Original Image by Todd Williamson

I’ve Barely Worked in Years, but My Company Keeps Promoting Me

Talking to the real-life version of Nelson Bighetti from ‘Silicon Valley’

“Would you consider yourself to be technical?”

I remember the question vividly. I paused before answering and focused my attention on a painting hanging in my aunt’s living room. It was my second phone interview with a second recruiter who I would never meet in person.

I was unemployed and happened to be in San Francisco for a DreamForce networking event when the recruiter called to discuss the associate sales consultant position. It was one of two jobs I had applied for at one of the largest tech companies in the world. It was advertised as an opportunity to “solve a puzzle,” but I’d later find out it was an all-out war against sanity where I’d learn that boredom knew no bounds.

The other position I’d applied to was for the associate sales representative position, which required that I make cold calls — something I’d done in the past and promised to never do again. It also paid less.

I wasn’t too keen on either job, but a week later I was sitting on the toilet checking my email when I received an offer for $60,000 a year with a $20,000 bonus structure for the sales consultant position. I was relieved to have been offered the better of two jobs, but I should note that I always feel a bit shinier after a comprehensive bowel movement.

Even then, having gone through two separate interviews, I wasn’t exactly sure what it was the company did. The thing about these big tech companies is the language on their websites is purposefully vague and phrases like “Global Cloud Vision” and “Integrative Solutions” are thrown around as though they mean something.

Another thing that bothered me was that the job had been advertised as being based in San Francisco but my office would be in Redwood City.

I solicited the advice of a friend’s boss who was the founder of a startup. He assured me that a startup wouldn’t look down on my having worked at a big company and that the most important thing for someone with my level of experience was to just gain more. The bigger issue, which I didn’t realize at the time, was that this job would set me up for a job selling hardware, when I wanted to be doing business development—which, it turned out, is kind of like knowing you want to learn French but the only class being offered is German, so you settle and recalibrate your goals.

I accepted the offer in November of 2013 just before Thanksgiving. Eighty thousand dollars was just too loud a number for a recent college grad to ignore.

My responsibilities mainly focused on assisting sales reps during conference calls with prospective clients. I’d ask questions about their current server and inquire about other features they’d like to upgrade in their hardware pipeline. Or in our corporate speak, “Can you pipe it?” That’s the question you’ll hear cut through the silence on my office floor if you’re ever passing through.

I actually really liked my first boss. He was exceptionally knowledgeable, though his type of management was very hands-off so I never felt any pressure to do more than I was asked. Even doing the bare minimum, it only took six months before I was promoted from “Shared Services” to “Line of Business” which meant I would assist higher-level sales reps. I went from making $60,000 a year to $64,000 with a $25,000 bonus structure.

By then, I had already begun to take lunches that lasted well over an hour. The joke among my coworkers was that a one-hour lunch was “casual,” meaning 15 extra minutes here or there was implied. I was already coming into work about an hour later than when I first started—8 to 5 quickly became 9 to 4:30 and was cut again to 10 to 4. On some days I’d even take a two-hour lunch, which meant my entire workday was no longer than four hours.

The irony of my promotion was that it left me with less responsibility. I was now working with higher-level sales reps, who typically wanted to bring more experienced sales consultants onto their calls. (I call those guys “the crème de la crème.”) Without a sales call my job is woefully superfluous. But the culture in a big corporation dilutes responsibility to the point of nihility. When 20 people are CCed on one email with the subject line, “Crush It Plans,” no one feels obligated to respond. It’s the tragedy of the commons within a Fortune 500 company.

In the summer of 2014, just a week or so after I’d been handed my first promotion, I was relocated to a corner office, shared with one other person, but closed off with frosted glass that made it impossible for anyone to see us. It also happened to be the summer of the World Cup in Brazil. Which couldn’t have come at a more perfect time.

There I was, recently promoted, with fewer responsibilities than ever before and had been handed off to a sales team where three people had recently quit and another had accepted a different job within the company. Needless to say, there weren’t a lot of sales calls on the schedule.

I’d get to the office promptly before 11 a.m. (or as I’d like to think of it, just before kickoff) and stream multiple games on two giant computer screens. I don’t think I missed a single World Cup match that entire month. I’d often look at my coworker — the only other remaining member of my team — and ask her, “Are you over it? Because I’m over it.” Which meant, I know it’s only 3 p.m. but there aren’t any more games to watch and I’m ready to go home.

As part of my promotion I was also reassigned to a new boss, who was based 3,000 miles away in Boston. The only time I’d hear from him was via Gchat when he’d message me asking if I was “there.” Which meant nothing, considering I had Gchat on my phone and could literally have been anywhere.

There were a number of times when I was so consumed with boredom that I took the initiative to create my own call list and started cold-calling prospective clients. I even mentioned some suggestions to my boss about how to upgrade our workflows, but it wasn’t long before I realized that no one, including him, had considered any of my suggestions. After a month, I stopped making them.

We had a whiteboard in my office where a few coworkers and I would meet regularly to help each other figure out ways to exploit vacation days and achieve maximum leisure efficiency. It got to a point, especially after my most recent monthlong vacation to Europe, that my friends and family began asking me if I was worried about getting fired. It was around the same time that I came across a story in The Huffington Post about a supervising engineer for the municipal water board in Spain who hadn’t worked in six years but collected his $41,500 yearly salary until his retirement. He was only caught because he was scheduled to receive an award for 20 years of loyal service.

But even then, there wasn’t a moment during my vacation when I considered the consequences of my doldrums.

It helped that I knew just how hard it was to get fired from my company. There was a guy in my department who hadn’t shown up to work for three weeks and he ended up being put on medical leave.

Still, when my boss called me into a videoconference on my first Monday morning back from traveling through France, I was prepared to pack up my desk and have one final lunch at Pancho Villa or the Ravioli House. I’d known for months that it was time for me to move on; I was just surprised it had taken my boss so long to figure it out for himself.

Sitting in front of the monitor, looking my boss straight in his pixelated eyes, I was informed that after two and half years I would no longer be a level one sales consultant. Instead, I would now be a staff consultant making $70,000 a year with a $30,000 bonus structure. “Fuck off”—I nearly said the words out loud.

Was I on my way to being a headline in The Huffington Post?

In spite of the news, and after much soul-searching, I’ve decided that I can’t go on like this. Admittedly, it took longer than I’d have liked to reach a tipping point. The hours and the pay feel like quicksand, but I’m 26 years old and I don’t want to wake up 10 years down the line, absent and wanting. I’ve watched Silicon Valley and while I concede that I am in fact the real-life Nelson Bighetti, I’d prefer to make a name for myself with a less sardonic reference.

For now, I’ve still got the frosted-glass office where I’ll be watching the Olympics for the next week, even if that means tuning in for a few hours of dressage.

— As told to Andrew Fiouzi

Andrew Fiouzi is MEL’s editorial assistant.

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