEO, a relatively well-known person in the tech area in Geneva; both shall remain nameless. The last interview I had was with the CTO, who would be my direct boss, as I was told.

They finally chose me, and very happily I signed the contract. I handed my resignation for my current job at the time, but had to work for a couple of months before leaving (this is usual practice in Switzerland, one that I despise deeply, but that you are legally forced to follow.) All in all, three months passed between me signing the contract and the first day of my new job.

The First Day

One joyful sunny morning I headed to Geneva to start my new job. I arrived at around 9 AM to the address where the interviews had taken place, and, oh surprise… there was nothing. Stay with me: there was nothing. Not a sign in the wall indicating that the company had ever existed, not a single desk, not a phone plugged on the wall. Nothing. Just dirt on the carpets, and nothing else.

Puzzled (to say the least,) I asked the first person I met in the hallway about the company, and she told me that they had left a couple of months ago. I asked if she knew where they went, but she told me that she did not.

I was really, really worried by now. Had I signed a contract with some kind of fake company that had just left the country to the Bahamas or Luxembourg? I called their phone number. The automated voice at the other end told me that the line was not in service.

Oh dear.

After what must have been like sixty minutes of going back and forth in the hallways asking for some kind of information about the company, one guy told me that they had moved not far from there. Finally a clue! He even gave me an address, so I left as quickly as I could. I was one hour late to my new job; you should not do that in Switzerland.

On my way, I could not help thinking things like, “why would not they call me to tell me that they moved to a new place? What is going on?”

Ringing Bells

So around 10:30 AM I arrived to this new address, got into the building, and checked in at a reception desk. I asked the names of the people that had interviewed me. The guy told me that nobody with those names worked there. Then I asked, “I am looking for the company such and such”, and he told me that no, that was a private bank (there are lots of them in Geneva,) so I must have been given the wrong address.

Bummer. Back to step one.

The guy, nevertheless, told me one interesting thing; in the warehouses behind the bank (and, should I add, sharing the same address) there was this new “startup center” with brand new offices, and the company might as well be there. I thanked the guy, and started investigating the area.

The word “investigating” is the correct one. It felt like CSI, Columbo, Unforgettable and Elementary, all at the same time.

Behind the bank there was a huge new complex with many offices and small companies popping up. The building was an old factory that the city of Geneva had bought a couple of years before, and where you could rent cheap office space. Perfect for startups. But in the main entrance, there was no sign of the one I was looking for.

It was almost 11 AM and I was ready to give up. My cell phone had not rang, nobody called from their office; my wife told me that nobody had called home either.

Just when I was about to leave the building, I asked one guy cleaning the hallways about my new missing employer. He told me that he had never heard about it, but that there was a huge sign near the entrance of the parking with names, and that given that the building was fairly new, not all company names had been set up in every door, so I might as well check that one out.

Eureka

I left the building, went to the entrance of the parking, and finally! I saw the name of my new employer. Together with the indication of how to get there by foot: a ten minute walk from where I was. I said to myself, well, what the heck. Let us go.

When I crossed the door, I saw yet another reception desk, this time with a huge sign behind the receptionist with the name of the company. This was finally the good one! That was at around 11:15 AM; I had been touring Geneva for over two hours looking for this company by now.

I told the girl that I was starting my new job that day, and she replied by saying that it was her first day too, so she did not know anyone, so she guided me to an office marked “Human Resources”, which looked quite appropriate for the occasion.

Welcome To The Company!

The HR guy got up from his desk, greeted me and told me that he had started two weeks before and that he did not know that I was starting that day, but that was OK, welcome to the company anyway! He guided me to the sector of the open space where the technical team was, and I finally saw some familiar faces, together with some other thirty people I had not seen three months ago.

The company had gone through an explosive growth phase in a very, very short amount of time.

Anyway, they pointed me to a chair and a table floating alone in open space and they called that a “desk.“ The IT manager came to me and said “oh sorry, I do not have a computer for you, I did not know you were coming today.“

I sat down, awkwardly, as everyone resumed their tasks in silence.

Meet the boss

Thirty minutes later (it was almost noon, and I was really starving by now,) as I was sitting on my chair without having anything to do or anyone to talk to, a guy comes up to me and tells me that he was my boss. Which was strange, because he was not the CTO I mentioned earlier, but given that everything had changed so much, I was not that surprised.

The guy took me to a meeting room, we sat down for what I thought was going to be my first work meeting, and he told me that he had been appointed to this role the previous month, that they were dropping PHP altogether, and that they were going to develop the new system with Java. He told me that he knew that I despised Java (he had read it on the blog I had at that time) and that he did not like me not liking Java. But he could not fire me, because he had not hired me, so my role was undefined and, as a matter of fact, I had nothing to do there.

It was noon, and at this point I knew I would not be staying very long in this company.

To make a long story short, a few days later I went to the office of the CEO, I gave him my resignation letter, and he shook my hand with a laconic “OK, bye.“

That was it.

Epilogue

Two years later I met one of my ex-colleagues in that company, and she told me that the Java system was never completed. The company still existed but had completely changed its business model. Later on the CEO left the country and took his company with him. But not the people, of course.

I also met once the first PHP developer, one of the guys who had interviewed me. He had worked for four years building the only system that had actually brought some cash to the company, and was also dismissed because he was not a Java guy. Nobody cared that he actually knew how the original system worked, how the business worked, or that he gave four years of his work for a company that greeted him with another laconic “OK, bye.“

Dealing with this kind of situations changed my perspective on workplaces and employers, forever. I came to the conclusion that I preferred to starve rather than being treated like this.

There is no morale to this story. I am pretty sure that the same must have happened countless times, all over the world. And, should I add, unfortunately so. I leave this to the discernment of the reader as a telling tale of jobs and employees, management and hierarchy, communication and sloppiness, to point out how relations between people can get sour very, very quickly.

Oh, and in case you are wondering, you will not find the name of this company in my LinkedIn profile, for reasons that should be obvious by now.