The RockStar Engineer: A Political Short Story

Once upon a time, there was a Rockstar Engineer.  The market was dominated by a family firm which had occupied number one market-share for ages, by virtue of being the only game in town.
So Rockstar Engineer and his friend, the Big Ideas man got together and formed a company to take on the family firm.
Rockstar Engineer was a brilliant mind. He developed the core technological platform, and the little company kept out rolling product after product. The Big Family company kept losing customers, and Rockstar Engineer’s company became bigger, they went public, their share prices rose, the company exploded in size and revenue.
The Big Ideas guy became CEO and the Rockstar Engineer the Senior Vice President of product. They did it because it worked the best.
The Rockstar Engineer now started hiring people to do the kind of work he didnt like to do—write boilerplate code, test scripts, manage petty quarrels between employees, do Excel sheets and bring coffee. He chose these people not because he respected their intelligence, but because he needed people who would do what he asked without question and without opinion, so that he could do what he liked—design algorithms, optimize code, and decide on which features to keep and which to destroy.
And so it went on for a while.  Rockstar Engineer started getting older, technical obsolescence started setting in, he delegated more and more of the core technology to others, leaving himself to move on to what he believed he deserved.
The CEO-ship. The Big Ideas guy was going to retire, and he felt that this was now his time.
But once Rockstar Engineer became CEO, his customers and colleagues found out pretty quickly, that he was not a good Big Ideas guy. He had little understanding of the mind of the customer or the state of the market, all he had were grand pie-in-the-sky technical schemes, whose implementation details he didn’t care to specify, because he felt it was no longer his job, and also because he could no longer do it as he once could.
He had, to put it simply, lost his touch.
The men he had once had hired had also now become Senior Vice Presidents. Rockstar Engineer as the CEO made no secret of the fact that he thought that these SVPs were paid more and had more influence than they were worth. He and some of his old friends on the development team would stand at the water cooler and laugh over the decisions made by the Senior Vice Presidents, all of whom had once been testers and maintenance engineers on his team.
One day, one of these VPs came to his office. The Board, he said, had decided to ask Rockstar Engineer to step down from the CEO-ship. The numbers were bad, the family business had clawed back their market share, and the Board felt a change of leadership was needed. They were offering him to become part of a newly constituted Technical Advisory Committee, where he could sit along with some of the other old engineers who had been with the company from almost the start.
Rockstar Engineer knew what this was, a gilded demotion, because the Advisory Committee had no executive authority, but he took it, because there was nothing he could do. “So who is the new CEO?” he asked, to which the man who had delivered the letter, softly said, “That will be me.”
Rockstar Engineer looked at the new CEO. He had been once his most trusted subordinate, he had hired the man himself, fought to get him promoted, and now here he was, taking over from him.
So Rockstar Engineer stayed on, but kept grumbling to whoever would listen as to the wrong direction the company was taking.The old engineers on the Technical Advisory Committee,who were as pissed off at their demotion as the Rockstar Engineer was, took it further. Some of them left the company, some of them stopped coming to work, some of them became contractors for the family owned business.
RockStar Engineer stayed on. He was confident that the Board would come back to him, after all he had built the company, after all he had hired everyone, after all the world owed it to him. He had only to wait out till the downturn came, and he would be back.
But then one day, one of the VPs comes to his office, and tells him that he will have to vacate the role immediately, and that his corner office has been reassigned to one of his once-proteges.
An hour later, the VP comes to check if the Rockstar Engineer had left.
He had. His room, the one he had occupied for decades, was empty.
Except for one thing on the large wooden table.
A statue. Of a man standing tall in a chariot.

8 thoughts on “The RockStar Engineer: A Political Short Story

  1. Awesome – loved the story!
    Honestly, a person shouldn’t wait to be 91 years old to retire. There should be a change in the party constitution to ensure that they all retire by 75.

    1. A certain 93 yr old head of state of a not too far country would disagree.

  2. mindovermedicine March 22, 2019 — 3:58 am

    Pithy, as always.

    Also brought the other Rockstar who has trouble with his protégés, NRN, to mind.

  3. Wish I could figure out who this is referring to!

  4. You are so much preferred on blog than on Twitter and Podcasts. Please continue your writing here. Sorely miss it.

  5. I have a hunch this has happened, or going to…

  6. Well written. Not sure if LK deserves any sympathy for occupying a role long after he should have retired.

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