Adjustment to FinancialCompany
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.
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.