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.

Latest news on my job provokes a mixed reaction.

I got a phone call from the contracting house I work for about my job today. In summary they said, “Hey, remember how Big.com Company you’re contracted to said they were changing your job to an in-house position and you’d have to reapply and probably wouldn’t get it because you don’t have a college degree? Yeah? Well, they changed their mind and aren’t going to do that anymore. You still have your original two-year contract.”

So the good news is that the pressure to find a new job is off for now as I still have a year and a half on my contract. This makes me feel good. Of course there was a chance, however slim, that I could have been hired by Big.com Company and that would’ve been really cool. That makes me feel bad at the same time.

I suppose I’ll just be pleased that I have one less stress to stress out over during the holidays.

EMPLOYMENT LAW … gone mad?

EMPLOYMENT LAW Is booting up a computer work, or a work break? 

The National Law Journal

Tresa Baldas / Staff reporter
November 17, 2008

Is booting up a computer work, or a work break?

More companies fending off suits on the issue.

It seems just about anything in the workplace can find its way into wage-and-hour litigation.

Case in point: Lawyers are noting a new type of lawsuit, in which employees are suing over time spent booting their computers. “Booting” refers to when someone starts or restarts a computer.

During the past year, several companies, including AT&T Inc., UnitedHealth Group Inc. and Cigna Corp., have been hit with lawsuits in which employees claimed that they were not paid for the 15- to 30-minute task of booting their computers at the start of each day and logging out at the end.

Add those minutes up over a week, and hourly employees are losing some serious pay, argues plaintiffs’ lawyer Mark Thierman, a Las Vegas solo practitioner who has filed a handful of computer-booting lawsuits in recent years.

“These are hourly employees who are not making much more than minimum wage,” Thierman said. “There’s a good half-hour a day that they’re not being paid for. It adds up.”

And it’s not as if these employees are sitting there doing nothing while the computer boots up, Thierman said. They’re either starting paperwork, making calls or arranging their calendar while waiting on the computer.

Management-side attorney Richard Rosenblatt, a partner in the Princeton, N.J., office of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius who is defending a half-dozen employers in computer-booting lawsuits, sees it differently.

He believes that, in most cases, computer booting does not warrant being called work. Having spent time in call centers observing work behaviors, he said most employees boot the computer, then engage in nonwork activities.

“They go have a smoke, talk to friends, get coffee — they’re not working, and all they’ve done at that point is press a button to power up their computer, or enter in a key word,” Rosenblatt said.

But the lawsuits keep rolling in.

In California, hundreds of customer service representatives at call centers are suing Cigna Corp., claiming that they were denied pay for the time spent booting up computers before and logging out after their shifts at the call centers. Hazel v. Connecticut General Life Insurance Co., No. C08-03552 (N.D. Calif.).

In Georgia, AT&T and BellSouth Corp. are also battling computer-booting claims, filed by sales consultants and associates who claim, among other things, that they were denied pay for time spent booting up and shutting down computers before and after their shifts. Brooks v. AT&T, No. 1:07-cv-3054 (N.D. Ga.).

In Missouri, UnitedHealth Group also is battling a proposed collective action that claims it failed to pay employees who work from home for time spent booting up their computers. Wolfert v. UnitedHealth Group Inc., No. 4:08-cv-01643 (D. Mo.).

My initial reaction to this story was sheer amazement at the lengths to which employers would go to try and cut the pay of their employees, but on re-reading the story a couple of points caught my attention:

1) The time stated to booting the computers 15-30 minutes, does seem like a long time.
2) The observation made by Richard Rosenblatt regarding the activities of employees while waiting for the computers to boot, he may well be making a valid point.

With the worsening economic climate in the U.S.A. (and globally) it probably shouldn’t come as such a surprise that some employers look to turn the screws on their employees. 

Not having a degree is about to bite me in the ass once again.

It’s déjà vu all over again as I may soon find myself unemployed once more. Word came down at work that they are redefining my job from being a contracted position to an internal position. The job itself will be the same, but who I directly work for won’t be. As a result I need to apply for consideration to be hired for the job I am already doing. Like most companies these days, they’re very big on their employees having some form of degree, preferably a bachelors. Doesn’t matter what area the degree is in, so long as you have one, your chances of being hired are greatly improved.

Which, of course, I don’t have. I am working on one at the moment, but it’s still some distance in the future. I wasn’t expecting to have it done before my contract expired as it was and I definitely won’t have it within the next few weeks. The good news is that I’m at least being allowed to apply for the job which is a step up from when this happened to me at Ford Motor Company where they wouldn’t even entertain the idea of considering possibly hiring me without a degree. The bad news is my boss doesn’t get to put in a good word for me until after the recruiter determines whether or not I should even get an interview.

Needless to say I’m updating my resume and will be submitting it, but I’m not particularly optimistic that I’ll retain my job. Assuming I don’t my boss has said that he expects the transition to take at least a few months to unfold so I should be OK until at least January at the earliest and possibly as late as March. There’s no guarantee of that, but you take your silver linings where you can find them. In addition to applying for the job I currently have I’ll be hitting the job boards with a bit more vigor to see what other opportunities there might be. The fun never ends.

Signs you have a cool boss.

You walk in and the first thing he does is ask how you’re doing and you explain that you were up to “only” 2AM because you were playing the new Wrath of the Lich King expansion for WoW and without missing a beat he says with a smile: “Oh, surprised you didn’t just call in today.”

Now you might think at first that he’s suggesting that I’m a lazy bum who would be so lame as to call into work just to play a video game all day, but I should mention the fact that my boss, while he’s saying this, is sitting in the office with the lights off and Gears of War 2 loaded up on an Xbox 360. He understands. He knows what it is to be a gamer.

In my younger days I’d be more inclined to take a day off to play a new game I’ve been waiting forever for, but my mastery of my willpower has improved with age and it helps that I’ve been playing the beta since it started so had already worked through some of the cravings. There’s also the fact that I don’t get paid time off so that’s another motivation to get my ass to work.  Besides it’s Friday and I’ll have a good portion of the weekend to devote to playing so that gives me something to look forward to.