This is a true story. Descriptions of companies, clients, schools, projects, and designers may be altered and anonymized to protect the innocent.
Editor: "Family Man" has quit his old ID job and moved his entire family cross-country to work for specialty manufacturer "Liberace Batcopters." He's also negotiated a huge salary bump for himself. Now it's time to settle into the new job—what could go wrong?
This might sound strange, but even though I was new, my first week at Liberace Batcopters was the first time I really felt confident as an industrial designer. On that first day, a Tuesday, I was a little nervous; up until then everything I'd ever designed could be held in your hand, or at least picked up, and here I was designing pieces of a massive vehicle of a sort I'd never even ridden in. But as the week went on, the confidence started to happen as I realized that, on some level, design is design. The scale of my new projects created some new challenges, but it was all very manageable. When you lay things out in the proper sequence and you attack the design problems from the correct angle, your experience will carry you through.
The first week went by in a blur. I was redesigning a shroud to cover the gun turret that fired Bat-a-rangs to make it more aerodynamic. One of the engineers confided to me that no matter how sleek I got it, it wasn't really going to do a damn thing for the drag coefficient, but that they would compensate by adding more thrust and burning more fuel. Our clients, you see, wanted the aesthetic change and weren't the type to worry about burning more fuel, especially since a lot of them had made their fortunes by sitting on its sources.
That aside, there were still relevant design problems. The turret's new shape would affect the way the Bat-a-rangs were fired, and my job was to solve that. I had to go through technical manuals, study Bat-a-rangs and learn lots of words I didn't know before, but by the end of the week I'd devised a solution I felt good about.
The second week was a bit weirder, as I was called upon to redesign the pilot's seat for one of our more portly customers. A huge crate arrived, and inside was a life-sized casting of the guy in a seated position. I can't even imagine how much the thing cost to ship, let alone have made, but this should give you some idea of how weird and super-rich our customers were. I tried not to think about who this guy was or get caught up in the weirdness, I just looked at it as a design problem: I was taking measurements and somehow had to reconcile our current design with them.
I wasn't doing design the whole time, of course; any time you go to a new place you have to learn their system and where everything is, so I wasn't quite working at 100% capacity. And there was some administrative stuff, logging hours into timesheets, et cetera. For you students who haven't experienced this yet, a lot of places make you fill out timesheets even if you're salaried, and some places are more precise than others about it. Some places want to see exactly how many hours you spent on a particular thing, usually to figure out how to bill the client, but I'd worked at at least one place that used the timesheet figures to evaluate employee performance. So it was always in your best interests to fill them out honestly, and Liberace Batcopters' timesheets went down to 15-minute increments. So the first week my billable hours were 22.75 hours, the second week, 25.5. I didn't count the hours where I was going through technical manuals and learning new stuff or doing administrative things, just the hours I spent doing actual design work.
The Monday of my third week, my paycheck was sitting on my desk in an envelope by the end of the day (a manageable 5:30pm). I scooped it up, happy as a clam, and drove home in my new, big-ass truck to my new, big-ass house.
My wife was home with the boys. We decided with the money I was making, she didn't really need to get a job, and at the very least she was going to spend a few months at home getting us settled in while I brought home the bacon. This new house was more than double the size of the last one we'd lived in, and required more work to keep clean, so after dinner my wife and I were coming up with a new chore list for our eldest son. I wanted him to have a new snowboard but I didn't just want to give it to him, as that sure isn't how I was raised; so I wanted to work out a chore schedule and make it clear that that's what he was working for, and when he eventually hit the target, we'd go to the store and buy what he'd earned with his hard work.
So next I found myself in the den looking up snowboard models and prices online, so I could calculate a reasonable chore rate; I didn't want my boy having to work for a year before we could hit the slopes. That got me thinking about money, and I reached over and grabbed the paycheck envelope, which I'd left on the desk before dinner. It was with great satisfaction that I grabbed the letter opener to cut it open, because I knew what the amount would be: $85,000 divided by 26, or $3,270 before they took the taxes out. That was more than double my last paycheck.
I sliced the envelope open.
Pulled out the check.
Something was wrong. Very wrong.
The dollar amount on the check prior to taxes being taken out: $1,971.
WHAT THE EFF.
I turned the check over and over in my hands, looking for some error, something I'd missed. But nope, there it was, that very wrong, very low amount.
I couldn't figure it out. The pay period listed on the check was right and the dollar amount was wrong. Then something dawned on me, and I grabbed a calculator. Wracked my brain until I remembered the hours I'd entered on the timesheet for my first two weeks.
A couple of calculations later, I realized where this weird $1,971 figure came from. I'd logged 38.25 billable hours in my first two weeks. If you divided $85,000 by the amount of work hours in a year, you'd get an hourly rate; and when you multiplied that hourly rate by 38.25, you got, yep, $1,971.
I was satisfied at solving this mathematical problem, then quickly went back to WHAT THE EFF mode. I had been hired as a salaried employee, not some hourly-wage sodajerk. That was what we had agreed upon, and that's why MY WIFE AND I BOTH QUIT OUR JOBS SO WE COULD MOVE OUR ENTIRE FAMILY CROSS-COUNTRY. That's what Batcopter Boss and I had shaken hands on, and I was positive that was what was in the employment contract.
I pulled open my desk drawer to grab the contract, then remembered I'd left it in my desk at work. I got on the computer and frantically started pulling up old e-mails until I found one between me and Batcopter Boss including the agreed-upon $85,000 annual salary. Then I sat back in my chair and thought, Jesus Christ.
I must have read the contract wrong. There must have been some loophole, some clause in it that I'd missed. I couldn't believe it. I was in shock. I thought about my wife, our two boys, the new truck, the new mortgage, the moving costs, the new kitchen appliances we'd splurged on, and I just felt shock sink in.
Let me tell you something, something about being a man. I grew up on a ranch. I know how to fight, I know how to fix shit, I know how to hunt and fish and when my wife hears a noise in the middle of the night I get up and go downstairs with a baseball bat. My father never sat me down and said "These are the things you need to learn to be a man," because no one in my town thought like that, these were just things that you learned growing up. It wasn't until I moved to a city that I found these things were considered, in our time, 'manly' qualities.
But one thing my father did impress upon me on this subject, one thing I remember him saying very clearly, is "A man provides for his family." That's it. That was the main thing.
Time and again as a boy I'd watched him perform miserable, unpleasant tasks, and as I got older I did them alongside him. We didn't do them because we liked them, we did them because that was what my father needed to get done to provide for his family. That was a man's main job, and it seemed that I had somehow colossally screwed this up.
I yelled to my wife that I'd left something at work and that I'd be right back. Am glad she didn't get to see my face. I hopped in my truck and tore ass over to the office.
All specific names, companies, clients, designers, and details will be kept anonymous to protect the innocent. You needn't write the story out; a Core77 Editor will interview you to produce a write-up (and to be sure you ain't pulling the wool over our eyes to win that sweet gift certificate!).