The Job Experience: Tech Support, Year #3

Promoted to Your Level Of Incompetence

You know those stairs lead to nowhere, right?

You know those stairs lead to nowhere, right?

After my experiences with Friendface and Mr. Data, I started to notice something.  The people who were climbing up the ladder to management were not the best workers.  Friendface, for example, was not nearly as technically gifted as many of my ticket closing peers.

Quite the contrary, the people who managed to get promoted were mediocre performers who:

  1. Drank the kool aid
  2. Got comfy with management themselves, hanging out with people above them at any given opportunity
  3. Went to every function
  4. Focused on visibility and perception  (e.g. speaking up in every meeting even when what they were saying was not valuable just so they’d be noticed)
  5. Made their intention to be management well-known
  6. Aggressively evangelized all solutions offered by the company
  7. Don’t question jack
  8. Assumed a dreamy, unfocused look in their eyes when gushing about anyone above them in the corporate hierarchy

Note that it doesn’t take any intellect whatsoever to excel at the above.  All it takes is parceling out your individuality, bit by bit, until you have become an authentic extension of your employer.

Later, I realized my observations were in line with the Dilbert Principle (AKA The Peter Principle) which states that folks are promoted to their level of incompetence.

Scott Adams:

“I wrote The Dilbert Principle around the concept that in many cases the least competent, least smart people are promoted, simply because they’re the ones you don’t want doing actual work. You want them ordering the doughnuts and yelling at people for not doing their assignments—you know, the easy work. Your heart surgeons and your computer programmers—your smart people—aren’t in management. That principle was literally happening everywhere.”

That sounds about right — it certainly explains everything I was seeing with two of my three managers. Folks are promoted until they reach a core level of incompetence.  At this point, it becomes impossible to remove them, and they continue to do a bad job in their position for an indefinite duration, making life hell for everyone under them.

If Friendface was a little brighter and more interested in the well being of his team, he wouldn’t have lost me.


The following week I called HR for the first time in my life.  I asked for a private meeting to talk about a conflict with management.

I knew immediately that Friendface had been tipped off.  HR is supposed to be “completely confidential” but I didn’t get a single new ticket between that initial call and our scheduled touchpoint.  Normally I get a minimum of 5 a day. Someone told Friendface that I had an issue, and so I was, in turn, pulled off the queue.  Incidentally, this was the first sign in my professional life that HR, in many companies, does not represent the interest of their employees.  They’re essentially a legal wing of the company. Their primary job is to protect stakeholders — not employees.

At any rate, there could be no doubt that Friendface thought I was going to complain about him.  And sure, I could have, but ultimately I decided to not get into details.  I didn’t want to be labeled a poison or troublemaker.  Instead, I simply said I’d made the wrong move when going to his team.  I wanted to go back and work for my previous manager, Mr. Data.  The phrase I repeated was  It’s not a good fit.  The HR rep asked several times what the source of the conflict was, and I insisted there absolutely no issues between us.  I just didn’t want seek his approval to switch teams and wasn’t sure why it was necessary.

It’s my personal decision, I said.

You know this is effectively a demotion, HR replied.

Yep.  Can you do it?

Of course they can do it.  Companies can hand out demotions all day.

It was an enormous relief.  The job was still the job — a wasteland of suck, as you’re now aware — but at least I wouldn’t be working for an emotional manager whose actions I could not accurately predict.  With Mr. Data, at least I knew what to expect.  All he cared about were my numbers, and I knew how to deliver what he needed.

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12 Responses to The Job Experience: Tech Support, Year #3

  1. I still have never read YMOYL. Not sure if I’d get anything out of it at this point, but it’s impressive the number of people for whom that was THE book.

    Financial epiphanies like this, to my mind, are vastly more transformational than any religious conversions (or deconversions, in my case).

    • livingafi says:

      Hey GC, thanks for stopping by. Yes, you could probably skip reading YMOYL because it’s just a reinforcement of things you already know and do.
      If I got my BS in 2009 instead of 1999, I surely would have found MMM’s blog instead of YMOYL. Might not even know what that book was! The internet’s really changed everything… the vast majority of people seek answers to life problems online nowadays. It’s probably for the best –more efficient this way, with search engines and all.

      • Gamergirl says:

        I actually found YMOYL back in 2005, I wish I’d found it earlier, before I went back to school for my masters degree. After I got my bachelor’s degree, I was saving 90% of my income from my job. I thought I was doing something wrong! So I went back to school for my master’s degree. Then I met ex and let him lead me down the path of spending all my money.

        I still love YMOYL and recommend it to people who don’t like blogs.

      • livingafi says:

        I think “I wish I found it earlier” is the number one sentiment from folks who find MMM, EEE, YMOYL, etc. It sure would have helped me in Year 1 as well — although, the counter argument is that people aren’t necessarily looking to overhaul their lives until they’ve identified that they have a problem. It’s sort of like the AA thing: If you don’t think it’s an issue (yet), you’ll never look for a solution. I still shudder to think where I’d be had I not found YMOYL when I did. BTW, super-glad to hear that your spendy and destructive ex is just that — an ex. Without him weighing you down, you’ll get where you want to go for sure.

  2. I’ve picked up bits and pieces from all over, some of YMOYL works and some doesn’t for me (every dollar and every year is not created equal, but I can’t exchange future dollars for earlier years). Probably why I’m still wandering the internet, there are gems everywhere, but no-one source has The Answer. Before YMOYL, I had a ‘Rich Dad’ phase. Although I didn’t want to get into real estate, I did like the concept ‘before you buy a Porsche, buy cash-flowing real estate yield and let your investments buy you the Porsche’. Of course, I dialed it back to a used MiniCooper and a mix of dividends and bond interest, but the general idea was sound 🙂

    • livingafi says:

      Another part of YMOYL that sucks: All investment advice. Completely agree that there are wide differences in opinion when it comes to certain details in the FIRE journey. Some folks like DRIPing, others all paper, some renting, some quit early and find part-time employment just to ‘get them by’ while their initial pile of assets grow. There’s really no single right path and the best thing to do is gather as much data as you can and make an educated decision that works for you. I’m also extremely reluctant to be a landlord. I don’t want the hassle, but some many people on the forums really enjoy it.

  3. Gamergirl says:

    I LOVE this series, and I agree with another poster about the layout being very nice. It is long, but the images and the breakup between pages really aids in readability.

  4. Dwayne Hoover says:

    I really enjoy your blog, and particularly this series. Great stuff.

  5. MilDoc says:

    I’ve been reading a lot of FI / RE stuff for awhile now. Yours is the only blog that I am reading from beginning to end (I came close with MMM though). Your POV just seems to resonate with me the most, though my prison seems much more gilded than yours was. Still, freedom is freedom.

    For some reason, I HATED YMOYL. I sensed there was something to the underlying premise, but the style and diction (it seemed overly sentimental or patronizing or something) made me want to vomit so much, I could not get through it.

    One thing I have noted is that those who “see the light” wrt financial stuff later in life (like myself, though I am not that old but do have a wife and kids) have a more uphill battle with the consumptions side of the equation. It’s not like I can just rip my kids out of their expensive extracurriculars (which easily cost as much as owning an additional unnecessary car) without significant relational and societal repercussions. But there is more than one way to skin a cat…

    • livafi says:

      I didn’t like the writing style in YMOYL either. But I read it for the content and suggestions.

      One of my friends who is my age — 39 — has also been trying to scale back and he is running into some of the same problems you’ve outlined. E.g. Downsizing the house, he will say things like: “Are you kidding me? With a wife and three kids who each need their own bedroom and are used to an abundance of space in an affluent area? Dad will be viewed as crazy and subsequently hated for uprooting everyone.” It seems impossible (although it’s not), and as a result he’s sort of giving up on it. I do see his point of view. It is difficult. People who pretend there is no cost associated with making these sorts of choices are lying to themselves and their readers.

      But there is also a cost in continuing to do what everyone else is doing. These are tough decisions, there’s absolutely no question about it.

      The worst part of the giving up is that he’s going back to his old investment patterns. “Won’t ever be able to have 15% of saved income grow enough in the market with measly returns to enable retirement — need to hit it big” is what goes through his mind most of the time. So he’s doing things like putting money in VIX and hoping the market explodes and buying covered call options… I am aware the entirety of the market resembles one big casino, but that being said, some investment approaches are significantly more likely to result in losses than others.

  6. Vic says:

    Going through burnout right now and I needed this. You are an absolute artisan with words. Thank you so much for writing this account, it makes me (and i’m sure so many others) feel less broken.

    • Mr. RTFM says:

      Keep it up. I re-read his job experience series at least once a year, and recommend it for friends who are looking for a way out, or feeling burned out. His voice really helps.

      I actually just left my job for a higher paying one, mostly because of his posts. If he could manage the Goblin hordes, so could I. by my estimate, this move will shave off about 3 years of my original 15 years to retirement timeline. Hopefully more, when I pay of my mortgage and car in the next 1-2 years.

      The best advice i found in these posts is the daily exercise, after I put in my morning exercise, I found that the problems that used to make me want to vomit, suddenly seem like – if not easy- but at least solvable. On the down side, when I can’t follow my workout routine, I’m just dragging through my day…

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