Work Work Work
So I mentioned that support management was trying to figure out what to do with me.
Six months in, after that initial paperwork and transition period is over, the answer to this question becomes urgent.
Not urgent for me, of course. I’m perfectly happy doing 5-10 hours a week of product support for SoftwareVille’s products. But from the perspective of Mega, I’m an unused resource. It’s time to fully plug me in to the new company.
The decision comes down: I will be supporting one of the more complicated product offerings. It’s a beast of an application. For the tech readers, it’s the sort of thing that, uh, “manages your enterprise.” Yeah — that product. You know the one I’m talking about. It’s a major PITA to install, let alone configure, upgrade, and maintain. On top of that it uses a multitude of technologies (java, appservers, python, shell scripts, and so on) and plugs into a million different other bits of technology, some produced and supplied by Mega, some not.
Sigh. Even when you know you’re reaching the end of Easy Street, it’s still disappointing when you finally hit it.
It’s time for another long session of Knowledge Upload. I went through this process with SoftwareCompany, and again with FinancialCompany.
In this post, I’ll skip the details entirely, but just because I’m not spending a ton of words on it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. The next eight months are full of constant self-training. It’s all necessary, of course, in order to learn the nitty gritty details of MegaSoftwareCo’s product offerings. I’ve got to understand this thing inside and out.
I’ll add that at this point in my life, learning new stuff is a lot less interesting than it was when I was younger. It isn’t that I can’t learn new stuff — Of course I can! Anybody can! — it’s that I just don’t really want to. It’s sort of like being asked to memorize every town in California, the biggest state in America. Plus I’ve got to remember every town bordering every town — hell, let’s make it the entire topography, why don’t we? Then we’ll add in the locations of utility companies and the routes of their pipes and wires that connect them to each locale.
Thing is, I’ve already memorized that stuff for a couple of other smaller states (products) already. It isn’t that I can’t do it again, but rather that I’m tired of working through this process. I want to put different stuff in my brain than the details of how various regions of the United States are held together.
I decided that what I actually wanted was for all of the technical stuff I’d ever learned to slowly leak out of one of my ears. It’d free up a lot of space for better content.
I’m now a part of a group again — a massive 100+ muppet team supporting this particular software product that Mega produces.
And over the next few months, I get to meet them.
Note that when I say “meet,” what I really mean is email and chat with folks. The other people that work on this stuff are all in other offices. Or they work from home, making my contact with them strictly virtual. I have no idea what anyone looks like, what their voices sound like, or what their lives are like, outside of work. Our contact is restricted, for the most part, to technical questions and requests for assistance.
And when we do talk about things other than basic functional tasks, it’s mostly bitching about Mega. People complain about the customers, the volume, and the ridiculous politics. Every day is a misery. It is Known.
In short, I’m back to all of the complaints doing low-level software engineering support for SoftwareCompany. I must always be closing. I am fighting the goblin horde. And the tickets and problems keep coming on an unstoppable conveyor belt of work.
It’s no wonder that the vast majority of my peers are burnt out and hopeless.
Additionally, because the markets are down due to the recent crash, employers again sense that they have the advantage over their workers. People are afraid that they’re going to lose their jobs to outsourcing. Mega’s country of choice was Chile, and every month they were hiring more remote workers and letting their US counterparts go.
If all of this sounds familiarly exhausting, it should. I wrote extensively about the same set of experiences working for SoftwareCompany, ten years prior.
That’s the thing about doing this kind of work for too long. There exist a finite number of job and company types. Within a relatively short period of time, you’ll have seen everything the industry has to offer, and stories and experiences will repeat.
I was living out a Groundhog Decade.
Question: How do you make an inherently unlikable engineering support job even more horrible?
Answer: Add tons of additional paperwork, process items, and reporting. Monitor all aspects of your employees, and not just their core job output either. Monitor when they’re logging into and out of the systems. Monitor websites they’re visiting. Monitor how long they’re on the phone with customers every day and how long their average lunch break is and how many days they’re working from home versus showing up in the office. Monitor whether or not they’re attending certain departmental meetings and conference calls by keeping an attendance list, like elementary school teachers, to ensure the all of your kids are present. Make your employees feel like the mindless automatons they are.
It was really no wonder that everyone in support appeared to be alternately depressed and irritated, all day, every day. They felt as though they were stuck in a bog of eternal stress and suck, constantly sinking further into the mire.
So yeah. Morale wasn’t so good among MegaSoftwareCo’s muppet team of support engineers. I observed that people took a lot of sick time to give themselves breaks from the insanity.
God knows what else they did to cope.