Tag Archives: Work

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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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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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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Elevator etiquette

I’m back working in a multi-storey office building for the first time in years which means having to use the elevator multiple times a day.  I have to tell you, I’m astounded how many people simply don’t know how to use a lift effectively.  Because I like to help (really because I like to vent at people who piss me off) I thought I’d compile a handy guide to proper elevator use.

1. Getting into an elevator: There are basically two rules when it comes to entering an elevator.

  • Wait for people to get out before you get in
  • Don’t take all bloody day to get in

For people who don’t place any value on courtesy, letting people get out first still seems like basic common sense to me. There’s more room to manoeuvre outside the elevator than inside. If you push your way in before people get out they’ll have to shove past you. It’s easier all round to just step aside for a second to see if anyone’s trying to get out

The second part can be a delicate balancing act.  If you stand around for too long the doors will close.  If you don’t wait long enough you crash into people coming out.  Some exercise of the brain is required here.  I hate getting some slug-like entity between me and the elevator who does nothing because they’re too fucking stupid to figure out what’s going on.  Then the doors close and I’m left to ruminate on why I didn’t shoulder charge the obvious moron out of my way.

Here’s a tip for the slow learners: try putting your hand on the door frame to hold the door.  You can do this while standing out of the way of anyone exiting.  And on 99% of elevators this will stop the door from shutting before you can get on.  If everyone stands around waiting for someone else to get on first, that isn’t “polite”.  It’s fucking stupid!

2. While in the elevator: Don’t listen to people who say you should never talk in an elevator.  It’s a fun experiment often given to first year Psychology students to get into an elevator, face the “wrong” way and try to engage people in animated conversations.  99% of people will cringe horribly/amusingly when you do this.  But grownups should be able to maintain decorous conversations in an elevator that also contains strangers.

But for the love of the little baby Jeebus, DON’T have loud conversations on a mobile phone.  Either hang up before you get in or continue your conversation at a conversational volume.  If the person at the other end can’t hear you tell them you’re in an elevator and you’ll call them back.  Shouting at a person who isn’t there is fucking obnoxious behaviour to the people who ARE there.  It will be your fault if someone decides to see if your phone will double as a rectal thermometer.

Also, when you get in, stand somewhere that makes sense in relation to where you’re getting out.  If you’re likely to be getting out the first time the elevator stops, don’t stand right at the back just because you’re the first to get in.  Stand to the side near the door but out of the way so other people can come in.  That way you can get out again with a minimum of shoving.

Likewise, if you going to be the last one out DON’T STAND IN THE FUCKING DOORWAY!  The only time you should ever stand right where the doors open is if there’s no other choice.  Or maybe if you’re getting off on the next floor (but if that’s the case, why don’t you take the stairs you lazy bastard?)

And if you are in the doorway because there was no choice, when the door opens and it isn’t your floor, get out of the fucking way!  Step out of the goddam lift and hold the door.  Then get back in when people have exited.  Don’t force people to wriggle past you.  Pull that shit with me and you’re likely to get an “accidental” kick to the back of the knee.

So please, people, I’m begging you.  There are precious few things that separate us from the beasts.  Knowing how to interact with random people without causing trauma is one of them.  If you don’t have the mental capacity to navigate an elevator without making other people want to punch your lights out, maybe you’re not enough of a grown up to be part of the workforce.  Stay in your home with your 24 cats and leave the rest of us alone.

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Yard work sucks

Seriously.  I fucking hate yard work.  On top of everything else I’m doing, I’m trying to prepare for a kid’s party on Sunday.  And it looks like we’re in for a few days of torrential rain so I had to get out and mow the lawn and trim the edges this morning before the storm set in.

Have I mentioned before that I’m very lazy?  And out of shape?  I pretty much got a year’s worth of exercise crammed into a few hours today.  And it feels like my fucking arms are going to fall off.  It’s almost beyond my abilities right now to sit here and type.

And after months of preparation the big YouTube gathering starts in about 36 hours.  Wait a minute, it’s actually 2 and 1/2 days not 1 and 1/2.  I’m right on the edge of freaking out over this.  One of the ways this is manifesting is I’ve had no sense of time this week.  It feels like everything is going to happen NOW.  I’m consistently forgetting which day of the week it is.  On Monday I thought it was Friday and had a panic attack.

Next week it will all be over.  And I’m sure I’ll have no idea whatsoever what to do with myself.

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An angry train encounter

I’ve been going to jon interviews this week which involves the joys of public transport (parking is far too much of a hassle in the city to drive in).  We’re getting our first hot days of summer and I seem to keep lucking in to getting on trams, trains and/or buses with non-functioning air conditioning.  Plus, in Melbourne the public transport is usually absurdly crowded.

Maybe they aren’t broken.  Maybe it’s a deliberate plot.  It could be that the government is conducting large-scale experiments to see how the populace will respond to being crushed into a small space while being subjected to high heat and humidity.

If that’s the case, you can suspend the experiments now.  The results are in.  People in that situation get pissed off.

Coming home yesterday I found myself stuck on the tram from hell.  Literally, judging from the internal temperature.  My mood had gotten progressively worse until it reached the point where I was planning the order in which I would kill people when I finally snapped.  Hmmm, he looks easy… she’d be a pushover… I bet his head would pop right off… oooh, he looks tough, I’d better throw some frail bodies between me and him…

I was just about ready to put my plan into action when the tram passed a train station.  I took a punt that a train would be less hellish and jumped ship.  This turned out to be a good choice – the train was considerably less crowded.

There were a few seats empty in the vestibule of the train but somebody had a bike leaned up against them.  These are the type of seat that flip up if nobody is sitting in them so they were flush with the wall, which doubtless seemed like a good thing to the bike owner.  I thought I might actually sit in one of the seats that were designed with humans in mind rather than bikes.  It seemed like a reasonable plan but it led to the exchange detailed in the following video:

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Pointless Interview Questions

The job market is a fun place. Well, it’s fun for me at the moment, mostly because I’m in no rush to start another contract.  This makes me very relaxed during interviews which tends to result in me coming across better.  It also frees me up to decide I don’t want a particular job.  I’m not desperate for money so I’m content to wait for the right opportunity rather than grab the first thing that comes along.

It also gives me a bit of freedom in my responses when I think the interviewer is asking stupid questions.  I don’t want to burn any bridges so I’m not actually rude.  I never actually come out and say I think the interviewer is asking stupid questions but it’s fairly easy to turn things around so they are in the position of justifying why they’re asking questions that are so, well… stupid.

For instance, there was the putz I had to see this week who thought he was being really clever.  It seems as though someone gave him the book of Microsoft interview questions and he was eager to show off his new “knowledge”.  This style of interviewing gives you abstract questions that have no relationship whatsoever to the work you’ll be doing.  Or to the real world.

Proponents say they’re trying to see how creatively you can think.  Normal humans say it’s a waste of time.  In my case, the interview went a little like this:

Annoying Recruiter: How would you move Mount Fuji 1/2 a kilometre to the South?

ME: Why would I do that?

AR: Uhhhh, it’s a project you’ve been assigned.

ME: As part of my work I’ve been asked to move Mount Fuji?

AR: Yes, so how would you do it?

ME: How could that possibly benefit the business?

AR: What?

ME: As an analyst, my first reaction is the project would be prohibitively expensive and take forever to complete.  The first thing I’d want is to see a business case that showed how this would benefit the business.

AR: But how would you do it?

ME: That isn’t the important question.  What you need to be asking is why would you do it?

AR: I just want to know how you’d do it.

ME: But if you can’t tell me why it should be done, that tells me there’s a problem.  As an analyst, I wouldn’t be doing my job if I let the project go forward without answering that question.

AR: I’m trying to get an idea of how you’d approach the problem.

ME: I’m telling you how I’d approach it: I’d try to find out why someone wanted to do this.  Seriously, even suggesting such an outlandish project tells me that things are seriously out of whack.

AR: No, this isn’t a real work project. I gave you an unusual example to see how you’d approach a problem that you wouldn’t face in your day to day work.

ME: So what you’re saying is the way you’re planning to work out if I’d be any good at this job by asking me questions that have nothing to do with the job and could never be of any value to the job?

AR: Uhh, yes.

ME: It never occurred to you to ask me questions related to actual issues I’m likely to face in this job?

AR: Well, this is a creative exercise.

ME: So you’re sticking with the plan that finding out how I deal with something useless is more valuable than finding out how I’d deal with something that actually matters to the business?

AR: Well that isn’t really the point…

ME: Is it hard to get your job? (extended silence) Wait I’ve got a better question: If I took this job, would I ever have to see you again?  Because I gotta tell you, that would have a pretty big influence on my decision.

I’d like to point out I’m not a cruel man.  It was never my intention to reduce the interviewer to tears.  But I think with the right therapy, he’ll come through this a stronger person.

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