I've decided to bring my tenure as a Daily WTF contributor to an end. I've had a great time telling your tech tales of woe the past 6.5 years. I can't thank Alex, Remy, and Mark enough for giving me this opportunity and for being great to work with. In my final article, I'd like to actually tell my own WTF tale - my "origin story", if you will - about my first IT job.

Way back in 2002, I was a fresh-faced 16 year-old kid with a driver's license and a car to pay for. That meant seeking employment anywhere I could get it. My first job at a sub sandwich shop lasted long enough to learn that I didn't want to deal with disgusting food/dishes every day. My next job at a "lackluster" video store taught me that I couldn't deal with customers, especially when they were upset about late fees. I decided to set my sights on something I actually had a knack for - working on computers.

I managed to land a low-paying IT internship with the internal application development team at a plastics manufacturing company. They made the software the company used to do everything from track materials and orders to real-time monitoring of the molding machines. They were looking for someone young to do all the grunt work around the office and I was just the guy.

The development team was full of a bunch of quirky, overgrown children with incredible potty mouths. When they weren't busy coding, they were slinging around some of the most vulgar insults I've heard. Usually that was followed by brutal physical assaults like nipple twisters or forceful punches in the ass. Then there were the rubber band fights that could break out at any time. I once came into the office and was immediately nailed in the eye by a double-knotted 4-inch long rubber band - by my boss. Instead of apologizing like a normal human, he and everyone laughed their asses off. It was all part of the playful, laid back environment they created and I loved it.

There was actual work for me to do in between the hijinks and I learned many essential computer skills. A lot of what I did amounted to help desk work. I would assist users with their random computer problems that the others lacked the desire, and tact, to do. I learned about hardware by ripping apart towers and putting new components in as well as formatting hard drives and re-imaging them. I even learned how to start up a computer by touching a screwdriver on 2 pins on the mother board. That came in handy when I built my own Frankenstein home computer and didn't have a proper power switch.

I soon got a reputation around the office as a PC problem-solver, so people started bringing in their virus-riddled home PCs to have me clean them up - on the clock. I would neglect to mention all the pornography I found on their computers, which was the most likely virus source. As an extra service, I was instructed by my supervisor to install some of the cracked PC games we had stored on an isolated server. For quality-assurance purposes, I was supposed play the first level/mission of the games to "make sure they worked".

Eventually, the guys wanted to mold me into a computer programmer like they were. In the early days of .NET development, they threw a Beginning C# book at me and told me to read it and learn. I spent about six months going through the book and coding the sample projects, including a crappy command-based card game that I played when I was bored. Once I got towards the end of my book, I was assigned real development projects to do. At that point I realized that reading a book and regurgitating its code didn't mean I knew how to program yet.

With the help of the more veteran developers, and a whole lot of banging my head on the wall, the major concepts of object-oriented programming actually sunk in. I started enjoying it and produced small useful applications used by the business. I'm sure my code was riddled with WTFs, but it worked. Around that time the US was in the midst of a recession that hit the manufacturing sector particularly hard. The 800 employee plastics company I worked at started to struggle, and was about to have its workforce cut in half.

An initial wave of layoffs happened around the company and our development team wasn't able to escape it. The middle tier of the group was gutted and our team of 11 was cut to 7. As people were let go, HR would send emails saying "Please be advised that the following people are no longer with the company." Eventually the emails stopped, not because they were done firing people, but because it was too damn depressing to get all those emails.

A second wave of cutbacks slashed many more jobs, but I still managed to weather the storm. After all, dumping a lowly-paid intern wasn't going to save the company. Our group was now down to a four person bare-bones staff - The manager/senior developer, another good developer, a lady who did design/documentation, and me. We didn't have nearly the staff to keep all of the programs running properly, let alone touch the mountain of fixes/enhancements they needed.

As we struggled along as a skeleton crew, all the life had been sucked out of the office. We mostly kept to ourselves, didn't joke around much, and the rubber bands were no longer flying. Everyone that remained in the company feared that their days were numbered. It was a horrible situation that I've fortunately never had to endure since.

One day in the late spring of 2003, I came in and sat down at my computer like I did every day. My boss told me not to bother logging in and to follow him to a conference room to meet with HR. I immediately knew what was happening and I was crushed. This was the job I wanted, and the only job I was good at. It was about to be taken away from me due to circumstances beyond my control. On my way out, he told me that he fought to keep me around and it obviously wasn't due to money, it was a head count situation. He also encouraged me to stay in touch and that when things improved, they would be happy to have me back.

I wasn't overly optimistic, but I kept what he said in the back of my mind. In the meantime, I needed a new job. IT jobs that would hire a high school kid were few and far between, so I spent my whole summer delivering pizzas. That job was full of its own class of WTFs, and to this day is still the most stressful job I've had. On a good tipping day though, I actually made more doing that than I did computer programming.

Around August, I heard back from my former supervisor. The layoffs had ended and the company was starting to turn itself around. They wanted to bring me back and I would even be making $2 an hour more than I was before. For someone about to enter his junior year of high school, that seemed like fat cash. So in the end, being laid off literally paid off in the end.

I spent two more years working there, including switching to full-time after I graduated high school. The team stayed small, only bringing in two more new developers after the cutbacks. It was never close to the fun, highly unprofessional environment we had when I started. While I never got laid off again, I never got a raise again. I eventually left the company, and my programming days, behind for a better paying testing job at a software company. But I never forgot my humble origins that started what is now my 18 year career in IT.

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