"Right Natalie, before I give you your score, how do you think you've done over the last year?"
Natalie loathed End of Year reviews. They were a box ticking exercise to placate the corporate machine. Every year since she joined BitterVerse, she received a 5/5, along with a smattering of wholesome comments. Her manager, Simon, was enthusiastic but hands-off. He was the sort of person that stumbled into a management role, and has gotten by mostly by virtue of his charm.
It's not that Natalie didn't appreciate her colleagues' feedback. They were just a little hard to take seriously. A reward for being swell, friendly, and helping people out every so often. As far as she was concerned she was just doing her job. Once in a while, on a good day, she'd have the audacity to believe she was pretty good at it. Most days however were the opposite. Today was one of those days, and so antithetically the inevitable onslaught of positivity would be a poisoned chalice.
"I think it was alright. I think the team released some really good stuff this year, I was happy to help with some of that. Lindsey in particular, has come on leaps and bounds, I was working with her just yesterday on something. This AI project has been interesting, but it's taking me a little longer than I expected to make headway."
"Right, okay. And what about outside of your team", he said, with glazed eyes and hands glued to the keyboard. I couldn't tell whether he was writing notes or replying to Slack - but he occasionally flashed a slither of a smile.
"Well there was that conference talk I did. That was a really unpleasant experience for me, but people seemed to like it I think. I have been going to the Architecture Review Boards, and have worked on or contributed to some RFC proposals. I'd certainly like to keep developing that and do some more over the next year".
"Mm, yes I had heard good things about your talk. Could you send me a link again, I still need to see it!".
"Sure." Now I was convinced he was slacking. We sat briefly in silence until the keystrokes stopped, and then he symbolically angled the laptop away and looked me in the eye.
"Well, I can tell you that, unsurprisingly, all your feedback was brilliant. Practically 5s all round. Everyone had positive things to say about you too, how you're always helpful, about the quality of your work, understanding of the codebase as well as the business. In short, everyone loves you!"
"Wonderful. Can I get back to work now?", Natalie thought to herself.
"Wow, that's all lovely to hear."
She started shuffling out of her seat.
"So again, I'm really happy with what you're doing here, thank you for all your hard work over the year."
She smiled insincerely as she put her hands on the arms of the chair.
"There was just one little thing someone mentioned."
"And it's not a big deal - but just that sometimes you seem like you're doing too much', so perhaps you could say no to a few things. Maybe that's something to work on over the next few months!"
"Um. Yes, no, of course. I can see that, urm, yes I definitely should start, or stop doing that."
"Anyway, I'll let you get back to your day. I'm sure you've got lots to do!" Simon grinned obliviously, and looked pointedly towards the door ushering me out, ready for the next person to await their judgement day.
Natalie went back to her desk, shellshocked. She forgot what she was doing before.
Doing too much. What does that even mean? Is it doing too much to finish this feature that everyone has been asking for? What about to write these tests she's writing? Perhaps she can skip writing documentation, it's not like anyone else in the team writes any.
Natalie went to get a coffee to hush her racing mind. Four years, seven months and thirteen days she had been working here. She had given up countless evenings, plans, hobbies, dreams, slaving away for this company. And now all of a sudden it was "too much".
"Heya Nat!", bellowed a voice from behind her. She winced as the coffee overflowed onto her hands. It was Darius, the tech lead for her team. Darius joined around a year ago. He was a very capable engineer, and had solid leadership chops. They've had some riveting conversations and debates around technical standards and approaches during that time. She liked Darius. What if it was him?
"Hi," she said with a hint of a smile as she started to walk away.
"I was going to ask if you had a chance to look over my RFC yet? I know you've got a lot of experience in that area, so would really appreciate your input."
"Sure, I'll take a look when I get back to my desk."
Another thing to do. But this was her tech lead. She couldn't say no to her tech lead, surely. Besides, it was a pretty important RFC that could have a sizable impact on the team. Of course, that's not going to make it to her end of year review next year.
When she got back to her desk, she opened Darius' DM's on Slack. She typed a message, and then deleted it. Typed, and deleted again. Typed:
"Hi Darius, really sorry but I don't think I'll get a chance to look at your RFC today, I've got a lot on."
She sat back in anticipation, coffee in hand. Darius was back at his desk now, two banks over. Minutes passed before Darius is typing....
"Sure, no problem! I'll get Tom to have a read."
And that was it. He seemed...unperturbed. Natalie closed the tab with the RFC open, and got back to her code. Every so often she'd glance over to check on Darius. Sometimes he'd have his headphones on in a video call, sometimes having a chat with a colleague. An hour or so later, as Natalie was deep in the flow state, she saw an email. Darius had posted his RFC to the department. The wheels kept on turning.
Natalie came in the next morning dishevelled, Starbucks cup in hand. According to her Fitbit, she only got 1hr37m of sleep last night. How could she sleep when she's evidently doing too much? End of Year feedback was largely an anonymous affair. Sometimes it can be glaringly obvious who said something, but this was impossible to put together. She got the feeling yesterday that it wasn't Darius. Could it have been Hannah, the Product Manager for the team? Thinking back to a few months ago, Natalie recalled a meeting where Hannah had asked if it were possible to read what websites a user visited before ours, and "use machine learning" to serve them different content. It was an absurd request that anyone would have outright shut down. Perhaps she should have too, but not willing to displease Natalie proposed an alternative simpler solution to the problem. Might that have grinded Hannah's gears?
"Morning Nat! Did you get today's Wordle?" It was Lindsey. Lindsey was a Junior Engineer that joined the team almost a year ago. She was the type of person that got along with everybody, and probably the closest thing Natalie would call to a work friend.
"Morning. I haven't had a chance to play yet, barely got any sleep last night." She wondered how Lindsey's End of Year review went. Natalie was sure to write a glowing appraisal.
"Oh that's a shame, hope the coffee helps! Thanks for your review on my pull request the other day, the comments were really helpful. I'll just finish going through them today."
"No problem!" Natalie left 17 comments on Lindsey's PR, spending over an hour on the review. They were a good mechanism for teaching and helping Lindsey improve technically, she felt. Now she was wondering what else she could have spent that hour on.
The team started clustering for their morning standup. Natalie looked around at the suspects. Ingrates. Imbeciles. Insufferable. Not one of them worked as hard as Natalie in the last week, let alone the last year. If her line manager was here to see this ludicrous bunch, he'd realise how farcical the comment was.
"Yesterday I had my end of year review, and I continued with the deep learning model." Short and sweet. She saw no reason to exhibit her inner turmoil." They went round the room. Lindsey with a typical vague update demonstrating a barely surface level understanding of what she's doing. Darius smug about his RFC - she felt surprisingly nonchalant for not having read it. Hannah pressed the need to get the deep learning model ready ASAP. Another pristine project for her to bullshit her way to the top. Before the standup came to end, Lindsey asked if she could borrow me to go through one of the PR comments Natalie made. The rest of the team looked at her expectantly.
"You're doing too much". Simon's words ring through her mind. She liked Lindsey, and never had any problem helping her before. None of this was her fault, after all.
"You're doing too much." Could she help Lindsey and get her work done in time? Probably. Often when she asks for help the solution is staring her in the face.
"You're doing too much." Nobody else in the team was stepping up to offer assistance. It was all on Natalie. It was always on Natalie.
"You're doing too much".
The team looked at her, bewildered - none more so than Lindsey. Natalie felt a surge of adrenaline rushing through her blood. She felt invincible.
"It doesn't have to be right now, whenever you're free today. Should hopefully only take five minutes!" Lindsey added cheerfully.
Five minutes. To Natalie that was nothing. But some toothless parasite in this team thinks that is too much. Everything she ever did to keep people happy, too much.
A cacophony of silence filled the room. Natalie walked out. One by one, everyone followed suit back to their desks. Darius tried to catch up with her. "Hey Nat, that was a little...weird. Have you got five minutes to chat?". Natalie looked at him. For all those years of perfect 5s and impeccable feedback, she wasn't even offered the Tech Lead role.
Natalie got back to her desk. It felt as though she should be trembling, but there was a resolute authority to her poise. She looked approvingly at the unrecognisable figure in the darkness of her screen.
She logged on to find a message from Lindsey.
"Hey hun, are you okay? I'm not sure if it's just the tiredness, or maybe you got the feedback I gave for you? I'm happy to talk to you about it if that is what it was, honestly I just said it for your own good really. Let me know x"
Natalie read the message again. And again. And again.
"You vindictive little bitch. When I'm done with you the last word you'll ever speak will be No."