Hey Guys, Its been a while but a lot has been happening and its all come to an end. In other words, the storm is finally over.
I used to work for a company called Dragnet Solutions. The company was involved in Computer Based Testing (CBT) where we organised CBTs for recruitments, scholarships, examinations e.t.c for some of the biggest names in the corporate Nigeria from Oil companies to Banks e.t.c.
A lot of things happened and I decided to leave. Many of the friends have been asking why I decided to resign from “a Good Job”. I was thinking of how to express my thoughts at once rather than answering individually when I remembered “Why I left…”. I am writing this because I believe that my experience might be of help to someone else.
The “Why I left …” letter has become something of an internet meme which started off with a letter by a former Goldman Sachs Executive which read “Why I left Goldman Sachs” and that resulted in an avalanche of letters like “Why I left Google” and It even spun some funny parodies including my favorite “Why I left the Empire” by Darth Vader. So I decided to add my own to heap.
To fully understand why I left, I have to explain how and why I took the job in the first place. Before I worked at Dragnet, I was making plans to lunch my own startup when I was invited to Microsoft’s open door conference during which I had fun, answered questions, won gifts, talked with other techies.. Then I met a guy named Tag, who wanted me to come work for Dragnet. I was reluctant at first but he explained why I needed to work for a period of time and get experience. Not just technical experience but also corporate experience.
I was convinced, and I took the job for two main reasons:
- To make an impact by developing great software that hundreds of thousands of people would use (Unless you are a nerd like me, you won’t quite understand the thrill)
- To gain experience. i.e. to see how a company is run, what its like working with a team of like minded developers, planning projects e.t.c..
After that, he also asked if I knew any other good developer so I called my good friend Ifelere and in turn had to convince him to join us
Life at Dragnet
At Dragnet I and Ife met the other developer named Otee. So with the four of us; Myself, Ife, Otee, Tag, the Dragnet Development Department was born. Skills wise, we could do almost anything. We were all well versed in several programming languages, web design, database management, graphic design..
My unique strength to the team lay in the front-end. I was a bit better at UI design, then there’s Ife a.k.a The Mad Genius (I gave him this nickname because I felt that sometimes you needed a bit of insanity to follow his train of thoughts :D), then there was Otee who is a Database Lord (This guy could anticipate the SQL Server Execution plan for every query he wrote i.e. he literally understood how Database engines worked internally) and Finally, our leader Tag who had all our skills put together.
Life was good and I started learning about planning, executing and managing projects as a Team. It was completely different from what I was expecting. I learnt so many things from the importance of source control, Importance of setting Timeframes, Separation of Concerns, Prototyping amongst other things. Looking back, I am really glad Tag talked me into taking the Job as I now realize that I was grossly naive back then about working with a team of programmers as I’ve always been a lone ranger, building everything myself.
I strongly doubt that any Nigerian Tech Company had a better team at double the amount we were actually paid.But Dragnet Blew it. Steve Ballmer is not known for too many quotes like Steve Jobs but he has one of my favorites: “Developers! Developers! Developers!“ Developers are the life blood of any software company. They are crucial to the success of any platform. As obvious as this is, Its sad that Dragnet did not understand this.
Tag and Otee’s Exit
When Tag was employed in Dragnet, Dragnet was at its infancy. Dragnet at the Time did not have its current Test Engine including its cloud infrastructure which is Face of Testing. Tag single-handedly built the entire platform from ground up which is just amazing considering that he was taking huge leaps on the then cutting edge technologies that were at their infancy at the time (like Silverlight). However, as is normal in Life, things got really sour between Tag and the Management of Dragnet. So one morning after my 4th Month, Tag called us together and told us he was leaving. Not too long after that, Otee followed suit leaving the bat to Ife and Myself
When Tag and Otee left, Things started to get really weird, we were shot with all kinds of projects some of which were not feasible and given all kinds of insane deadlines. Projects were rushed and even though each of us had to do in weeks what should naturally take months of proper development, we were still accused of not bringing value as they were not seeing immediate results on the projects that we were working on. We were yelled at, scolded, and we were no longer developing (pun intended) rather we were literally over-labored.. still we pressed on hoping that things would get better with time.
In the midst of the storm, we were greeted with a surprise. A “Confidentiality” agreement that would essentially give them rights to ANYTHING we built while working for them. Here’s an example:
Employee shall assign, and hereafter does assign to Company all interest in all Confidential Information, whether copyrightable or patentable or not, made or conceived by Employee, solely or jointly for Company, whether or not the same were inventions for which no equipment, supplies, facility or Company Confidential Information was used and which was developed entirely on the Employee’s own time as long as Employee was under the paid employment of Company. All Confidential Information assigned herein is hereafter referred to as “Assigned Inventions.”
That was not all, It also stated so many absurd things that enforced me to report any Invention or Discovery I made while working for the company or that anything I build even after I have left the company using “skills I acquired” belonged to them. The last part was tricky and ambiguous because it meant that if I built anything that became successful in future and they could prove that Its similar to anything that had been (or was been) developed as at the time I was working with them, then it belong to them. They called it “Trade Secrets”.
I don’t need to be a lawyer to know how powerful patents and inventions are. If you have been following the way Apple and Microsoft are bullying the likes of Samsung, HTC, Google.. You will see why as a software engineer, the “fear of patents is the beginning of wisdom”.
Then I thought to myself “Why this all of a sudden?” that’s when it hit me. This was one of reasons Tag and Otee left in the first place! They must of have wanted them to sign it (which I later confirmed). But there’s more. Why did this come up at all? What were they afraid of? Could it be the fear of an uprising? Were they expecting us to join forces and start our own company of which given what we already know could be disastrous to them? I don’t have the answers but here’s why I think they are wrong for thinking in that direction.
- The sky is too wide for two birds to collide: Even though its a possibility that we may decide to create our own test engine, It is not something they should count on. As a developer, there are hundreds of similarly rewarding opportunities especially in Nigeria where IT is still at its infancy. So restricting our expertise or mind set to building a Test Engine is seriously myopic.
- There are greater threats: Dragnet may be leading the Testing pack (thanks to Tag’s vision) but that does not stop any other developer from teaming up with their competitors/allies and pulling them down. As each day passes, more developers are coming of age and if they don’t improve their core expertise (testing platform). It won’t be long before something way better shows up on the market. So rather than fear their developers, they should have held them close
When I was given the document, I had a thorough re-think to make sure I was not over-reacting.
I thought about the things I sacrificed to work at Dragnet; Self Development, Hackatons, Dev Conferences, Dev camps, Research and more importantly starting my own company.
I thought about the “climate change” and the reason I took the job in the first place.
I thought about what I could be risking if I signed the document and stayed (also noting that it was not a guarantee that I could not be fired the next day).
I thought about how Tag and Otee were eventually treated after working for several years. There’s a saying from my place that goes:
When a slave witnesses where another slave’s body is being tossed into the bush, He knows he should not expect a proper burial
(sounds a bit dark I know, but it was too darn accurate) That’s when I made my decision. I told Ife that I was leaving and to my surprise, he was thinking the same thing too.
Working for Dragnet has indeed been an experience. I barely had time for myself. Simple things like going to the bank became major events as there was hardly time. I could not focus on any other thing or project other than work. but now all that has changed. I am currently doing some research and working on a new exciting (and top secret) project. I miss the great friends I made at Dragnet, I miss the launch breaks and the office jokes. but that’s about it. I am pressing on to new heights and I’m glad I went through all that because I am far more prepared to launch my start-up than ever before.
As for Dragnet, I hope they find other developers who will fit into that environment and accept those terms. However, I doubt they will be to assemble another team that is as good. Good developers are an endangered species.
UPDATE: I realize that the tone of the post felt like it contained a tad bit of resentment but like I said earlier, I’m glad I worked there. I feel Dragnet was just doing what it thought was best for itself as a company nothing more. The goal of the post is not to antagonize Dragnet but to convey how I felt that propelled me to leave.