Category Archives: Work

What’s it like being your own boss?

I’ve been my own boss for about two weeks now and people want to know how it’s going. Well, you know the old saying about working for yourself – the boss is crazy and you can’t get away from him.

I do find myself putting a lot of thought into what I should be doing with my time – what can I do now to build my audience? So far, I haven’t really been doing anything different but I will be expanding over the next couple of weeks. I might even get a bit organised and put a big to-do list on my wall to remind me of what I should be doing.

But I do think my boss is crazy.

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My new career as a public speaker

I am seriously working on developing a career change and moving into public speaking – specifically on IT and new media related topics.  I picture myself as being the “funny guy” they use to close IT conferences.  I’ve been thinking about this because

(a) I seem to have more first hand knowledge than most people I see presenting, and

(b) I’m a far better speaker than most people I see

And I want some of the money these people are making, dammit!  I want to be flown around the world to talk and be treated like I’m an expert!  Because I’m shallow that way.  I already have some presentation ideas I’m working on:

  • You’re stupid – what to do about it (for management conferences)
  • Project management – why it’s bollocks
  • IT staff – lazy, overpaid slackers or priceless diamonds you should cherish forever?
  • Why the latest internet fad is pointless but you should follow it anyway
  • And a presentation I’d love to give to the music and/or movie business: “You are evil, rapacious scum and your customers will eventually drag you into the street and burn you at the stake”

I’m looking forward to this new career.

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Taking the PIS

Looking through job ads sometimes depresses me because of the way they commonly spout mumbo-jumbo jargon as if it actually means something.  It leaves me wanting to grab the next recruiter who uses the phrase “leverage core competencies” and leverage their core competencies straight down their fucking throat.

But sometimes the job ads make me laugh.  Usually because I have a very juvenile sense of humour.  Case in point: today I saw an ad for a Process Improvement Specialist in a government department.  This caught my eye for a few reasons.  First, it’s the type of work I do.  Second, it was a one year contract with the government  that sounded like a complete boondoggle.  Hide away in some massive bureaucracy and charge massive consultant fees for a year.  Payday!

But most importantly, the acronym for the job title was PIS.  Did I mention the part about me being juvenile?  I wondered if I’d be able to resist saying in a job interview that the job sounded like a piece of piss?

But if I was going to interview, I’d need to come up with the right jargon.  Government departments love their jargon.  I considered saying that I thought the role of the Process Improvement Specialist would be to Facilitate the Adoption of Revolutionary Thinking in the department.  But they probably spend all their time PIS-FARTing around already and don’t need my help for that.

I also cogitated that the PIS might promote Widespread Enterprise Application Knowledge.  But that sounded a bit PIS-WEAK.  I’m sure somebody can help me with some other ideas.

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Heroin is fun

Heroin is fun*.  It really is.

By which I mean, revulsion and fear regarding heroin use are so strong in so many people that even mentioning heroin tends to provoke a strong response.  Also, not everyone shares my sense of humour.

Case in point: at work I’m getting one of my many drinks of high-caffeine cola I require to make it through a day.  A drone cow-orker feels compelled to comment that this is an unhealthy thing to drink.  I get really fucking sick of this type of comment.  Usually I’d pretty much ignore it but I decided to respond.

“Well, given that I actually have very few bad habits I think I’ll survive.  I don’t smoke and I rarely drink alcohol so let me have this vice.”

She seems prepared to stop with the unwanted platitudes at this point so I probably should have left well enough alone.  But she really annoyed me.  So I followed up with:

“In fact, if it wasn’t for the heroin I’d be leading quite a clean lifestyle.”

This little throwaway line leads what I will charitably call an uncomfortable silence.  She’s staring at me with a look that seems to be equal parts shock, horror, revulsion and pity.  I could do without the pity.

The first thought that goes through my head is “She can’t possibly think that was anything but a joke.  She doesn’t have to think it’s a funny joke but she must know it’s a joke.”  Then I think about it for a while and realise this is the sort of unimaginative lump who gets all their “information” from nightly current affairs tabloid shows.  She is clearly waiting for me to grow horns.

In situations like this, my mind tends to go a hundred miles an hour.  I mentally run through multiple scenarios of how this could play out in seconds.  None of the scenarios I was imagining were ending well.  Every variation of “It was a joke!” had me looking like a junkie in denial.  Or maybe a junkie who was getting agitated because he was strung out and in need of a hit.

Then the evil part of my brain took over.  The part that thinks it’s funny to fuck with repressed people.  Hey, whispered my evil brain, if she’s gonna treat that obvious joke seriously then go the whole way.  Freak her the fuck out.  Say something about “watch out for used syringes near my desk”.  Ask her if she can loan you some money.  Or just roll your eyes and then collapse.

That last one started to sound real good.  It would have a double bonus of scaring the cow-orker and I wouldn’t have to finish the conversation.  I could just lie on the floor until she ran away.  Approximately three nanonseconds before I put this plan into action she backed out of the kitchen.  I didn’t hear running but it’s distinctly plausible that she was sprinting for safety as soon as she was out of sight.

In retrospect, if you’ve just told someone you’re using heroin, staring at them glassy-eyed until they leave the room isn’t the best way to convince them you were joking.

*NOTE: This is not an endorsement of using heroin.  If you’re stupid enough to think it is then you’re too fucking stupid to accept this disclaimer.  Let’s just go with “I’m a horrible and irresponsible person”.  And fuck you.

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The day I met Apu

I was having a bit of fun at lunch today, sharing work horror stories with a friend.  We covered the usual range of bad bosses and horrible cow-orkers and then we got on to interviews.  I’ve complained about job interviews before but one area I’ve never really gone in to is what it’s like to deal with vendors/salespeople. 

I don’t like to judge by appearances but I have this crazy idea when someone is trying to sell something to a corporate client, particularly when the contract crosses into the millions of dollars, they might make a fucking effort to appear professional.  I don’t go with a vendor solely because their guys dressed the sharpest but I’m never keen to go with someone who comes across as a total gimp.

Another thought is that a vendor should not come across as a criminal.  Just another one of my prejudices.  I know it’s shallow to make judgements based on how someone sounds but I figure when you’re planning to drop a few million you earn the right to be judgemental. 

A personal favourite of mine was a guy who talked with a heavy East London accent, telling me about “dis fing” and “dat fing”.  For fans of classic British TV, think Arthur (Arfur) Daley on “Minder”.  He’s extolling the virtues of his technology and all I can think of is “Holy crap, can’t you even be bothered to take the time to pronounce ‘th’ properly?”

Then there was the day I met Apu.  I have a very bad habit of equating nearly every experience in my life with something I’ve seen on The Simpsons.  So when I was seeing a presentation from an Indian guy who had EXACTLY the same hair as Apu that took all of my focus.  I didn’t remember a damn thing he said.  All I was thinking the entire time was “Dude, you have the same haircut as Apu.”

Let me make this clear: He didn’t sound like Apu (He never said “Thank you, come again” once).  He didn’t have the same features as Apu.  It was just the hair.  I became slightly obsessed about it.  Did he realise it?  Was it on purpose?  Had anyone ever told him?  Did he think it was a good idea to have the same hair as Apu?  Does he not have friends?  Does he not know anyone who cares enough to say “you have the hair of a fucking cartoon character!  Get it cut!”

Actually, even if the hair was nothing to do with Apu it was still a worry.  The thought of this guy lovingly sculpting a massive bouffant each day did not make me trust his judgement.  But the idea that he might be deliberately going for the Apu look really weirded me out. 

I guess what I’m say is that if you can be easily caricatured, I’m not sure sales is the career for you.  Ideally a sales person would be remembered because of their professionalism.  Not because they look like a cartoon character or Chopper Read.

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Toilet horror

You know what I haven’t done in a while? Have a good old fashioned rant about how gross it is to share the toilet with people at work. That’s what I’m doing today because of these two horror stories.

First up, one that’s about as gross and unforgiveable as they come. I just went in to avail myself of the facilities and was greeted in a cubicle by a scattering of used toilet paper. And I’m talking bearing horrid orangey-brown stains used. Motherfucker! What sort of fucking animals am I working with?

Now don’t get me wrong, I know sometimes accidents happen. Paper goes astray. But pick it up for fuck’s sake! Some of it had fallen a little behind the seat so maybe a really stupid person could have missed it. But some of it was between the seat and the fucking door! The filthy bastard would have had to step over it to leave the cubicle!

What was he thinking? That it was too gross to pick up? Hey, it’s your shit, sunshine! How fucking gross do you think it is to other people? Animals! I’m working with fucking animals!

The second one is just weird and disconcerting. I took pictures to show how weird. Also because I’m kind of fond of the camera on my new phone. Don’t worry, the photos are safe for work viewing and not particularly stomach-churning. The first photo is obvious enough. This is a toilet cubicle. But what is that little thing towards the top of the picture? The thing I have marked with an arrow for your convenience?

toilet

Allow me to zoom in and reveal the horror to you.

moisturiser

That, my friends, is a tube of moisturiser. In a toilet cubicle. There’s only one reason I can think of for someone having a tube of moisturiser in a toilet cubicle. And I don’t want to think about it. Some freak in the office spends so much time jacking it that he keeps a tube of lube handy.

I swear, I am never shaking hands with anybody in this fucking place again.

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Religion vs. Science

I think I’ve discovered the secret of the long standing conflict between IT workers and management.  Which is to say, one of my commenters (RobMoir) articulated it and I’m totally stealing his concept.
 
It comes down to the same mentality as religion vs. science.
 
A true believer in religion doesn’t need proof, faith is enough for them.  In fact, a lack of faith and a desire to see empirical truth is seen as a severe failing of character by the faithful.  Conversely, a follower of science finds it difficult to conceive of how someone could simply not want to undertsand something.  The very act of surrendering to a higher power rather continuing the quest for knowledge is incomprehensible to the follower of science.
 
And that’s where the gap in managing IT projects seems to be.  Managers all too often seem to operate on principle of religious faith rather than responding to any objective reality.  The project plan becomes holy scripture.  Or worse still, management exhorts the team to operate on faith alone.  “If we all work together, we can meet the delivery date.”  Reality be damned.
 
A good IT worker treats a project more like science and asks pertinent questions.  What exactly will happen?  How will we make it happen?  Who specifically has the skills to make it happen?  What course of action will we follow when the unexpected inevitably happens?
 
Mind you, if you want to see an IT worker get religious, start up on their pet operating system / programming language / development methodology / technology platform and/or gaming system.  There’s nothing quite as fierce as a technology based holy war.
 
For an illustration I’ll provide another slightly dramatised discussion based on a very real experience from my (thankfully distant) past.  A bit of context first: I’m a Business Analyst (BA) but there are often two sorts of BAs.  One is based with a business unit and represents their interests.  This person usually writes a Business Requirements document.  The other is an IT based BA who looks at things from a systems basis.  This person is often called a Systems Analyst or Technical Analyst and writes a Functional Specification.
 
In my time, I have been both.  Sometimes on the same job.  In the following example, I was a Systems Analyst.  The BA from the business group was presenting their requirements document and wanted us (the IT group) to sign off.  This was the first time we has seen requirements from them.  And quite frankly, they were shit.  The best bits were ambiguous to the point of being useless and it was full of straight out errors.
 
The BA’s starting point was that me signing off their document was a foregone conclusion.  My starting point was that this was a review meeting.  If the document didn’t pass review it was going back for more work.  When we reached the critical point of “No, I’m not signing off on this piece of shit you call a requirements document,” the following discussion too place (translations provided for people who don’t understand polite business speak).
 
BA: But this meeting was to get a sign off.
(Translation: It’s inconceivable that you could doubt the Holy Scripture.)
 
ME: This meeting was to review the document, I can’t sign it of in its current state.
(Translation: I need proof, not blind faith.)
 
BA: But the project plan says we have to have this signed off today!
(Translation: The Divine Word from on high tell me it is so – I dare not question.)
ME: Then you should have had review sessions before today so we could have given you the feedback you needed to have it ready for signoff.
(Translation: We sign off requirements when they’re right.  We don’t sign off steaming piles of camel turn simply because an arbitrary date has been reached.)
BA: But to meet the schedule this has to be signed off today. We’re delivering it on schedule but you have to sign it off.
(Translation: The schedule said I had to produce a document by today.  I produced a document.  What could possibly be wrong?)
ME: We can only sign off on the requirements when they’re right, not when they schedule says they should be signed off.
(Translation: Was I not clear about the steaming camel turd?)
BA: Well, could you do a “conditional” signoff and we’ll make a note of your issues?
(Translation: If you’re stupid enough to put your name to this you’ll never see me again – it’s your problem from then on.)
ME: You’ve got my feedback, that’s all that’s coming out of this meeting.  There’s no way I can sign off on these requirements. Take the feedback to your manager and if he has any issues he can take it up with my manager because I’m under strict instructions to not sign off anything until it’s ready to be signed off no matter what the schedule says.
(Translation: We’re onto your little games.  Now get the fuck out of my face or I’ll jam that worthless document down your throat until you choke.)
Surprisingly enough, I did not extend my contract at that place.  The job market was very strong at the time and life is far too short to put up with that sort of insanity-inducing dysfunction.  Mind you, it did form the basis of my forthcoming thesis “Project Management Failure – an archetypal example of how to fuck things up completely.”

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Project management disasters

Over more than 10 years of contracting as an IT Business Analyst, I’ve learned there are two main reasons companies hire contractors. Either they’re running some huge sprawling project and want to throw more bodies at it or they don’t have the in house expertise for a particular project so they want to bring in an outsider who does.
Although the big, sprawling projects are a major source of employment, I really don’t like working on them. The main reason for my dislike is that most of these massive projects are disasters. The company is trying to do too much with too little idea of how to do it. The classic nightmare for IT staff is to be stuck in a project that’s date driven.
By “date driven” I mean that the only way the project is measured is by whether or not is it delivered by some totally arbitrary date. It’s bad enough when you have to deal with a project manager who wants you to bow down before their Gantt chart as if it’s Holy Scripture. But I have actually worked on multi-million dollar projects where all activity is driven by the fact that someone in senior management has said it should be done by a certain date.
There’s nothing that fills a development team with horror quite so much as something along the lines of “the new financial system wil be in place before the end of the financial year.” And when you ask how that date was arrived at you get little more than “that should be enough time.” As an analyst I find that sort of crap particularly galling because people who think this is a good way to run a project usually get pissed off when I start actually doing my job.
They get pissed off because my job is to ask questions and arbitrarily set dates usually don’t hold up well to questioning. Here’s an approximation of fun conversations that happen on projects like this
BOSS: The project has to be completed by the end of the year
ME: What’s actually involved?
B: A new CRM system has to be installed. It will replace thee old stand alone systems and make us more efficient.
M: But what’s actually involved?
B: I just told you, we’re implementing a new CRM system.
M: But what has to happen for that to be installed? You said it’s replacing three existing systems, what happens to the data stored in those systems? There’s no way we’ll be lucky enough that the new system handles data exactly the same way. Can it be configured to handle existing data somehow or will that require programming changes? Or is that not even possible which means we’ll have to convert the existing data to a usable format? Can we do that via an automated process or will it have to be done manually? And what about other systems that had interfaces to the systems being replaced? How many interfaces to the new system are required and how long will it take to develop all of them? And what about the users? Have you checked that the new system can actually meet all of their requirements? Are they going to have to change any existing processes in order to use the new system? Have you allowed enough time for training? And how does it affect external suppliers?
(At about this point I can see the boss is making a mental note that I’m a troublemaker. I can see it in his eyes.)
B: We don’t know the answers to any of those questions but we’ve committed to meeting the delivery date. I’m sure if we all get on board and make a commitment as a team we can make it happen.
(At this point I’m making a mental note that the boss is a fucking moron. I hope he can’t see it in my eyes.)
M: But you haven’t even defined what “it” is. You made a commitment to deliver the project by a set date without even quantifying what work has to be performed. How can you possibly commit to a date when you don’t even know what you have to do?
B: If we discover that the volume of work is too much for the existing team to handle then we’ll add more people to the team.
M: Have you ever read “The Mythical Man Month”?
B: Never heard of it.
M: That doesn’t surprise me.
The book “The Mythical Man Month” was written more than 30 years ago by a manager at IBM. The single most important point in the book can be summarised as “adding people to a project that is already behind schedule will make it later”. The main reason for this is that the more people you add, the more convoluted lines of communication become until it gets to the point where communication takes more time than the work itself. There’s also the fact that when a project becomes severely behind schedule resourcing usually isn’t the main problem. An utter lack of direction from clueless management is usually the bigger issue.
 
Software development is one of the fastest changing industries in the world.  But even after 30 years this book is regarded as one of the fundamental classics in the field.  The author jokes that it is referred to as the software development “bible” because of the number of people who say they believe in it but don’t follow its teachings in their day to day life.
 
I have often considered bringing it in to work to show particularly clueless managers.  I think that maybe if I brought a really nice hard bound edition in, I might be able to beat them to death with it.  And then I realise why I’ve never moved into management. 
 
I like to be able to face myself in the mirror.

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Great moments in workplace safety

We had a big workshop on Occupational Health and Safety issues at work today.  Senior management were all in attendance to show how seriously they all take OH&S (despite the fact they cram too many of us into cubicles that are too small).  I was helping out the presenter by cleaning the whiteboard at the start of the presentation.
Maybe I rubbed the board a bit vigorously but whatever the reason, the fucking thing came off the wall, bounced off my head and hit the floor with an ominous crash, barely missing my toes.  I wasn’t hurt (it was only my head) but it was startling to say the least.
Considering I was almost killed while setting up a safety seminar, does this qualify as irony?  Or is it bad timing?  Or possibly even just plain funny.  Judging from the laughter from the audience, there was a popular vote for funny.
Oh, except for the management types.  They were sitting with an external safety auditor.  They didn’t laugh at all.

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Don’t waste time negotiating with psychos

A little addendum to my post yesterday about workplace psychos.  Don’t waste time thinking you can change their behaviour.  It’s that old story about the frog and the scorpion - it’s what they do.  Most workplaces have some sort of conflict resolution process in place and if you get dragged into one of these with your psycho by all means, participate in a positive way.
But don’t fool yourself that anything is going to change.  One of the key elements of a clinical diagnosis for a psychopath or sociopath is that they don’t respond to treatment.  You can’t make them “better”.  They don’t want to get better.  So don’t make yourself look bad by refusing to participate but don’t harbour any illusions about the outcome.
To give an example from my personal experience, in one of my earliest jobs as a business analyst, there was one programmer who was clearly a psycho.  Part of my responsibility was testing changes to the system before any changes went live and this programmer would get a tad fiesty when I delayed releases of his changes by doing crazy things like finding critical flaws.  The process went a little like this:
Monday: I start testing changes he’s made to the system.  This is a script driven system used by operators in a call centre and it has to guide them through about 20 steps.  The program falls over after the second step.  It literally crashes and I can’t continue.  I file a bug report detailing the issue.
Tuesday: The programmer tells me the bug has been fixed and I should test it.  Sure enough the bug has been fixed and I can get past step two.  Then it crashes again at step five.  I file a bug report.  The programmer goes nuts and literally starts screaming.  He tells the project manager it’s my fault the code isn’t ready on time because I should have told him about this second bug yesterday.  The PM decides to calm the situation by taking us both off to another room to talk about the problem.
It took about five seconds to establish that the programmer was talking shit.  Their whole beef was that I didn’t tell them about this new bug yesterday.  I calmly explained why it was logically impossible for me to have done so.  I also was circumspect enough to not point out it was blindingly fucking obvious why it was impossible.  The original bug happened at step two.  The new bug was at step five.  I couldn’t get past step two to see the bug at step five until after the first bug was fixed.
As soon as it became obvious his bullshit was indefensible the programmer became nice as pie.  He never admitted that his behaviour was totally fucked (let alone that blaming me for errors in his code at all was fucked) but he was suddenly the voice of reason.  He actually said “Oh, why didn’t you tell me that? I understand now.  This was all a misunderstanding.”
The PM asked if I was satisfied with the “resolution” of our discussion.  I said yes even though I knew that no resolution had been reached, the smarmy git had simply weaselled his way out of the situation.  It was clear to me there was no value in pursuing it so I said everything was OK.
A week later exactly the same thing happened.  And I mean exactly.  This same programmer started shouting and abusing me because I was doing my job (namely, providing evidence that he was shit at his job).  The PM took me aside and asked if I wanted another “counselling session”.  I gave the honest answer:
“No, what’s the point?  You can see he’s being unreasonable, if we go off and talk about it, I’ll prove he’s being unreasonable then suddenly he’ll be all sweetness and light and promise this will never happen again.  Then, next week, it will happen again.  So long as you know he’s being an idiot I don’t really mind.  I can ignore him.”
In some senses, maybe I should have pursued it.  He deserved to be fired but that would have involved making a formal complaint to HR and then a process that would drag on for months with this psycho kicking and biting every step of the way.  And because of the small size of our team I would have had to keep working with him the whole time.
So getting rid of him was more painful than simply de-fanging him.  He would still go apeshit from time to time but I had exposed him for what he was so he couldn’t hurt me any more.  So from my experience (and this is backed up by the reading I have done) it’s unlikely you can actually change an office psycho.  Don’t waste time and energy on them, devote it to looking after yourself.

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