Before brogrammer entered our vernacular, one writer discusses an experience working with an entire “Innovation Lab” team of them.
By Clothilde (Writer)
So I had this disquieting experience yesterday, entirely online, of course.
I came across mention of a tech guy I’d worked with, well, not directly, but same company. Followed a couple of links and learned his startup had just closed a large round of funding, prominent investors, awards.
So I Googled his name and the name of my old company, to see what the Akashic record on the situation was, and found only an interview he’d given to a startup-aspirational site in which he disparaged the culture of the company and essentially framed it as they weren’t ready to hear his level of disrupt-innovation, being deeply enmired in stodgy, dysfunctional bureaucracy.
Later in the article he talked about how his product will change the world for the better, how his time is his own, the goal is pure autonomy and following bliss — all that good stuff.
Here’s what I remember:
I remember when they announced the new “Innovation Lab” team. Existing employees, were, by definition, not innovators.
I remember that all of the interesting projects: mobile apps, responsive, were now the province of that team, to the despair of developers and designers who’d been agitating for us to go in that direction, and who needed to work on those projects to keep current.
Our research, reports, deliverables that were veiled pleas to work in these very arenas and heartfelt cases for budgets to do so, died on the shared drives.
I remember the first full team meeting, where this guy and his posse, all young guys, flew in from the other office and threw around buzzwords and exuded faint disdain. They had the ear of highest management, and the budget we could only dream of.
I remember saying to a work friend, after the meeting, that these guys reminded me of the exact same type of guys who used to go into investment banking back in the day. Same masters of the universe vibe, but now the energy and buzz was in tech. (There is now a portmanteau: brogrammers.)
The guys were always on the move, presenting innovations, rolling out apps, attending the hot conferences.
While there had been no money for us to go to conferences (one could petition to attend one conference a year) these guys seemed to fly in every other week for a super-expensive conference that they then would hardly attend, their badge lanyards more decorative than functional.
They’d colonize our desks with their laptops and overnight bags, attending raucous meetings, calling across the office to each other, and walking in small groups quickly to and fro. They were technicolor; we were greyed-out background.
I began to hear rumors of frat-boy-esque shenaningans billed to expense accounts. Possibly gourmet dinners, bar tabs. Maybe a strip club.
At this point let me mention we worked for a nonprofit with a necessarily straitlaced reputation, as it deals with children.
One day, we all received a strange, company-wide email in legalese from the president’s office. It cautioned us that anonymous group emails were not an appropriate channel for reporting ethics violations.
It stated that the charges were serious and would be looked into, but until then all gossip was to cease and desist.
I had not been on the group email distribution, but guessed as to its content if not its origin.
Perhaps a month later, a short, terse follow-up company-wide email stated that the charges had been looked into; some substantiated, some not, and that appropriate action was being taken.
The Big Ideas tech guy was gone, the Innovation Lab disbanded.
I ran into the fairly new CTO, a woman who’d been introduced with much fanfare and under whose auspices these guys had been brought in, one day at the elevator bank. She looked tired, human, much more approachable than I’d seen her, and I made some pleasantry, and she looked me in the eye and responded authentically.
Later that day it was announced she’d be leaving to pursue other opportunities, but remain in a consulting role during the search for a new CTO. I must have encountered her on her way to tender her resignation.
The reputation of our department was irreparably damaged. It was as if we were at the same time profligate and stagnant.
In the subsequent reorganization, the department was gutted, the VP was ousted, and all down the chain were laid off, including me.
I do not know if we all would have been axed had not Mr. Tech come to town.
I do know that the repercussions of his actions devolved not on him, but on everyone around him, both those who were true believers and those who saw that the emperor had no new clothes.
This piece originally appeared on Medium on May 8, 2014.