The Thrill is (Already) Gone
It’s mid-September. I’d been hired on July 1st. And, believe it or not, the ten week period up until now has been the honeymoon period of the job.
A bit of explanation: Hell hired me to be the Director of Support and Operations. Up until now, I’d been focused entirely on Operations. Most of the work I was doing was technical.
But suddenly, we had a client to support. And this client was aggressive. The main contact was both reasonably technical and very demanding.
They started to open tickets with us. And I’d, in turn, open bugs and try to work through these issues with engineering.
That’s all well and good. Problem was, I already had a day job. And a night job. And a weekend job. That job was Operations.
Trying to sandwich the support work in the middle of all of the systems engineering work was too much for me. I’d already been working close to sixty five hours a week. Instantly that number shot up to 75.
In addition, the company hired a few new people on the sales side of things and they all started to use the product. Guess who was tasked with helping them learn the product? That’s right — it was a support function, apparently, to train them and work through any issues they encountered.
My new work week is this day, cloned 5x.
The support stuff in particular was draining. Our client was on the opposite coast, and because of the time difference, their office hours went until 8PM local — it was common for them to want to do the bulk of their work toward the end of their day, which meant that I sacrificed my evenings to take care of their requests.
I’ll also point out the difference in energy required to work by yourself to get something done (not too much) and work with someone else on a problem (a fuck-ton.)
This is because a) you’re working with someone who is probably frustrated that something isn’t working the way they expect so they’re not always calm or in a great frame of mind b) there are always communication issues which make it difficult to properly identify the problem and c) the work is, as a rule, unexpected, impromptu, interrupt-driven stuff.
Example: someone calls your cell number and says they can’t use the application. You have to stop what you’re currently doing and help them. What do they even mean “can’t use the application?” Is it a connection thing, like my-internet-is-broken? Is a feature not working? What are they trying to do exactly? You ask them to Skype with you but they’re actually on the road right now, can we do this at 4PM?
So your day is in constant flux. By the time you’ve got that issue sorted, chances are good someone else has hit you up for another support request. If you haven’t been interrupted again, well, lucky you — you get to remember what it was that you were working on before you got that support request in the first place, and you probably have another couple of operational/engineering requests on top of that.
Also, most support items are not resolved in a single call so they just sort of spread out endlessly, week after week, lingering even as the clients grow more and upset that they’re not resolved. They ask questions like what’s taking so long? and why are there so many bugs with this product? The implication is always that You are slow. You are stupid. You, your program, and your company are pure garbage. It hardly matters that you didn’t create these problems and you’re doing everything within your power to provide assistance. The perception of the customer is that your product is a black stain on the otherwise impeccable suite of software that they use on a day-to-day basis, and it’s your fault. And by the transitive property of association, since you work for your company, and your company created this multi-headed shit hydra of digital suck, then you suck equally too.
OK, now that that’s out of my system, let’s get back to a nice, normal, even-keeled tone.
Look, point is that support work is, I believe, more intense than standard engineering and dev work. I’m not saying it’s harder — development work requires more training, knowledge and background and in turn, it can be somewhat calmer to perform in this function. Support, on the other hand, is frenetic. Development is being logged into your computer in the warmth and safety of your home office while a gentle misting rain floats to the ground outside. Support is opening your laptop outside during a typhoon, hoping that the torrential downpour doesn’t damage the machinery, and booting up only to find you have 12% of your battery left. While you are working these items, an enormous glowing sign will be flashing in your brain that reads: EMERGENCY.
After just one week of this, I had a talk with Mr. President. It went something like this.
I’ve been evaluating my workload, and it’s too high. And there’s a reason for this. Truth is, very few companies have a Director of Support and Operations. They have a Director of Support — Person A. And a Director of Operations — Person B. Now that the support work has officially ramped up, my recommendation is that we find that new director.
We cannot afford another employee of your calibre. If you need a support tech, that’s fine, though — completely understand. Let me help with that.
Okay, thanks. This is really important to me as I’ve reached the limit of how many hours that I can offer to the company. Frankly, I thought that they would go down somewhat after the initial release came out. At any rate, having another person on our team will also have the effect of positioning the entire company better for the future – it’s time to grow support out.
Makes sense. I will remind you, though, that everyone here puts in maximum effort when it comes to hours. I don’t expect this to change. You will be rewarded in December with the bonus we had discussed.
A week goes by. I ask him where we are with this. Answer: nowhere. He asks me to submit a job requirement document. I turn it over to him in thirty minutes. Two days pass and I ask him for an update. Answer: I didn’t do anything with it yet. I tell him it’s an emergency for the company to get this rec filled and I’m disappointed that he’s not moving quickly on this.
Another week passes. Nothing. We’re in mid-October. I get on a Skype call and ask if there’s a hold up? Is there anything I can do to help?
He says he’ll submit it to recruiting firms that day. I ask what the salary range is, and he tells me 65K.
65K? Really? Who exactly are we going to hire with a 65K salary?
It will be enough. Lots of people will take under-market pay for the opportunity to make it big with us.
I didn’t agree, and voiced my opinion, but got nowhere. Internally I was pretty pissed about the foot-dragging here. Another data-point gathered on his personality: Mr. CEO doesn’t listen to me or take my suggestions seriously. The negatives were piling up.
That was the day I added a personal task to my to-do list: Start searching for a new job.
Over the next two months, I conducted in-person interviews for five support guys to fill Hell’s open position. The candidates were universally horrible. One of them revealed that he didn’t even have a high-speed internet connection at home. How can you interview for an IT job in 2011 and not have a high speed internet connection?
But that isn’t really the point I want to make here. No, the point I want to make is that I had trouble selling the company.
In interviews, you see, you’re supposed to be able to sell your prospective employees on the job. Yes, you’re interviewing them, but they’re also interviewing you.
They asked questions like: What’s it like? Is there work-life balance? How do you feel about the future of the company? Tell me something about the CEO. What do you think of him?
And I had nothing good to say. I had to lie. (I didn’t have to, of course, but that’s how it felt at the time — like I didn’t have a choice. I briefly wondered if Mr. President felt the same way when he was lying to the Indian team about deadlines — that he had to.) A sampling of the bullshit coming out of my mouth:
I believe in the future success of the company. Everyone who plays a role will be commensurately rewarded
There is a quality benefit package
The CEO is driven and personable
People here generally get along with one another and there’s a good work environment
I don’t even know why I did it. I rejected all five candidates, anyway, and in the middle of November, I asked Mr. President to stop the recruiters from finding additional people to interview. I just said “Let’s pick this up after Christmas break, OK? We’ll find better people in the beginning of 2012.”
Of course, I knew at this point that I’d be leaving Hell, and it wouldn’t be my problem anymore. I figured it’d be for the best this way. They could hire whoever they wanted, and then the responsibility for that employee would be fully their own to bear.
My main point here, though, is that the fact I couldn’t say anything good about the company reinforced my decision to leave.
After all, if you can’t honestly recommend the place where you work to anyone else, what are you doing there yourself?