Level Up #8

One step backward, a hundred steps forward

Hi 👋,

Hemant here. This is the 8th story in the Level Up series. You can read the previous 7 stories here. I highly recommend checking them out to learn more about our hero, Sandeep.

In the last story, Sandeep had to figure out how to retain an employee who had decided to quit the bank. In today’s story, we’ll see how he faces yet another challenge. One that he can’t do much about.

If you’ve read a few stories or chose not to read them, do let me know why. This helps me create better stories.

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Stepping back

Trivia question: What is different between this image and the previous ones? Reply to this e-mail with your answer :)

“Hey Sandeep, I’m feeling sick today. I will be on leave. Sorry,” Amita’s message read.

This week, the team was releasing its 9th milestone out of the planned 12. After the initial delays, Sandeep had managed to keep the team going strong and delivering on time. Sandeep didn’t need Amita for the release today. She had already completed all her work for milestone 9.  

“Take care!” he responded to the message as he exited the elevator on his office floor.

As he saw the familiar faces around him – some finishing last-minute tasks before releasing, others heading to get their cups of coffee, he felt energetic. Yet another day when everyone on the team felt responsible. Yet another day to be proud of his team. Yet another day to pat himself on the back for managing the team well.

But as he was about to place his bag on his desk, he saw another message. This time from Bavesh. “Hey Sandeep, doesn’t look like I’ll be able to come to the office today. I need to head to the doctor. A bad case of stomach poisoning.”

Bavesh was required for the release, but Sandeep could take care of his work. “Okay, no worries. Take care, Bavesh,” Sandeep responded to the message.

He headed to the cafeteria where he was going to have coffee with one of his old friends who worked on a different team. Sandeep waited for him in the cafeteria but this person never showed up. On calling him, Sandeep found that this friend was also sick. He had stomach poisoning as well.

Sandeep pressed his lips against one another, took a cup of coffee, and headed back to his desk. He had a lot to do today and could use the extra time he was getting.

As he was refining his to-do list for the day, he got another message from one of his teammates. Again, food poisoning. Something was wrong. Either all the team members were colluding in preventing the release today, or they had all been to the same party and ate something terrible. The latter seemed like a possibility.

The possibility was confirmed when the office catering team sent a disclosure email that several employees had food poisoning after eating the Palak Paneer in the office canteen a few days ago. The canteen had brought food from a new vendor. The office management team had issued an apology and mentioned they would be stricter in checking vendors beforehand.

5 people from Sandeep’s team had fallen sick. 3 of them were required to finish the work for this release. Just last evening, Sandeep had told Surabhi that all was on track.

There were two options – Sandeep could sit through the night and get all the work completed, or tell Surabhi that the team was delayed.

Considering all the questions Surabhi was going to ask him, Sandeep was wavering. He called a meeting with his team members and asked what additional help they needed in order to release the code.

Two of the four testers on Derek’s team were not available, so their work had to be covered. Two developers, who had agreed to be there for any last-minute issues that the testers find out, weren’t available. The biggest one – the person who was owning the code release – called the Release Manager, wasn’t available. Sandeep agreed to be the Release Manager this time, while Derek picked up the responsibility of testing everything thoroughly.

“Sandeep,” Derek asked in the meeting, “can we cut down on testing some scenarios that are unlikely to happen?”

Sandeep looked into Derek’s eyes, not responding for a few seconds. “Nope.”

After the issue customers faced a few weeks ago, Sandeep was going to default to no for such questions.

“But Sandeep this will likely take us the entire day, and maybe the entire night, if we have to release tomorrow,” Derek said.

“Yeah, so what, let’s do it,” Sandeep responded with a firm voice. He had made up his mind. The code was going to release the next day at any cost.

Sandeep began orchestrating the team through their tasks and getting things moving as fast as possible. He wanted to remove all distractions, so canceled all the meetings that were not required for this release.


As Sandeep sat down to pick up tasks from the ones that were left, he got a phone call.

“Sandeep, I’m not feeling well.” It was his wife, Seema calling. “I called our doctor and he said he wants to do a check-up. Can you take me to the doctor?”

“Umm, yeah, I’ll be there in half an hour. Okay?” he asked.

“Yes,” she responded. Sandeep disconnected the phone.

Even though he had responded that he was coming, the dichotomy in his mind couldn’t have been bigger. If he left, his team members would be left wondering how Sandeep could leave so insensitively. The entire team was thinking of spending the night at the office. If he stayed, he would feel guilty that he couldn’t be there for his wife. He could have asked one of his neighbours to assist his wife in getting to the clinic, but in her tone, he realized the need for Sandeep’s company. The neighbours were not going to be enough.

He left the office minutes later, passing Sri on his way out. He had also started feeling a tinge of pain in his stomach, but that was the least of his worries. As he drove his car back home, he looked at his phone at every traffic junction to check if he had any messages from his team.

“If Seema is still in pain at night, I would have to be home…” he thought. The release would most likely not happen in that case.

Instead of trying twice or thrice to park the car perfectly in his parking lot, he let one of the wheels slip over the parking lot’s boundary. He headed towards the elevator.

Chalo, let’s leave,” Sandeep said as soon as he opened his apartment door. Seema was staring at her phone, chuckling at a funny social media post she had seen.

Sandeep rushed to the kitchen and picked a water bottle while waiting for Seema. She continued to look into her phone.

“Let’s go! Hurry…” Sandeep said as he gulped water.

“Yeah, yeah, let me finish reading this. Will take only a minute or so.”

“Come on, Seema. I don’t have time. I need to go back to work as well. Today is an important day…”

Seema turned around. “Then why did you even come? Go back to your office and be there forever…” She pressed her hand on her stomach.

“No, no I didn’t mean…” Sandeep said, before going silent. What was the point of trying to explain? Would she understand?

Sandeep stepped on the back foot. “Anyways, let’s go. Have you had any food since morning?”

Seema didn’t respond. She stood up and went to the bedroom to change. Sandeep continued to gulp water from the bottle. He checked his watch. It was 12:45. “Can get back to the office by 2?” he thought.

Seema returned after fifteen minutes as Sandeep was waiting, looking at his phone. He waited for her to wear her shoes and step out, before locking the apartment.

They both went to the car. Since the time she found out she was pregnant, Seema had hated wearing the seatbelt. Sandeep tried convincing her that she could push the belt down on her lap so she won’t have the impact on her stomach, but she didn’t listen.

“Come on, Sandeep, no one’s going to see. If they see, we can just tell them I am pregnant…” she said. Sandeep pressed his lips and started driving. He was noticing the change in Seema’s behaviour caused by the pregnancy. On normal days, she would be the one instructing Sandeep to wear a seatbelt. Not today.

At the clinic, the doctor was delayed by almost an hour as he had was in critical surgery. Sandeep was pissed. How could the doctor be so insensitive to the patients waiting? Even after the doctor arrived, he had to wait for almost half an hour before their turn came. Seema wailed from time to time.

The doctor’s check-up barely lasted three minutes. He prescribed her a couple of pills and told her that there was nothing to worry about.

“Just be there for her for a couple of days, and she should be fine,” the doctor said to Sandeep, who smiled before assisting Seema to get up from the chair.

On their way back, Seema went to sleep in the car. Sandeep drove them back home, woke her up, and asked her to go to sleep after having lunch. He rushed to the kitchen and heated up the food their new maid had cooked. But when he called her, he saw that she had gone to sleep on the couch.

He started to eat a chapati with the dum aloo.

Barely had he eaten two morsels, when his phone rang.

“Sandy,” It was Derek calling, “we found a few big issues. We need more time to fix them, or we need more hands. Where are you?” he said.

“Sorry, Derek, I had to leave to take my wife to the doctor. I’ll be there in some time. Can you text me all the issues you’ve found? And have you found what is causing these issues?”

“No, not yet. I have the causes for a few of them.”

“Okay, I’ll leave as soon as I finish lunch.”

“Okay, cool…”

It was already 2:35 PM. Seema thought about whether he should wake Seema or not. It felt best to let her sleep off her illness. Maybe she would feel better after sleeping?

He poured the Dum Aloo curry in the middle of the chapati and rolled it up, before gobbling it up in three quick bites.

He then plucked a piece of paper from a notepad sitting in the living room.

“Eat food and take the white and orange pills. I’ll be back in a few hours,” he wrote and kept it beside Seema’s pillow.

He closed the door behind him silently, before sprinting to the elevator.

Just as he was getting into his car, he got a call from Seema.

“Sandy, it’s paining badly. Where are you?” she screamed.

“I’m heading to the office, Seema. Eat food and take your medicines. You’ll be fine,” he said.

But Seema seemed adamant. “Can you not take a day off from work?” she said. “Please?”

Sandeep took a deep breath. Again, the dichotomy found its place in his mind. He decided it was time to take control of the situation. Right or wrong, he didn’t care, but he was ready to make a decision.

“Okay, I’m coming back,” he said on the phone.

Before he left the car, he called Derek, “Sorry, Derek, looks like I won’t make it back to the office. Let’s call it off,” he paused, “We might end up shipping half-tested code, which could result in errors for people. Let’s not do it.”

“But Sandeep, if we don’t…”

“I know, I know. Delaying this milestone would mean we’ll likely delay the next one. But it is okay. Health takes priority, man. Sorry.”

“Okay,” Derek responded. He seemed confused.

“Please tell the team to take things easy. No need to stay in the office until late at night. I’ll inform Sri and Surabhi.”

“Cool. Take care.” Derek said.

As Sandeep was standing in the elevator to go back to his apartment, he composed an email to Surabhi and Sri.

Hey Surabhi, Hey Sri,

Looks like we won’t be able to make tomorrow’s release. Many people on the team are sick with food poisoning because of the catering issue. We’ll see how to make up for the delay later.

Also, I’m unavailable for the rest of the day, and potentially tomorrow to take care of Seema.

Take care,


Surabhi responded moments later:

Take care, Sandeep. Please ask employees to take as much leave as is required to feel better.


“And, why did I not send this email in the morning itself?” Sandeep thought and smiled, as he opened his apartment door.

As we get closer to the final milestone of the project, Sandeep will face another challenge - writing reviews for his team. Would he be able to overcome the challenges? Let’s find out in the next story.

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Thanks for reading :)