Level Up #2
Sandeep realizes that he's thrown himself into an abyss
Hemant here. Thank you for the warm response to the first story in this new story series. If you haven’t yet, you can read it here.
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Landing in the abyss
The official announcement happened the day after Sandeep accepted the offer. He was scared on this new journey he was beginning on, but how hard could it be? Manage people for a few days when most of the product planning was already done. He only had to keep the team focused on the release schedule.
Sri announced to the team - “Sandeep has agreed to lead the engineering team in Ajit’s absence. We are grateful to Sandeep for making such a big decision so quickly. I am humbled by your commitment to the bank, Sandeep,” she said while making the announcement.
The team rightly announced a lunch party to celebrate Sandeep’s big move. They were having a grand lunch at a posh restaurant near their office.
“So, will Sandeep be signing off on our expenses?” Derek asked Sri, smiling. They had ordered a heavy Italian lunch, full of three kinds of pasta, soups, and one bowl-full of Spaghetti. As she slurped another noodle, Sri nodded in the affirmative.
“Yes! This is amazing. Sandy, watch out for my expense reports. And... you better sign them off,” he chuckled.
“Ha-ha. Of course, if the company allows it, why would I have a problem?” Sandeep responded.
“Not even an hour since you became our manager and look at you – you are already talking the manager-talk. Saying it is up to the company... come on man, be a little more cheerful,” Derek smiled.
Derek had been with the bank for longer than Sandy but had relaxed into a mid-career level. He wasn’t aspiring to get any further ahead in his career at the bank. He was satisfied with the money he was getting, the work he was doing, and the life he was living! He had also started taking piano classes for young artists. So far, he had tutored 50 students and the demand was only increasing.
Derek had found an excellent balance between his work and his passion, allowing him to find light-hearted moments everywhere. Whenever a situation intensified, Derek was the man to ease things up.
“But one thing is certain,” Amita added, “Because Sandy is now our manager, we can say goodbye to all the boring things we needed to do earlier. Boring meetings, boring planning tasks, boring everything! We can now focus purely on writing code. Sandy would also be coding, I believe...”
“Well, only if he finds the time to write code,” added Bavesh. He took a sip from the soup bowl lying in front of him, as steam covered his thick spectacles. He didn’t turn up to see if anyone responded and continued sipping.
“Oh, yeah, that is a given! I will make sure I find some time to write code every so often. Don’t worry about it,” Sandeep said. Sri looked at him briefly before turning around.
“Alright, it is time for me to leave,” Sri said, “Let’s kick off the project next week so we stick to our timeline. Sandeep, enjoy your welcome lunch!”
Sandeep smiled. Though he was liking the food, he wasn’t enjoying the conversation much. The comment about him starting to behave like a manager had tripped him off. He suddenly felt distanced from the rest of the people.
Once Sri left, people started discussing random things among themselves while Sandeep continued to eat his food. He was the first one to finish, but he couldn’t leave. He was paying today. People talked about all things from their upcoming trips, their dogs, and even their housemaids. But Sandeep sparingly added anything to the discussion going on.
The bill came out to be Rs. 7300, to which Sandeep added a hundred rupees as a tip before heading out. He walked back to the office on his own as others went away to have a walk around the office. They didn’t invite Sandeep when he mentioned that he was heading towards the office. At other times, they would have forced Sandeep to go with them. Work could wait for a 10-minute walk.
These walks, which Sandeep used to go on before, were the centre of all the office gossip – about the people who had joined recently and the ones who had left; about the company’s management and the company’s performance; salaries and bonuses; and of course, someone’s new crush. Sandeep was active during these walks, and not being invited to it left a dent in his heart.
A few hours later, Sandeep arrived at a conference room with his laptop. He smiled and took a deep breath as he opened the door.
“So, Amita, how’s it going?” he asked. Amita was seated in one of the conference room chairs typing something on her laptop. She was investigating a new feature she was going to start on.
“Just one sec, let me finish this,” she said. Sandeep nodded and took another seat. The conference room shunned out all the chatter on the outside. All Sandeep could hear was Amita speed-typing on her laptop. Sandeep opened his own laptop and started looking at his inbox.
Minutes passed, but Amita was still busy with the issue.
“What’s up, Amita? Can we have our meeting?” Sandeep said.
“Oh, sorry, sorry! It's just that this issue seems important. Anyways, let’s talk. I’ll deal with this later.”
“Feel free to carry on if needed. I will reschedule our meeting to a different time. Anyways, we chat all the time. Toh...”
“Oh, no, no. I know you are busy, Sandeep. So, let’s talk. What work do you want to assign me?”
No, I didn’t plan to assign you any work yet. Was wondering how you’re feeling about the whole thing. You know, about Ajit leaving and them assigning me to take over...”
“It’s fine, I guess. Don’t worry about my performance. I'll continue to deliver...” she responded with a faint smile.
“No, I mean, I’m sure you’ll deliver. It’s more about how you’re feeling. I wanted to address if you had any questions about it. Or wanted to talk about it at all...”
“No, I don’t have any questions, Sandeep.” She smiled and pressed her lips together.
Sandeep was done. From being called Sandy to Sandeep, the transition had been too fast and out of control.
“Okay. I will let you continue with your work, in that case. Once we have our kick-off meeting next week, I’ll schedule regular meetings for work-related discussions.”
Sandeep walked out of the room.
“What’s up, Sandy?” Sri asked as she walked past him. Sandeep nodded sidewise and walked back to his desk. He put over his headphones and buried his head in his laptop. There were many e-mails congratulating him on his promotion. He responded to almost every email with a “Thanks! I am excited about this! :)”
He checked his meetings for the rest of the day. There were no meetings and he was already feeling a little low. He sent the team a message that he was sick and had to leave early.
He went home and climbed into his bed right away. Putting up a replay of an old cricket match on his TV, he went to sleep a few minutes later. His sleep was disturbed only by his wife, Seema, who was screaming, singing, and jumping in no particular order.
“Guess what?” she screamed as she saw Sandeep laying down in bed.
“Urgh! Let me sleep! Not now...” Sandeep said and turned around.
“No, no, you have to hear this right now. There is no escaping this.” She looked at Sandeep. No movement. “Sandy! Listen...” she said again.
Sandeep turned around to look at her.
Her eyes were wider than usual and her dimples became prominent. “I am...” she said, gulping once before continuing, “I am pregnant,” she said, before widening her smile.
Sandeep was now upright. His sleep had gone away.
“Not a dream, right?” he said.
"No, not at all,” Seema said as she pinched him hard.
Sandeep laughed and his sleep went away. His terrible day had turned into one of the best days of his life. “Okay, so we need to start thinking...”
Sandeep was already planning how they would make space in their house for the baby.
“Calm down, calm down, Sandeep. For now, let’s just enjoy the moment?” Seema stopped him before he got too far ahead.
The next morning, Sandeep walked into the office with a wide smile. He was already finding it too hard to resist sharing the news. But when Amita and Derek and the entire gang went away without inviting him for their morning coffee, he frowned. He started scribbling down things in his notepad after going to his desk.
A few minutes later, he prepared for his first meeting of the day with Sri. They had to prepare for the upcoming kick-off meeting, which would be the start of the team’s execution on the project for the next three months until the first version of the “neo-bank” was launched in the market to a set of beta customers. In true tech fashion, the guidance from Surabhi, the CEO, was to release the Minimal Viable Product (MVP) as soon as possible and continue to make enhancements later.
Sandeep walked in with his laptop. “Let’s get started?” he asked. The excitement on his face had gone by now.
“How are you doing, Sandeep?” Sri asked in return. She was busy scribbling the kick-off on the whiteboard in the room.
“Sandeep?” she asked again when he didn’t respond.
“Yeah, I’m fine, Sri,” he said before looking at the board. His voice was a little hoarse. “What are you writing?”
“Oh, just our schedule. You know what?” she put down the marker in her hand. “Want some coffee?”
“Yeah, sure,” Sandeep said. They both walked towards the cafeteria. “You know, Sandeep...” she said, “it is interesting, this transition to being a manager. I’m sure you must have felt some of it already.”
“I don’t understand,” Sandeep said as he slipped a cup under the coffee vending machine. “Cappuccino?” he asked.
“No, just black coffee for me,” Sri responded.
“Oh, you like it black? Bavesh too likes it black. You should have a cup with him sometime!” Sandeep tried to have a smile on his face, but his eyes didn’t look into Sri’s for very long.
“Sure, I will!” she collected the mug from Sandeep. “This is unlike any other promotion in life. You leave behind a part of your life when you become a manager.”
“Ha, what do you mean?” Sandeep was alert.
“I mean, friends are no longer friends, you have to be careful about what you say, people have to be careful about what they say, etc. Plus, every so often, you hear things you never had thought about.”
“Like someone saying something bad to someone else, which results in a demand to fire someone... a lot of unimaginable things... Life changes.”
“Sri, this is super hard. Just two days into the job, the emotional stress is already too much to take. I already feel alienated from my friends at the company.”
“Yeah, it’s especially hard when you transition within the same company and start managing some of your friends.”
“But someone should have solved this, right? If every manager goes through the same problem, how do you solve this? There should be some way or the other?”
“Well, not really. There is no single solution that can solve it for everyone. If you find it, let me know and I’ll share it with others!”
“Don’t worry too much, Sandeep. It will take time. Just be patient.”
“And what about others. Should I tell them something?”
“No, just be your natural self for the time being. I will have more instructions later on. Many people will not express it, but this is a change not just for you, but for them as well. Some will react to it by not reacting at all.”
“And if you need to talk to someone, you know where to find me. I am always here,” Sri said as they started walking back to the conference room. “Now let’s focus on preparing for the kick-off.
Throughout the rest of the day, Sandeep was thinking about why he even became a manager if he was going to lose friends. This seemed like a terrible choice in hindsight. But every time he thought about the upcoming baby, a smile came to his face.
The baby was already helping him stay sane, as his mind wished for a way back to reverse his decision in hindsight.
Will Sandeep be able to win his team’s trust and manage to deliver the project?
Let’s see in the coming chapters.
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