Tales from The Trenches Archive

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The Wall

The first actual, real job I ever got was in working as a Tester (Quality Assurance) for a big name company that is primarily well known for it’s wrestling games. The interview process included a five page written test containing multiple logic puzzles, including the famous “Get the grain, chicken, and fox across the river” question, in addition to asking how you would teach an alien how to use a cell phone.

After passing the interview, you went into Boot Camp. A two week course that teaches you how to actually be a tester (famous in the industry at the time). You are not actually hired at this point, as the entire course is just another test in the form of orientation while sealed inside a dim room tinted red like the emergency lighting from those submarine movies.  Those who pass this period of salaried education were hired.

I still remember my elation of not having my name announced as one of the failures.

The next business day, I was shown to my shared cubicle in the most humane and habitable area of the office (I was spared working in the region named “Death Row” for it’s tightly packed humans and lack of airflow) and given my assignment.  I was to work on computer games!  An RTS flagship project!  I had narrowly avoided being assigned to games that were geared towards twelve year old girls on the Game Cube!

I was selected as one of the best in the batch of a lengthy and rigorous screening process, and I felt that quiet pride in myself and the company that had invested their trust in me as an employee.  And it felt good.

So I sat down with a grin on my face, fire up the computer, and just after I finish installing the game I’m supposed to test, some guys come into the cubicle and tell me that they need to alter my computer.  They
never said why (I assume it was to swap components for testing computer makeups), they just took my computer and monitor away, saying I would get it back later in the week.  I talked to my supervisor and
asked what I should do in the meantime.

He shrugged.

I spent the next two days wandering the office, finding the people who went through Boot Camp with me, and having small talk, whenever I was not sitting inside my cubicle and staring at the gray wall.

On Wednesday I brought in a book to read while I waited at my cubicle for my computer or an assignment.  Within half an hour the head of Human Resources ( turns out her office is five feet from my cubicle ) gave me an almost kindly worded but firm chewing out that I was not allowed to read anything that was not given to me to read by the company during work hours.

Who was I to talk back?  So with a book I wanted to read sitting next to me, I sat and stared at the wall for the rest of the day.

And Thursday.

And on Friday I got my computer back.  Rapturous, I hooked everything back together, and turned it on.  In two seconds there was a crack, pop, and the system went offline.  The power supply exploded the first time I used the remodeled computer.  And so I reported it directly to the company hardware guy, and lost my computer again.  And I spent the rest of that day sitting and staring at the gray wall of my cubicle.

I soon formed a routine.  When I wasn’t in my cubicle, I was wandering the office in one big loop.  I’d ask people what they were testing. Get guys to customize their Teeny-Bopper character’s make up to make them look like abused wives.  Watched a guy who’d spent the last nine months playing through the sidescrolling airplane level of a black and white Game Boy adaptation of a child’s cartoon for the 18,000th time (he was only allowed to play that one level).  But I could never risk straying very far from my cubicle or for very long.  And so I would always return quickly, and go back to sitting there.  Staring at that gray wall.

I spent a total of three weeks without a computer.  An entirely new load of testers made it through the Boot Camp and assigned to stations during my purgatory.  I heard them going on the guided tour behind me, as I sat there, staring at the wall.

I still don’t understand why I wasn’t fired or reassigned to a different team instead of being left to my own devices until a new computer finally came down the pipe.  The Head of HR was right THERE, my supervisor knew my situation exactly, and it’s not like there were no other games being developed.  I was being paid full time to sit there and stare at a wall.

Eight hours a day.  Five days a week.  Three weeks straight.  Sitting.

And staring. 

At that fucking wall.

I’m amazed I was still sane enough at the end of that period of time to understand the slow stripping away of human rights we Testers suffered over the course of the next ten months, until I was fired for being happy in the workplace.