For the sake of documenting some of the insanity present at Mega — and most companies, actually — I’m going to burn a page on a few specific interactions that left my head spinning.
An Offer To Become Management
So it’s close to the end of Year 11. I’ve been taking tickets for five or six months now, and I’m doing well. My customers are happy, my paperwork is complete, I’m not taking sick time, and I’m delivering on all objectives. I’m not perfect or anything, but at the same time, I’m performing at a competent level in my role.
I have a one on one with my new mega manager around this time and I mention I’m getting burnt out already.
It’s not that I don’t like the work. The work is fine. On the other hand, the quantity is not — it’s absolutely relentless. Being on calls for 4 hours a day and picking apart problems for another 5 on top of that is wearing me down. Can we explore options to give me a break from this for a while?
Well, I can occasionally give people a day of relief. Maybe once a month we can stop the incoming calls and not give you any new assignments. This should allow you to catch up or do personal training.
I’m talking about a longer period of time. Are there any other options? Maybe I can produce documentation or cross-train a new employee?
Hmmmm… we don’t really have programs like that. <she thinks a minute.> You know, you’re pretty responsible. Have you considered becoming a manager? There’s going to be an opening in a few months when <person X> leaves the company. I don’t think we have anyone lined up yet and I’d be happy to recommend you.
Maybe. How do you like it yourself?
<Laughs> Well, I’m not going to lie to you. It’s stressful. We get a lot of calls from angry customers who need issues resolved and we have to calm them down and create action plans to guarantee resolution.
How much paperwork is there?
<Another Laugh, less comfortable than the previous one.> Some. Maybe a lot. We have to document interactions with the customers, do performance reviews, go through tickets to see how our support people are handling things, and generate lots and lots of reports for senior management.
Tell me about on-call and work life balance. I heard that managers are salaried, not hourly, and you don’t get paid OT. Is that true?
<The uncomfortable laughs are replaced by a big sigh> You’re right, we’re salaried. And we are on-call. Anytime something comes in, we have to handle it. It’s not that bad, though, we get maybe one or two off-hours calls per week. But yeah, we don’t get paid extra to take these calls.
What about the hours? What do you think you average a week?
Maybe forty five. Some weeks fifty. You know how it goes.
I definitely do. OK. Can I ask one more question?
Are you satisfied with the work? Does it make you happy?
Oh geez…. I don’t know. It’s OK. It’s a job. There aren’t that many jobs out there right now and Mega is a good company to work for. I’ve been here like 10 years…. has it been that long? Eleven, actually. And they’ve been good to me. But I will admit that there are times I wish I was working on issues again. You know for the first seven years here, I took tickets and solved problems before I was promoted to being a manager.
Yeah. The problem solving itself can be fun sometimes.
Also, I got a 10% raise but the OT went away. Most of the time I think that’s not a good trade.
I think that for now I want to just stay technical. Thanks for sharing your experiences, really appreciate that. I guess just leave me on the queue for now, I’ll deal with it.
Sorry there isn’t more I can offer for you. I know you need a break but options are limited.
Don’t worry about it. I’m a big boy.
So I love exchanges like this. In the span of ten minutes, my manager revealed that she was sick of her job, professionally unsatisfied, felt trapped and unable to explore alternatives, and on top of all of that, sometimes wished to be demoted.
Managers at Mega do not have it easy.
Instant Goddamned Messenger
So I’ve already talked a bit about how unfulfilling my virtual coworker relationships were. The fact is that most of our exchanges were conducted over a messaging client.
And practically no one reached out to you unless they had something for you to do. This is in direct contrast to real-human-being coworkers, who might stop by your cube to see if you want to go to lunch, or grab a coffee, or talk about some new video game or bit of technology.
After a while I started to resent the little text popup boxes that appeared on my screen, initiated from people at Mega, because they represented more work.
mega_jennifer234: Hi note: this is how it always starts. Just hi. This person is about to ask you for something. It might take you five minutes or two hours to complete their request, but make no mistake about it: it's More Stuff To Do For You. laf: Hi Jennifer. What's up? mega_jennifer234: Hope you are good. I'm stuck on a ticket. R423456. Can u hlp. I heard you're good on java. laf: Sure. Let me take a look. I review the ticket. it's a mess. 10 different owners, poor documentation. 15 minutes later I have a few suggestions. laf: I put some notes into the ticket with things to try. Hope that helps. mega_jennifer234: Tx, u the best. Take it easy. As if u can here! jk, lol
It was even worse when a manager pinged you because they were sure to ruin your day. And by “ruin” I mean turn your already turd-filled shift into a morass of Ultra-Suck.
mega_manager666: Hi laf laf: Hi mega_manager666: Got a minute? laf: Busy, but for you? Sure. What's up? mega_manager666: Customer escalation. R340023. The owning engineer is out sick, I need someone to take it. laf: OK. mega_manager666: They need a callback ASAP. laf: Anything else I should know? mega_manager666: It's been open for four months. The customer's temperature is hot. laf: Wonderful. I'll take care of it. mega_manager666: Thanks.
During one particularly brutal stretch of work, I tried the strategy of not opening my instant messenger client. Because, you know, I needed to focus on the tickets I already had, so I could stay afloat. This was the only time that my manager called me directly and expressed stern disapproval.
<livingafi> you have to be on IM, this is how we all communicate.
I know. It’s just that it’s slowing me down, people are asking me for all sorts of stuff and I have a lot of my own ticket work to do.
Please just work with me here. We need everyone on it.
No problem, I understand.
And there you have it. Mega turned a nice little tool that was invented for harmless socializing into a work-multiplying torture device.
To this day I can’t use IM or chatrooms. Flashbacks and everything.
Your Backup is Backed Up
So you’re a support engineer. You get a ticket from a customer. Something isn’t working the way they expect.
They’ve found a bug. You, as their trusty MegaCorp representative, search the internal databases and find a match. Viola! It’s a Known Issue.
The problem is that, although Mega knows about this bug, and has an engineering (debugging) resource assigned to it, it’s not fixed yet.
But the customer needs it fixed, like, yesterday.
You reach out. Email the debugger and ask for an ETA for the fix. There’s no response, so you update the bug notes directly and again ask for some timeframe for resolution.
Maybe in a week you get a one line response. This could be anything — a) I’m working on it, b) will not fix, c) need merge approval from manager d) need additional diagnostic information from customer, please provide <a whole bunch of technical stuff>
It was very rare for a debugger to just get back to you in a timely fashion with a fix. I came to learn this is because they were just as overloaded as the support engineers. In fact, this was the same as it was at my first gig, with SoftwareCompany, when my friend Special Debugger 007 brutally outlined just how stressed and overworked he was. I’ve come to see this as a pattern in most development shops.
Guys in support and debugging are in continual crisis mode.
Problem is, as a support engineer, part of your performance is dependent on these guys coming through. You can’t make your customer happy without delivering some kind of patch or fix, so you’re blocked on the debugger.
At Mega, it seemed as though everyone was set up to fail.
An Old Friend
Remember way back in Year 4 when I told a few coworkers that I was going to retire early?
I’d been working for SoftwareCompany, and had just finished reading Your Money or Your Life, which got me really excited about the prospect of not working forever. So excited, actually, that I couldn’t help but tell a whole bunch of people.
And remember when I mentioned that Mega had bought SoftwareCompany?
Well, as it turned out, one of those people I told was still with the company in 2011 when I was personally assimilated. He saw my name on some memo circulating about new hires and immediately reached out to me. This was in early 2010.
After the initial round of typical guy back-and-forth conversation (How you been, man? Where do you live now? Is it hanging to the left or the right today?) he asked me why I wasn’t retired yet. Maybe it was just me, but I thought I could hear him smiling over the phone, like he was poking fun.
Well, actually, I’m almost there.
So you’re quitting tomorrow then! Good on you.
If not tomorrow, definitely the day after.
Look, do you really want to know how it’s going?
Well, yeah, of course. Are you really still doing that plan? I thought for sure you’d get bored of it in a year or three.
I’ll tell you all about it if you can keep a secret. I mean it, you can’t tell anyone else at work. It’s not good for it to get around.
OK. Well, I’ve accumulated a fair amount of money and I’ve kept my spending down. With even just a bit of market growth, I could take the next twenty years off of work, at least.
Are you for real?
Yep, absolutely for real.
You’re shitting me. You’re really doing it huh. Crazy. How much longer do you have to go?
I’m not sure. It depends on the market, a bit. But I think it might just be another two or three.
I can’t believe it. Really. That’s nuts. I’ve never heard of anyone being able to retire at 35 before except for like on those late night TV commercials where some guy is telling you to buy his pyramid scheme book as a way to instant riches.
It’s easy, actually. I even did stupid things like buy too much house and I’m just about done anyway.
Well, good for you man. It’s not in the cards for me, though. Divorce, child support, an underwater home, and consumer debt. The four horsemen of my personal financial apocalypse.
I’m really sorry to hear about that. But to be honest, you could still do it. It’ll just take you a few extra years. After all, I came all this way in just the seven years since we last spoke. Back then I still had a negative net worth.
I don’t think it’s in the cards for me.
You really could. Believe it. Better late than never — you could still be done before 50, I bet. You’re what, 34?
Let’s talk about something else. Who do you report to?
Ok, Ok. We’ll change the subject. But just remember it was you who brought this topic up, dilweed.
Who still says dilweed, lame-o?
Unfortunately, this friend of mine never brought the subject up again, and we rarely spoke after our initial conversation. I think that he may have resented me or felt jealous — I’m really unsure, to be honest. I wasn’t trying to brag and I certainly don’t think that just because I have a stash that makes me any better or worse than anyone else. Just different, you know?
But not everyone feels the same way.
This is why I generally have a policy of not telling people about the FI part of me unless I’m pretty confident in advance that they’re going to be interested and the topic will be well received. Because sometimes it breaks things that I’d rather were left intact.