As was foretold, we've added advertisements to the forums! If you have questions, or if you encounter any bugs, please visit this thread: https://forums.penny-arcade.com/discussion/240191/forum-advertisement-faq-and-reports-thread/

[TRENCHES] Thursday, June 12, 2014 - Firing Squad

GethGeth LegionPerseus VeilRegistered User, Moderator, Penny Arcade Staff, Vanilla Staff vanilla
edited June 2014 in The Penny Arcade Hub
Firing Squad


Firing Squad
http://trenchescomic.com/comic/post/firing-squad

Don’t bother testing, we’re not going to fix it.

Anonymous

In 2009, I was working at a very small software company that made a game to teach children how to play piano. I had been hired to head up their support department and found out quickly that the department consisted solely of me. On the bright side, support issues were limited, and I found myself with a large amount of free time, and used it to find bugs in the software.

This proved to be a bad decision as I soon discovered that the software was originally coded for Windows 98, and had never been upgraded or patched as the years rolled by because we had stopped paying our programmers. While my list started out with some minor graphical glitches and small play errors, it soon escalated to the point where I could break every facet of the software with a few quick keystrokes.

This included “upgrading” the software to our ultra-deluxe, $400 version by changing a registry key. The software also proved unstable on Windows XP, and with the release of Vista just around the corner, I was tasked with finding ways to fix compatibility issues. They asked me to get a beta copy of the OS, so I could start testing that as well. Since we still were not paying our software developers, there would be no patches or updates. They simply wanted me to have a head start on what our customers would be facing.

During this, they hired a “Creative Consultant”  to revitalize the company and start bringing in more revenue. A meeting with the core members of the company was called, and they sat next to my desk and began discussing proposals. The first proposal was to bring our software and keyboard peripheral to the PS2, and how they could have a version out in stores in about a year. This was generally viewed as a good idea. I had to inform them that the PS3 had been out for over two years, and PS2 development wasn’t a good idea. He then suggested the Gamecube, as that was more family oriented. I suggested the Wii, and explained that the Gamecube was no longer manufactured. The idea was tabled.

The consultant continued to work for the company for several more months, at the tune of ten thousand dollars a month, and ultimately produced nothing. Meanwhile, I went six weeks without being paid.

Finally, a new software development house was brought on board, and a joint deal with one of the largest “family-oriented” companies in the world, featuring one of their biggest stars was on the table. We had new software, and new keyboards, and I was tapped again to test them, and report my findings.

While the software was much better, having an entirely new code base developed for an at least semi-recent operating system, the hardware bundled with it was the cheapest, flimsiest manufacturing possible. The early production units arrived with broken keys, malfunctioning speakers, and broken ports. When I tested the one unit that wasn’t broken, I found that it contained buttons and features from an earlier version of the software that were no longer used, and if pressed, crashed the program. When I reported these findings, I was told that these units were the final spec, and would not be changed.

So, we went from having crippled, broken software with semi-decent hardware to semi decent software, with crippled, broken hardware. Isn’t progress great?

Oh, and this was all developed out of our pocket, and the deal eventually fell through. Shortly afterward, I helped hire and train my own replacement.


Geth on
cB557

Posts

  • metroidkillahmetroidkillah Local Bunman Free Country, USARegistered User regular
    Ok, maybe I need a little education. Is it standard for employees in software development to go over a month without seeing a paycheck? Because if it is, then how could anyone who is not upper-management ever afford work in the industry? If it's not, how could anyone with an average IQ think it's OK to donate your time to a project that is clearly not going to get off the ground?

    Indie work is one thing- at least you have control over the project, but not being able to recognize a trainwreck that's in the process of going off the rails...?

    I'm not a nice guy, I just play one in real life.
  • streeverstreever Registered User regular
    I like this one; I really like the competing and contrasting narrative that the comic has been playing with, and thought the juxtaposition of Tuesdays comic with todays was perfect.

    cB557
  • xspeedballxxspeedballx Registered User regular
    streever wrote: »
    I like this one; I really like the competing and contrasting narrative that the comic has been playing with, and thought the juxtaposition of Tuesdays comic with todays was perfect.

    Yea well you are just a shill for big pharma or big parcade or something.

    streevercB557
  • streeverstreever Registered User regular
    streever wrote: »
    I like this one; I really like the competing and contrasting narrative that the comic has been playing with, and thought the juxtaposition of Tuesdays comic with todays was perfect.

    Yea well you are just a shill for big pharma or big parcade or something.

    I don't call it selling out, I call it buying in.

    cB557
  • streeverstreever Registered User regular
    Ok, maybe I need a little education. Is it standard for employees in software development to go over a month without seeing a paycheck? Because if it is, then how could anyone who is not upper-management ever afford work in the industry? If it's not, how could anyone with an average IQ think it's OK to donate your time to a project that is clearly not going to get off the ground?

    According to the internet, I have a very high IQ, so I feel comfortable answering your question from that perspective.

    I think it isn't that unusual. Think about it this way; for a lot of people, these are dream jobs, and once you've already sunk in time (a week, two weeks, three weeks) you have already lost a lot. You're sticking in there hoping to be rewarded, and maybe, you don't feel like you have many options.

    A lot of people feel a pressure to stay in the job until they get something else, even if the employer is getting dodgy, and usually you have a sense like, "They can't just not pay me, right?! They're going to fix this!"

  • metroidkillahmetroidkillah Local Bunman Free Country, USARegistered User regular
    @streever: If the project looked like it were going somewhere within half that time, I would agree. But the author made it pretty clear that everyone who had any authority or pull (that he came across) was either incompetent or powerless to do what was needed; and the project itself, though it "improved" near the end, was not going to succeed.

    I think perhaps this is why the industry gets away with what it does to its lower-rung employees. "Working on video games" sounds like a dream job for many people, and the job market can be pretty tight depending where you live. But there needs to be a point fairly early on where any reasonable human being says to himself: "I am actually being abused and letting my life be stolen"- for anything, not just software development. Though I seriously doubt Wal-Mart, Burger King, or any well-established business would get away with half the crap the video game industry does.

    I can tell you right now, if I don't know what intervals I'm being paid, or my paycheck doesn't drop when they claim it will... I'm out. They still owe me a paycheck when I leave, and I can look for a job that will actually pay me.

    I'm not a nice guy, I just play one in real life.
    Smrtnik
  • marsiliesmarsilies Registered User regular
    In 2009, I was working at a very small software company that made a game to teach children how to play piano... The software also proved unstable on Windows XP, and with the release of Vista just around the corner...
    The tale's author seems to have the timing wrong. Windows Vista was released in 2007:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Windows_Vista

    Windows 7 came out in 2009, so maybe the software was 2 OSes behind. The timing seems right for the PS3/PS2 and Wii/Gamecube dates.


    As for working without pay: It's unclear at what point the 6 weeks without pay occurred. The author mentions being with the company for several months, so it's possible that he was paid at the beginning, and then at some point paychecks stopped coming, with I'm sure assurances from above that this was just a "temporary" thing while money was tight. The author likely wasn't told upfront that it'd be six weeks, but went into it on a week by week basis going, "well, they're only a week behind... well, only two weeks..." etc. It sounds like the author was eventually paid though. Possibly that deal with that larger company injected some money into the company, allowing back pay?

  • streeverstreever Registered User regular
    edited June 2014
    @streever: If the project looked like it were going somewhere within half that time, I would agree. But the author made it pretty clear that everyone who had any authority or pull (that he came across) was either incompetent or powerless to do what was needed; and the project itself, though it "improved" near the end, was not going to succeed.

    Well, I'll admit that I only half-believe these things; I assume a lot of bias in them, because it seems like most of these tales are a few years old. I usually assume that things that look obvious later, and are described as such in the tale, may not have been obvious at the time. There is just something almost too perfect about most of these stories for me to read them and think that they aren't biased/benefiting from hindsight, you know?

    streever on
    forty
  • shoeboxjeddyshoeboxjeddy Registered User regular
    I don't get any story that goes "I wasn't paid for x amount of time." If it's not a start-up from a garage that YOU started... you need to be paid. If you're not being paid, then leave and demand payment for the time you already worked. The only reason I would stay at a job unpaid is if I was to say, stop working and start using their equipment for my own purposes. Otherwise, why would you show up to a place for free? That's just dumb.

    Smrtnik
  • metroidkillahmetroidkillah Local Bunman Free Country, USARegistered User regular
    streever wrote: »
    There is just something almost too perfect about most of these stories for me to read them and think that they aren't biased/benefiting from hindsight, you know?

    Well, yeah, there is that. But, again, if you're not getting paid then it's a pretty good indicator that something is REALLY wrong.

    I'm not a nice guy, I just play one in real life.
  • streeverstreever Registered User regular
    I don't get any story that goes "I wasn't paid for x amount of time." If it's not a start-up from a garage that YOU started... you need to be paid. If you're not being paid, then leave and demand payment for the time you already worked. The only reason I would stay at a job unpaid is if I was to say, stop working and start using their equipment for my own purposes. Otherwise, why would you show up to a place for free? That's just dumb.

    I agree; I just think that a lot of people aren't in a position where they can walk away from a job. Imagine the person living with family or friends who has to have a job; the alternative might be sitting around their hosts house looking embarrassed.

    I also think, in general, we're remarkable creatures of self-deception; a lot of people are able to convince themselves that things will get better even when they are completely FUBAR.

    Commander Zoom
  • Baron_GrinnettBaron_Grinnett Registered User regular
    edited June 2014
    Ok, maybe I need a little education. Is it standard for employees in software development to go over a month without seeing a paycheck? Because if it is, then how could anyone who is not upper-management ever afford work in the industry?

    That depends. Startups are often strapped for cash and so it's not uncommon there. The same goes for small businesses when they're in financial trouble. (That's assuming no active ill intent; horror stories about owner(s) who consciously choose to rip off their employees (and get away with it) are depressingly common.)

    In medium to large businesses, such a thing almost never happens, even in an outright bankruptcy.
    I don't get any story that goes "I wasn't paid for x amount of time." If it's not a start-up from a garage that YOU started... you need to be paid. If you're not being paid, then leave and demand payment for the time you already worked. The only reason I would stay at a job unpaid is if I was to say, stop working and start using their equipment for my own purposes. Otherwise, why would you show up to a place for free? That's just dumb.

    Depends on whether you have the financial resources to just walk away immediately from a month's pay, how invested you are in your work, and how much faith you have in human nature. Dismissing it as simply as that is "just dumb".

    Baron_Grinnett on
    streever
  • TwistexTwistex Registered User new member
    Tales author here. I'll try and clear some things up quickly. (And wow, I submitted this tale well over a year ago, if not longer.)

    1: I meant Windows 7, not Vista. This was a long time ago and I spaced on the version. My bad.

    2: Not being paid for six weeks - I worked there for over a year, and I was eventually paid, but it being such a small company, and relying on investor capital, there were often short delays in pay. I had had my paycheck delayed before, usually by only a week or two at most. When this consultant was brought in, I was holding for pay due to "Waiting for recent investor funds to clear." The job market near me was... less than spectacular. At this point, it was a choice of earning even less working on a call center (IF I could get hired, and wait three to four weeks for a first paycheck), or wait for the funds to clear, and eventually get paid.

    All told, it was a terrible decision, as I also discovered they weren't withholding taxes from my pay properly, and the IRS fined me for a staggering amount the following year.

    The company has since shut down the office, and the current business address is a box address at a UPS store.

    streever
  • streeverstreever Registered User regular
    That's kind of what I figured; I've had that experience before of working at a place that had paid me, but was now getting inconsistent. It's hard to just walk away, especially if you don't have other jobs near by that sound promising. Finding a decent job usually takes at least a month or two anywhere I've lived, so I'd rather stick it out (personally) and trust that the State Labor board would get me my missing pay after the fact while I job searched.

    Also, to be clear, I didn't mean to imply that you were lying in your tale; rather, I think any time we tell a story about something in our past, hindsight kind of invisibly flavors the re-telling, making things sound more obvious than they were when we were in the moment!

  • CyrixCyrix Registered User regular
    I call BS on the story, both on the operating system error and the claim that the IRS fined you for your company's screwup. If your company botches your taxes, they pay your taxes.

    Some good things to know in life:
    If you are wrongfully filed as an independent contractor when you are an employee, tell the IRS and your employer pays your income tax
    If your employer didn't withhold your income tax, they pay your income tax
    If you're in California and your paycheck bounces, your employer has to pay you penalties equal to a full day's wages for up to thirty days (including weekends and holidays) or until they replace the check.
    If you're in California, are fired, and aren't paid all wages owed to you up until that day, your employer pays the same penalties. If payday is next Friday and they give it to you a week after firing you, you just netted 7 days of full wages.

    streever
  • streeverstreever Registered User regular
    Cyrix wrote: »
    I call BS on the story, both on the operating system error and the claim that the IRS fined you for your company's screwup. If your company botches your taxes, they pay your taxes.

    Some good things to know in life:
    If you are wrongfully filed as an independent contractor when you are an employee, tell the IRS and your employer pays your income tax
    If your employer didn't withhold your income tax, they pay your income tax
    If you're in California and your paycheck bounces, your employer has to pay you penalties equal to a full day's wages for up to thirty days (including weekends and holidays) or until they replace the check.
    If you're in California, are fired, and aren't paid all wages owed to you up until that day, your employer pays the same penalties. If payday is next Friday and they give it to you a week after firing you, you just netted 7 days of full wages.

    What?

    The IRS didn't fine him; he simply was not withholding enough. Maybe it was his fault, maybe it was the companys fault, but either way, his withholdings were too low so he owed extra tax money at tax time. That's how that works.

    If, they filed him as a contractor, and he didn't realize it works that way (a lot of us don't; I almost made this mistake) then he probably would have just paid the IRS whatever bill they sent him. It happened to me; luckily, the amount was so high, and I was so panicked, that I borrowed money to hire a tax person to help me figure it out. If I hadn't of done that, I would have just paid the money.

    Just because someone isn't as familiar with how the IRS operates doesn't mean the story is BS; this is a not uncommon situation.

  • CyrixCyrix Registered User regular
    The IRS didn't fine him; he simply was not withholding enough. Maybe it was his fault, maybe it was the companys fault, but either way, his withholdings were too low so he owed extra tax money at tax time. That's how that works.

    What? He SAID the IRS fined him. Listen, if your employer doesn't withhold your taxes, they pay your taxes. That's an employer responsibility. Look it up.

  • streeverstreever Registered User regular
    edited June 2014
    ...

    That is how he describes it. I think he was wrong. I don't think it invalidates his entire story, however, and am not sure why you seem to think it does. Is this a thing you do? Look for potential discrepancies in the Trenches stories, and instead of acknowledging that the people writing these things aren't professional journalists or memoirists, decide that the entire story must be fabricated?

    I think what happened to him is what happened to me; he filed as a contractor, not realizing how he should have been filing, and at the end of the year, got in trouble & paid it.

    I almost did. Without an accountant, it is possible to do this, and I know people *who did pay it* and *did not* file a claim to have their companies pay it. The IRS didn't tell me that; they demanded I pay them, in full, in a short time period and were very difficult to deal with. Luckily, the accountant I called said, "This isn't right" and walked me through the Labor board process.

    The IRS is very short-staffed. They don't *catch* most problems on their own; they have to be alerted to them. They audit a tiny percentage of total tax payers. It is entirely possible that it happened per his description. I just quibble on the semantics of a fine; I think he's incorrect in calling it a fine. It's just self-employment taxes he owed that no one paid for SS, medicare/medicaid. Yes, he could have filed with the Labor Board, but he didn't know that, so he didn't, which is why he paid the taxes.

    You're demanding that every thing that happened be consistent with your history & knowledge of laws for you to believe it. What I am explaining is that there are possible different outcomes from similar situations, and the OP not knowing the law doesn't mean that the story didn't break down the way he says it did. Yes, technically, he could have filed a complaint with the Labor Board and got this sorted. It appears he did not, and he did pay the IRS fees.

    As to 'Look it up'--yes, I'm very familiar with it from when I experienced it. I'm also familiar with how *often* it happens and the employee gets away with it. There is no magical system in place that prevents employers from doing this *a lot* to employees. Many don't know their rights, which is why employers keep doing it and keep getting away with it.

    streever on
  • TwistexTwistex Registered User new member
    Cyrix wrote: »
    I call BS on the story, both on the operating system error and the claim that the IRS fined you for your company's screwup. If your company botches your taxes, they pay your taxes.

    Some good things to know in life:
    If you are wrongfully filed as an independent contractor when you are an employee, tell the IRS and your employer pays your income tax
    If your employer didn't withhold your income tax, they pay your income tax
    If you're in California and your paycheck bounces, your employer has to pay you penalties equal to a full day's wages for up to thirty days (including weekends and holidays) or until they replace the check.
    If you're in California, are fired, and aren't paid all wages owed to you up until that day, your employer pays the same penalties. If payday is next Friday and they give it to you a week after firing you, you just netted 7 days of full wages.


    Ok, I know this is old, but I don't check in here very often. Anyways, I'll try and clear this up because I really don't like being called a liar.

    At the time of that filing (2010), the company had 6 employees. So, when I found out they weren't withholding taxes from my paycheck like the accountant had told me they were, I called my now ex-employers. They claimed that since the company was so small, and I was a contractor, the withholding was my responsibility. I really didn't know much then about tax law or anything, so when the IRS said I owed over 6 grand, and it was my responsibility to pay, I believed it.

    I setup a payment plan with the IRS, and started making payments. My wife then had the idea to use our refund the following year (I had gone back to school) to help pay off the amount owed. This led to the IRS stopping the monthly payments, which I wasn't informed of. After three months of non-payment (because I didn't know they stopped the monthly direct withdraws)they fined me the remaining balance, and took it directly from my account. I was lucky enough to have slightly more than the amount owed in my account, but it damn near bankrupted me.

    Yes, it was my fault. I didn't do my research, and when the tax issues came up, I was more focused on getting through college, and figuring out how to live on student loans. So, when I was told I had to pay, I went right to "Let's not piss off the IRS and pay this" as opposed to "Let's call a tax lawyer." My other employment experiences had all been for various service-oriented jobs, and at tech support call centers as an at-will contractor, for much larger companies. I had learned to trust the accounting departments.

    No, I don't live in California. My paycheck never bounced. (I was told to hold off on cashing one for three days, though.) I also wasn't fired. I quit to go back to college, and to get the hell away from that company.

    As for the OS error, you can believe what you want on that account, I suppose. As I said before, I misspoke/typed when i said Vista, I meant 7. The trenches tale I submitted was cranked out late at night, because I thought people might like to hear what happened to me. I didn't go digging through my records to get all the exact info, I just told what I remembered, which is as flawed as memory tends to be.

    Honestly, I was more upset by the way the company handled the software and hardware issues than any of the other things, and I actually thought that would be the points people related to in my story. I've now been primarily doing technical support for ten years, and this was my first QA/testing related job. If the trenches was about tech support stories, I'd be submitting one a week. So, luckily for everyone, this will be my last submission. :smiley:

  • TwistexTwistex Registered User new member
    I think what happened to him is what happened to me; he filed as a contractor, not realizing how he should have been filing, and at the end of the year, got in trouble & paid it.

    I almost did. Without an accountant, it is possible to do this, and I know people *who did pay it* and *did not* file a claim to have their companies pay it. The IRS didn't tell me that; they demanded I pay them, in full, in a short time period and were very difficult to deal with.

    Yep. Exactly this.

Sign In or Register to comment.