The Job Experience, IT Plumbing: Year #5, Part 2

Adjustment to FinancialCompany


Fix those information pipelines, plumber!

After accepting the position with FinancialCompany, I give notice to SoftwareCompany and negotiate the move to the East Coast.  Three weeks later, I find myself wearing a suit and tie in downtown Boston, attending orientation with my new employer.

It’s a completely different experience than my first job.  SoftwareCompany hardly expected me on my arrival date; it was as though they didn’t know what to do with me.

FinancialCompany, on the other hand, had a structured onboarding prepared.  For two full days I sat in a conference room with other new hires listening to presentations from HR representatives and money managers. This place also auto-enrolled employees in their 401(k) program and spent an extensive amount of time teaching folks about their options.

I took the opportunity to meet a few people and bask in the utter lack of work.  At the time I could still feel the pull of invisible tickets, still clinging to me like strands of spider-webs, and it was always a relief to remind myself that I no longer had to worry about the conveyor-belt of service requests or the endless horde of customers.

As an aside, this is one of the other main benefits of switching jobs:  the weight and discomfort (quantity + boredom) of your old job instantly disappears.  After a while certain things build up in your mind over time like plaque in your arteries and the only way to flush them out is to get up and walk to a new place.  I could feel the bits of congealed frustration breaking loose and getting cleared out.

Without the baggage from SoftwareCompany holding me down, I felt like I’d lost forty pounds and my head had become attached to uplifting colored balloons.

Those first couple of days, I didn’t walk.  I floated.

Once orientation was over, I reported for duty in a tiny windowless office with empty beige walls and a sterile desk.

Plus:  I have an office.  Score!

Minus:  The surroundings confuse me. I want to pad the walls with gray felt to make it look like the homey cube farm I’d grown so used to.

I meet my team again, and everyone congratulates me on making it through the obstacle course of interviews required to work for FinancialCompany.  I tell everyone I’m happy to be there, and realize it’s the truth.

When things calm down a bit, I ask what it is that I’m supposed to be doing, and my manager says, You know, just hang out, shadow Statler and Waldorf, meet people, immerse yourself in the culture.

So this is exactly what I do.  I alternate time between the muppets’ offices and my own.  Soon enough I start to understand the general responsibilities that we have as a team.

Here’s how IT Plumbing breaks down:

Duty #1  Production Support

Financial Companies move money around.  They manage funds and place bets on companies’ futures, industry sectors, and buy bonds.  Etc.

Software is required to move these assets.  Traders log into their workstations every day and launch applications that plug into the markets.  On screen, these apps show them details: current valuations, trendlines, recent research associated with a particular asset.

Ultimately these traders will decide to make trades, i.e. to move that money around in the hopes of positioning themselves (and therefore their clients) to make even more money.

My group supported FinancialCompany’s set of trading applications.  When things weren’t working, the company would be losing tens of millions of dollars per minute.

These applications plugged into a lot of different systems.  Databases, financial feeds, corporate directories, wikis and other websites, mainframes, messaging services.   Think of the link to each of these systems as a pipe.  Our team architected that system of pipes so that data could move where it needed to go, whenever it needed to go there.

When there’s a problem with the systems, we’re getting called by some very tense people to diagnose and resolve the issue. VIPs (Very Important People) constantly reminded us while we troubleshooting that FinancialCompany is leaking money until system health is restored.

No pressure.

Duty #2 Design and Implementation

As mentioned above, our group designed the structure of pipes in the trading framework.  Part of this was selecting software products to plug into the system when necessary.  I mention this because there was a ton of fairly complicated software that I had to learn about in order to be successful in this role.

Duty #3 Maintenance

It’s one thing to design plumbing.  You know, break that wall down, insert pipes, link them up to some other pipes, test to make sure the water is going where you want it to go, that sort of thing.

And it’s another thing to maintain it.  In the world of computing, there are a few basic forms of maintenance.

1) Monitoring.  Think of this as constantly reviewing the health of the pipes.  You’re checking for corrosion or leaks.

2) Replacing defective parts.  If monitoring shows there’s a problem, you need to get in there and fix the problematic object — without causing a disruption to the current (still-functioning) system.  It’s a little like doing a heart transplant on someone who is in the middle of running a marathon.

3)  Upgrades.  Software and systems are continually being obseleted as new versions come out.  Our group had to stay on top of vendor products and make sure that we were on supported releases at all times.

4)  Disaster Recovery.  If a catastrophic event occurs to our datacenter (flood, building collapse, etc), that data better be available somewhere else so that we can recover our business.   So we had to create plans to ensure smooth restoration in the worst-case scenario of complete system destruction.  This item gets listed under maintenance because disaster recovery planning touches each of the three items above.

Duty #4  Everything else

Odds and ends.  I’ll include a few for fun.

    • Managing a group of consultants (I started doing this in Year 2)
    • System reports.  What’s healthy?  What’s not?  What do we need to fix?
    • Tons of paperworky-type tasks, effort reporting, project planning, resource management, peer reviews
    • Miscellaneous, ever-changing quarterly goals
    • Daily 8AM Operational Calls to discuss the state of systems and any outages which might have occurred over the previous 24 hours

To a non-technical person, a lot of the above stuff looks pretty boring.  And to be honest, even to a bona-fide geek like me, a fair amount of it is still boring.  But I wasn’t initially all that bothered by the work itself.

I couldn’t be.  If I let myself become irritated, these negative emotions would distract me from getting up to speed.  Mr. Manager let me know that they expected me to hit the ground running.  There was a nearly overwhelming amount of new stuff for me to learn, and I had to dig in quickly in order to successfully make the adjustment to the job’s requirements.

Much like year 1 of my first job, the first year of my second job focused on learning.

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8 Responses to The Job Experience, IT Plumbing: Year #5, Part 2

  1. Dwayne Hoover says:

    “After a while certain things build up in your mind over time like plaque in your arteries and the only way to flush them out is to get up and walk to a new place. I could feel the bits of congealed frustration breaking loose and getting cleared out.”

    This part is a punch to the gut. B2B sales role for 4 years, but I’m about to take a non-selling role with my company if I can last another 30 days or so without quitting. The closer I get, the harder this job is. Probably twice a week, I’ll wake up in the middle of the night, after basically have a nightmare about a technical issue with a customer – some former, some current, some a figment of my imagination. Can’t wait to clear my arteries. First thing I’ll be doing is changing my cell phone number (which my customers have).

    You’ve got a really unique voice. Keep up the awesomeness.

    • livingafi says:

      Hey Dwayne, really sorry to hear about the job situation. That totally sucks and as you know from my blog posts, I can completely relate, especially to the sleeping bit. Too many nights like that and you know it’s time for a change or you’re going to start getting ulcers. You can definitely make it for a month though, and when you get there you’ll feel SO much better, trust me. That big fat job-change reset button will get hit on the stress. Sure, your new position will be challenging but good-bye clotted up old junk. A good trade.

  2. Gamergirl says:

    I can’t believe they chastised you for bringing your lunch to work!

    And I agree with you about dressing up for work when you work in Accounting or IT is stupid. I turned down several job offers at places with strict dress codes.

  3. DS says:

    Really appreciate this series! Found your blog through either MMM or BNL and have been reading for 3 months or so. Just hit my one year mark in IT (basic project mgmt and data analysis) at a financial-based company. Between the incident counting, meeting sitting, and progress reporting, I have related a little too much to what you’ve written. Wishing every day I was hiking or doing anything but sitting in that office. Thank you again – I will continue to read, and I hope to reach FI some day soon!

    • livingafi says:

      Hey DS, thanks for stopping by. You’ll definitely make it — the only thing really required for FI is a good savings rate, and consistency i.e. sticking to your plan over time. Looking outside your window on nice days when you’re stuck in the office will help keep your motivation up and there’s no doubt you’ll stay on track. GL!

  4. Raffy says:

    I’m a new fan! I’m enjoying reading through this series. This week I had to deal with the disappointing feeling of failure and being a fake when everything is riding on you. I’m learning to accept it and move on… it’s just work after all, and the harshest critic is always yourself. Keep up the excellent writing!

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