The other night (Friday, 7th Aug) I was in the RoundHouse pub with some friends when I spotted a group of former work colleagues sat at another table.
I exchanged the usual pleasantries with one I know a bit better & thought nothing more of it.
At the end of the evening as they left someone I didn’t know came over and said “Hi I’m ####, you’re Andrew Copland?“, and I said – whilst reaching to shake hands – “Yes that’s me“. He shook my hand and said “I fix all your bugs“.
He let go of my hand and left laughing leaving me in silence with my hand still in the air, stunned.
A friend that I was sat beside asked me if he really had just said that and I, slightly dazed, simply confirmed he had.
This has been bugging me more than it should so I want to get why off my chest.
When I started at this former workplace I was broke. It was after another company I worked for had gotten into financial difficulty and not been able to pay, simultaneously several big studios in the UK had gone under and made about 800 developers (in total) redundant in the UK.
There was a massive glut of talent and finding work got really hard, really fast at the worst possible time. I was unemployed from early July to late October that year.
Eventually I went to this place out of desperation, I’d heard bad things about them, so even though they were based very conveniently I’d instead chosen to go up and down the length of the country before applying to them. Partly this was also because it wasn’t a games role but a Tools one and my first time doing more than just tinkering or bug fixes on development tools.
It started fairly badly with some office politics treating the outgoing developer I would replace unfairly. Thankfully the Tools team themselves were great and the guy who was leaving (that I knew already) made that whole time work despite the bullshit.
Sadly about 6 months into this I started to suffer from depression and a little anxiety. It took me a while to realise this of course, anyone with these things will know that they don’t come with an easily identifiable rash or something to give themselves away, they come on slowly and discreetly.
The pressure was on at work due to company finance problems, project deadlines, a new tool that needed creating – which should have been a simple affair and conceptually I had no problem with. However by now my mental health was affecting my work. This was when I realised what was wrong and went to my doctors.
To cut all that short, I got help.
I got some very mild anti-anxiety tablets to stop me having panic attacks and elected not to treat the depression medically but to get counselling (CBT to be precise) instead and to keep medication an option for later if that wasn’t helping.
I also started to look for another job as it was clear that the way the company worked, and the work itself, didn’t suit me at all.
Getting the anxiety under control really helped my work but during the time leading up to this I had written some of the worst code of my entire life. Even with things being better I was still under a lot of time pressure to fix existing bugs / features and to write the new tool so this code also suffered quite badly. I have no doubt that I left some absolute stinkers in that codebase.
Since I started as a technical QA (bug fixer) I’ve been on the receiving end of code like that too. In fact the code I was replacing was already pretty hideous and bug ridden but only because it too was written whilst it was being used in production with all those same time constraints.
What I have never done is approach someone else and mock them for their bad code.
I’m Normal.. No, Really:
Perhaps it’s because I am an average coder, I strive for excellence, I achieve average but I don’t see a reason to beat myself up for that as I always strive for excellence regardless. The attitude that you should only code if you’re some kind of code-magician is only held by the most deplorable of shit heads. Sadly I’ve worked with a few, being openly mocked in a company wide email by the lead programmer of another studio, as junior coder, for asking for help comes to mind. I shrugged it off as my own lead was far more supportive and the better man, it was his opinion (to paraphrase: “Don’t mind him, he’s a dick”) that mattered more. I’ve remained friends with many of the people I’ve worked with, and have been rewarded in my work by always being recommended and thought of highly, sometimes even for my skill and not just my dedication.
Over time I’ve learnt that I’m not alone, other people have gone through periods like me, outside influences in their lives that have affected their proficiency at work. It seems obvious when you say it aloud, but if you’ve been dumped by your girlfriend, divorced by your partner or separated from your children, maybe you suffer from depression or anxiety for any reason, then yes your work will suffer because you are suffering. You shouldn’t be mocked for that, not then and not unfairly in the future when some 20-ish-year-old University graduate has to see those bugs you wrote at one of the lowest and most difficult times of life you’ve yet faced.
My subsequent job was also in Tools, I found out that at least that hadn’t been the problem. Just some combination of the company / tasks / projects / environment had combined badly with what was going on in my personal life at the time to affect so horribly. The next job went well and I enjoyed it until the company was being bought out and I saw an opportunity to get back into developing games themselves. Tools development just isn’t for me, Tools are part of the process of making a game, and it’s the game I wanted to be making.
These days I do contract work, we re-launched an older PC title on Steam with some bug fixes and improvements including replacing the old networking with Steam’s system and I wrote a lot of improvements and additions for it. Now I’m still working with that company and with my friends because everyone has been pleased with my work, for the most part I am too. There are disappointments, I am after all just average and I make mistake or do stupid things, but I’m also successful far more than I fail.
The, let’s be generous and assume nothing malicious, “witty-put-down” I experienced the other night out with friend has been slowly gnawing at my mind now not because I’m without fault but because of that time, because of those difficulties I faced and how much everything hurt…
…well, that and it was a just a really shit thing of them to say ;)
NB: Yes you can probably look at my LinkedIn page and figure out where this all happened but I’ve deliberately omitted that stuff so keep it out of the comments please.