This is a true story. Descriptions of companies, clients, schools, projects, and designers may be altered and anonymized to protect the innocent.
Editor: At the beginning of this tale, "Good Ol' Boy" set out to chase his dream job. Here we learn that sometimes opportunity knocks on a door you didn't even know was there. If you missed the first, second or third part of this story, catch up first!
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I had been promised a Junior Industrial Designer job at Consumer Electronics Giant for $42,000 a year. But after a boardroom shuffle, the new Evil Boss now told me the new offer was $35,000 a year.
"Take it or leave it," Evil Boss prompted.
"I need a day to think about it," I said.
Evil Boss pointed to his desk drawer. "I've got a lot of books here, [Good Ol' Boy]," he said. "There's a lot of designers that want to come work for me."
I was pretty sure he was full of shit about having people's portfolios in his drawer, and about people wanting to work for him specifically, the damn egomaniac; but there was no doubt that this was a gig a lot of designers would kill for. "So you want an answer right this second?" I asked.
"You have twenty minutes."
What an a**hole.
I went into the shared office where I worked, sat down, and made a quick list:Pros:
- Located in the city where I want to live
- Awesome ID projects for a prestigious company
- I like my coworkers (except new boss)
- Good portfolio builder in case I want to move on later
- I already know the workflow here
- Get to see current projects through
- It's a sure thing
- $7,000 less than what I should be getting
- Evil Boss appears to be a total prick.
I had to swallow my pride and admit the Pros outweighed the Cons. I went back in and gave Evil Boss my decision. By the next week I was given CE Giant business cards that said my name and "Junior Designer" underneath it. That felt pretty good, and I started looking for an apartment in the area.
Under the Table Client Juggling
Work hummed along, and in several months' time we started to get busy. So busy that Evil Boss announced he was hiring another Junior Designer. I didn't feel threatened; I was thankful for the assistance when the new kid, Jessie, came in. He was straight out of ID undergrad and didn't have anywhere near my Alias skills, but he was bright and helped me out immensely by taking on the grunt work.
I shared an office with Jessie and two other guys, which was good for quickly solving certain kinds of problems, but annoying in other ways. The two other guys were Senior Designers and one of them, I'll call him Hairy Gary, was always trying (and failing) to fight quietly on the phone with his girlfriend. She called a lot.
And although Hairy Gary was a full-time employee, by overhearing his end of the conversation while he fought with his girlfriend, I gathered that he was freelancing for other clients at night--a big no-no at CE Giant. But he never said anything about it to us, and I kept my mouth shut; it was none of my business.
Although one day, it would be my business.
Industrial Designer Jones and the Laptop of Doom
One morning me and Evil Boss had to go give a presentation outside the office. I'd been with the company over a year at this point. I always hated traveling with him because he insisted on driving, and the way this guy drove, I felt like I should be shooting at the car behind us. I always arrived at external presentations a little seasick.
Thirty minutes before the presentation, I was waiting in Evil Boss' office for him while he was on the phone. If we didn't get a move on we were going to be late. I knew he was talking--arguing, really--with the home office, because he was speaking in [foreign language]. He finally pressed the receiver against his shoulder and told me, distractedly, "You'll have to give the presentation yourself, I have to sort something out."
"I don't have the files," I said.
"Just take my goddamn laptop," he said, yanking the power cord out, picking it up and handing it to me.
As he handed it to me, he stopped for a second, like he was going to yank it back away from me, then tried to cover that motion up and pressed it into my hands. There was a quick look on his face that I can't quite describe, but you'd know it right away if you saw it: It was a look of Wait a second, I shouldn't be letting him use this laptop. I knew, in that brief second, that there was something on there that he didn't want me to see.
I went and gave the presentation, then stopped at a coffee shop on my way back to the office. I sat down at a table, popped open the laptop and started snooping. I figured Evil Boss had some kinda weird porn on here, and while I wasn't dirty enough to blackmail the guy, I sure wouldn't mind knowing something other people didn't.
Well, I found something, but it wasn't porn.
In a folder labeled "Correspondence" I found Evil Boss' letter of employment offer to Jessie.
The little shit had been hired at $42,000 a year.
Now don't get me wrong, I liked the kid alright, but this was bullshit. He had a Bachelors, I had a Masters and way more experience. $42,000 was what I'd been promised before Evil Boss told me that starting was $35,000 no matter what. I was pissed.
I started digging through more of his computer hoping I would find some disturbing porn, because now I was ready to blackmail the sumbitch. But unfortunately, I couldn't find anything.
Breaking Up is Hard to Do
I wanted to confront the Boss right away, but I knew I had to be slick about it. I couldn't let on that I'd gone through his computer. So for months I sat on that information without letting on that I knew. I was going to have to wait for some opportunity to gain some kind of advantage over him.
Eventually opportunity did come my way, and it came from the strangest place: Hairy Gary's girlfriend, Amber. A girl I'd never even met.
Gary's phone fights with Amber grew more and more frequent, and he looked like he was getting less and less sleep. One morning he wandered into work 30 minutes late and looked exactly like he'd spent the night before at a Tequila-drinking competition.
"Hey Gary," I said. "How's it going?"
"Amber left me," he said.
"Ohhhh," I said, not knowing what to say. We worked together and were friendly, but we weren't exactly tight. Jessie focused intently on his screen, clearly not wanting to get involved in the conversation.
"She says I work all the time and I don't pay enough attention to her," he volunteered.
"But you're out of here every day at 5:30," Jessie protested, his interest suddenly raised. "I'm the one that always has to stay late."
"He freelances at night, dipshit," I said to Jessie, starting to lose my patience with him. I couldn't believe this kid was getting paid more than me, I could only stomach it for so long.
"Not anymore," Gary said. "I'm quitting the freelance. I'm gonna get her back."
That could have been the end of the conversation, we all could have turned back to our computers. Instead it unexpectedly, randomly turned into one of those gamechanging moments, just because I decided to open my mouth. "Who are you freelancing for?" I asked.
"[Hot Design,]" Gary said. "Five nights a week and on Saturdays."
My jaw just about dropped. For almost two years I'd been working side by side with Gary and had no idea who his main freelance client was. Me wanting to work at Hot Design was the whole reason I'd changed my entire life and gone to grad school, and I'd wound up here as an indirect result of that. And I didn't want to be here anymore, if I could be over there.
"What do you do for them?" I asked.
"Same crap as here," he said. "Alias stuff."
With Hairy Gary wanting to go chase his girlfriend, it didn't take much convincing for him to give me the number of his contact at Hot Design. Gary, we work together, we're tight, right? I asked him to tell me about the projects he was working on so I could bone up in those areas, but he said he signed NDAs. Then I practically begged him to tell them, when he quit, that he could recommend a good replacement, but I don't know if he ever did.
It didn't matter; I knew Hot Design was down one designer, so I called them up the next day and had an interview two evenings later.
Second Time's a Charm
I was nervous walking into that building, and wondered if I'd be interviewed by the same guy who'd interviewed me all those years before.
As it turns out, my interview was in the very same office. But the guy was long gone. Instead I was interviewed by not one, but four senior designers.
I started to relax as soon as they began looking through my book. Though it was held in the same office, the vibe of this interview was completely different than the last one: Their body language was smiling, leaning in towards my book, saying things like "That's so cool" or asking technical questions about how I'd done a particular thing. At the end of the interview, they asked if I could come in on next Monday night after work to start picking up Hairy Gary's projects.
When You're Hot, You're Hot
For the next three weeks, I'd work 8:30am to 5:30pm at CE Giant, then head over to Hot Design and work until 10pm. It took me a little while to get used to their workflow, but the work was every bit as awesome as I'd dreamed it would be.
On the third Friday I was there, Hot Design Boss wandered into my office. I was surprised he was there so late, and I'd only met him once or twice. "We like what you're doing here, [Good Ol' Boy]," he said. "How do you like the work here?"
"I love it," I said, truthfully.
"We've got a Senior Designer slot open," Hot Design Boss said. "How'd you like to come work for us?"
At Hot Design.
All those years I'd worked, and waited.
And that wasn't even the best part. The salary offered: $60,000 a year, almost double what I was making at CE Giant.
I couldn't say yes fast enough, but I still spent the next week working at CE Giant and freelancing for Hot Design at night. Because I was waiting for that official offer of employment letter to show up in my mailbox. I wanted to make sure that this was all really going to happen, that I had this all down in ink.
Because now, I had just one more thing that I had to do. I felt like Robert De Niro at the end of "Heat," where I'd just gotten away with a heist and ought to just leave things be; but my pride was going to make me go back and do just one, last, thing.