My new company thought they were hot shit. A few words to describe their self-perception:
- The best of the best of the BEST(!!)
- Charmingly old school, Steeped in tradition
- Refined, Gallant, Well-Bred, Sophisticated, Eruditical Businessmen. Oh, and women, too, I suppose — just enough to not be sued for sexual discrimination.
Me? I just thought they were strange. You have to understand that I come from geek-ville. I don’t care all that much about things like visibility and perception and looking professional because that would take valuable thinking time away from light sabers and dragon riding, not to mention hours that could instead be spent playing Final Fantasy VIII.
So I don’t think I mentioned this, but it’s a suit-and-tie place. Yep, even for their IT staff. Two floors of the building were devoted to technical resources and it was sort of funny to see so many of my people stuffed into uncomfortable-looking three-piecers, clearly wishing they were in sweatpants and t-shirts.
Here’s how you differentiated between a financial guy (someone on the business side) and an IT guy: Posture.
The tech staff had something I call the IT slump. This is when your shoulders hang lower than they do on a normal person and your head is arched just an inch or two more forward, like you’re constantly craning to get a better look at something. Because, of course, you are — you’re peering into one monitor or another for upwards of 55 hours a week.
And it cost a lot for the privilege of being uncomfortable. Even the cheap suits are $300 each, and then you’re buying belts and shoes and ties and cufflinks, several pair of each, because you really ought to have four of them to rotate through. In addition, you’re dry-cleaning them periodically, which is another added cost. Then you’re also spending time bringing your stuff to the dry cleaner and picking it up — another cost. Plus it takes longer to get ready for work in the morning because you’re now dressing like you’re going to meet the president.
Unfortunately, I have to admit that I had my collared shirts professionally cleaned, starched, and pressed as well, because I wore one of my own ironing efforts one day and a couple of people actually made a comment to me, that I wasn’t looking so great and did I sleep outdoors like a gutter hobo the night before? Tack on another 1.25/day or so to my work-related clothing budget. I estimated I spent about a thousand bucks a year in dry-cleaning while working for FinancialCompany.
It costs a lot to look fancy. Adhering to the culture had its price.
The company had a joke that it liked to repeat.
It goes something like this.
In a bacon-and-egg breakfast, what’s the difference between the chicken and the pig?
Answer: The Chicken is involved, but the Pig is committed!
The point would always be that FinancialCompany wanted pigs working for them — people who were dedicated to the cause, had real skin in the game, and were willing to make sacrifices to achieve goals.
I never did get it. I just kept thinking “Yeah, commitment is great and all, but you you realize in your example that the pig fucking dies?!?! And for what? Someone else’s momentary satisfaction eating breakfast??? JESUS!!!”
For the record, I did my best to be a chicken, because: no bleeding.
But FinancialCompany turns everyone into a pig.
Oddities and End-ities
- Even in the Age of the Internet, all management types preferred using the phone to email. So low level employees would email, text, and IM one another but everyone higher on the chain called you directly. It was very bad if you didn’t pick up, so you had to be in your office as much as possible — at least when you weren’t in meetings. My Director would call everyone under him at least once a month just to see if they were picking up the phone. True.
- My first week, Mr. Manager noticed I was bringing lunch. Direct quote: “<livingafi>, we do not bring our lunches. If we’re not paying you enough to eat out, come talk to me. Consultants bring their lunches. Full time employees eat out. I urge you to spend this time with Statler and Waldorf.” Tack on another job-related cost.
- Meetings. I had a higher percentage of time spent in meetings with FinancialCompany than any other place I’d ever worked, by a long shot. In a typical week, I spent at least 50% of my time in conference rooms with ten or more other people seated at desks daisy-chained together in a big rectangle with a gap in the middle. We’d all be trying to discreetly do ‘real work’ on our laptops during the meeting because there were never enough hours in the day to do what actually needed to be done, and the meetings were rarely critical to the day-to-day job function. Still, you couldn’t decline meeting invites — it was considered a Very Bad Thing. Rude or something. Additionally many people made their living scheduling meetings because they are a way to promote your own agenda and initiatives, i.e. a means to become visible. And the culture was very big on visibility and perception. This is because Visibility and Perception — much more so than actual work completed — led to promotions. And promotions lead to more money. Isn’t that what everybody wants?
- Like I just mentioned, Visibility and Perception meant everything. Managers honestly believed that the more they saw you, the more work you must be doing. I learned to intentionally get up about twice a day and accidentally-on-purpose bump into people — Mr. Manager, my director, some other mid-level boss on another team. Life functioned more smoothly when everyone knew your name and you were sort of ‘out there.’ I’m not making this up or speculating — at one point very early in Year 1, I was spending too much time in my office (you know, doing real work and learning) and my manager actually asked me to make more of an effort to be seen. Although socializing was occasionally a nice break from doing real work, for the most part I considered this aspect of the job to just be a giant pain in the ass, a constant exercise in fakery and bullshit. But maybe that’s just me being negative.
- Climbers. The CIO was not kidding when he mentioned there were a lot of ambitious types at this place. I even met a new kind of human, one that had eluded me to this point in life — the dreaded Asshole Nerd, which is a subset of the species Dipshittius HomoDoucheAthong. This sort of person has some qualities of geekdom like the ability to program and navigate complicated systems but is missing the awesome parts like a healthy love of video games or comics or eclectic music or the Song of Ice and Fire series or anything at all that isn’t related to business. S/He is a spliced-together genetic combination of Human Type A: Businessman and Human Type B: Nerd, while retaining only the crappiest qualities of both, so they end up being totally unbearable, the very worst of both worlds. The Asshole Nerd wants nothing more than to focus all of his energy on moving up the ladder and proving his superiority in all things. The Asshole Nerd doesn’t mind storming the castle gates by crawling up over the bodies of his defeated comrades to reach the parapets — as long as no one realizes that it was him that did them in. My third year into the job, and I was showing signs of becoming an Asshole Nerd myself. But I’ll get to that in due time.
My first day at work after Christmas is, approximately, my one year anniversary at FinancialCompany. I walk in and Mr. Manager is gone, his office barren.
I check my schedule: There’s a departmental meeting on the agenda that wasn’t there yesterday.
In the meeting it’s revealed that there’s been a major re-org. They like to spring these things on employees about once a year, as I learn later from Statler and Waldorf.
We check the company directory and find that Mr. Manager has been purged. Nobody knows where he went or what happened. I’m assured by Waldorf that this sort of thing happens from time to time and I shouldn’t worry about it. He must have pissed off the wrong person, so poof.
And that’s part of the culture, too.