It's funny because it's true. Well, it's really not that funny if it happens to you, and that's why you need to learn the lessons Bill Blunden learned the hard way over the course of three woeful years of cubicle hell so that you can avoid suffering the same soul-destroying fate. Blunden's workplace warnings go out specifically to high-minded computer programmers sashaying across stages with pointy hats atop their heads, but the lessons imparted in this book can be applied by anyone to innumerable aspects of life. Life is not going to reward your collegiate efforts by dropping a fantastic job in your lap. Just finding a job may be tough, and the chances are good that you will never find a truly satisfying way to pay the bills. If you are extremely unlucky, you may find yourself trapped in a highly dysfunctional workplace such as the one described in this book, and you will look desperately for any port in a storm. Whatever happens, you will certainly encounter some of the personality types and managerial handlers described so effectively in these pages, and having prior knowledge of the danger zones ahead and the types of coworkers to look out before can be of tremendous help to you, your career, and your sanity. That is why Cube Farm is an important book.
Bill Blunden worked hard to earn a degree in physics from Cornell. Justifiably proud of his academic achievements, he sauntered into real life thinking the world was his oyster; he found out that the world is indeed a big oyster, but it has a habit of swallowing you whole when you reach in and begin searching for your own personal pearl. After waiting tables for three years, he went back to school and got a degree in operations research; job offers finally began to come in, and he chose to accept a position at Lawson Software in Minnesota. Thus began three years of hell. He had embellished his resume somewhat to claim he was a Java expert, and now he was a full-fledged software engineer. He was eager and determined to learn and contribute to the company, but he soon found out that the company was not eager to train him to do the job. This was in part due to the fact that only a handful of people still understood Lawson's clunky, leviathan-like code in the first place, but it was also due to bad management. His co-workers were little help, as the company environment led to intense competition within the ranks. Everyone wanted the best project for himself, time and money were wasted by having two teams basically competing for the same prize, and self-interest alongside the need to provide for a family led to knowledge hoarding. This was not the atmosphere of collegial teamwork Blunden had expected to find.
Blunden worked on one failed project after another. These were projects that seemed destined to fail; everyone knew it, especially the programmers, but the managers at Lawson basically ignored problems and left their teams hanging in the wind on a daily basis. A couple of good souls helped Blunden along the way, but by and large his work experience was shaped by characters easily defined by the names he assigns to them in the book: Long John Silver, Mad Dawg, the Shill, the Godfather, the Last Mohican, the Wax Artist, the Puppet Master, and others. Work became a horrible chore to Blunden, disillusionment set in, frustration rose, and then things got even worse. The stories he tells here seem extreme, but anyone who has ever worked in a cubicle or been assigned an oar to row a captainless ship going nowhere but down into a deep, dark, watery grave, knows just what he is talking about. Few experiences are as ridiculously awful as his, but even the best and the brightest encounter similar experiences to some degree.
This book is meant to help those to come, to warn them of the dangers ahead, but I'm not sure how helpful the book is in terms of overcoming such problems. Certainly, Blunden met with virtually no success in terms of coping to professional life in his own twisted environment. To Blunden's credit, he does commiserate with individuals who do what they have to do in order to care for their families. Management, however, is viciously hoisted on its own petard - and seemingly justifiably so.
Knowledge is power, and one can clearly seek a destination much more efficiently when the blinders of naiveté and ignorance are removed. In order to tell his own story, Blunden does take the time to explain a few technical matters involving programming, but he does a great job of conveying such necessary information in terms a layman can understand. Some would say that Blunden is far too cynical, but who can blame him given his horrifying experiences? Others would blame him for his own lack of success, and maybe there's a grain of truth to that. Clearly, though, he faced challenges deeply embedded in the managerial infrastructure, and I feel he has done a great service to all workers, especially cubicle dwellers, by pointing the harsh light of truth on problems systemic in too many workplace environments.