Disclaimer: Due to legal reasons I cannot disclose who I am. I am under a NDA for a few more months but given that my former employer is in the news I feel it is pertinent to strike while the iron is hot. You can read about TrackingPoint and what it was here.
We all contradict ourselves in our daily lives. We offer up miniature compromises to the universe everyday in hopes we will be rewarded. But what happens when we do that in a much grander scale and compromise beliefs that our sense of self has been built upon? What happens when someone sets aside their morality and takes a job that stands against most of, if not all of what they stand for?
I started working for TrackingPoint in January 2012. Before that I had bounced around several low end tech support jobs before getting fed up and challenging myself to be something more. I had a friend in the machine shop there and I asked for an interview. A week later I was cleaning parts for the prototype of the “gun of the future.”
A little about myself. I’ve never been a big “anti-gun” guy but I do believe in regulation and licensing. I feel that an average person doesn’t need a fully automatic assault rifle with a drum clip to defend themselves from home invaders. Nor do they need a gun that an 8 year old could use to kill antelope at 1,000 yards, with their eyes closed. A simple shotgun would suffice, at the most. I’m a pacifist by trade and I think big game hunting is ridiculous. I know, I know, you’re thinking, “damn dirty hippie.”
When I first started at TrackingPoint, the technology was being developed for only military usage. I was an extremely low level employee at the time but felt assured that while I didn’t believe in what we were doing, it would at least save lives. A month or two passed and I “graduated” from the guy that takes care of the kitchen and runs errands to a guy that actually worked in some capacity at building and proving out the gun itself. I was satisfied with my progress, and I felt rewarded for all the hard work that I had been doing. Nothing is quite as satisfying as being noticed and rewarded. The first few months passed by in a blaze of glory. I had made a compromise with my Self and it was a rousing success. That changed towards the end of March that year. We had a company wide meeting to discuss the direction of the company. There it was announced that the “gun of the future” would made available to the public. I made a quip about buying advertising space from Nascar, that was dismissed. Of course, a year and some months later, it happened. I raised some concerns over security. By then I had seen our prototype in action and even had a chance to shoot it. The possibilities excited the part of me that loved science fiction, but scared the rest of me to death. My concerns were dismissed with a wave of the hand and a few empty words. “We’re going to screen who we sell it to,” seemed to be the company stance.
This new stance bothered me but I was willing to stick with it. I had proven adept at the tasks given to me and my parents were proud that I was quickly moving up in the world and making something of myself. I was 25 at the time and I was still figuring out the being an adult thing. Arguably, I still am but that’s another story. I remember the rest of 2012 for two things: the ridiculous amount of hours I put in at work as we raced for deadline after deadline, and the amount of mass shootings that happened around the country.
I’m going to slow the story down now, so I can better convey the company and what they put us through. We had an internal initiative called, “10 10 10.” It basically amounted to having 10 prototype scopes out in 10 weeks for a $10,000 dollar bonus. Or something like that. At the time we barely had 3 functional prototypes that were constantly breaking and being changed. There were days where the same part would come across my desk three times with three different revisions. It was chaos. I’d arrive at 7:30 in the morning and leave at 9 at night, if I was lucky. The nights I wasn’t so lucky I worked 26 hours straight in a whirlwind of loud noises and sharp metal objects. We all felt the pressure. For two solid months it was minimum 12 hour days, 6 days a week. No one wanted to be the team that cost everyone else $10,000. It’s a lot of money. Mchale, the CEO, made a point to bring in a suitcase with $10,000 in it. He dumped it on the table in front of us the day he announced “10 10 10.” Seeing $10,000 dollars spread out on a table is fucking impressive, doubly when you’re young and trying to build a life. I still believed I could get by with what I was doing at that point.
My hours changed almost daily. One day I’d work from 6pm to 6 am. Then I’d rush home to sleep for a few hours and work from 12pm to 2am the next day. That kind of schedule takes a toll on a person. In the middle of all this a crazy person with access to a gun shoots up a theater in a Denver suburb. We argue gun control around the proverbial water cooler for a few days. Tensions are high because of the ever encroaching deadline. There’s a counter in the main room, constantly marching toward the end date. I’m a walking zombie, so the Denver shootings don’t register on my scale much more than thinking, “they really shouldn’t sell assault rifles at Wal-Mart.” I didn’t realize that I was already starting to crack.
A funny thing happens when you stop getting enough sleep. The body doesn’t like it. It starts to rebel against you. *Note: I’m not a doctor.* I started having mild panic attacks. Well, mild at first. I attempted to work through them, because like my father I am incredibly stubborn. It reached a tipping point towards the end of the deadline race. I was working a machine when I lost control of my hands. They would not stop shaking and I felt the earth was going to swallow me whole. I was having a massive panic attack. I walked away from the machine and sat down at my desk. I had these in my teens, so I calmed myself down. I excused myself early from the shop that day and went to see a doctor, something I’ve only done three times since I was 18. The doctor told me I was suffering from sleep deprivation and I had developed an anxiety issue. He prescribed me some medicine and recommended I see a therapist. I took his advice on that, probably the smartest thing I did that year.
I started visiting my Therapist twice a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays. After a cursory get to know you session, we delved into stress management. I wasn’t so concerned with why I was stressed as I was with a way to control it. Eventually, the therapist, we’ll call her Gertrude, got me to open up. We discussed the compromise I made in working for TrackingPoint, we discussed growing up, and a bunch of other things. I was a depressed child. It was helpful. If you’re feeling down, I definitely recommend talking to a professional. It’s great and really helps sort yourself out.
We didn’t complete “10 10 10.” We were close, incredibly close. There was no consolation prize. We all gave up our summer and personal lives to race to meet this deadline. We sacrificed health and sanity to do it. And we failed. To make matters worse, and to show how disconnected the executives were with the mood in the company, they themed the meeting as “summer vacation.” There was such a disconnect between management and the rest of the staff that many people were ready to leave then and there, myself included. But… job safety is a wonderous thing. The workload lightened. The stress relatively diminished. I wasn’t comfortable anymore. I worked though. And then… Sandy Hook happened.
Compromise is a funny thing. You’re okay with it till you’re not. I’m relatively even tempered. When the news about Sandy Hook broke, so did my willingness to compromise. I have a niece. She was about the age of the children who lost their lives at Sandy Hook at the time. Suddenly, I didn’t want to make a gun that could kill a man a thousand yards away as easily as I could click a mouse. All the morality that I bottled up and put aside came pouring out. I became a torrent of rage. I was nearly fired that day. I think, if any other man had been my boss, I would have been fired. The saving grace of that place was the people, excluding the executives. I could not work there anymore, but I also couldn’t quit. I went home for Christmas, determined to come back to work with a solution.
I came back to work resolute that I would not be there longer than I needed to be. I left 4 months later. Although I would have prefered to quit outright. I just couldn’t afford to do so. Unfortunately, moral indignation does not pay the bills, unless you’re lucky enough to get on television. So, I was resigned to wait. It was miserable.
So what effect did it have on me?
I was pretty much listless for a solid year. I had always been very strong in my personal morality. After I left, I doubted everything and withdrew inside myself. Nothing stuck. I drifted from job to job for a while. Spending a year and a half working against myself deconstructed my self identity in ways I hadn’t realized. I became increasingly lazy. I couldn’t keep a job, something that had never been an issue in my life. I was uncertain of myself, and what I felt was right and wrong for the first time… ever, well beyond the normal dose of self doubt. I was left with crippling anxiety (which thankfully, has passed). I couldn’t socialize the way I used to.
I slowly worked my way back to what I would consider normal. I patched up friendships that needed it. I settled in on a job. I opened back up. I had friends who were patient with me and coerced me back to who I was. I am thankful for them. Taking a large part of myself and basically working against it for almost two years broke me as a person. It changed how I thought, how I acted, and well… everything. I was physically changed. I stunted myself as a person. Even now, almost two years later I can barely bring myself to talk about it. As I write this I worry that I didn’t convey the stress and anxiety well enough. It’s hard to describe the feeling of breaking a part of you off and hiding it away. I felt… empty. Like I lost time that could have been spent elsewhere, happy.