Level Up #4

Sandeep finally starts to gain some respect, until...

Hello friends,

Hemant here. This is the 4th story in the Level Up series. You can read the previous 3 stories in the series here. I highly recommend checking them out :)

Last week, we saw how Sandeep had a rough time “asking for help.” Today, we’ll see how he finally starts getting some respect from his teammates, until he has to make a hard decision.

Are you familiar with similar stories? Do share them with me, as I’m always looking for fodder to grow this series into a longer one.

Sandeep ▶ Sandy ▶ Sandeep

“How behind are we from shipping this?” Sandeep asked an engineer on the team. The engineer was stuck on a feature for a long time. The inexperienced engineer wasn’t aware of a new technology the bank was adapting to, and the lack of good documentation prevented him from making any progress.

“Sorry, I am unable to find how to implement this...” he said. This feature was going to enable real-time money transfers through the app. As such, it was very important to do this in a reliable manner. The bank could face liabilities if this wasn’t done well.  

“Okay, let me look into this later today. I will reach out to the team who built this. Can you pick something else to work on?” Sandeep said. His review meeting was scheduled in 2 days, and it was important to deliver on this milestone, after what happened the last time. Sandeep knew the architect of this new technology they were adapting to and was hoping for a quick answer. He wrote an e-mail to his friend and hoped he would hear back the same day.

Later that day, while waiting for the reply from his friend, Sandeep started looking into the logic of this new technology. He wrote down ten combinations of code changes that he could try out, and see the end result in each case. But without the reply, this exercise seemed futile since he couldn’t predict how things could fail.

The next morning, he had to conduct an interview scheduled at 10:00 am. Remember he had asked for more people on the team and Surabhi had approved?

He had an uneasy sleep that night. As he woke up at 7:30 in the morning, he had a reply from his friend. Yes! It had a solution to his problem. He headed to the office right away. He still had some time before the interview, so he turned off notifications on his laptop and began implementing the solution. At 10:15 am, he had a phone call from Sri. He was delayed for the interview.

When he entered the room, Sri gave him a stern look. He should have been here on time.

Through the rest of the day, Sandeep continued to work on polishing the real-time payments feature, which continued late into the night. He went back to the days when writing code was like writing music for him. Once he was in the “flow,” he could always do more than expected out of him. So, he picked some additional coding tasks and started finishing them too. He then went in and rewrote a part of the code that he thought could be written in a better way. And the coding saga continued...


He arrived for the review meeting feeling relaxed. His eyes were bulging outside and had dark circles under them. His wrinkled shirt and his open shoelaces did not help his appearance. But when he delivered the report, his tone was a lot slower, thoughtful, and confident. The team had hit its second milestone despite being way behind on the first one.

The room was filled with happy faces as he delivered his updates. Surabhi had a few questions for him, but nothing out of the line. Sandeep was able to answer all of them with ease. He exited the room with a smile on his face.

“Well done, Sandeep. I would love to learn more about how you turned the team around. Want to talk now?” she asked. It looked like Sandeep could use some coffee. They both headed to the office cafeteria and sat down with cups of coffee.

“So, tell me, Sandeep...”

“Oh, it’s just...” Sandeep responded, “I stepped in. In the process, I rekindled my love for writing code. I think I am going at doing this.”

“Oh, nice. Was someone stuck?” Sri let her cup down on the table. She furrowed her eyebrows as she looked into Sandeep’s eyes.

“Yeah, it started with us being stuck on an issue and not being sure how to move ahead. I had a friend who could help us solve it, so I had a chat with him. But one thing led to another, and I found myself coding...”

“Interesting. And was that why you were delayed for the interview the other day?” Sri asked.

“Yeah, I got so lost in solving a problem that I lost track of time. But thankfully, we were able to reach the milestone on time,” Sandeep smiled.

“Hm, I see. Thanks for the context, Sandeep. I have a couple of points to tell you. One, for such things, focus on finding a solution to the issue and let the team implement the solution. You shouldn’t spend time writing code, unless absolutely necessary. And two, you should step up your hiring efforts. We’ve interviewed only three people so far and none of them was worth it, so you should spend more energy over there.”

“But, Sri...”

“I know you had the right intentions, Sandeep. And thank you for stepping in. All I’m saying is - don’t make it a habit. Let the team know that it is their job to write code. You can help them resolve issues, but not do their actual work.”

Sandeep opened his mouth to say something but couldn’t.

“Anyways, back to work now? Let's focus and get the team to deliver on their next milestone as well?” Sri smiled and stood up from the stool. Sandeep had a narrow smile as he stood up. They walked away towards their desks.

It was already late in the evening, so Sandeep took his bag and drove back home. He was too tired to do anything at home, so he went straight to his bed. But Seema was waiting there to welcome him.

“Thank god you’re here! That maid you hired to take care of me is not at all good. Today, she made food so spicy that I puked it out. Yesterday, her chai was so black that I felt a part of my body burning as soon as I had it. I asked her to not come from tomorrow.”

“What, why would you do that? You could've at least waited to find someone new?”

“No, I knew it wasn’t going to work with this one. She had a very weird gaze and I was almost scared one time when she looked at me,” Seema said. “Pregnancy tantrums,” Sandeep thought.

“So, what do we do now?” he asked her.

“I guess I’ll keep looking for another one. In the meantime, I'll order food online.”

“Wait, let’s not bring in outside food. I'll cook something before leaving tomorrow morning. For now, let me go to sleep,” he said and crashed into the bed.

Sandeep woke up around 6:30 am the next morning. Instead of heading down for a walk, he started chopping potatoes and kneading the dough for making roti-sabzi. He was intermittently looking at his smartwatch, which showed his first work meeting was scheduled for 9:30 am – with another candidate he had to interview.

So he rushed with the cooking, had a shower, ate a couple of slices of bread for breakfast, and left for work. He was present for the interview before time today to avoid any issues with Sri. The interview ended up being good, with the candidate meeting most of their expectations. Sandeep and Sri both decided that they should interview him more on some specific aspects, and if they found no red flags, offer them a job.

His day was not done, though. He had 4 more interviews today, 2 of them being two-hour long. But before the interviews, he had to meet with his team for their daily short sync, where they discussed their plans for the day.

During the sync, Sandeep uncovered another issue the team was facing that needed his attention. “Sandy, can you take this issue up?” Amita asked him, considering how Sandeep had helped the team resolve the issues recently. Because of this, the manager-employee relationship had also started to fade. Sandeep had become Sandy. People knew that Sandeep had their back if they didn’t know how to move ahead. And Sandeep had started to find comfort in this newfound respect.

He paused for a few seconds before responding to the question.

“Um, I actually don’t have time right now. Can you ask either Derek or Bavesh to assist you on this?” he said. Amita pressed her lips together on hearing the response. In his heart, Sandeep desperately wanted to assist but had to resist the temptation. “If you need my assistance finding out what the exact issue is, I can sit down with you for an hour or so later today,” he said.

Sandeep left the meeting. He knew that Sandy was now again going to turn into Sandeep. The little respect he had gained by fixing issues was likely gone. He went on with his day, interviewing more candidates. Interviewing was no fun. Definitely not as fun as solving programming problems.

Secretly, he wished that Sri would be able to find a candidate who could permanently take over the managerial duties. He had started hating the feeling of being left out that came with being a manager.

Earlier, he knew exactly what was going on in the minds of his teammates, solved their issues with ease, and also asked for help without holding back. As a manager, he felt like he knew nothing about his team.

He knew everything, but he knew nothing.

We all have Sandeeps around us, and inside us as well. How frequently do we want to help someone, but have to hold back because our responsibility demands otherwise?

In the next story, Sandeep will face the biggest challenge yet. Any guesses what’s going to come?

Thanks for reading :)