A City Fiction

PC Blue AvatarEpisode 1 | 10 min
I fell in love with Medium the other day having rediscovered the platform last week. It is such a beautiful platform that really helps me focus on just writing and less on fixing the presentation.
With that said, I first started writing this story in Medium and published this post on the platform – but have since taken it down. I believe this story is best served as an e-book which I’ll create at some point. 
I am unsure at this stage how many stories I can muster out, but I do have a lot and there will at least be an episode 2 (I think). 

An Ominous Sign

“What do you think is going to happen?” Mark asked despondently.

“Well, it’s either ‘the big guy‘ is going to resign, or there’s going to be a major restructure, or they might kick out timelines,” I responded having just read an ‘emergency-meeting’ email sent by Scott, our Program Director a couple of hours ago.

“Or they might cut the program altogether!” Mark exclaimed.

I thought about Mark’s scenario even before he mentioned it, but came to the conclusion that this would be highly unlikely given the investment already made by the bank to the program, the commitment it made for continued support and the media releases the Lester Bank had put out.

I could not however completely disregard this scenario. “Yes, they may,” I conceded. “This is the first unscheduled announcement which involves the entire program — it must be BIG news.” I exclaimed.

These were uncertain times for the program; we were 2 years into the program with no working software to show. Business confidence was hitting a low point and overall growth in the local economy was lower than market expectations. Companies were laying off staff in droves and looking for a job was quite difficult, if not nearly impossible, with the layoffs supplying the market with more job seekers than demand required. The bank itself had more regulatory-based project initiatives, to keep up with the changing financial landscape, than it had programs targeting growth like ours. We were a big target and many were waiting for us to fail.

Agencies, whose job was to source candidates and fill job openings, would only return calls if you were a 100% fit for their job spec —  if they had a job spec at all. Most, would not return calls. My desk neighbour Mark and I were expecting to receive the bad news in a big way.

“You polished your CV mate?” Mark asked.

“You know me,” I responded. “Of course and I have a number of them sitting in my draft folder on email.”

“If they cut, I will send.”

“I should really do that too,” Mark countered having received a tip from a fellow seasoned pro. Mark and I worked in projects within the Banking and Financial Services industry for approximately a decade and we knew the rules of the game.

“Hey Jake, I finished the business rules associated with the customer reconciliation use case,” Dan yelled from the other side of the room. “I’ll bet you them testers will come back with some bullshit defects again.”


I consumed those comments with a grain of salt. Dan liked absolving himself from any kind of work. Being the lead of a team of business analysts, I recognised that Dan was good enough at writing and expressing requirements on paper —  when he worked. The problem was, he only worked when he felt like it, which was as often as a new Coldplay album. In a program of 50-odd people, excluding an offshored testing team, he was able to fly underneath the radar without causing alarm bells. This was one of the problems the program had.

And he was one of my personal challenges.

“..so let’s check out those Cricket scores,” he blatantly flaunted, despite the fact that he had a ton of work and sat in front of a main corridor where people walked by all day. This was not a one-off 5-minute scan of the Cricket scores too; this was Dan’s day long ritual of surfing the net. The guy had balls and not a lot of common sense. Either that or he simply did not care, which was even more dangerous.

“I feel sorry for you Jake,” Mark softly said. “I only have to deal with Joe and he knows to leave me alone.”

Ah yes, Joe. He of the 600 page use case fame. His documentation was not only way too long for anyone to digest, but it also had the added feature of being so intertwined and confusing that you really needed his assistance to decrypt and understand the story.

Use cases were meant to express the behaviour of a system as it interacts with an actor to achieve some goal.

In Joe’s case, one use case called another which called another, repeated nth number of times, until you were either hopelessly lost, lost all interest, or both. The document failed its main goal of translating requirements to anyone, but succeeded in ensuring that his contract kept rolling for as long as the program kept going. 

This is what many believed he set out to do in the first place. But different people did different things to keep their own personal gravy train rolling, rather than focus on the business outcome. Mark and I thought alike though, in that we were more concerned about delivering what we could and building strong relationships.

“How are those Cricket scores looking?” Manish asked as he swung by Dan’s desk. Manish was our IT Project Manager for the interfaces team and the warlord of long work hours. His area, the interface team, was renowned for running late with everything, partly because of the number of dependencies the team had, and the misfits he inherited. The team was 3 resignations down in the space of 5 months, a program and bank record for dysfunction. His constant visits must be his own way to alleviate stress.

Manish also happened to be Dan’s Cricket tormentor based on the appalling display Australia had in the last test against India.

“250/1, 40 overs. Look another way Manish, it’s not looking good for you guys.” Dan countered, feeling the presence of Manish over his shoulder.

“Never over til it’s over my friend.” Manish countered. “Anyway, what is happening with that document of yours? We need your inputs to proceed building the interfaces.” Manish hop-skipped and sidestepped the scores by changing topic before Daniel had a chance to cut in.

“I’ll send you a working copy of what I have now, but it’s under static testing with the testing team at the moment.” Dan responded defensively. “Can you believe I have defects on spelling? That reminds me — JAKE!”

“Sigh.” I breathed heavily and turned around.

“Make sure to put F7 spell check as an extra point in our best practice exit criteria.” Dan said sarcastically. “After all we’re after perfect documents over working software here.”

“And..” Dan was on a roll.

“..as much as I love them testers,” Dan continued. “I don’t want anymore of this BS.”

“You’re the man!” I replied patronising Dan with grain of salt. “Manish, how’s everything going?” I quickly asked before Dan could get a word in.

“Could be better Jake, could be better.” Manish sighed.

“So what’s the goss on your side of the fence?” I enquired.

“Well,” Manish breathed heavily. “Some people in the know think they will descope ‘private banking’ and minimize the reporting component. Apparently they will have someone in BAU running a query each month instead.” Manish answered.

“And as for private banking,” he continued. “That’ll probably be moved to phase never.”

“That’s a lot less UX UI work, with whole CX brand out.” I commented.

“Who know’s.” I continued. “Joe’s UC might even dwindle down to 500 pages and UX might actually read it!”

“Ha! I wouldn’t go that far.” Manish snickered.

“Well, all good then. It doesn’t affect us over here.” Dan finally got a word in.

“Pity Nick, Sue and all them though.” he continued.

Nick, Sue, Bill, Theresa and their development team were all the mainstays of the private banking area. Being the big ‘value add’ of the business case, they’ve been working on gathering the requirements and designing the solution for as long as the program existed. If Manish was correct, then it appeared that the business has chosen to cut scope and focus on building the foundations of the system first, before casting the net wide.

“Is this common knowledge?” Mark asked who was now intently following the conversation.

“No, not yet. My team doesn’t even know. I just ran into Maria who gave me the goss.” Manish replied. “No one is supposed to know this so please keep it hush-hush for now.”

“Well, where will we be without the unofficial channel?” Dan chimed in, referring to Maria the PMO master scheduler and program gossip. “We would be all kept in the dark without her.”

“And don’t worry Manish, I will keep it quiet..” Dan continued and paused.

“..and I will check the scores right after the announcement and give you the good news.” Dan followed up.

“You do that,” Manish mumbled, clearly annoyed that he didn’t check the scores before coming around.


“Have you heard from Strength Financial yet?” Sue asked her agent Michael. “Things are just not right over here and I want to start something new now, before the Christmas shutdown hits.”

“No worries Sue, I will follow-up with the client right now.” Michael began. “I did forward your CV when we spoke last, but I’ll call them right now.”

“Thanks, appreciate that. If you hear something between now and the end of day, can you give me a call? Otherwise I’ll give you a call tomorrow.” Sue said.

“Sure thing.” Michael said. Michael worked for ‘George and Associates’, one of the biggest agencies in the city. He knew from Sue and a few others within the program, including Sue’s colleague Nick, that there was some trouble brewing. He saw the emails with attached CV’s pour in his mailbox and filtered them according to his favourites. A few of them were from Lester.

Sorting CV’s was a relatively easy task for Michael, particularly given candidates with similar backgrounds. And in this case, he had a long-standing relationship with Sue having served as her agent in her last gig.

“Talk soon. Bye.” Sue hung up the phone.

“Uh hum.” Nick cleared his throat behind Sue. “Anything interesting happening?”

“Oh, that was Raul. Just making sure he saw the changes to the functionals before he started developing.” Sue tried to cover up.

“Of course.” Nick said with a sly grin. He snapped his fingers and started walking back to his desk while saying: “There are no secrets between us Sue.”

Sue was clearly concerned. “Did he hear all that?” Sue thought. “How long has been standing there for?” she wondered.

Nick went back to his desk and stared blankly at the screen. He recognised the warning signs when he saw it. Sue’s whispers, an unusually high number of mobile calls with people disappearing into empty meeting rooms, corner conversations, leering eyes — the whole lot! Staff were even attacking the lollies jar at a faster pace, a sure sign of work stress.

He heard the rumours from PMO, and that there was going to be a big cut in spend shortly. He suspected that it involved their area. And at the back of his head, he also knew that other parts of the bank were making staff redundant, following the trend within the industry.

Nick wondered why his own applications did not receive one call back from agents. “I don’t get it,” he thought. “Is the market that dry? I have the years behind me and I added all the new standard buzzwords. What is going on out there?”

Nick decided to call Michael, who unbeknownst to him, was just talking to Sue a moment ago.

Ring, ring.

No Answer.

Ring, ring.

Nick was just about to hang up when Michael picked up. “Hello, George and Associates — this is Michael.”

“Hi Michael, it’s Nick at Lester. You must be terribly busy.” Nick said in a hushed tone.

“Yes, you could say that.” Michael replied. At this point Michael thought, ‘Dude, your colleague just called me for the same role. She’s in, your out.’

“Did you receive my application?” Nick enquired quietly.

“Yes I did but unfortunately, the client is not looking for anymore candidates.” Michael replied. This was a blatant lie as Strength Financial had a mandate of 3 CV’s from George and Associates, and Michael had one left up in his sleeve (which he was saving for another favourite). 

In theory, an agent should only ever send their strongest candidate to the client in order to increase their chances of making a placement, therefore earning a commission.

In practice, relationships mattered — particularly in a small city.

Michael had an existing relationship with the hiring manager at Strength, where he was known for supplying good quality clients. In reality this meant that Michael supplied Strength with people who fit in ‘culturally’ — they were serious on cue and they knew when to lighten up during ‘after work drinks’. He had a lock on sending CV’s first, before Strength fielded other resume’s from other agents.

He also gathered that Sue and his client at Strength would hit it off. Her personality was a good match.

“Let me check some other openings for you Nick and get back to you.” Michael covered up.

“I am counting on you.” Nick said quietly.

“Yep, leave it with me. I’ll call you straight away when something pops up.” Michael said with a cringe and hung up.

Michael knew that Nick’s chances in the current market were quite small.

Companies who lay off staff tipped the balance to the supply side of the job market. For every 15 job seekers, there was only 1 job on the other end. Job adverts were repeated across job search engines as numerous agents worked on the same job advertised for one employer. This many-to-one dynamic was apparent to most of the seasoned job seekers but the true magnitude lay hidden in the job market web.

There was, of course, a more creative and direct approach to job searches; but most opted for the ‘more modern’ structure of using job search websites. This approach decreases the chances of people like Nick to secure an interview and forced them to play ‘the numbers game’.

In contrast, a more direct approach increases their chances — particularly where strong relationships exist.

“Let’s check what’s happening in the job market shall we.” Nick thought to himself while minimizing the screen of the job search site.

Sue walked by Nick’s desk and saw the distinctive colours of the FindJobs.com website by accident. She wanted to ask him about an issue, but instead saw the striking logo of Find Jobs, a dead giveaway for people in the industry.

“What are you doing Nick?” Sue sarcastically quizzed.

Nick was clearly surprised and hit Alt + Tab to hide the job search engine.

“Just looking for where we keep the ‘messaging spreadsheet’. Do you know where it’s kept?” Nick said sheepishly.

“There are no secrets between us Nick.” Sue playfully giggled, giving Nick a wink.

Karma killed Nick inside. He cursed Sue in his head.

“I’m just about to head to the announcement now.” Sue broke the ice. “Are you coming?”

“Let’s.” Nick replied and they then made their way to the main area along with the rest of the cattle.

Perry Carbonell

Writer, designer, whatever.

I’m also on Twitter. Open to hear your thoughts on this.

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