We waited for Louis in the little conference room we used for Monday morning 11 a.m. get-your-ducks-in-a-row meeting. Finally, he arrived and promptly stepped in front of me and said, “Ms. Giselle Ambrose, this is the team,” sweeping his hand around the room.
I felt excluded behind him, and leaned forward to see around the stuffy guy who filled in since our manager moved on. I wanted a look at the new managing director of customer services. She was chic, yet barely older than me or my other teammates, Melia and Sri.
“Please, call me Giselle.” She smiled and took the open chair by the charting easel. “I’ve only been in this position for two months and I’m sorry that my first opportunity to make meet the group is because your boss moved on. But I’m here now and happy to meet the team. This change should not be a concern. It’s a new opportunity. So, tell me, what’s new in the ad buy world?”
A warm flush spread over my skin. I’ve been hoping for a chance to tout my new app. “Well, it is …”
However, before I could even finish my thought, Louis interrupted, “This morning, Chet and I were discussing a new app designed to attract our advertising clientele. It provides a more precise way to targeting web ads, eliminating unnecessary ads for customers who have recently purchased the same item.”
That was my app he was describing, the one I’d just told him of thirty minutes ago. He hadn’t even been interested when I was explaining the database structure and user interface, merely nodding and finishing his breakfast sandwich. And now, he was presenting it to Ms. Edwards as if it were his own creation!
The director nodded. “I can see how the app might reduce a retailer’s ad cost, but won’t they lose sales? You know the old saw? Once a buyer, twice a buyer.”
I gathered my wits and spoke up. “I have a feature to allow vendors to control the ad shown to the recent buyer, adjusted by the dollar value of related SKUs. For instance, a recent TV purchase will cause blocking the ad to buy the TV again, substituting complementary TV items, such as upgraded HDMI cables and audio bars.”
“Yes. Yes,” Louis said, as I finished my sentence. “We can always depend on Chet to code what we want, what our customers need. I noticed that trait soon after he joined the team last year.”
Giselle acknowledged this with a nod. “That’s interesting, but I want to make sure I meet everyone here today. Why don’t we go around the room?” She turned to Melia. “I recognize you from the standards task force at my previous position. It’s good to see you again. Can you tell me about your role on the team?”
Melia tapped her exquisitely painted fingernails on the table top. “I’m in charge of the look-and-feel of our customer-facing apps. If I can navigate the app without breaking my nails, it has passed the first, most difficult hurdle.” A grinning smile lit up her dark face. “I also provide level two support on the help desk.”
“Thank you,” Giselle waggled her manicured but unpainted nails, “and my nails thank you.” She turned to the programmer on her right. “We haven’t been introduced,” she said to the quiet man.
“Srikanth Gupta, but everyone calls me Sri. Making documentation clearer and more user friendly has been my task since July last. My other task is to run quarterly new customer training sessions online and on campus.”
Giselle nodded. “Louis has mentioned your solid contributions.” She glanced at Louis. “No need to tell me again your role again. That leaves only the stranger at the far side of the table.”
She looked at me. I had been trying to think what I would say. My mind was in turmoil. I wanted to say I thought up and developed the new app that Louis described, but I couldn’t see how to say it without it sounding like I was calling Louis a liar.
“I’m Chester Almon. Chet. My job is app coding. I’m responsible for code to deliver the requirements wherever they may come from.”
The new director waited, then realizing I was finished, said, “Thank you, Chet, for that succinct summary.” She stood up to leave. “And, Louis, thank you for extending the invitation to come. I’d love to stay longer, but I have a busy schedule this morning.” She said to all of us. “Nice to meet you. I look forward to working with you.”
Louis nodded, got up, opened the door for her, and then continued walking the corridor with the new power in the corporate bureaucracy.
Melia said, “This is great. They’re gone. Meeting’s over.” She turned to Sri and me. “Let’s go, before Louis realizes,” she pointed to items on the whiteboard, “we didn’t tackle Chet’s issue list. Lunch at Facci’s?”
Sri nodded yes, but I said, “No. Can’t.” Since Emily quit her job when Claire was born five years ago, the budget was pinched at the end of every month.
At dinner, Claire couldn’t keep still in her little kitchen chair. “I start school soon. Real school, not play school.”
“In September you’ll be in real kindergarten,” I said. “Right down the street.”
“Not there. I want her to go with the friends she made in daycare. They all are going to the Montessori over in Denwood,” Emily said. “Young lady, put your dish in the sink, then go play in your room.”
“Yes, Mommy.” Claire ran out of the kitchen.
“But the cost …,” I said.
Emily cut me off. “Don’t you want our child to have the best?”
“Of course,” I said. “Perhaps the old clunker will get me to work without breaking down.”
“Why so glum?” An insightful look flashed across her face. “You haven’t mentioned work since you got home. It’s work, isn’t it? What’s happened?”
I dreaded how she would react, but I had to tell her that Louis had presented my app to the new director as if he had thought of it.
“Chet, you’ve been building that in the evening for weeks. Tell me you told her the truth.”
I took a deep breath, trying to delay her inevitable wrath. “Emily, he took credit for it at the staff meeting. If I said anything, I would have been calling him a liar. I couldn’t do that.”
“But he was lying! Don’t tell me you let him get away with claiming your idea?”
I couldn’t meet her gaze.
“So, he wins because you’re afraid to stand up for yourself. When we got married, I thought our future was set. We were one and two in our computer graduation class. I thought we were going places, and I don’t mean this tiny apartment.”
“That’s not fair,” I said, “we’re doing pretty good on my salary, plus a manager slot opening under the next director …”
She shook her head. “Lots of good that will do you, us. Louis will ride your app to a promotion. You never speak up for you, for us. This apartment is not big enough. I’ll have to find a new job, although you and I both agreed that it was better if I raised Claire. Oh my god, half my salary will go to her daycare while I’m at work.”
It pained me when I flubbed things at work which affected our future. “Nobody in charge ever listens to me at work, unless it’s asking why something’s wrong.”
Why couldn’t I stand up for myself? I knew it had something to do with my teenage years, awakening to fights between my father and older sister over curfew. But that was years ago when he slapped her. Yet I still jump at strange sounds in the night, just as I did back then.
By the next morning, I was determined to tell Louis how I felt. I waited until Sri and Melia went to the third floor to discuss interface requirements with the billing department.
I rapped on the frame of Louis’s cube. “We need to talk.”
He didn’t even look up from his phone. “No, we don’t. I just got beeped. Melia just called and asked me to help with the chargeback interfaces.” He picked up his tablet. “Later.”
“No. Now,” I said, arm across the doorway. “Louis, I came up with and coded the new app. You said nothing good when I told you about it, yet you claimed it meeting with Giselle.”
He smiled with his lips only. “Chet, I’m the senior member of the team. Everything that happens is because of my arrangement of our tasks. I let you have time to work on it. Don’t worry, when I’m the new manager, I’ll give you a decent bonus.”
I thought I would explode. The first time any office time was spent on the app was described it to him yesterday.
“Now, out of my way,” he said, lifting my arm and sliding out into the corridor.
Too agitated to work, I roamed the aisles and corridors of our building. My feet led me to offices for visiting executives. One was occupied. Ms. Ambrose gazed at a monitor while talking on the headset. She must have noticed my shadow, as she turned and, seeing me, said into the mic, “Let me call you back.”
“You look upset. Do you want to talk to me? You work for Louis, don’t you? Chet, right?”
I marshalled my courage. “Not exactly. I don’t work for Louis. We’re peers on the team.”
Her head tilted. “That’s true on paper, but he’s senior and has picked up the slack since your manager moved on. Louis decides who does what. That makes him the lead, doesn’t it? And he came up with that new ad buy twist.”
“Yes, but that last is not true.” A flush of heat rose up my neck to my head. “I came up with the app idea. When I came on staff last year, I instituted quarterly customer focus groups. Those sessions give direction to our work.”
The director shook her head. “No, that’s not what you said yesterday that your job entailed.”
I winced. “You’re right. It flustered me that Louis claimed what I had just mentioned to him that morning after weeks of developing it at home, as if he had any role in it. My friend bought a big screen TV online. Afterwards, he was inundated with buy ads for the same product. At last quarter’s focus group, the retailers confirmed they’d buy an app that would stop re-ad buys for their customers.”
Giselle frowned. “You sure Louis didn’t come up with that?”
“I can send you the minutes from the last focus group, which confirms what I say.”
“No,” she said, then changed her mind. “Yes, you should. This is very bold of you. Louis won’t like you going around him.”
“I felt I had no choice. It’s not a comfortable position for me, either. This morning I talked with Louis. He admitted I came up with the idea and app, but claimed his seniority meant he could claim credit. That made me so mad.”
Another flush rose up my back and neck to my face. Revealing my shortcomings was as difficult as having them.
“I walked around until I saw you here. I don’t know what got into me, but I just had to let you know my side of the story.”
She eyed me. “You should know that it takes more than smarts to succeed. I will read what you send me. It’ll help me deal with the complete picture. However, Louis and Melia have walked by my office while you’ve been here. You going to have to learn how to work with Louis and be satisfied with that relationship.”
“Yes. Of course. Thank you.” I burbled joyful sounds with no real meaning, pleased that this hurdle was over.
“Chet, it may be harder than you think. Louis’s experience and his win-at-any-cost attitude are going to make him your next manager.”
Damn. The first step was so difficult and the next is even steeper.