It happened today; to me. It happens a few times a year, so you learn to expect it. You know its coming but you put it out of your mind until it just sort of shows up. I used to dread it, knowing, wondering what it would mean. Today, I kind of knew what it would mean before it happened so I was ready. Still, it snuck up on me. It arrived as an email that I blissfully ignored for some time. I was too busy to glance at my inbox, so it sat there waiting, biding its time. Eventually I saw it, a simple white envelope; an icon in a sea of other correspondence. As soon as my eyes glanced across the subject line I knew that this was it, that my time was up. All I had to do was click it open and it would be done. It was now or never, I told myself, so I went ahead and just did it. I may have hesitated for a moment, my finger poised, uncertain, but in the end the result was still the same, a document splayed open upon the screen carrying a message as cryptic as any koan, foretelling my future and revealing my past. It was my review.
Everyone at Microsoft, developers, managers, salesmen, writers, technicians, evangelists, lawyers, everyone partakes in the bi-annual review process. Your company probably has something similar. I’ve worked at other software companies and it’s always pretty much the same. Please evaluate yourself. What did you accomplish? Where did you succeed? Where did you fail? What are your strong points? What needs to be improved? What are your goals? What are your plans? The same questions, over and over again. It feels like I’m a teenager being interrogated by my girlfriend’s father. Except that never happened to me, so I guess I never got good at it.
Like most people, I suppose I dread mostly writing my answers to these questions. It’s like writing a resume. How do you capture your self-worth in a few sentences? How do you sum up six months or an entire year? Cover the highlights. Pick an example that makes your point. Oh, and you’ve got fifteen minutes, go!
If I was the type of person to keep a journal J or date book, I’d probably be good at keeping track of all the tidbits, highs and lows of the year. I’m not. That’s why I don’t own a PDA. Okay, I do own a PDA, but it’s old and useless, as it was useless to me when it was new and shiny and the envy of everyone that saw it. I’m more the focused, impassioned, absent-minded type that never spends too much thought on anything other than what new thing is deemed most worthy at the time. So derailing that train to get synapse time to think about what went on last year let alone last week is asking for a lot.
Somehow, I got through it. Somehow I managed to find something to say that made sense, that didn't seem too boastful or too meek, that covered enough of what happened to apparently justify the pat-on-the-back my ego seemed to crave. Of course my recollection of the past was skewed in my favor, but I tried to be honest nonetheless, even if that honesty was only in my fervent belief in my own abilities. But what I choose to say didn't really matter as much as that I actually said it, that I had put down on paper some statement of where I believed I was on the path through my career.
You see, the words were only an affidavit, my declaration of what I believed, and in the end was simply a legal recording of my point of view. Because it does not really matter what I said, my review score had already been determined by my manager, and by my manager’s manager. You don’t believe me? It is true. I’ve been a manager, so I have been on both sides of the wall. It’s a manager’s job to know what I’ve been up to, to know how well I have been doing relative to expectations. I am scored relative to my peers, and ranked accordingly long before my manager has ever read a word from my review document. The fact that I tell my side of the story is only so that it can be compared to the feedback that my manager will write. As long as these two versions of history are in relative proximity, then my review score stands, as is. If they do not, then there has been a lapse in communication between myself and my manager. Something to fix, certainly, but the score is still the same.
Luckily, this review was only a mid-year review and no score was involved. It used to be most employees were scored twice a year. Now everyone is scored once a year, and this time is not that time. I still had to write up a self-evaluation though. It still goes into the system as a legal recounting of what happened, with my words set next to my manager’s. It’s part of a process that guarantees that you will at least talk to your manager once every six months. That’s not a problem for me. I tend to talk too much.
So when I got the review in the mail today, it contained the version of my review with my manager’s feedback. There was nothing surprising in it actually. I’m new to the C# team so the review covered mostly my time in my prior job. It’s a common practice to send reviews out in mail ahead of meeting with your reports individually to discuss them. It reduces the confrontational aspect of the whole thing, and makes the discussion go much smoother.
Of course, I did not have any problem either way. A while later I ran across Peter in the hallway.
“We should talk about your review,” he said.
If I hadn’t been trying to sneak out early I would have brought it up myself. I thought I could get away without having the actual ‘discussion.’ Not that it would be bad, not at all, just odd and uncomfortably formal.
Still, it’s better to just get these things over with.
“Sure,” I said. “Let’s do it.”