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frustration vs defeat December 3, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Economic Downturn, Getting Fired, Seen Elsewhere.
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Overheard in the Newsroom:

Last year on my self-evaluation I wrote a lot because I was frustrated. This year I will write little because I’m defeated.

The right to make your voice heard on your self-evaluation is huge. It’s the one time during the year when you can get on record how you feel and what changes you want to make. It’s very freeing. You still have to be careful — you don’t want to badmouth your boss because your boss, after all, is the one who decides if you deserve a raise — but for the most part, if you hate the way your department is run ragged by another department, you can certainly say it.

The thing is, most people aren’t getting raises this year. They’re lucky to keep their jobs at all in most cases, what with the across-the-board layoffs and more people having to do more work but make less money. And they know that if they make too many waves, they’ll be tabbed for the next round of job losses.

Anyway, if you aren’t getting a raise, it’s unlikely you’ll get more than a perfunctory meeting with your boss where s/he tries to convince you that you need to stick around and do your best even though you’re not seeing anything good happening in your job. You may not even be asked to self-evaluate, and if you are, your boss is just as likely to throw it on file and be done with it. So why would you bother to write a lot? Or anything at all?

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on peeing in a dark suit November 19, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Economic Downturn, Getting Fired.
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From Overheard in the Newsroom:

“Doing a good job here is like peeing your pants in a dark suit — you get a warm feeling but no one else notices.”


Don't pee in the dark suit. (cc-licensed photo by Jeremy Carbaugh)

These days, it’s really hard to get more than lip service paid to you when you do a good job. Even as few as five years ago, people who did good jobs could count on relatively-substantial raises, bonuses, promotions, and respect. But then the economy turned, and companies had to cut corners any way they could.

Lucky for them, when the big companies started laying off hundreds of employees, the smaller ones realized they could just cut pay or bonuses or raises and say “well, you still have a job, so congratulations, your bonus this year is that you get to keep it.” (I have a few articles brewing on that front.)

And yet we have to continue doing the best we can, doing work we’re proud of, or else we’ll just lose our jobs too. If that’s the case, maybe we should all pee in our dark suits.

cleaning up before you turn out the lights July 1, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Getting Fired, Technology Trouble.
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Today marks the beginning of Q3, and many companies are soon to discover that they haven’t made budget and will need to start doing layoffs.

Something a lot of people don’t realize is that they’ve put a whole lot of things on their work computers that they want to take with them — and not even personal stuff at that; what about designs? Code examples? Documentation? In other words: your hard work.

photo by Waldyrious

photo by Waldyrious

Resignr has a 10-item list about what to do when you quit, when it comes to your work computer, and interestingly, it’s not until item 9 that they talk about backing up your stuff. I, on the other hand, am of the mind that you should back up your data every month or so — not just because hard drives fail, but because it’s entirely possible that, when you’re laid off, you’ll be escorted out and you won’t actually have the time to go get your stuff.

What to back up: Anything you’ve designed, written, developed, coded, produced, edited, prototyped, or collaborated upon. Usually you can find all of this in My Documents, though if you’re very technical, you may have folders scattered all over the place. Make a list, or consolidate. Also, if you have a shared directory or drive, back that up too — recently at CorporateSpeak, the drive containing every piece of shared artwork for the past five years completely crashed and the data is likely unrecoverable, though our IT guy is doing his best to get it back*.

When to back up: Once every month; more frequently if your job is in danger. Set an appointment in your calendar so you don’t forget. It’ll likely take you about 20 minutes to set up the backup, even if you drag every folder manually, and another two or three hours for it to finish. I used to back up my personal computer that way, though now that I have Vista I rather like the native backup program.

What to use: External USB storage is amazingly cheap these days. I recently bought a 1TB external hard drive for $130, and if you’re a savvy shopper, you can get even better deals. I recommend against using an internal drive, because it’s a lot more difficult to pull it out of your computer when no one’s looking. Also, backing up online or in the cloud takes time and probably costs money (I’ve never done it). Figure out how much data you’ll have and buy an external drive that will hold it all; one terabyte is a great investment, and there’ll probably be room left over for your porn, too.

How to back up: The most basic way to back up your work is to drag the folders onto the external drive, one at a time, into a dated folder. However, there are plenty of free programs online that you can use to run a backup, and you may even have one as part of your OS. Setting up incremental backups will save you a ton of time after you finish the first one (which will take forever, or so it’ll seem, because every single file will be copied over).

I don’t have these programs: Adobe CS/3 is expensive. Microsoft Office is expensive. Visio is expensive. But none of that matters. You don’t need the programs to have the files; if you go to an interview and they want your design comps, provide PSD files. Of course, most designers have obtained tools to use at home. If you produce a lot of video, you can make DVDs; if you’re a writer, OpenOffice works just as well as Microsoft and is completely free. (I’ve had some trouble getting it to work with Windows Vista 64-bit, but that may be unique to me.) But, seriously, if you don’t have programs at home that at least somewhat mirrors the kind of work you do at the office, then now’s the time to start saving up.

What about my personal stuff: If you have the time, pull everything personal off your work computer. You’ve probably got a ton of pictures, passwords, and purchasing information stored on there. Get it all off; the Resignr article referenced above has lots of useful tips to do that. If it’s too late, then honestly, you might want to format that drive. If your company hasn’t backed up all of your software and kept a list of licenses, then it’s their own fault.

Last week, while I was cleaning off my external hard drive in advance of doing a backup on my personal computer, I found a folder of all my work stuff, backed up off my computer just before it was replaced in early 2008. I haven’t done a backup since then, and today, I’ll be remedying that situation. After all, CorporateSpeak did announce that there’ll be another round of layoffs this quarter, and even though my bosses have said we won’t be affected, I’m not taking any chances. There’s a lot of art, animation, code, and writing on that PC and I don’t want to lose any of it.

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* And I know he really is working on it — this IT guy is a true gem, and everyone at the office appreciates how much work he puts in.

nice to be invited… oh, wait… June 15, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Did I Hear That Right?, Economic Downturn, Getting Fired, Management.
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My boss was laid off, as you know. Friday was his last day. I happened upon his office around 11:00 that morning and he was talking to Judd and Ray, an IT guy and a content editor (respectively). Apparently Judd was planning to take my boss out to lunch. Ray somehow got himself invited — and hung out more than two hours after his shift ended to go along.

My boss (now ex-boss, I suppose) was trying to figure out where they were going to go.

Then, at 12:45, they left.

I wasn’t invited.

Curious. I’m the only person left in the department. I continually pulled his ass out of the fire when he either acted the fool and said no without thinking, or when he had to figure something out and couldn’t do so. Of the six people he’s hired, I’m the only one still working for him (three quit, one was transferred to another department, and one was freelance and sucked so badly that we didn’t ask her back). The two who were already here when I got here — one works nights and the other works from home, so they weren’t here. And they don’t work for him anymore (transferred to other departments too).

But no, don’t ask your one employee to come to lunch. I might not even have said yes, but it would be nice to be asked.

I get it, kind of; maybe he’s bitter that I still have a job and he doesn’t. But maybe he doesn’t get that over the past three years we’ve formed a working relationship that I think goes beyond boss/employee — we’ve been out outside of work, and we’ve been in work-related extracurriculars like the fantasy football league I run here.

Insult to injury: I texted him and asked if he could swing my McDonald’s, which is literally two miles up the street, to pick me up an iced coffee on his way back. He texted back:

not going that way sorry dude

Really? It wasn’t as if I was going to stiff him on the $2.25, but seriously? Come on, dude. Would it kill you? It’s not like you want to be back here anyway for the rest of your last day.

He’s applying for a regional position, newly created, based out of our building. I’m kind of concerned because he’s a good enough BS artist to actually get the job, but he wouldn’t be very good at it. I’m a better candidate than he is, and I think it would still be a pay cut for him but it would be a raise for me (a small one) as well as — and this is key — an office away from the production floor.

Ah well. I don’t wish him ill, and I won’t miss him fielding meetings so I can actually work, but if you can’t be bothered to invite to lunch the person who hooked you up with recruiters when you lost your job and made you look good when you had one, then that’s the best you’re going to get from me.

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dick move, corporate person June 12, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Economic Downturn, Getting Hired, Unsociable Networking.
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As I mentioned Wednesday, my boss was laid off. So were about 40 others across the company, many of whom are my friends on Facebook. Yesterday, one of them, Charlene, posted this Facebook status update:

How about a Facebook page for ex-CorporateSpeak webmasters?

And Alfred, a sales-and-web consultant at the corporate office had the balls to post this comment less than half an hour later:

Great idea! are you all on Twitter and LinkedIn as well?

And I — and my cubicle-mate — just about exploded with indignation. Seriously, Alfred? Seriously, when your job is 100% safe because your results are un-quantifiable (all subjective), you have the testicular fortitude to post on the Facebook page of a woman who lost her job with literally no warning — a woman who was one of the five most-qualified webmasters at CorporateSpeak — that it’s a good idea? And to suggest to someone who’s in the web community that she should have a Twitter and LinkedIn page?

You. Idiot.

Here is the appropriate response from any corporate person not fired at the same time:

That’s right. The sound of silence. If you want to offer helpful hints, do it on the phone or via e-mail. Or in person. I offered my boss information on recruiters I have used in the past, and he welcomed it. I’m sure that Charlene would’ve been pleased to talk to Alfred about strategies for getting hired elsewhere, but for Alfred to post such a flip, cavalier message on Charlene’s Facebook page is a pretty big dick move. I feel bad for Charlene because she got fired, but I feel worse for Alfred because he’s so inept that he seemed to not even know what he was doing when he posted that.

Beyond that, Charlene will never, ever call Alfred out for what he said. And that’s too bad.

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Big Boss Week 4: Getting Away from the Big Boss June 4, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Big Boss.
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Part 4 of “Big Boss Week” on CorporateSpeak.

As I said yesterday, the current chain of command at my office is Me ==> Big Boss. While I’m still technically working for every department in one capacity or another, my only official direct supervisor is the Big Boss. Think of me as the mouth, the webmaster as the stomach, and the Big Boss as the intestines. CorporateSpeak just did a gastric bypass and laid off my boss.

gastric-bypass-diagramGraphic, I know, but it was too good an analogy to leave out.

I’ve got two vacations coming up. They’ll be the first ones I’ve taken since the axe fell. Both were approved before the layoffs, and the Two-Year-Old has assured me that all vacations approved for the year before my boss got laid off will be honored. I appreciate that.

But what happens when I’m out of here and there’s no one to do web design or development? The company announced their solution to the lack of webmasters, but it’s not in place yet. What happens if there’s a last-minute client (as often happens) who needs something built in two days? Who’s going to do that? There are no web guys (or girls) left in my entire division. In fact, the only other person even somewhat competent at web development will be on his furlough at the same time I’ll be on my vacation.

Oh, and I won’t have my work laptop, either. Well, I call it that, but it’s really just the old laptop I use to VPN in when I have to work from home because my real computer has 64-bit Vista, which is (naturally) not compatible with our VPN. What will the Big Boss expect me to do? Just walk someone through designing a webpage, step by step?

Actually, I think the Two-Year-Old probably thinks I can do that. In fact, I probably can. Don’t tell anyone.

When you work directly for the Big Boss, you’re never off-call. You always have to have your phone, and you always have to answer it because if you don’t you might just be the next head on the block. Most of the time I can troubleshoot and make changes over the phone or, at the very least, stick a bandage over the gaping wound someone’s left on the web. I do it every other weekend, it seems. But when I’m on vacation, out of the state, with my family, at a water park, what do you think the odds will be of me wrapping my iPhone in waterproof plastic and wearing it on a string around my neck as I take one of my kids down the 21st-century equivalent of a log flume?

Do people even call it a “log flume” anymore?

Yeah. I guess I’ll have to find a way. Because when you work for the Big Boss, you don’t get away.

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Note: I realize I haven’t talked about the layoffs much until now, but there are some posts I’ve got coming up next week that address it in full. I happened to schedule “Big Boss Week” before the layoffs happened, so that’s why those posts come up later. Bear with me.

Big Boss Week 3: Working for the Big Boss June 3, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Big Boss, Economic Downturn, Experiences.
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Part 3 of “Big Boss Week” on CorporateSpeak.

One of the easiest places for companies to make cuts is in middle management. Who needs a preproduction manager when your four preproduction specialists can report to the production manager? Who needs a local operations manager when everyone can just report to the district operations supervisor? Who needs a webmaster when the site is pretty much handled by the director of content development and the webmaster is just a figurehead toward the end*?

I work in a cubicle. No one knows who for, or where. I like it that way. (Photo by Tim Patterson)

I work in a cubicle. No one knows who for, or where. I like it that way. (Photo by Tim Patterson)

With big legacy departments like production, sales, and IT, multiple layers of management exist because the departments have been around long enough to amass middle management — usually people who get good at their jobs and get promotions because it’s cheaper than giving them bigger raises. But when it comes to new departments like web development**, there’s often just the peons, the webmaster, and the Big Boss. It probably started with someone in the art department hiring a web designer, and when the web suddenly became more important than anyone expected, that designer got promoted, got his or her own staff, and reported directly to the Big Boss so the Big Boss could demonstrate how important the web was to the company***.

But because no one really understands the web except “those techie guys who fix my computer when I download viruses from Napster”, no one bothers to build layers of management. It remains the peons, the webmaster, and the Big Boss.

Then the webmaster gets laid off, and the web department is slashed to just one person… who has no idea who his boss is****. I mean, sure, the Big Boss is the boss, and that’s the name on the checks, but who do I go to for all the administrative stuff my boss used to do? Who keeps track of my vacation days? Who schedules people to cover for me? Who do I talk to when I have a problem? Certainly not the Big Boss; the reason the Big Boss has the big office upstairs is to remain insulated from peons like me.

The hardest part of working directly for the Big Boss is answering questions like the ones in the previous paragraph. Often when a big company drops the axe, they don’t think about how it’s going to affect anything other than the bottom line. They leave it to the individual offices to figure that stuff out.

My office still hasn’t figured it out. I currently work directly for the Big Boss. Pretty much that only means two things:

  1. Don’t draw attention. The last thing I want is for the Big Boss to notice me. I just need to keep my head down, complete whatever projects are assigned to me, and not screw up.
  2. Don’t ask questions. If I ask too many questions about who I work for, odds are good I’ll get an answer I don’t like. Right now I just sit at my desk in the cubicle farm just off the production floor. I keep doing my job, and the checks keep coming in. Why buck the trend?

Of course, as you’ll see in tomorrow’s post, sometimes the Big Boss finds you.

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* I’m not bitter about how my boss has been treated by others in the company. No. Not at all.

** Which I’m writing about because it’s what I know, being a web developer/designer. But I’m sure you’ll still benefit from the example.

*** Often actually refusing to spend money or make forays out into new technologies like social networking until it’s too late. As That Guy said in the 1980s episode of “Futurama”, “it’s all… about… appearances.”

**** Yes, this has happened to me.

the shoe is on the other foot May 29, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Did I Hear That Right?, Experiences.
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One of the many things I have to do around here at CorporateSpeak is make sure everything we put into in our archival system is properly entered, tagged, and spelled so that we — or others in the company, both here and worldwide — can find it if they need to use it. Ever since we implemented the new archival system just over a year ago, it’s been a constant battle.

The first problem is “new”. For what we do, anything new is first dismissed as “someone else’s job”, then feared as “another thing we have to learn”, and finally grudgingly accepted with a resounding, “well, if we have to do it, at least we can do it crappily and someone else can clean up after us, right?”

Now the shoe is on the other foot. (CC-licensed photo from Moore Photography)

Now the shoe is on the other foot. (CC-licensed photo from Moore Photography)

Yeah. Right.

I have made literally half a dozen efforts to get people to properly archive their stuff. Really the problem is centered on the layout/mockup team, whose job it is to take all the stuff coming in and turn it around into something production can send to our clients. They’re the ones who also have to send things to archival when they’re done with them.

My L/M team, let me introduce you to them.

  • Rich: Rich is very talented and is honestly willing to do better, but English is not his first language and he often messes up spacing and punctuation. Given that other branches of the company pride themselves on their exactitude, this just makes us look bad. He also is ignorant of proper formatting no matter how many times I tell him.
  • Darren: Darren transferred here from another office a couple of years ago and seemed not to give a damn about the place, but his talent in many areas allowed his managers to overlook those problems. Fortunately, he has turned himself around and is actually now helping quite a lot with web stuff.
  • Amy: Amy is by far the most interested in everything that goes on here. She’s taken on a ton of stuff that isn’t her job, including a lot of web duties, and she’s made it her mission to get people to do better. She’s the one primarily responsible for Darren’s turnaround. Amy is also the youngest person on the team, so she hasn’t been ground down by the tedium of the business yet.
  • Vince: Vince doesn’t even try. He just sends his stuff to archival as-is and knows someone else will fix it. Worse, no matter how often I complain to his manager he just keeps doing his own thing.
  • Jim: I’ve got a whole entry about Jim over here. Jim is actually getting much better, and I’ve reinforced him with e-mails thanking him for his good work. Other people still have problems with him, but in my case, except for the occasional spelling error (which we all make, even me), he’s doing fine now.
  • Tom: Tom is exceptionally good at layout and mockup. It’s all he’s ever done, and it’s all he’ll ever do. He’s applied himself to being great at this one thing. Just not at anything else.

I’m pretty much setting all this up so I can experience a little schadenfreude as I watch Tom go through his own troubles lately.

After several rounds of layoffs, Tom, who is pretty much indispensable (that’s not a joke; his position and his presence are pretty important around here), was tasked with making sure all physical archival materials are properly put away when people are done with them so they can be found again — usually by Tom and his co-workers — when they’re needed. It’s extremely similar to what I do; it’s just that I do it electronically.

Tom started by sending out an e-mail in both Outlook and CServer, asking people to return archive materials when they were done.

Yeah. That didn’t work.

After cleaning up, Tom sent another e-mail, a bit more strongly-worded.

Still no success.

Now there are signs all over the place exhorting people to put away their archival materials if they’re older than a month (which is the rule, and has been since… um… forever… except that without Larry, who took the corporate buyout in January, there’s been no one actually doing physical archival for four months).

Yesterday, I watched Tom ask the assistant project manager for one of our pro sports clients if she still needed the videotapes that had been left in his area. The APM said someone else had taken them out, and she wasn’t sure, so Tom put them on the client rep’s desk with a note.

I guarantee that rep won’t put them away.

Why is all of this relevant?

Simple: because while I was recently trying to teach Tom and his team the proper way to do digital archival, and copying those e-mails to his manager (as instructed), he came up to me and railed at me about how much work they have to do and how they’re not writers and how it’s not in their job description to do anything related to the web, and how much extra work they already do for us.

That’s when I gave up. Right there. To use a comparison I used in therapy last weekend: if you’re in LA and I’m in New York, we should probably meet in Kansas City, not San Bernardino. But if you’re not even going to get out of your apartment complex’s parking lot, then why should I waste money on plane tickets?

The absolute best part is giving Tom knowing looks when he has to take someone to task about their lack of putting things away. He knows why I’m doing it. He finally understands why I’m so anal about archival.

And, believe it or not, he’s actually made a token effort to improve. Sometimes I guess the shoe just has to go onto the other foot for your point to be made.

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That Guy’s Tips for Corporate Success, #16 March 26, 2009

Posted by That Guy in A Very Corporate Something, Tips for Corporate Success.
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No one watches company rah-rah videos on the intranet no matter how much you want them to. Not even when they offer a prize.

Your company just laid off 10 percent of its workforce. You got a memo saying you’ll have to take a furlough. You’re being asked to take on more work. No one else in the office believes accountability is important in any way. All of these things happen over the course of two days — following what I’m tentatively calling the General Theory of Shit Happening*. And just when you think the deluge is over, you get this:

Dear Colleagues,

The CorporateSpeak Nationwide Employee Awards Ceremony is scheduled for April 1**. You can view it by logging onto our intranet site, http://corporatespeak.intranet. It begins at about 4:00 Eastern. Here are the nominees***:

Outstanding Innovation In The Face Of Increased Workload With No Additional Help: Chuck Bartowski, Burbank; John Casey, Sacramento; Sarah Walker, Portland; Bryce Larkin, Spokane-Coeur d’Alene.

Best Manager: Aaron Hotchner, Denver; David Rossi, Austin; Emily Prentiss, Albuquerque; Penelope Garcia, Computer Services, West Division.

Diversity Award: Neela Rasghotra, Chicago; Greg Pratt, Detroit; Catherine Banfield, Indianapolis; Archie Morris, Minneapolis/St. Paul.

Unsung Hero: Colby Granger, Birmingham; David Sinclair, Tupelo; Amita Ramanujan, Slidell; Larry Fleinhardt, Greensboro.

Corporate Employee of the Year: Simon Cowell, Human Resources; Paula Abdul, Public Relations; Randy Jackson, Legal; Ryan Seacrest, Marketing.

We look forward to seeing you online!

No one from my division of CorporateSpeak is on that list. Why should I bother showing up? Why should I care, when my co-workers are being fired and my department is being halved in staff but quadrupled in work? Why should anyone?

With the sheer amount of work people have to do these days, the odds of anyone just “showing up” to an online meeting — audiocast, videocast, or interactive session — without being ordered to do so or without having a vested interest… let’s just say they approach infinity-to-one. Hell, at CorporateSpeak, we have weekly online meetings about a piece of software I use every day and I’ve not attended a single one. I have too much other work to do.

If I don’t have the time to show up for something that might actually benefit me, I won’t even entertain the idea of going to a corporate rah-rah webinar. Who in their right mind would?

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* I suppose the Specific Theory would be when the shit only happens to you.

** Where I really work, they were smart enough not to pull that one.

*** Even my creativity runs out on occasion. Hence the use of characters from popular TV shows.