They couldn’t sell the product.
Well, they could. Let me back up a step.
The Company’s work was a fine thing. It fulfilled needs that a lot of older companies are barely cognizant of their need for. It outperforms several other tools made for the same purpose. It interfaces well with other products, has a good UI, and becomes so beloved by those joining The Company, that it is enthusiastically adopted, along with the collection of memes and other nonsense found there.
For whatever reason, Sales was not selling, larger companies were cottoning on to the profit to be made, and the marketing story was somehow incredibly difficult.
Business went on as usual. Quarter after quarter became “we missed by thiiiiis much". Mostly content with my new-found drinking buddies, and a local, active, productively adult-based social life for the first time since the breakup, I was more than happy to continue plodding forwards, working on my big break.
I wasn’t going to change the hearts and minds of the operations department I was embedded in. The status quo was impenetrable: managers talked a big game about change, but the consequences of failing to follow the procedures of a more adult company simply weren’t there. Requests for features on new products and bug fixes were few and far between. One team simply had a new manager every six months, and began again with a new vision each time. My own manager was conservative and careful in how he pushed issues up the chain to his own manager and the soon to be C-level above him.
But I had some hearts and minds, now that I was drinking with Tina and George, and now that I knew some folks, I could apply pressure in ways I couldn't before. With some more context, I was beginning to figure out what the limits were, and what I could do with them. George especially was eager to invite me out to the taproom, out to the roof deck to go drinking, and to his barbecues. I met his girlfriend: I met his roommate. I met innumerable people from Customer Support, each solid individuals.
What did I get out of all this alcohol-based networking? More insight into how the various departments fit together - or didn’t. With these newly gained drinking buddies, I could get some voices discussing the right things into the twice weekly meetings I ran. I was no longer quite so much the person who reviews the task list and updates tickets so the ops department didn’t have to. More critical voices started joining my meeting, and the bad behavior of operations began to be spoken of.
I was getting the technical background I’d needed entering the company from my drinking buddies, and an idea of how things worked. Over an average of six to eight beers two to three times a week, I finally felt like I was getting somewhere.
It didn’t seem to matter, though. While I was keeping my nascent drinking problem confined to post 4pm most days (and 2pm on the exceedingly slow, dragging days in which I had nothing to do), our C-level had gone severely off the rails.
Charlie was not the kind of guy you wanted to go off the rails. It’s never a good sign when a C-level has a drinking problem: it’s an even worse problem when he starts showing up to meetings and heckling as you try to conduct them. One day, he showed up to one of mine. Occupied with the meeting, and a few seats down, I finally raised my voice, send him plopping back down into his chair, befuddled.
Later, George hits me up on IM. “Dude was reeking of whiskey.”
“This is a 1:30 meeting!”
“Yeah man, he must have been drinking since at least eleven.”
“Shit. I think I’ll go home.” Shaken, I slipped out. My manager muttered something passive-aggressive as I passed, not quite meeting my eyes as I went for the elevator.
It was a bad sign, one of many. It never came to anything. From what I heard later, Charlie barely remembered anything from that day.
Summer rolled on into fall and into winter, and despite having more productive voices in my meetings, in spite of a better understanding of things, in spite of my upcoming two year anniversary, I was beginning to get the sense that I was working for a slowly sinking ship.
Meanwhile, the first problems began to creep their way into my righteous group of drinking buddies, starting with finding one of them sobbing in the bathroom after a riotous night of oak-aged cider and note-trading. It began to become me and George drinking everyone under the table - at first having really good, productive conversations - and then becoming teardown sessions, where George would innumerate the faults of all my new friends to me.
The alcohol dulled the alarm bells, but not quite enough to dull the realization that one of my coworkers was not only an alcoholic, but potentially something much, much worse.
I doubled down on my therapy.
Still, winter was slowly ending. The seasonal affective disorder and accompanying winter-long hangover was waning, and I began to plan my boundaries and my escape from the company.