This is one reason I love my job.

As of next month I will have been with my current employer for three years. First as a double contractor, then a single contractor, and finally as a direct hire. The people I work with are great and I come home each day with a sense of accomplishment. That’s a large part of the reason I love my job, but there are other, smaller reasons that factor in as well.

For example, there’s a wall near the front lobby where we have pictures of every employee grouped by department in a simple org chart. Each department has a header on it letting you know what it is, but for some reason whoever put it together never got around to making one for the IT department.

So we took it upon ourselves to make our own:

It seemed the logical choice.

It seemed the logical choice.

We put that up on the board over a year ago and it’s been there ever since. It’s a good feeling to know that the company you work for has a sense of humor. It makes me smile every time I see it.

The hidden messages under our desks.

My cubemate has been sitting at the same desk for the past 4 years. Today while reaching for something under his desk his hand brushed up against a flat magnet adhered to the side up near the center drawer. It’s been there the entire time and he had no idea. It’s one of those magnets that usually contain some form of uplifting message that you slap on a fridge or a filing cabinet.

The message written on this one is… interesting.

oddsecretmessage

For the record, he says that if that’s what it takes then knock yourself out.

Working in IT reveals certain truths about human nature.

One of those truths is that no matter how brief you make your communications to the rest of the company very few people will bother to read the text in full.

For example, here at the company I work for we have a small problem with too many people having a particular software package installed. We either need to buy more licenses to cover the extra installations or have people uninstall the program if they don’t really need it. Being that the former costs money we can’t really afford to spend right now, we’d prefer to go with the second option if at all possible. So the software guy constructs a short email to the employees that basically says all of this and asks folks that if they have this package installed, and aren’t actively using it, that they please uninstall it.

Since he sent it out this morning he’s gotten a number of responses from folks justifying their having the software. The email doesn’t ask folks to justify anything, just that if you’re not actively using it then please uninstall it. We did say that if not enough people uninstall then we’d have to go through and ask for a business justification, but that time hasn’t come yet. First we’re just looking for folks to voluntarily uninstall it if they don’t need it. Yet the justifications keep rolling in. You could chalk it up to paranoia that IT will yank a program you rely on to do your job if you don’t tell us immediately why you need it, but we’ve never done anything like that to our users so I’m not sure where that paranoia would come from.

I suppose it could be a side effect of email overload. I know many folks here get a lot more emails during the day then I do and it’s probably difficult to keep up with it all, but you’d think they’d put a little more focus on anything coming from the IT department due to the potential for it to be about something that could disrupt their day if they don’t plan for it. I know I’ve sent out bulletins about this or that in the past only to have people come up later and ask about it in a way that makes it clear they never even glanced at the bulletin.

Which is kind of funny when you consider that I always get nervous about writing up said bulletins. I hate having to do it because I’m terrible at speaking “Business-ese” so I put way more thought into it than I probably should because, as I said, very few people will bother to read it. My boss actually said that to me once: Don’t worry too much about it ’cause no one is going to read it. Which begs the question of why bother doing it. To which the answer is it’s a simple cover-your-ass thing to do.

So what we have is an exercise in communication which we have to do in spite of the fact that the few folks who do bother to look at it will only skim it at best and then either not do what needs to be done or do more than needs to be done depending on what phase the moon is in or recent sunspot activity or whatever the hell it is that drives such things. It’s the sort of thing that makes you pause and wonder if you’re not trapped in a sit-com and just don’t realize it.

Adventures in charity fund raising in the IT department.

Here at “The Automotive Supplier™” where I work there are several charity events put on by various departments throughout the year. The next one takes place on February 29th and is being set up and run by the IT department in my building (a whole whopping three people including myself). My pseudo-boss — in that he’s technically not my boss but he keeps an eye on me — is a golfer and he’s leading the charge on the event so he went with what he knows. Thus we are doing a mini-golf event with “holes” laid out throughout the cubicals and hallways of the building to raise funds for the Michigan Humane Society.

Of course we can’t dig actual holes into the floor for this event so we had to come up with some clever way of providing a target that would determine a successful putt. Being IT we of course had to come up with the most overtly geeky targets we could manage. Thus I give to you The Mouse Holes:

The paw flags read: Help us help them.

Yes, 18 crappy old mice have sacrificed their tails in order to provide a suitable way to determine a successful putt. They’ll be sitting on a sheet of paper with a circle on it so that if the ball hits the “hole” hard enough to knock it out of the circle it’ll be considered to have “popped” out of the hole putting a bit of finesse back into the game.

Now I’m a pretty big geek, but it would never have occurred to me to turn old mice into “holes” for a mini-golf game. Looking at the end result I feel a little more normal than usual. That’s some damned geeky shit.

The most awesome error message ever.

One of the challenges of working at a company that has locations around the world, and that deals with suppliers similarly spread out, is the one of communicating with people who literally speak a different language. Trying to communicate back and forth can be a real trial as idioms that all people tend to use without thinking about it rarely translate intact.

Occasionally, though, in trying to bridge the communication gap using whatever technology is at hand (in this case Google Translate) you get moments of pure awesome such as the following error message translated from Polish:

Pic of Evil eRequest.

Click to embiggen!

This problem occurs much more often than you’d think. Which is why many IT departments have a resident Priest on hand for just such an emergency.

My company gave me a birthday card today.

Normally I enjoy getting birthday cards because it’s a sign that someone thought of me and took the time an effort to find a card and put it in an envelope and deliver it to me. This card didn’t inspire those feelings for a number of reasons.

First and foremost it was given to me a full 8 days ahead of my actual birthday. Today is August 17th and my birthday is August 25. If the reps didn’t come around but once every couple of weeks I could understand it being so early, but there are company reps on site all day every day so there’s really no reason to deliver it so early other than they aren’t really paying attention to when my birthday is, which shows that it was less a thought on their part and more of a this-popped-up-on-my-monthly-to-do-list.

Secondly the card is pretty much an advertisement for the company itself. The front is decent enough with a picture of a cupcake with a birthday candle in it. All in shades of blue, which is the officially company color, and the words “happy birthday” printed on it. The inside is blank other than the company name/logo in the lower right hand corner. If not for the attempt at personalizing it by the staff it would just say “company name” inside it as though I needed reminding of what company I worked for.

The personalization itself is the sort of generic thing you write—we hope you have a great day—for someone you know nothing about, which is the case here as the reps don’t interact with us techs often enough to know more than our names. Which makes it feel more like a perfunctory exercise more than anything else. The sort of thing you do because you think you’re expected to do it and not because you actually give a shit.

The back of the card again carries the company name/logo along with a listing of the various services they provide (staffing, professionals, etc.). It’s there so that if I should happen to stand the card upright on my desk the little ad pushing the company’s services will be visible to any who approach my work space. Though you’d have to bend down and squint to read the tiny listing of services.

It’s probably yet another sign of my cynicism that the card has the opposite effect on me than what they were probably hoping for. It was supposed to be a nice little acknowledgement that I managed to keep breathing through another calendar year and a small sign that the company cares. From where I’m standing it’s a perfect example of how the company doesn’t know a thing about me and doesn’t really care yet still feels the need to waste paper in an attempt to give me a warm fuzzy. I would’ve felt better if they hadn’t bothered trying in the first place.

A couple of weeks back on Twitter I mentioned the company’s attempts at attaboys that I thought were ridiculous. It was a sheet of paper with a simple block design on it in the company’s colors with the company name/logo prominently displayed on it that said “Good to Know You!” Um… OK. Not “Good Job” or “Excellent Work” or “That’s Some Right Fine Laboring You’ve Been Doing!” No, it said “Good to Know You!” It was like they had the ghost of Mr. Rogers design their attaboy.

That sort of thing just irritates me. All it takes to let me know I’m appreciated is popping your head in the door and saying “You’re doing a good job, keep it up.” If you really feel the need to do more than that then take me out to lunch or give me a few bucks on a gift certificate. Or, best of all, a raise. Popping out a preprinted attaboy with an inanely generic message and the company logo all over like it’s more advertisement than recognition will just kick up my cynical side and make me write bitchy blog posts.

SEB Mailbag: Atheist Beard edition.

This SEB mailbag entry is a little different from the norm as it comes from an SEB reader who we’ll call Dave and it is not a profane attempt at convincing me Jesus exists and loves me even though I’m a fucking idiot. Instead it asks a simple question about beards and employment. I thought it would be interesting to share it to see what other folks think. My reply will follow the letter itself:

From: Dave
Subject: Atheist Beard?

Hey Les, love the blog.

I have an issue that might deserve some pondering.

I recently got hired on at a job after several months of looking. It’s a call center type job, answering calls but for a funeral service business. On my first day I was informed that I would have to shave my beard to stay employed with them as apparently it’s the standard in the funeral industry (not mentioned at the interview, mind you). I don’t have a full beard like yours, more like Penn Jillette’s. I didn’t really want to part with my chin hairs and began googling which religions I could use as an excuse for it.

Is it silly that I just want to keep my beard, possibly more than a job, just to express my freedom to have one?  Would you shave your face for your company?  Why should God telling someone to have a beard be an acceptable reason?

And my reply was as follows:

Dave,

That’s an interesting predicament and one I’ve not faced in years, if you’ll pardon the pun. It also seems odd that you’d have to shave your beard if you’re working in a call center where you’d be unlikely to deal with clients in any way except over the phone. Still it’s not like EDS didn’t have very specific grooming requirements for many years before finally relaxing them a bit (they used to forbid beards as well).

Is it silly to consider claiming to be a specific religion just to keep your chin hairs? It depends on how you look at it. If you feel that your beard is an important expression of who you are, as many of the folks who don’t shave for religious reasons do, then it’s not particularly silly. Of course it could also be argued that if you’re going to let a few chin hairs stand between you and a decent paying job in these economic times then you’re definitely being silly. Personally I think it’s silly that some companies think they need to control the grooming habits of their employees so strictly, but even then a reasonable argument about “presenting a consistent image” could be made.

If that’s not wishy washy enough for you then let me answer your question on if I would shave my beard for my company. Again the answer is that it would depend. If it were a crappy little job that I didn’t plan at staying at any longer than necessary then the answer is no, though I might trim it up to make them happy. If it were an excellent paying job that I was lucky to be considered for in the first place and the only thing keeping me from being hired was my chin hairs? I’d have severe razor burn from how fast they disappeared. My willingness to comply with stupid or silly requirements goes up in direct relation to how much I’m earning. Pay me enough money and I’d show up in a dress with pink bows in my beard if that’s what you want, but it’d have to be a LOT of money.

It’s not so much that God telling someone to have a beard is an acceptable reason as it is that the laws on religious accommodation that are on the books make getting sued over issues such as beards an expensive exercise so some places figure it’s not worth the hassle of forcing the issue on people who claim it’s part of their religious beliefs. Most of the time it’s a simple matter of economics. Would we end up paying out a lot of money if we fired this person for their beard when they claim it’s mandated by their religious convictions.

That’s one of the great things about being a Computer Support Technician or Systems Administrator or whatever you want to call what I do. We’re expected to be a bit odd and nerdy and beardy so it’s usually not a problem.

Les

What do the rest of you think? Is it worth quitting a job just to keep your right to grow a beard? Would you go as far as to claim to be a member of a religion that mandates beards just to keep both your chin hairs and your job? Was my answer sufficiently wishy washy enough to qualify me as a real life Charlie Brown? Speak up, folks! Let’s hear your thoughts.

When your job feels more like being back in high school…

… it can be hard to take it seriously.

The contract house that employs me to work at Big Dot Com company also employs the 250 or so operators who work the the stations I support. Once a month they hold a meeting for both shifts of operators wherein they make announcements, give attaboys to the 10 most productive individuals, awards for perfect attendance, and announce folks who have reached the end of their contact and will be leaving. Small prizes are handed out to the folks being recognized, usually in the form of promotional swag with the contract house’s name printed all over it, but they also hand out gas cards good for $10 worth of gas. It has all the familiar airs of any high school football pep rally, but by and large we techs manage to avoid participating in it which is just fine with me.

This has started to change lately. The contract house has been making more of an effort to make sure the techs are included whether we really want to be or not. They made a point of asking us to attend this month’s meeting (which reviews last month’s efforts) because they wanted to give us a special recognition. We were clueless as to what they could be recognizing us for, but we dutifully attended just the same. When the time came the Big Boss lady says: “I think Jennifer Granholm (our State’s governor) should come talk to our techs, because they did more last month to get 250 people back to work than anyone in Lansing has done so far!” My first thought was “whaa?” 

Turns out she was referring to the power brownout that lasted all of a second yet halted all operations here for over a week. We techs were responsible for getting the workstations back up and running and we had all but three up within 20 minutes of the brownout. The reason we were down for week, however, had to due with the databases that manage and store all the data on the servers. They were corrupted by the brownout so badly that no one here on site could fix them and we had to wait for someone higher up the chain at corporate to get around to repairing them, which took around a week to have happen. In short, we techs did 20 or 30 minutes worth of work, total, related to the brownout and then waited on corporate to get around to fixing the problem that was keeping the operators from getting back to work. Though to hear the Big Boss lady tell it we had been busting our ass for the entire week to get things fixed. Clearly they really don’t know what we techs are responsible for. The reward for our Amazing Ball Busting Lack of Effort? A fleece throw with the company name on it.

I tell you all of this to put into context the latest couple of announcements that we techs have been made privy to. First they’re holding an essay writing contest. Let me repeat that. They’re holding an essay writing contest of 250 words or less that expresses the theme of Why I Love Working at Big Dot Com project!. Top essay wins $100. Which, admittedly, beats the hell out of a fleece throw. I’ve considering submitting the following short, but to the point essay:

    Because it beats the fuck out of being unemployed and on welfare.

But somehow I don’t think it would win. The other announcement is even more Amazingly Stunningly Fabulous than an essay contest: We’re having a Spirit Day! We’re supposed to dress up in as much red clothing as possible and could win $10 gas cards for doing so. Why red? I’m not sure, but a lot of the prizes are red, such as the aforementioned fleece throw, so I’m assuming that red is somehow considered a company color.

I’m cynical in nature already and I’m not usually much for the rah-rah-team tribalism so many people seem to think is important and this situation is no different. It really does bring back memories of the pep rallies we had to attend in high school that were boring as hell, but still beat the fuck out of staying in class and doing actual work. I have this fear that they’re going to keep trying to include us techs in on this nonsense as time goes by when I’d really rather just come in and do my 40 hours and go home. They’ve apparently been doing it all along and I’ve just been blissfully ignorant of it all and, honestly, it’s a bliss I long to return to.

Unplanned day off from work today.

It’s amazing the havoc a brownout can cause. Just before noon on Monday our building had a brownout that lasted all of a second—the lights never made it completely off before they were back on again—but it was enough to stop all work since then. We have just over 100 workstations, but each workstation is literally composed of multiple computers such that the total number of machines is multiplied by five. The server room is of a similar composition. We managed to get all but a couple of the workstations back up and running in short order, but the massive database that coordinates everything on the servers was badly corrupted. They’ve been working on rebuilding it ever since. They sent the first shift home and have canceled every shift since then. I went in yesterday on the off-chance we’d be back up and running in time for afternoon shift, but it didn’t happen so they told me to plan on staying home today. Which I am. And possibly tomorrow too.

The thing that amazes me is that this could have been prevented with a decent UPS system in place, but they don’t have one. At the very least I’d expect them to have one in the server room, but the company doesn’t want to spend the money. We could have been back up and running within 20 minutes of the original brownout had we had a UPS in the server room as the database corruption has been the source of our downtime. Instead we’ve lost two and a half days worth of work.

Sometimes I just don’t understand how upper management in even the brightest companies think.

Busier than I should be…

At most of the companies I’ve worked at the day before a holiday break is usually one of the most laid back days of the year. That’s not true today. I’ve been on my feet a good chunk of the day doing station conversions and basically running around as though there was no tomorrow. Which should make me appreciate having two weeks off of work that much more I suppose.

Still this is annoying.