After a month on the job, I started taking real problems from real customers.
SoftwareCompany used a program to manage and assign these problems — known as service requests, or tickets — to engineers. In the morning, I’d arrive, park myself in my cube, open this program, and take a look at what I had to do. Workers called our stack of tickets “the queue” and it dominated our lives.
Sample hallway conversation:
Hey, John! ‘Morning! How’s your queue doing?
Glad you asked, Matt, it’s at fucking 83 today, you tell me.
At first, Mike fed me a pre-selected diet of easy tickets. I’d see them show up in my personal queue and begin work. I learned to call customers to talk through their issues — no easy feat for me, because I’m fairly shy by nature, and was nervous as hell talking to honest-to-god revenue-producing clients. I’d document some details, add notes into the case files, and then try to find solutions for them.
In parallel to taking real work, I began to meet other co-workers, partially because I needed friends, and partially because I needed help solving problems. Mike didn’t have enough time for me, and I felt bad constantly asking for help since he had his own queue to deal with. But there was no mistaking the fact that I needed help. So I’d go into the company kitchen where there’d always be a few support monkeys hanging about and try to coax some ideas out of them. Most people were surprisingly awesome and willing to teach me how to resolve certain issues.
Making friends also led to a change in daily patterns. The first month or so, I did nothing but focus on work and learning — and there was a ton to learn. But by the middle of the second month, folks started to invite me to lunch. I couldn’t refuse — it seemed like it would be impolite, especially since these were the same people who were helping me to learn the ropes. Before I knew it, I headed out every single day to blow $10-15 on something to eat. After four months I added an afternoon latte to the routine. In month 5, the after-work drinking sessions started.
Nine months in, and my overall take on the job is that it’s mostly fun. Stressful, sure, and absolutely nerve-wracking, but fun. At the time, there wasn’t a lot of paperwork. Support engineers were expected to solve problems, and that was that. Additionally, my manager was very hands-off. He gauged performance of his workers very informally; if he wasn’t receiving calls from angry customers, well, then you were doing all right.
So what I’m really focusing on is the learning. I’m getting better with the technologies, and also gaining confidence when handling customers. I’m not as nervous on the phone. I go in every day and do battle with the queue, attacking it with real vigor and passion. Plus, there’s a good sense of camaraderie in the team — we all want to support one another, to help one another be successful. Right around this time I’m just starting to get an inkling that too much of my life is being devoted to the job, but this is a minor thing, like a small cloud passing over the brightness of the sun. Besides, I’m too damn busy to really think about whether or not I’m happy. For now, all I know is that I have to keep moving, or I am dead.
That being said, overall my sense is that things are good. I’m part of a team. We’re in the middle of San Francisco, basking in the warm glow of cash given off by an ever rising NASDAQ, checking the share prices of SoftwareCompany, our positions of future greatness in life all but assured.
Suddenly, our company got bought, and everything changed.
Overnight, some of my peers in the support division became rich on paper. Also, almost everyone in the engineering department was suddenly worth two to three million dollars. Maybe you’ve read J.D. Roth’s Get Rich Slowly blog? This is the opposite of that.
I had stock options but they weren’t yet worth anything to me because I hadn’t been with the company long enough. Due to terms in the buyout of SoftwareCompany, unvested shares were devalued by a certain amount. This meant all of my shares were worth quite a bit less than they were when I started work.
I didn’t care much about this. On the other hand, what I did care about was the reorganization. Some of the newly minted millionaires left the company. I got a new manager. Everyone in support started to use a new ticketing system. We still had the queue to deal with, but we’d be doing battle with the beast on different turf, like moving gladiator fights from the Colosseum to the Elysian fields. Same shit, different locale.
This new system tracked everything, though. How long you worked on various tickets before closing them. How often you logged in to the program. Whether or not you were calling customers. There were advanced paperworky-type features like linking tickets to solutions, tickets to product bugs, even tickets to other (similar) tickets.
In addition, our new employer decreed that all employees must download and install Yahoo Messenger! so we could be in constant communication with one another all day.
Within two weeks, virtual cameras had been erected on all sides, watching, monitoring every aspect of what you were doing, feeding this data into centralized locations where your overall performance could be objectively determined.
Big Brother had arrived.