What I’ve Learned

What I’ve learned over the past eighteen months or so contracting as a PC Tech at a state agency:

All you really need to survive here is to basically show up for work and don’t piss anyone off.

Expediency, efficiency, and providing good customer service are not requisite—and in some cases are actively discouraged in spite of their newly adopted bullshit continuous improvement “Kaizen” initiative.

And lastly, it’s all about power. Power over people. Power to control. Fiefdoms abound.

A few examples:

Unlike every. other. place. I’ve worked, we don’t have complete rights to the tools within Active Directory. We can no longer delete computers (sometimes necessary to troubleshoot them dropping off the network), nor can we change users’ groups or permissions. ALL OF THAT requires generating a ticket to the Service Desk, who then routes it to Access Management, where it can languish for weeks before being addressed.

Just last week I had a device that had fallen off the network. This particular customer is already a PITA, so I wanted to get it fixed right away. I went to delete the object from AD and I got an error that I didn’t have rights. What the hell? I’d done this dozens of times before. So I apologized to the customer, went back to my desk, called the Service Desk and asked them to delete it.

They didn’t have permission. So I called Access Management and spoke to one of the drones there. She wanted to know why I wanted the object deleted and recreated, and after an extended discussion she agreed that needed to be done and supposedly deleted and recreated it.

I returned to the customer’s desk and attempted to rejoin the domain. Same error. At this point I said fuck it, and returned to my desk, created a new object with the same asset tag number and an “L” designation (for laptop) instead of “T” (for tablet). I returned to the customer’s desk, renamed the machine and finally got it rejoined and back online. Was it kosher? No. Was the customer happy? Yes.

We also got chewed out yesterday for occasionally making users local administrators on their machines. This is sometimes necessary to  install software under their profiles, or to allow software to run properly. (Surefire way of telling if it’s a permissions issue is for me to check it under my profile. If it runs fine there but not under the customer’s, it’s a permissions issue.)

Apparently we aren’t supposed to do this. (I can’t find this spelled out in any documentation anywhere.) If someone needs local admin rights there has to be written justification and—you guessed it—a ticket generated for Access Management to move the person into the proper security group. My question is this: how much damage can a local administrator really do, other than completely fucking up their own machine? They don’t have rights to mess with anything on the network, so worst case scenario would be that a machine would have to be reimaged. I guess it’s another one of the many on-the-fly directives that have gone into effect without notifying the people affected. Anyhow, we were informed that if this happened again there would be disciplinary action!

Whatever, bitch. Whatever.

And as one final example of the bullshit “continuous improvement” initiative, at every other place I’ve worked, I’ve kept a couple “spare” ready-to-deploy computers around to swap out in the event of an emergency. I suggested this to my boss and it was immediately shot down. “Oh, we can’t just have state equipment sitting around.” Oh no…if a machine goes down it has to be picked up, sent to Hardware for repair/reimaging, picked up from there and then transported back; a process that normally takes 2-3 days. God forbid I should be able to swap out a piece of equipment in less than an hour and allow the customer to continue working. Efficiency? NOT AT THIS PLACE.

Lastly, in the area of Customer Service, I am appalled at what passes for it around here. One of my coworkers (let’s call her Maria) is a lifer. The woman is in her 40s, and this place is the only place she’s ever worked. She crosses every “t” and dots every “i”. She has paper copies of everything she’s ever worked on locked away in file cabinets in case anything she’s done is questioned. EVERYTHING she does has a process, and if something requires thinking outside that process, you can almost see the hard drive light in the middle of her forehead flashing wildly, not being able to access the data. And yet in spite of all these years of “service,” her lack of knowledge about basic tech stuff is flabbergasting. There’s no curiosity, no initiative. And never mind her complete lack of customer service skills:

Projector stops working. I pick up the ticket.

“Oh, we don’t support that. Tell the customer to contact the vendor directly.”

“What if it’s just a matter of it simply not being plugged in? Don’t you even go look?”

“No. Note in the ticket that customer needs to contact the vendor and close it out.”

SERIOUSLY, BITCH?

(As it turned out, I did go check it out and it was simply unplugged.)

Memories of San Francisco

Hogg & Mythen Architects, Part Four

LEARNING THE IMPORTANCE OF BACKUPS

I have a ready answer whenever I’m asked that infamous interview question, “What was the biggest mistake you ever made at work and how did you fix it?”

H&M did a variety of work, but our bread and butter income came from tenant improvement projects (a client leases space in an existing building and creates offices to their design specifications). Of these, the building at 30 Van Ness (at the corner of Market and Van Ness) was primary. One of the first CAD-intensive projects we undertook was to completely measure and draw up all four floors (plus underground parking garage) of the building since these shell drawings could be easily used again and again when it came time to build out any particular area.

I don’t remember the exact circumstances, but I must’ve been fucking around with something on my system (the one where all our drawings were stored) one day and all that work was gone. Might’ve reformatted the hard drive, or updated the OS or god knows what, but all I knew was that all that data was no longer there. I checked for copies on the other two machines where we had AutoCAD installed and came up empty handed. I was in a panic. After scouring every location I could think of, I put my tail between my legs and told Nick.

Surprisingly, he wasn’t angry. All he said was, “Well, you’d better get back to work and recreate them.” Wow.

Fortunately, we still had all the measured sketches we’d done, so it wouldn’t involve physically measuring the building again, but I was looking at a lot of work nonetheless. I sucked it up, went back to my desk and started drafting.

I happened to glance over at a stack of banker boxes against the wall and noticed the FedEx mailing envelope we used to take diskettes back and forth to the blueprinters (this was before we had own own plotter on site). I walked over, looked inside, and let out a yelp that was undoubtedly heard down the street. In that envelope were three diskettes containing all the plans of 30 Van Ness. They were several days out of date (we’d started a new TI project), but damn…a few days out of date was infinitely preferable to having to recreate months of work.

My ass was saved.

Immediately thereafter, we bought a tape backup for each of the PCs and began a thorough backup routine.

SEOUL

The biggest project H&M was ever involved in was the design and construction of a new school in Seoul, South Korea. I’ve long since forgotten how this particular project fell into our lap, but it was the one thing I am most proud of during my time at the firm. Jack and Nick were pretty much hands-off as far as design was concerned, giving Neill free reign and he definitely thought outside the box on this one. Very “post modern” (it was the mid 90s, after all) I remember the main multi-story facade being a diagonal black and white checkerboard with horizontal red brick accents. The client loved it.

I didn’t travel to South Korea with Nick, Jack, and Neill even though the invitation was extended because—reasons. I didn’t have a passport, dreaded the thought of a twelve hour flight over the open ocean, and frankly, simply didn’t want to be away from home for the two weeks this visit was projected to take. So along with Cerese, I stayed back and “held down the fort” until they returned.

I just emailed Nick, hoping that he has some photos of the project he can send me. If I hear back from him I’ll post them.

SAYING GOODBYE

August 1994. I’d reached the end of my rope with many aspects of life in San Francisco. Still smarting from the breakup with Rory a year earlier, it seemed life in The City had lost all the magic it once held. Two unplanned trips back to Phoenix to deal with parental health emergencies showed me that life in Arizona really wasn’t as bad as I’d remembered—although I still had no real desire to move back to Phoenix; if I returned to the Grand Canyon state I’d definitely head south to Tucson. After much thought a particularly nasty run-in with a meter maid downtown (the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back), I decided it was time to leave. I gave notice on my apartment and at work.

They were devastated.

During the following two weeks while boxing up my life (Annie Lennox’s Diva is forever burned into my mind as the soundtrack for those weeks), strange things started to happen. San Francisco was not going to give up her grip on me so easily. The magic started returning: a cool ocean breeze, fog spilling over Twin Peaks, friends all but begging me not to leave, more than one encounter with a handsome stranger after exchanging glances…and discovering the joys of a newly-opened sex club South of Market called The Playground. (Pet Shop Boys’ Relentless will forever associated in my mind with that place and its wonderful wanton memories.)

I suddenly found myself wondering why the hell I was leaving San Francisco.  Was it really too late?  My buddy Stan was fond of telling me it wasn’t.  I wondered if he might be right.

One evening I sat down to write in my Journal, hoping to sort this all out, but I didn’t get more than a paragraph completed.  I started writing about everything that had happened during the previous week; the men, the realization that I really did have friends there who didn’t want me to leave, the magic that had come back into my life in various forms—and I wrote, “I can’t leave!”  I broke down and cried.

And then, at 12:15 a.m. that night, I made a decision.  I wasn’t going to leave.  No matter what it cost, I was not going to say good-bye to my beloved San Francisco.  The only problem was the financial Catch-22 I found myself in.  I had to leave Hogg & Mythen in order to remain in San Francisco; I needed the severance money they were going to be giving me in order to pay the two month’s rent I now required in order to stay in my apartment.  I didn’t relish the thought of leaving the guys, but at the same time I knew from my conversation with Nick a week earlier that because of the however-misplaced sense of betrayal was feeling, staying on was probably not an option.  No matter.  It would force me to find a position doing more computer and less (much less) architecture, which was my ultimate goal.

What I was not prepared for when I told him of my decision to stay was the fact that he wanted to keep me on—and—would be willing to loan me the money to pay my rent so I could stay.  Now that is something you just coudn’t find in any workplace. Needless to say, I accepted.

Unfortunately—or fortunately, depending on your perspective, this magic didn’t last. It was all a ruse by San Francisco to get me to stay. Once I’d signed that dotted line, life returned to “normal.” A year later, I was packing again—and this time it was for real.

The only picture I have of the four of us together. Amazing, considering I worked with those guys 8 years!

The folks at H&M at first didn’t believe me, but as the clock ticked town to the last couple days I think it finally sank in that this was goodbye. On my last day, we all went out to lunch and returned to the office where we had a very tearful goodbye. They even let me keep the infamous bright red desk chair that I’d picked out a year earlier…

Tucson lasted only six months (another story for another time), but when I found myself back in San Francisco again—and gone, and then to return again—I didn’t approach H&M other than to offer my services as an independent contractor. We’d all been through so much, and if I was ever going to make a clean break from architecture, this was the time to do it. As it turned out, I ended up at a major architectural firm for a few months following my first arrival back in The City out of necessity, but thankfully that gig was cut short by an opportunity to dip my toes into the then-exciting career of PC Support. By the time I’d left San Francisco and returned again three years later, my previous architectural career was already but a fading memory.

Would I go back and change anything if I could? Not a thing. Everything that’s happened in my life has brought me to the place where I am—and who I’m with—now, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

Memories of San Francisco

Hogg & Mythen Architects, Part Three

REBUILDING

323 Fremont Street
We found a new home for the office about a half mile southeast of our old location. It wasn’t the one of the several we looked at South of Market that I liked the best, but then, it wasn’t my firm. It was another older building—albeit one that passed its earthquake inspection, was entirely wood frame, and for the rent offered an incredible amount of space (we occupied the entire upper floor). It was kind of a lofty space, although not really a loft as strictly defined, even though the entire rear half the office had a structurally-exposed two story ceiling. We eventually added a bunch of color to the space—as well as painting the front door a bright canary yellow on which we overlaid the company logo in black. We also put up track lights (it was the 90s, after all) and bolted the shelving units to the wall. Lesson learned.






My work area after a good cleaning

Our workload swelled—and then crashed—as the years passed following the move.  After the infamous Black Wednesday of 1992, things got so bad Nick and Jack were forced with either laying us all off or asking that we voluntarily go to four day weeks. Since they had done so much for both Neill and I over the years and neither one of us particularly wanted to look for work in that kind of economy, the decision was a no-brainer. When everything snapped back, not only did our workload necessitate the hiring of two more drafters, but it also resulted in raises and bonuses, the likes of which we hadn’t ever seen. Neill and I even convinced the bosses that in addition to the already paid vacation and holidays, to stay competitive they also needed to provide health insurance. Done and done.

To say that we were like a family was an understatement. When the owners exchanged words, Neill and I would retreat to the kitchen, whispering to each other that it was like when our biological parents fought.

CELEBRATIONS

We always did something special for the holidays. The first year I worked for H&M, it was a ferry ride across the bay to Sausalito for lunch. The second year was much more exciting, and not necessarily in a good way. Nick decided that we needed to go fishing on the bay. He contacted a longtime friend with a boat and off we went—during some of the worst weather we’d ever seen in December.

As I wrote in those infamous Journals (and amended some time later):

Today we went out on San Pablo Bay to go fishing in lieu of having a regular Christmas Lunch.  It was interesting, but not something I think I’d jump at again.  I’m still very uncomfortable on small boats, and even though the water is supposedly only about thirty feet deep where we were, it was murky enough to make me uneasy.

The weather today was awful.  It was bitterly cold, windy and raining.  The bay calmed down for about an hour, but heading back to the marina (in Richmond), it was very choppy.  Neill caught a 40 lb. sturgeon and we all  ended up with sturgeon steaks. I threw mine out upon returning home (I wasn’t going to eat anything that came out of that bay), and after seeing Nick bludgeon the poor thing to death on the dock, it caused Neil to become a vegetarian.

3 almost-drowned rats: Neil, Jack, and Your Host

Mike, the unfortunate sturgeon, Your Host, Neill looking a little green, and Jack

Subsequent holiday lunches were either spent in The City or down the coast, anywhere from Pacifica to Santa Cruz. One memorable lunch was had at The Shore Bird in Half Moon Bay—where I had the most delicious halibut I have ever eaten. Sadly, the restaurant has long since closed. Another year we drove down to Capitola for dinner at a Shadowbrook, a restaurant that you entered via a small tramway. (Nick got very drunk that night and while I was designated driver and responsible for driving us back to The City, it was Nick’s minivan and we had to listen to the soundtrack from Twin Peaks on endless repeat all the way home.)

(to be continued)

Memories of San Francisco

Hogg & Mythen Architects, Part Two

WILD WEST COMPUTING

About six months into my employment at H&M, one morning I arrived at work to find a brand new IBM XT PC sitting on that fold-out conference room desk. Okay, it wasn’t a real IBM; it was a no-name locally-grown clone, but still…it was 1987 and this was a personal computer! It sat there for several days until I asked, “Is anyone going to do anything with that?”

Nick replied, “We were hoping you’d ask. It’s all yours.”

And so began my descent into the madness that would lead me to my current career.

Bernie (my ex, with whom I was sharing that flat with) was working as a legal secretary/assistant/word processor and had more experience with personal computers than I had. (To this point my only exposure had been with a Commodore VIC-20 about five years earlier.) I told him what had been loaded on the machine: DOS 3.1, Wordstar and some database program whose name eludes me. I’d started teaching myself Wordstar when Bernie said, “Fuck that. You need WordPerfect, and promptly supplied me with a set of 4.2 installation disks.

He was right. WordPerfect was much more intuitive and allowed me the opportunity to start creating fifteen years of obsessive, self-absorbed Journals that are at this point cringe-worthy reading.

Prior to moving to San Francisco, I had worked for a firm in Tucson that was on the verge of converting to AutoCAD. They brought Autodesk in to demo their product, and even then in the prehistoric days of 8088 processors and CGA displays, I knew this was the direction architecture was headed. Unfortunately converting the entire office was so cost-prohibitive (not to mention the initial loss of productivity that was expected) the project was shelved. But that spark of “the future” had taken hold in my imagination, and when the opportunity to obtain a copy of the program presented itself to me in San Francisco, I jumped on it.

Two roadblocks stood in the way of converting H&M to this new way of doing things: (1) I had to gain enough expertise with the program that my productivity wouldn’t be measurably impacted and (2) sell the whole concept to the bosses.

By this time I’d gotten my own PC at home, so teaching myself AutoCAD consumed me. Prior to this you would find me at the beach most every weekend (weather permitting) and sometimes even after work. That—and my meticulously curated tan flew out the window thereafter.

(As an aside, one of the things I most loved about this firm was on the first sunny day after a long, wet winter, Nick would often just close the office and say, “Go to the beach! Enjoy the weather!”)

All that came crashing down once I welcomed the electronic demon into my home. I was literally moving objects in my dreams by calling out cartesian coordinates—that’s how thoroughly and completely AutoCAD had consumed my consciousness.

But it paid off. After I felt comfortable enough putting my own set of architectural floor plans together, I suggested to Nick that on our next project we try it live. If it works, great. If not, then we continue drafting the old fashioned way.

He went for it—and many more instances of pushing the envelope—allowing me a degree of freedom to learn and explore that has been unmatched in any position I’ve held since.

The office’s original XT class computer had only a monochrome “Hercules” display. It was unbelievably crisp, but differentiating layers in AutoCAD was difficult and time consuming. I convinced them to buy a color monitor to make life a bit easier and offset the amount of money we were wasting on plots that didn’t come out looking the way they should because items weren’t on the correct layers. It wasn’t a high-res setup, but the colors at least cut down on the errors.

As time passed, the four of us settled into certain roles. Jack was the one who brought in the work, Nick managed the projects, the office, and the accounting. Neill became the de facto firm designer (he avoided doing CAD for years), and I was the guy who created all the production drawings. Life was good.

As the years went by, my knowledge and expertise increased. DOS gave way to Windows. AutoCAD and Wordperfect were purchased and regularly upgraded. We finally gave up on WordPerfect altogether after their initial foray into Windows crashed and burned spectacularly, forcing our hand to MS Word. I also somehow managed to teach myself Excel during this transition, something that’s paid off many times over the years. After spending hundreds of dollars to have our drawings printed at the local blueprint shop, we bought our own plotter. The original XT-class PC was replaced by a 286, then a 386, and by the time I left in 1995, a 486 machine. It was augmented by three others, eventually being crudely networked thanks to Windows for Workgroups.

EARTHQUAKE

On 17 October 1989 I left work about fifteen minutes early. I don’t remember why; only that I did. I was about three blocks from home, walking down 12th Street, when I rubbed one of my eyes and the contact lens rode up onto the top of my eyeball. As I was struggling to get it repositioned, the ground started shaking. “That’s odd,” I thought. And then I realized what was happening.

As my contact lens finally made it down to where it was supposed to be, the shaking continued, and I looked up to see the cantilevered billboard at the corner of 12th & South Van Ness wobbling vertically. I heard glass breaking and people screaming. The shaking stopped. A few errant car alarms could be heard wailing.

I arrived home to find my then-roommate Frank, mopping up water from the fish tank that had sloshed onto the floor. That—and the fact we were without power for several days afterward—was the extent of the damage we suffered.

The same could not be said for the H&M office at 2nd & Mission, however. Nick (who was the only one in the office at the time) related that when the shaking started, the shelves (which had not been secured to the wall) began to fall and he sprinted for the exit.

The building was red-flagged.

If I’d left work at my usual time, I would’ve been on the underground when it hit.

Like a lot of places in the aftermath of Loma Prieta, the office was closed for an extended period as the Bay Area dug itself out. But Jack and Nick—being the type of folks they were—continued to pay us as the search for new office space began.

(to be continued)

Memories of San Francisco

An old coworker/friend from my days in San Francisco whom I haven’t heard from in ages in popped into a dream this morning. Seeing Neill again after all these years left me with such a wonderfully warm feeling—as if to remind me that the world hasn’t always been the shit storm we currently find ourselves in—that I decided it was way past time to start jotting down memories of my time in The City before they slip away completely.

(Even now I must publish this caveat: they may or may not be a hundred percent accurate; such is the nature of the human mind and while I can go back and read my journals from the period, I only started writing them in 1987 and I didn’t record everything.)

Hogg & Mythen Architects, Part One

When I first moved to San Francisco thirty one years ago this month, employment was not immediately forthcoming. I didn’t expect to just walk into a job, but I had a desirable skill set, and knew it would just be a matter of time before I got settled.

After about a month, a landed a job working as an architectural drafter in a small firm in Japantown. The only downside to this was that I was working as an independent contractor, i.e. paying all my own taxes and had no benefits whatsoever. It didn’t take me long to realize the office was filled with “independent contractors,” all of whom had the classification but none of the perks of actually being independent. We were expected to work in the office with fixed hours and all the tools we needed to perform our tasks were supplied by the owner of the firm. And did I mention there wasn’t ever any sort of contract for services signed by either party?

The owner was in the midst of renovating a three unit Victorian about two blocks from the office and my second partner and I (we’d moved to SF together after splitting up, go figure) ended up renting the bottom unit. That is another story for a different post.

Anyhow, as the months dragged on, I was becoming increasingly disenchanted with this employment arrangement, especially how I saw how we were all being taken advantage of. I brought up my concerns with the grizzled old bitch of an accountant who came into the office periodically (another “independent” contractor, no doubt), and I was told in no uncertain terms, “Everything we are doing is perfectly legal.”

By the time January rolled around, I’d had enough. I sent out resumes to every San Francisco architectural firm listed in the phone book. A few days later I received a call asking me to come in for an interview.

Hogg & Mythen Architects was located on the third floor of a building on the southeast corner of Mission & 2nd Street downtown that had obviously seen better days. As I entered the rickety elevator and reached the third floor, greeted by a locked gate that cordoned off the lobby from the offices, I seriously thought about just turning around and leaving.

2nd & Mission Streets, 1987

But I didn’t.

I rang the bell, and was greeted by Nick, one of the owners. He showed me into the long, narrow office space and told me to take a seat at the fold-up conference table nestled up against a wall of bookshelves containing product catalogs and reference materials. A few moments later, Jack—the other owner—joined us and we started talking. The interview went on for over an hour. I showed the examples of my work, went over my background, and asked about the type of work they specialized in and what they were willing to pay. Despite the rather dank environment, everything sounded great and I liked these guys. It was an easy commute via a single bus line and as I left I really hoped I’d get a call from them.

By the time I’d arrived back home, there was already a message waiting on the answering machine. “We like you and would like for you to come work for us.”

And so what was to become an almost decade-long relationship began.

I started work at H&M the following Monday, giving my current employer next-to-no notice (after all, I was an independent contractor) and shortly thereafter turned the bastard into the IRS. They nailed him to the wall. He ended up having to pay back taxes on all his “contractors” and I didn’t owe a penny that year.

I was not H&M’s only employee. They had one other drafter, a guy named Neill who had been on vacation when I’d interviewed with them. We met about a week into my employment. He was a tall, lanky ginger lad who had dual US/UK citizenship and had recently graduated from UC Berkeley. We hit it off immediately, but we really didn’t bond until one day we were out measuring a building and he said something about cocksuckers. Without missing a beat, I replied, “Hey, some of my best friends are cocksuckers!” and he replied, “So are some of mine!” And that was the moment I came out to him.

Neill, Your Host, and Nick, on the Ferry to Sausalito for our Christmas Outing, 1987

Neill wasn’t gay, but being a resident of San Francisco, he was still a staunch ally. While we butted heads on several occasions, to this day I still have nothing but affection for Neill and my only regret is that over the years we’ve lost touch with each other. He successfully got his architectural license the last year we worked together, and as I understand it has long since moved to the UK, gotten married, and now has kids of his own.

(to be continued)

Customer Service

With all the years I’ve been doing PC support, one truth is self-evident: every company has approximately a dozen users who are unmitigated pains-in-the-ass. It’s either because they’re willfully ignorant, refuse to learn and expect you to hold their hand through every step of a process—or they’re arrogant assholes who they think the entire organization will collapse if they can’t do their work. Usually the two go hand-in-hand.

Yesterday I had a very unpleasant interaction with one of these Dirty Dozen. Afterward I mentioned this user’s name to one of my coworkers, and he responded, “Oh, you mean ‘Queen-Of-All-She-Surveys?'” Glad to know it isn’t just me who has this opinion.

I have a bit of history with this person. Several months ago I was assigned a ticket to help her recover some pictures from a CD. I didn’t think anything of it until I actually got deskside and found out that they were personal photos from her daughter’s birthday party.

I told her I would be unable to assist because this was not work related. She lit into me about not providing good customer service and how the entire support structure here was crap and she was going to speak to my supervisor…yada, yada, yada.

It was all I could do to not roll my eyes.

Well, after I got back to my desk I immediately called my boss who backed me 100%. “That was definitely not work related and she shouldn’t have called it in. You did the right thing.”

Well about a week ago I got a request from her admin to install a certain piece of software on five workstations in her department (including Queen-Of-All-She-Surveys). Thankfully QOASS was out of the office when I did the install. Unfortunately, I immediately ran into a snag because the software has to be registered online before it can even be used and it appeared that our firewall was blocking access to that particular website—as well as its alternate.

I let the admin know I would try connecting to the website with my Mac (which isn’t on the corporate network) when i got back to my desk, and if successful would circle back around with her to get the necessary activation codes entered into the five machines.

I wasn’t able to reach the website from my Mac either. I checked that night from home and it still wasn’t reachable. This told me the manufacturer was having issues. I spoke with the admin the next day and told her I would keep checking over the next few days and when the site was back online I’d be in touch. “No problem,” she said.

Well, yesterday morning I got a nasty email from the subject of this story asking why the software still hadn’t been activated. “It’s been over a week!” (Yeah, bitch, there was also a four-day weekend in there in case you hadn’t noticed.) Before I contacted her, I attempted to reach the website through our network and lo and behold, it was finally working.

I called her, connected to her machine, and activated the software. The software of course, required additional user-specific setup to be done before it could be used, and when I told her it would be a few more minutes, she snapped, “I don’t have time for this! We ordered this software weeks ago and it should work without having to go through all this!” At this point I had to bite my tongue. I very calmly asked, “When do you have time available to finish setting up the software?”

“I don’t know! You have control of my PC and I need to look at my calendar!”

I told her to take the mouse, open Outlook and check.

“1 pm. It’s the only time I have available.”

“Great,” I said. “I’ll send you an Outlook invite for 1 pm today.”

I called her at 1 pm. “I don’t need your help any more. My admin set it up for me.”

What. A. Cunt.

Shortsighted

When I came on board at this agency eighteen months ago as a contracted “imaging specialist,” they were hip deep in a statewide PC refresh project that was not going well. (I had interviewed with them two prior times during the previous six months to assist with this project, first as a “morning after” service desk technician and then as a PC tech. I was rejected both times—and at that point they were already nearly a year behind schedule.)

Initially the new equipment was being pushed out with Windows 10. It was resoundingly hated by the user base, but more importantly it didn’t play nice with several mission-critical software applications. (You’d think they would’ve done some testing first, but no—this is the gub’mint after all.)

About three months into my tenure, the grousing from the users and the software incompatibilities became such an issue that it was announced that we were no longer to be rolling out Windows 10, and were reverting to 7 from that point forward. The machines that were already in the field with 10 were going to remain unless they needed to run that incompatible software (or the users screamed loud enough).

Prior to this gig, I had next-to-no experience with 10, and after fighting to get it to behave (as did all of my colleagues), I welcomed the news that everything was going back to 7.

But then something funny happened. As my contract was starting to wind down, I decided to load 10 on my own workstation. All the job postings I looked at required at least a modicum of Windows 10 experience, so I figured I’d better grab what I could while I had the opportunity.

And it turned out I actually came to like the OS—not enough for me to ever want to give up Apple for my own personal computing, but in a work environment it really wasn’t bad!

The main part of the refresh project ended last fall, but instead of packing my things and saying goodbye as I’d anticipated, they offered to keep me on as a pc/desktop tech (with a 30% increase in pay). Naturally I accepted, so I didn’t need the Windows 10 experience, but I’m still glad to have gained it.

We just completed Phase 2 of the statewide refresh, and Windows 7 is still being put out there. Surprisingly, there’s been no talk of revisiting Windows 10, even though Microsoft’s support of 7 will be ending in about 30 months—only halfway through the agency’s 5-year hardware refresh schedule. I find that more than a little short-sighted, especially since as far as I know, nothing is being done to get the non-compliant applications brought up to speed.

I guess if nothing else it’s job security for me…

The Island of Misfit Toys

That’s how I describe my current place of employment.

Prior to this gig, I had never worked for a government agency. Needless to say, the past eighteen months have been an eye-opener, and what stands out the most is the sheer number of societal outcasts and broken people—both mentally and physically—working here. And before anyone says, “But you work there too!” I readily admit that being here obviously puts me in that class as well. But is it societal, mental or physical? As Ben says, it’s probably “Some o’ Column A, some o’ Column B.”

That’s not to say any these folks are unpleasant. They aren’t. But they do tend to fall into two broad categories: those who don’t give a fuck yet somehow manage to retain their jobs, and those who are absolutely anal about dotting every “i” and crossing every “t”.

The two colleagues with whom I share office space and work closely—both of whom have been here forever—each come from one of those groups. One disappears for hours on end; no one seems to know where he goes, but our customers have noted he spends an awful lot of time in the parking lot on his phone. He does close his assignments, so I assume he’s doing something job related during his vanishing acts.

My other co-worker has a hissy if I fail to move my magnetic dot on our in/out board to the proper column—even though there are only the three of us in this office and we can readily see each other from our desks. She has years’ worth of file folders full of copies of all her completed assignments, equipment transfer forms, and department policies and procedures. If anything happens that’s out of the scope of her daily routine you’d think aliens had landed.

The one common element between the two of them is that they both don’t seem to have a clue about what constitutes good customer service; something that has left me shocked on more than one occasion. “We just install the software. Troubleshooting it is up to the customer,” or “We don’t handle [fill in the blank] hardware. They need to contact the vendor directly.”

This flies in the face of a lifetime of trying to do my best work. Okay, I get that you don’t handle [fill in the blank] hardware or troubleshoot software after install, but would it kill you to at least go look at the problem in case it is something that you can easily fix? Showing you at least made an effort leaves a much more positive impression than simply telling the customer in so many words to go fuck off because it’s not your responsibility.

Despite the longevity of some of the workers here (one of my favorites is a guy who’s worked here fifty-five years), there is also huge amount of turnover, and along with that comes a lot of knowledge lost.

Most recently (and what really prompted this post and illustrates the problem of lost knowledge) was a situation where I’d swapped out a customer’s laptop. While not quite ready for official refresh, it was an older model that was being wonky to the point that troubleshooting it wasn’t a good use of my resources. Her installed software list raised only one red flag—simply because I had heretofore no experience with it—but that one piece of software has become a thorn in my side.

The refresh went well. I even found the installer for this bit of software and everything was going smoothly. The problems started after I’d left and she attempted to use the software. The response I got from both my colleagues was, “We just install it. Roger (not his real name) in Applications Support configures it.”

Well, trouble was, Roger had quit about two weeks earlier. His official replacement knew even less about the program than I did. To the guy’s credit, he did attempt to get it working. Everything functioned normally on the new laptop under his profile, and the customer could log into any other machine in the department and have it work as well, but for some reason it refused to function with her login on the new laptop.

Since this particular customer is a private-office-with-a-door squeaky wheel who I sensed wouldn’t have a second thought about getting my boss involved, in spite of what my colleagues had told me, I returned to do some basic troubleshooting to see if the problem could be resolved—going so far as to totally recreate her profile from scratch, thinking that whatever was borked would sort itself out on clean load.

Nope.

Roger’s replacement stepped up and attempted further troubleshooting with the vendor, but after several days they both gave up, recommending reimaging or replacement the machine. Since reimaging would leave the customer without a way to work for 24-48 hours, I opted for replacing the entire laptop so she could work until time came to do the swap.

Well, I got the new laptop yesterday and loaded all her software except the one application in question. I took it over to her this morning so that Roger’s replacement could install that once piece of software himself it to ensure it was done correctly.

But he didn’t have the admin rights to do so. He also didn’t even know where the installer was located!

Our software repository is a disaster. It’s spread out in multiple folders across multiple servers, and even after 18 months on the job, I’m sure I still don’t know all the hidey-holes where all this stuff is squirreled away. I went to the so called new “official” repository, but the version of the software I found there was ancient. I found a newer version at a different location, but as I was loading it, Roger’s replacement said, “That’s 6.2. We need 6.3.”

“Do you know where I can find that?”

“No. [Coworker who lives on his phone in the parking lot] always installs it for us.”

And with that, I turned to him and said, “We need to reschedule. [Coworker who lives on his phone in the parking lot] is on vacation until next week and I have no way of contacting him.”

Needless to say, everyone was frustrated.

How can you be point-of-contact support for a software application and not even know where it’s installed from?

HOW CAN YOU BE POINT-OF CONTACT SUPPORT FOR A SOFTWARE APPLICATION AND NOT EVEN KNOW WHERE IT’S INSTALLED FROM?!?!

Meh.

Sorry for the lack of real posts lately. I just haven’t been feeling inspired. Between the shit show that is DC and the return of my regularly scheduled 4 am insomnia (a time when I should probably haul myself out of bed and write instead of just tossing and turning until I finally fall asleep fifteen minutes before my alarm goes off), I just can’t, y’know?

Add to that I was voluntold for a little project at work last week. On one hand it’s a nice change from the day-to-day drudgery of my job, but it’s forced me to work with two techs—while pleasant and easy to work with—simply do not possess the depth of knowledge or motivation I thought they did. You don’t know how to highlight an entire line in Excel? Seriously?

We’ve been pulled off our regular duties to finish up the stragglers of the PC refresh project that was actually started more than a year before I started work here. I have assumed the de facto lead role on this because it seems I’m the only one who has the logical mindset and desire to do the paperwork involved in getting all this equipment rolled out before June 1st.

Initially we were told there were about 180 outstanding devices. That number dropped to about half that when it was clarified that we would only be doing the central locations—four sites in downtown Phoenix. The number dropped even further when I took it upon myself to look up all the PCs and laptops on the master list and determined that probably thirty percent or so had either already been refreshed (and never updated in inventory) or sent to surplus for recycling.

I understand why my supervisor selected me; she said she’d gotten so much positive feedback from the customers on the computers I’ve been rolling out by myself over the past six months I was a logical choice. (My site is totally finished.) But the other two? They’re the secondary techs at the sites with the greatest number of unrefreshed machines.

“A Referral Was Returned From The Server”

As much as I bitch and complain about the Apple OS, let’s not forget that I have to support their chief rival’s abortion in the corporate environment—and Windows is still far. and. away. a more fucked up system than macOS or OS X or whatever the hell the brain trust in Cupertino wants to call it these days could ever be.

The latest bit of banging-my-head-against-the-wall comes from that delightful little error message above. It popped up today while I was trying to install a driver for a standalone thermal printer. First off who was the genius that wrote it? Somewhere, at some point in time, some asshole programmer must have thought, “Let’s write the most obscure error message possible.”

For those of you who have the displeasure of encountering this bit of fuckery on a Windows 10 box running in a corporate (domain) environment, the solution is actually rather simple, but annoying as hell. Trying to run the offending installer as a local admin didn’t work. Trying to run it with administrator rights didn’t work. Disabling UAC (we’re getting warmer, but still no cigar) was a suggested solution via the Google, but didn’t solve the problem either. What I ultimately discovered that it was some godforsaken issue with something in the Domain Group Policy and UAC. Simply disabling UAC on the local machine won’t fix the problem; and since I didn’t have rights to do anything with the the Domain’s Group Policy, the only way to make it work is to remove the device from the domain entirely in order for the software to install.

I now have this documented at work since apparently none of my coworkers have ever encountered it—with the current thorn-in-my-side (who already views and treats me as just an ignorant imaging tech and not a full-fledged desktop tech with more years of experience than she’s been alive) looking at me like an escapee from the Short Bus when I told her I had to remove the machine from the domain in order to install a printer driver.

I’m glad it’s Friday…

 

No, Mr. Little, The Sky Is Not Falling

About a week ago I was given notice that as of September 30th, my contract was finally coming to an end and it would be my absolute, absolute last day at my current place of employment. However, because I’d been told this so many times over the last eight months, I took it with a grain of salt and went on about my business, thinking, “Yeah, right.” This past Monday morning however, I received email from my recruiter confirming that after speaking with my boss, my time here was indeed coming to an end.

Well fuck.

Yeah, I know I was making way less money than what I’d been prior to coming here and it was a constant reminder of how woefully under-employed I was, but for the most part—even with the multiple instances of stupid I have witnessed during my tenure—I have genuinely enjoyed working here and realized that I was going to miss my coworkers much more than I ever thought I would.

Even so, as much as the thought of having to go through a job search yet again (not to mention interviewing) left a pit in my stomach, I tried to remain positive. Firstly, since this was not a for-cause or a voluntary termination, securing Arizona Employment Benefits—as meager as they are—while I looked for work wouldn’t be met with the kind of resistance I got from DISH after I left there. Secondly, I tried to keep the attitude that everything happens for a reason, and this was happening now because it was time for me to move onto a new chapter in my professional life.

Well, wouldn’t you know as soon as I wrapped my head around that, accepted it, received a glowing Letter of Recommendation from my supervisor’s boss, and actually started looking forward to having some time off, everything changed.

My boss walked in late yesterday afternoon with a very serious look on his face and his cell phone glued to his ear. I didn’t know who he was talking to, but I overheard, “So this isn’t FTE? Okay, I’ll ask him how he feels about it.”

Next thing I know we were sitting in his office and I was being offered a job; not as an “Imaging Specialist” (my current title), but as a proper Desktop Tech. It would still be a contract position, but unlike my current gig, this one was open-ended and could potentially last years. (There’s a hiring freeze on right now for full-time employees; otherwise they’d offer to hire me outright.)

To be honest, my initial internal reaction—after seeing how things are done around here and dealing with some of the personalities I’d have to interact with on a daily basis as a Desktop Tech—was “Oh hell no!” But almost immediately I remembered this had also been my initial reaction to the offer of employment at Abrazo after contracting there those many years ago—and that resulted in some lifelong friendships being formed and the job itself ultimately becoming the one to which I compared all that followed.

I told my supervisor it sounded interesting, but frankly it would all come down to the money. I’d already applied at two other state agencies where I’d be making significantly more and he was aware of that, so he understood completely, saying that I’d have to discuss those specifics with his boss.

This morning when I arrived at work I sent an email off to the man holding the purse strings asking if we could meet sometime today. Not thirty seconds later my phone rang and the he said, “How about now?”

To sum up, after discussing everything and getting a ballpark salary estimate sometime later, I accepted the offer. My new title and pay grade takes effect Monday even though I’ll still be reporting to the same location and doing the same tasks I have been until they figure out exactly what they’re going to do with me. It still needs to be determined which facility I’ll be based at and who I’ll be paired with—requiring some personnel shuffling—but it looks like I’m set for the foreseeable future and I can finally exhale a bit…

Professionalism

I’m starting to believe that along with basic manners, civil discourse, and common courtesy, professionalism is going the way of the dinosaur in our society. I am amazed at the number of times over the past few years I have been praised for simply doing my job. Are companies really hiring such grossly unqualified and incompetent workers that the mere act of showing up on time, completing tasks that are assigned to you, and basically not being a dick to your fellow coworkers is now worthy of adulation?

Apparently so.

One of the things I have always prided myself on was the fact that my supervisors knew they could give me a task and it would be completed as requested without requiring their constant oversight. This managerial hands-off approach seems to work best for both parties, and probably stems from my many years as an architectural drafter. Once I was given a set of parameters, I was set loose to complete the task with a bare minimum of oversight thereafter.

Apparently this ability to work independently and actually do one’s job without having to be micromanaged is a rare commodity in today’s workforce.

Bitching and Moaning

First off, let me say that I am very grateful to have a job and to be working—even if it is for less money than I was earning ten fifteen years ago.

That being said, working for a government agency these past six months has been an eye opening experience. I have nothing in my work history to compare the level of dysfunction I encounter on a daily basis. Not even DISH was this broken, and that’s saying a lot.

You would think that this agency would’ve learned from the fiasco that was their 3-month new equipment refresh project that was started before Ben and I returned to Phoenix and is just now—more than a year later—wrapping up. Hiring Dell to basically do everything short of placing the new equipment on users’ desks wasn’t their first mistake. That was failing to get the necessary teams in place to do proper testing of the hardware and software before pushing it out to the thousands of employees across the state. If that sort of infrastructure had been in place, then maybe—just maybe—it wouldn’t have been necessary to terminate their contract when Dell failed to live up to the ridiculous expectations and timeline they’d been given…and then turn around and rehire them because it was obvious that without their outside knowledge and assistance the entire project was going to crash and burn in a spectacular fashion.

But no! Get it out, get it out, get it out! NOW NOW NOW.

So six weeks after I came on board and a few hundred Win10 machines had gone out the door, most of those machines started coming back in to be reimaged with Win7. Mission-critical software didn’t work properly. Users hated the OS. The CIO “left to pursue other opportunities” and his replacement immediately announced that unless the hardware wouldn’t support it or there was an overriding business reason for Win10 to be used, all new hardware that went out was to be loaded with Win7.

I can’t tell you how many problems that cleared up—not to mention it cut down our machine prep time by half.

My time here was supposed to have ended when the refresh project wrapped up, but I truly believe my supervisor wants to keep me around long enough to survive the agency’s hiring freeze so he can bring me on as a full time employee. (This would be a huge pay increase, bringing me back in line with what I have been making prior to this.) Thankfully for both of us, a new project was coming online—the replacement of around 250 customer-facing kiosk devices across the state; all of which would need to be imaged and prepped for deployment.

And that is where today’s rant comes in.

Once again we are being told to get something pushed out the door without adequate Q&A testing being performed—even though we know things are not working properly—because apparently it’s more important to show that something is being done rather than wait and make sure what’s being done is right.

With one batch of machines already out the door and in the field, the first time I had to unbox a few dozen other already-imaged machines was when the powers that be realized the assigned computer names were too long and couldn’t properly join the domain. The second time the machines (which thankfully hadn’t gone out yet) were unboxed was because someone realized that from a data security perspective, these very public machines probably shouldn’t have their USB ports active. The third time they were unboxed was because someone else realized that the machines needed to have an auto-login to the service account that ran the kiosk software.

The auto-logon worked sporadically at best, and seemed to be tied to the machines being in the proper group in Active Directory. Once they were in the correct bucket in AD, some worked and some still didn’t. “Oh, it’s a back-end issue they’re working on,” my supervisor said. “Go ahead and box them up and get them ready to go out.”

Against my better judgment, I boxed them up again. My boss returned to the workroom shortly after I’d finished the chore and said, “We need to force group policy again.”

I wonder what stupidity tomorrow will bring?

Not Surprising

From TechnoBuffalo:

Windows 10 might be a nice upgrade for most PC users—especially when it was free—but many just aren’t interested in it. Businesses especially are avoiding Microsoft’s latest operating system, according to new data.

Softchoice, which has obtained data from the TechCheck IT asset management service that is supplied to 169 firms in the U.S. running over 400,000 Windows machines, has found that only 0.75 percent of businesses are currently running Windows 10.

That’s right—not even a full percentage of businesses are running Windows 10 more than a year after its release.

Windows 7 is still used by 91 percent of enterprise customers, according to Softchoice, and that percentage continues to grow. It’s actually up 18 percent since the same time last year. Windows 8 is currently being used by 4 percent of businesses.

“It seems businesses don’t see an urgent need to move operating systems, so long as their cloud-based applications are still running fine on Windows 7,” said Craig McQueen, director of the Microsoft Practice at Softchoice.

However, McQueen does believe that Windows 10 will see a boost in adoption once organizations begin to “grasp the user benefits,” such as improved touch interaction, greater security, and baked-in Cortana.

User benefits? Touch interaction doesn’t work on desktops and Cortana was the first thing the organization blocked as part of Group Policy at my place of employment!

In addition, after a very poorly executed pilot program and a rush to get new machines into the hands of the users, nearly all of the machines that went out imaged with Windows 10 when I was first brought on board for this refresh project have now come back in to be reimaged with Windows 7. The users hate it, and a lot of home-baked mission-critical applications aren’t compatible.

Maybe someone should’ve looked into that before we rolled out all those machines?

Eleventh Hour Reprieve

This past weekend Ben and I were discussing my impending return to unemployment, and I said, “I wouldn’t be surprised if Tony (my supervisor) pulled some kind of Hail Mary Pass to keep me around.”

Indeed, a Hail Mary Pass was thrown on Monday. “Would you be interested in staying around a little longer—through the end of August—to help Paul retrieve old equipment from out in the field? You guys could go out in the morning while it’s still cool and then do your regular duties in the afternoon.”

Hell yes, I would—especially considering recruiters weren’t exactly knocking down my door and Ben and I been wondering how our little household would survive on me bringing home the measly $240/week (less than minimum wage!) that AZ unemployment would provide while looking for other work.

This offer was not extended to the other contractor who came on the same time I did, and while everyone concerned has done their level best to keep him blissfully unaware of this eleventh-hour development, the fact he didn’t show up for work today or notify anyone that he wouldn’t be coming in (ostensibly our last day here) tells me he might’ve found out…

Back Into The Meat Grinder

My supervisor came in this morning and said, “Bad news. July 22nd.”

I knew what he was talking about even before the conversation continued. After six months, my contract at my current place of employment is finally coming to an end. We both knew this was coming, so it wasn’t a complete surprise. We both just thought—hoped—it would end up going a bit longer. The project iself has been a clusterfuck since long before I came on board, and it seemed that every day the scope and direction was changing, but we rolled with the punches and managed to meet all the deadlines. My initial contract was supposed to be for 90 days, but I’ve now been here six months, and in spite of upper management’s best efforts, the project is wrapping up.

On one hand, I’m disappointed because both my boss and I were hoping that he’d be able to keep me around at least through the end of September— or long enough for a permanent opening to come available in the department because I genuinely like it here. On the other hand, it’s been a struggle for me to get by on the amount of money I’ve been earning (less than I was making fifteen years ago), something that going perm would definitely take care of.

So yeah.

After our chat, I let my recruiter know what was going on. He said he was working on a position in a different department at the organization. (This is the same department I interviewed with twice last fall and was summarily rejected by both times. The difference now is that I have a glowing internal recommendation behind me, so perhaps this will turn into something good after all.)

In any case, I’m overdue for landing in a job where I end up staying for more than a couple years (or, as it seems since our return to Phoenix, a couple months). At this point, if I could find an Abrazo or an H&M (two places I worked for nearly a decade each), I could conceivably retire from the place…

10 Ways To Not Piss Off Your I.T. Staff

And believe me, next to pissing off Payroll, pissing off I.T. is the dumbest thing you can do at work. Trust me. We can make your life a living hell.

1. Be Prepared.
One of the things that i was always taught as a kid was to be prepared. This includes being prepared when you call support. There is always a couple of routine questions that are asked,

What workstation are you using?
What printer is having issues?

Nothing pisses of support quicker than waiting around while you try to find information that you knew you would need.

2. Don’t be belligerent.
We don’t try to be rude, but 9 times out of 10 we have a dozen other things going, at least 6 of which are more important than your icons moving around. If we get short, it’s because you are wasting our time, or we have something better to do.

3. Understand that we are busy.
Unless you sign the paycheck, we will not drop whatever we are doing to make your Pandora radio play. We will get to it as soon as possible.

4. Don’t submit a ticket, email to make sure we got it, and then call to make sure we saw your email.
The system works, trust us. If it doesn’t we will let you know.

5. Don’t try to tell us how to answer your own question.
If you know better than we do then why did you bother asking?
If we don’t know the answer we will tell you.

6. If you have a problem tell us.
It is really tough, borderline impossible, to fix issues that we don’t know about.

Don’t bitch about it behind our backs. W don’t like hearing about things through the grapevine.

7. Answer any questions that are asked.
When we respond to your ticket with a question, it’s because we need to know more to help you, not because we like playing 20 questions. It’s also likely that you missed #1 above. And, if you ignore us, we can’t help you

Responding with “I just want it to work” * cough* CEOs * cough* is not going to help.

8. Don’t ambush us.
Just because we are walking by doesn’t mean we’re twiddling our thumbs, looking for something to do—more often than not, we’re on our way to do something. In fact, we usually will forget what you tell us fixing whatever we’re on our way to work on…

9. Don’t lie to us.
We’ll find out that you dumped your entire cup of coffee in your keyboard one way or another. Just tell us everything up front. It will save both of us a lot of time.

10. For managers: Don’t micro-manage.
Chances are we know what we are doing better than you do. It will be documented next time we have a second, and though it may not make sense you, it will make sense to another technical individual.

 

Doing My Own Small Part

Experience has taught me that working with out-of-state recruiters is a complete waste of my time and resources. They don’t know the area, they don’t know the commute, and—for a increasingly large number of them—they don’t know how to speak English. I don’t have a problem working with people for whom English is not their primary language, but when you’re in a public-facing profession and people can’t understand a single thing you’re saying, perhaps you need to rethink your career choice.

Normally I just respond to their emails with a polite, “I do not work with out-of-state recruiters. Please do not contact me again,” and that’s the end of it. A few don’t take the hint and respond with “WHY NOT?” and at that point my civility goes out the door with a response of “What part of DO NOT CONTACT do you not understand?” The domains of mail coming from repeat offenders are finally routed at the server immediately into the trash and I never even see them.

I never answer calls from unrecognized numbers on my phone, forcing them to go to voice mail. So after these recruiters have left their rambling, unintelligible messages, the phone numbers get added to my blocked “Out of State Recruiters” contacts entry. BOOM.

Anyway…

For some reason today, I’ve been emailed by a dozen or so recruiters all based in North Carolina—all for the same job opening and half coming from the same damned company. (This is another ongoing irritation in working with recruiters; none of them in the same office ever seem to speak to each other.) This has afforded me the opportunity to respond in a more specific, non-generic fashion and be political at the same time; they don’t need to know that I wouldn’t work with them in any case, but I wrote back and told them that I would not do business with any company based in North Carolina because of HB2, and I suggested they pass that onto their employer.

Eye Opening

Working in the “public sector” for the first time in my life has been an eye-opening experience.

Shortly after arriving in Phoenix last July, I had the opportunity to interview with this agency for a desktop support position. They were beginning the process of rolling out Windows 10 to around 1500 users and while I would not be the one doing the actual deployments, I would be doing post-deployment cleanup work. While I didn’t yet have any direct Windows 10 experience, it was still one of those interviews where you walk away thinking you’ve aced it and expected to receive an offer by the time you got home, but nothing ever came of it. “They decided to go with a different candidate, but you were their second choice.”

Second choice does not pay the bills.

A couple months later the same recruiter sent me back to interview with the same agency (and same people within the agency) for a Service Desk position, supporting the increase in calls that were anticipated once the Windows 10 project was in full swing. (It still hadn’t started.) I felt this interview hadn’t gone as well as the previous one, so it was no surprise when the recruiter called a few days later to say they’d chosen someone else. That was fine; I really had no desire to work on a Help Desk anyway—much preferring to be hands-on with my users. That is, after all, how you form bonds with your customers and oftentimes come out of it with lifelong friends.

You can imagine my surprise when I got a call from this same recruiter shortly after the first of the year, asking if I’d like to interview with this agency again, this time for an “Imaging Specialist” position. It was for substantially less money than the other two positions and my initial thought was, “Oh hell no!” but since my unemployment benefits from Colorado were about three weeks away running out completely I said, “Sure. Why not? Maybe the third time’s the charm.”

As I reported back in January, after one of the most disastrous interviews I’ve had since being back in Phoenix, they hired me.

And what exactly does an “Imaging Specialist” do? In the simplest terms, they load software images (snapshots of entire systems with everything preconfigured) onto PCs. This is a relatively quick way of loading the OS and various applications onto the computers without actually having to run through the manual install process each time.

This position wasn’t for something new they had in the works. It was for the same huge project that the agency initially told me about back in July that still hadn’t gotten off the ground. They had originally contracted with an outside firm to supply the hardware and apply the agency’s custom software images to the machines. But during the six months that transpired from my initial interview and the time I came on board in February, said company had succeeded in deploying approximately one dozen of the fifteen hundred machines.

Needless to say their contract was terminated, and the entire process was brought in-house.

Unfortunately, the in-house crew that was hastily assembled from former Service Desk staff had only one person on board who had any experience with the Microsoft Deployment Tool. (The application that was used for building and deploying these software images.) Perhaps anticipating the shit storm approaching, he hastily gave my boss approximately eight hours of training before transferring his ass to a different department.

Adding insult to injury, the software images that the initial outside company built for the agency didn’t work; forcing them to hire a consultant from Dell to come in and fix things.

Needless to say, it’s been an interesting couple months. My boss (who is new to a managerial position on top of all this) has been trying to train our Team Lead the voodoo of MDT so we can use it to reimage the older hardware in our inventory while working with the Dell consultant and the application developers to ensure that those images also work properly on all hardware platforms.

When you add an extra level of bureaucratic bullshit to the mix (the process for tracking equipment at this agency is positively labyrinthine), I can only sit back and laugh at the absurdity of it all sometimes.

As I’ve written before, this has given me a whole new appreciation for what the Enterprise Desktop Management team at DISH does so flawlessly on a daily basis.

I’m happy to report now however that all the kinks seem to have been worked out. The Dell consultant has gone home and we’re ready to actually begin the project I was hired on for; that is, loading the software images on those 1500 machines so the techs can deploy them.

(My boss has also been so impressed with what I’ve been doing on a day to day basis that he’s lobbying his supervisor to hire me full time. I’m fine with this, as I like the people I work with, the commute is a breeze, and it would also come with a substantial increase in pay—close to what I was making before we moved to Denver.)

Work Update

As I enter my third week of employment, I have to admit that—perhaps surprisingly after all I’ve written about my last job—that for the first time in years, I actually look forward to going to work. Okay, maybe look forward to is a bit of an exaggeration because I can’t say I’ve ever worked at that kind of job, but let’s just say I don’t wake up with that abject sense of dread every morning like I did when I was at DISH…and I don’t actually mind going to work—even though I’m making less money than I was ten years ago.

Also surprisingly, these past weeks have also given me a whole new sense of appreciation for the Enterprise Desktop Management Team at DISH, a group the PC Techs often butted heads with. I knew they built both the infrastructure and the images themselves that we used to prep the machines for deployment, but I never realized just how much work went into getting everything working properly—and consistently, because I’m now on this organization’s version of that team.

While we don’t have a fancy name like EDM, we are the folks who build and—unlike at DISH—apply the software images to each piece of equipment that passes through the organization. Everyone in my group is new at image building using the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (including our boss), so it’s a huge learning experience for everyone involved.

And I have to say the most amazing and refreshing thing about all this is that after spending two years in the feculent vat of toxic hellstew that was the PC Techs Department at DISH, at this job everyone treats each other with respect. Every night as he leaves, the boss thanks each of us for our contributions that day—no matter how much or how little we actually got done. And yeah, there’re jokes and off-color remarks tossed around during the day, but the difference from my time at DISH is that here the members of this team are adults. They know limits, know when jokes are appropriate and when they aren’t, and act accordingly.

When I first walked in this morning the boss asked if I was a religious person—because apparently he and one of the other techs and been discussing End Times and implanted microchips as Mark of the Beast. I looked at him and said, “Not at all. I’m an Atheist.”

He didn’t even flinch.

I figured this was as good a time as any, so a couple hours later we were chatting and I said, “Since I came out as an Atheist to you I’d might as well come out the rest of the way.”

He shot a quizzical look.

“I play for the other team.”

Another puzzled look.

“I’m gay.”

Again, not even a flinch—not that I was expecting one. Before he got into I.T., the man (who’s a year or so older than I am) was a full-time musician and has traveled extensively. He’s also a Phoenix native, so we’d already bonded a bit over memories of the city back when we were teenagers so we had that…

While he’s previously hinted that my initial contract could conceivably go much longer (it was originally sold to me as 90-days “with the possibility of extension,” but none of the 1300+ PCs that I was hired to image have even yet arrived; never mind that the image itself hasn’t got the kinks worked out), this afternoon was the first time he outright asked if I thought this gig was something I’d like to go long term. I said, “Yes—so far.”

“So far?”

“Well, I haven’t seen anything that made me want to run screaming from the building.”

“Good. Because you’re an asset we don’t want to lose.”

Employed!

It seems the Employment Gods have finally taken pity upon me and I have landed a job.

I’m still in a state of shock—because this sprang from what I consider to have been one of my worst—if not the worst—performances in an interview since moving back to Phoenix.

But I guess I must’ve said something that appealed to them. Either that or the other candidates were so resoundingly awful I won by default, even after being unable to answer two of the interviewer’s technical questions. (Or it might be that I stressed I actually liked the particular tasks this of this job—or the fact I loved producing documentation of processes, something else that will also be called upon.)

It’s for less money than I was making ten years ago and about $11K a year less than I was making in Denver, which after taxes amounts to only about $60 more per check than I’ve been receiving from Colorado Unemployment without taxes being taken out, but considering that my Colorado UI was due to run out in about six weeks, I can live with it. It’s supposedly only a 90-day contract, but “can go longer depending on the work load and possibly even permanent if I’m a good fit.”

Fingers crossed on that, because two of the best perks about this place is that it’s only about a mile from home, and I can wear jeans every damn day.

I don’t have a firm start date yet; it’s dependent upon how quickly my background check clears.

Well Now I’m Just ANGRY

A couple weeks ago I got a call from a recruiter back east. Normally I don’t bother working with out-of-state agencies because it has been my experience that it’s a complete waste of my time and resources: I send them everything but a blood sample and I never hear a word back from them. But this one sounded a bit different (and actually spoke English), so I went ahead with all the required paperwork and actually landed an interview with a local company. The position was described as “customer service/deskside support.” It was with a well-known financial services company that ironically occupied the same building of the company that summarily dismissed me twelve years ago after I received my cancer diagnosis.

The recruiter was serious about getting me in there and hired, so much so that the account manager coached me on the phone yesterday at length about the type of questions I’d be asked (he had actually worked for this particular company prior to going into recruiting) and offered some very useful tips about how to turn the interview to my advantage.

I was still nervous as hell when I arrived at the today because I hate selling myself—and as experienced I am in my field, I am notoriously bad at answering off the cuff technical questions. (“Where in the Windows registry do you find x?”) As it turned out, however, I shouldn’t have been so worried. The position they were interviewing for bore no resemblance at all to the description they’d given the recruiter. It was a call center help desk position and I’d be on the phones 100% of the time. It was also third shift.

Needless to say, it was the shortest interview I’d ever had. I explained this was not what had been sold to me by the recruiter, and thanked them for their time. Even the I.T. Director who was sitting in on this said he was surprised that with my background and experience I’d was applying for this particular job.

I went out to my car and called the recruiter. I explained what had happened and she verified the job description they’d been given. Nowhere did it mention “100% phones” or that it was third shift. She apologized profusely.

And to think I lost sleep last night worrying about all the possible interview questions that would be thrown at me today.

I’m disappointed, yes. But more than anything else, I’m angry. I’m angry because I thought this might actually be “the one.” As I’ve quipped on Twitter, “Looking for a job is like looking for love. You have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince.”

Adding insult to injury, while sitting in my car talking to the recruiter who sent me to this debacle, I received a call from a local recruiter I’m working with who informed me that I was not selected for the State job I’d interviewed for last week. This was the second time I’d interviewed with those folks, and the second time I did not get selected. And of course, the recruiter got absolutely no feedback from the client as to my performance in the interview, so I have no idea what I could’ve done differently to win them over.

I hate interviewing because you never know what kind of crazy ass questions you’re going to be asked. Two weeks ago I interviewed for a short-term contract at a firm I’d contracted with back in the late 90s that also went nowhere. I was asked to describe how to make a PBJ sandwich. Seriously. (Okay, now that I know why that particular question was asked it does make a little bit of sense in the Alice-Through-The-Looking-Glass environment that is modern Corporate America, and I’ll have the proper response ready if I’m asked it—or something similar—again, but it caught me totally off guard at the time.)

Just as a job seeker you’re looking for your prince, companies also seem to be looking for someone who fits their pre-defined glass slipper perfectly, and I’m starting to feel like one of the ugly step sisters.

But I am trying to stay positive. I keep reminding myself that after my position “had been eliminated” following my cancer diagnosis, it was nearly a year before I was working again full time, and we’re not even halfway to that point yet. And I also gained a few good interviewing tips from this experience that I hadn’t known previously.

Still, I’d like to get back to work because every day that I’m away from the enterprise computing environment, the more my skill let deteriorates and my ability to answer those off-the-cuff technical questions with any degree of accuracy gets even worse.

I Thought I’d Put This Out There Again

Hi Universe. It’s me, Mark.

I need a job.

Seriously.

But I guess I that’s not going to happen if I don’t spell out exactly what I want now, will it?

While I had complaints about my last job in Phoenix before we moved to Denver, the mere fact that I stayed there nearly eight years (and would probably still be there in some form if we hadn’t relocated) says a lot about what works for me. Unfortunately, my work situation in Denver was—how shall I say this? Unacceptable. So let’s not do anything remotely like that again, m’kay?

I’m looking for a smallish-firm, maybe 250-500 employees or so—or a larger firm where my assigned responsibility would be for about that same number. I like smaller firms, but not so small that I’m the only I.T. guy. I don’t mind being the only desktop guy, but I don’t want to handle servers, connectivity beyond basic troubleshooting, dealing with telecommunications vendors, purchasing, receiving, or anything that is—as my former boss used to call it—”behind the wall.”

My first job in Denver was pretty much like this, but upper management maintained a continual adversarial stance toward I.T. in general, which meant that during the two years I was there we went through three I.T. directors with an average gap of six months between each one, during which time was expected to handle everything, and was given copious amounts of attitude when I failed to meet their unrealistic expectations, so I know that’s not an environment for me.

As I said, while I had complaints about that last Phoenix job, the basic mechanics of it were nearly ideal. We were a large firm, but since each desktop guy had their own facility to support with anywhere from 250-400 users, it seemed much smaller. The workload wasn’t horrific, but it was enough to keep boredom at bay and allowed for occasional down time. The entire I.T. department was very close-knit, and while I rarely socialized with any of my colleagues after hours, I still came to view them as friends and not just co-workers.

I don’t mind driving between multiple facilities to help out my colleagues, but I want a home base; I don’t want a “field tech” position.

Pay? $50K a year would be nice. I’m worth more than that, but I’m trying to be realistic considering the current pay scale here.

I’d also like receive a modicum of respect from whatever company I work for and not be treated like an I.T. Janitor (or required to wear a requisite uniform) as I was at DISH. And while I enjoy a fun work environment as much as anyone, there’s a fine line between fun and frat house.

As far as the industry? I still miss Healthcare, but getting back into it isn’t an absolute. I’d also love to be able to build on my Mac experience in an enterprise environment.

I don’t think I’m asking that much, but if I know if I don’t put it out there and focus, it’s gonna be kind of hard for it to come my way.

Failing this, a winning lottery ticket with a $1-5 million payout would be nice. Just sayin’.

What the Fuck is Wrong With Corporate America?

One of the reasons I initially abandoned architecture and went into Technology Support full time was that it afforded a bit of fun and wild west freedom in the corporate world. (Plus I was totally burnt out on architecture.) Though the pay scale didn’t always reflect it, we were often regarded by our coworkers as jean-clad gods. But something happened over the last twenty years, and instead of Corporate America being assimilated by the freedom of the personal computer, it was the other way around.

Technology was taken over by the same tired stuffed suits and number crunchers that have always ruled corporations. And even so we still aren’t remunerated commensurate with the fact that the entire global economy now rests upon tech workers. But even worse, we are now expected to conform—and this has never been so clear to me as it has been over the last five years.

Of course I got an inkling of what was coming for years prior to that, but I never thought it would spread so virulently.

After the horrible professional experiences I had in Denver, my main goal upon returning to Phoenix was was to get back into healthcare I.T. support. While it wasn’t always smooth sailing when I worked at Abrazo, the camaraderie of my team and the good times we shared far outweighed the bad often enough that I stayed eight years, leaving only when Ben and I moved to Denver. Over the past four years, the various times we’d landed in the Emergency Room for one reason or another made me realize just how much I missed the hospital environment. After two years at DISH, supporting a television provider with delusions of grandeur and personalities acting like they were brain surgeons operating on Heads of State—I wanted to get back to doing what I love in an arena that actually benefited people instead of just allowing the CEO to buy another home in Aspen.

Be careful what you ask for. You may get it.

Well, a few weeks ago that healthcare matador appeared, waving his red cape in front of my eyes, and I took off charging. To be clear, this wasn’t a direct hire; it was an open-ended contract, “but people generally go perm after about three months.” It sounded too good to be true. My interview went well; I came away thinking that I might’ve found a place I could land for the next several years.

Little did I know the matador was Bugs Bunny, and he had hidden a huge anvil behind that red cape and this poor bull went crashing headlong into it.

It was immediately obvious that I would not be working in the hospitals at all. I was told to report to the  Network Service and Support Center my first day; the same dank, 60s era building where I interviewed. When I first entered the Desktop Support area that morning, my heart sank. No cubes. Just long, open desks built end-to-end with absolutely no privacy whatsoever.

The physical environment was unpleasant, but the technological environment was a disaster. The company had recently formed from a merger of two disparate entities, and the two separate systems did not speak to each other—at least not easily. Adding insult to injury, there was no company-wide IM system in place. One company had used Lync and the other Microsoft Communicator. And even then—unlike DISH (I can’t believe I’m saying something positive about that place)—not every employee had access to it. So every single service call involved emails (because no one ever answered their phones), and many fruitless trips to desks because the user had stepped away.

I told the department manager that I’d be more than happy to be based at one of the hospitals. His response, “I already have someone else in mind for that.” So I was stuck at the Service Center. Not what I was expecting from the interview.

Not ideal, but still…the commute was a breeze and the money was good. The biggest problem were the half hour lunches. (This is something that’s pretty standard in healthcare, and not an issue if you’re at a hospital with its own onsite cafeteria, but this place lacked that amenity.) And even though there were a plethora of places to eat just on the other side of the freeway, there was still no way you could go, eat, and get back in half an hour. “Oh, we usually go get our food, come back, clock out and eat at our desks.”

Uh, no. I’m not eating at my desk! So—since I didn’t have to physically clock in and out being a contractor—for the last week my lunches have been averaging 45 minutes and I either ignored the 30 minute rule or stayed late to make up the difference. No one’s said a word—probably because they’re all guilty of cheating the system.

Then, a few days ago—as if to add insult to injury—they took our chairs away. Those desks were sitting at were only to be used as charging stations for our laptops. We were now field techs and expected to be mobile and on our feet for the duration of the day.

Excuse me?

Where do we catch up on those emails, close tickets, and perform the myriad other tasks that my particular profession entails? Apparently standing up somewhere out on the floor.

And then I saw this hanging over the boss man’s desk:

I was so aghast I had to take this photo. Yes, it’s real. And it explains so much.

How this has allowed to remain is anyone’s guess. Obviously H.R. doesn’t make it into the inner sanctum very often.

Anyhow, the desk/chair thing slid by until this morning, when the boss man realized that we had moved our chairs back into position and steam started coming out his ears. “We’ll have a meeting after lunch to discuss how I expect you to work your tickets.”

By this time, I was at my wit’s end. Every day had been a struggle to do tasks that have been second nature to me for the last two decades, simply because the systems didn’t talk to each other and no one had answers for anything.

Almost nothing had been documented; and the few things I did find documented were so hopelessly out of date as to be useless.

Yeah, I did make a few people happy by solving their problems, but it was only because I said fuck it, and did what I knew would the resolve the issue. “Oh! You need local admin rights on this machine to fix this. Let me take care of that.”

Over the course of the last two weeks, because of the stress, I’d returned to my DISH habit of waking up between 3:45 and 4:15 every morning and being completely unable to fall back asleep.

Adding to this mix today, it was announced that all the technicians were to start wearing ties. Yes, we who crawl under your desks and pull cable and deal with your dirt on a daily basis are expected to dress as if we’re going to a job interview. And oh yeah, no cargo pants.

Seriously? Cargo pants have been acceptable “business casual” attire for PC techs everywhere I’ve worked for the last twenty years, with DISH even going so far as to supply them for us. (Branded, of course.)

So after the boss man had his little meltdown over the chairs being moved back and he’d stormed out, I walked over to my immediate supervisor and said, “I don’t think I am a good match for this environment.” She apologized profusely and told me she understood completely. “Do you need to call your agency?” I told her I did.

So I walked outside and first called Ben, because I wasn’t going to do anything without first consulting him.

Then I called the agency. It didn’t come as a complete surprise because I’d emailed my recruiter yesterday basically saying the same thing about this place not being a good fit. “That’s the beauty of contracting,” I said. “You know if it’s a good fit or not without a huge commitment.”

I went back inside, retrieved my backpack and went to lunch.

When I returned from lunch, the boss man took me aside and told me he understood why I was leaving, but tried to backpedal and tell me that he had made it clear in our interview that this was a field service position.

Uh, no. No you didn’t. If I’d known that I’d be expected to be mobile 8 hours a day I would never have agreed to come on board.

“I need guys who can hit the ground running after a week of hands-on training and go.”

IN THIS ENVIRONMENT? ONE WEEK OF TRAINING WITH NO DOCUMENTATION?

He then signed my time card, and after retrieving my badge, escorted me out of the building—confirming everything I’d suspected about this place.

What have I learned from this? Well, for starters I am reminded that if someone is willing to pay substantially more than the going rate for my job description, there’s a reason, and usually because the place is fucked and can’t keep people. Secondly, I have a slew of new questions I’ll be asking in all future interviews: hours, length of lunch breaks, acceptable attire, and just how messed up is your infrastructure, anyway?

Another agency is scheduling an interview for me next week at a non-healthcare company.

I…I Just Can’t

Today is a “Mark ALL as Read” day in RSS land, because I just can’t. I’m done with stupid.

I started a new (contract) job today, and while I know it’s probably not fair to make a judgment after only 8 hours, I feel like I’ve reached the point in my life where I will never be happy in my work life ever again.

You never really know what you’re getting into when you take a new job until you actually get into it and overturn that stone to see all the squiggling unpleasantness that had been living underneath hidden from your initial [inter]view.

Don’t get me wrong; the people in the department seem nice. They’re dealing with a lot of the technical shit that comes from the merger of two separate companies, and my supervisor, while friendly and more than pleasant didn’t mince words in describing what they’re facing and how a multitude of things are broken and not getting fixed any time soon. I console myself by thinking, “There may be lifelong friendships waiting to happen somewhere out on that floor.”

I went into this thinking I was going to be working in a hospital again, so I was not overly concerned when the email arrived Friday telling me to report to the Network Service and Support Center this morning. I started out at Corporate when I worked at Abrazo (albeit at that time Corporate and the I.T. Department were based in one of the hospitals) so this didn’t seem out of line. However, it turns out I’m only working there until their ticket count goes down and then I may be one of the traveling technicians who drives to the multitude of clinics around the valley—while the as-yet-to-arrive second tech they hired will probably be assigned to the hospital on this side of town. (A possibility that was never communicated to me during the interview.) None of this is cast in stone however, and frankly I’m hoping that my immediate supervisor (who doesn’t even make the decision) was simply talking out her ass.

So when my friends and family have asked how it went today, I tell them it’s a job. It’s a decent income. It’s not DISH. That’s really about it.

And oh yeah, only seven more years (more or less) until I can retire. (Unless we happen to win the lottery between now and then. Stranger things have happened!)