Master of my own destiny?

In early 1993 I started to look for a job. My first application was for an IT traineeship at Cap Gemini. There were sixteen vacancies. Some 2,000 people applied, of which they selected 200 for a series of tests. Other applicants told stories about assessments and job interviews. The economy fared poorly, so there weren’t a lot of jobs. Many graduates were already searching for a long time. It was discouraging to hear their stories, so I expected to remain unemployed for quite a while.

But that was not meant to be. The tests went well, and they invited me for an interview and some more psychological tests. On my way to the appointment, a guy from dormitory 389-2 came sitting on the opposite seat on the train. He asked me why I was wearing a suit. I told him about the interview. Then he started to laugh loudly. ‘Your tie is a mess,’ he said, ‘Let me fix it for you.’ He arranged the tie correctly for me.

If this event, which appeared mere chance at the time, hadn’t happened, they may not have hired me. The interview and the tests went well. My misfortune because of not fitting in during my student years made me investigate culture and cultural differences. And so it wasn’t hard for me to translate the expectations of Cap Gemini concerning its employees into test answers. The test results made it appear as if I fitted perfectly into the corporate culture of Cap Gemini. And so, they hired me and sent me to a junior programming class to prepare for my first assignment.

My self-confidence was low. And I manipulated the test results to make it appear that I fit in. And so, I was afraid to turn up and felt unfit for the job. But these feelings receded once the class had started. We learned about programming. I was often joking about a programme I was planning to write. I named it DoEverything as it was supposed to do everything, which is a most remarkable coincidence.

Most of the time, my classmates discussed what type of car they would choose once they were on the job. I was the only one planning to use public transport. I was not their model employee. One classmate, Ad, a cheerful guy from the Eindhoven area, expressed his amazement about me having passed all the tests. ‘There were 1,600 applicants. And they picked you? It’s a miracle! How could that happen?’ Ad and I had a good laugh about it.

My first assignment was a project at the Groningen office of Cap Gemini. They put me in a team of six people. For months we had nothing to do. I often went out late and did some additional training. Our project manager was ambitious. He organised project meetings and demanded progress reports he could present to senior management even though we did nothing. After a few months, the computers and the work came in, so the project manager was busy managing our work. He constantly demanded progress updates.

We soon realised we would miss our deadline at the end of July. Before he went on a holiday, the project manager arranged a new deadline date at the end of August. Once he was gone, things suddenly went smoothly, so we were able to meet the original deadline date in July with ease. When the project manager returned, we had already installed the programmes. His superiors praised the project manager for delivering a month ahead of schedule. Perhaps he was getting a bonus or a promotion too.

My next job was a database job at a telecommunications company. The company had difficulty tracking what their database administrator was doing, so they hired me to reorganise one of their databases. This task was taken out of his hands and was given to me, a novice without experience. For that reason, he didn’t like me from the start. To make matters worse, I didn’t follow his advice because he was a bungler. That was why they hired me in the first place.

My conflict with the other database administrator caused a fuss. Cap Gemini sent me to a course called Professional Skills. I was not politically sensitive. It seemed better not to let political expedience stand in the way of doing what’s right or saying what needs to be said. But positively framing things contributes to a better atmosphere. You can call it political correctness. Cap Gemini also stressed that I was the master of my destiny. It was one of their company slogans.

After moving to Sneek, I started to look for a job near home. There was a vacancy for a software designer at an insurer in Leeuwarden. It later turned out that the job included being a project leader. The insurer had split the IT department into smaller teams that worked on a group of systems for a specific business unit. Every few weeks or so, we planned our tasks for the next few weeks. The business unit determined the priorities. It worked well as we had fewer political games, like business units competing for resources. My team consisted of people who knew what they were doing, so I felt redundant. There is no point in managing something that goes well by itself.

The department was well organised compared to what I had seen before. Two decades later, this approach to IT development has become commonplace. The atmosphere was friendly. Only I was accustomed to grim conditions, so I felt out of place. Even though it may have taken some time, I probably could get accustomed to a friendly atmosphere, but not to the job itself. All those documents, meetings, and priorities were boring. Designing and building information systems were much more fun. I had good qualifications for Oracle, but the insurer didn’t use Oracle. And so, I decided to try my luck as a freelance Oracle developer and database administrator. After all, Cap Gemini had taught me that I am the master of my destiny. But an ominous incident would soon suggest that I was not.

Latest revision: 7 September 2022

Featured image: Cap Gemini logo

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