When you get a new job, sometimes you're simply relieved to be in a new environment with new challenges. Then you realize you may have swapped one form of company dysfunction for another.
After one unsatisfying gig, I landed at a midsize company—it had been around for many years, was settled in a mentality of “this is how we have always done it,” didn’t fire people short of an act truly egregious, and was about as close to modern technology as we are to the sun.
I should have known this was a bad choice. The interview had been conducted by three people who all read from a script, asking me to solve a technical problem, but never reviewed my answer. The second interview round was handled by three managers who were also mildly clueless about technology and process.
In the end, I learned they were seeking a cultural fit among the job candidates. Granted, that’s normal, except when the fit they are seeking is a Kool Aid-drinking, mindless, spineless, yes-man soldier who doesn’t ask questions. I am not any of that (and I no longer like Kool-Aid).
The idle employed
The environment was loaded with 50- and 60-something employees who coasted through the job with barely enough to do daily—tech department very much included. When most people were truly “busy” was when they were trying to figure out how to fill the other 20 hours of the week with meaningful activity. There was no structure and every “project manager” did their role differently—some not at all.
As an example, for one assignment I was in a kickoff meeting, and the project manager, who was sitting right across from me, never spoke a single word and seemed completely checked out the whole time. A manager who wasn’t even on the project did all the talking. Then, the project management office (PMO)—loosely named—disbanded in exchange for a mandated project standard of “enterprise excellence.” Well, who needs a PMO if we are going for “excellence,” which in practice means having meetings for months with nothing to show for it and not changing much of anything.
The tech systems that ran this company were still largely outdated mainframes. Probably 95 percent of the employees were so far away from even ‘90s tech that it would confuse them into early retirement to adopt anything else. Thus, the only truly modern tech work was done by a decade of consultants who had no oversight, and no one knew the tech much for what they did.
This was the recipe. First, bring in hired guns who were mediocre at best and let them mess things up so badly that any documents they produced were wrong, missing, or out of date. Next, sprinkle in some geriatrics who had no clue which end of the gun was dangerous. Then step back, stirring occasionally. Tech problems of course ensued, but the Powers That Be saw nothing wrong because, well, “this is how we have always done things.”
The tech managers, if you can call them that, were more concerned with hurt feelings than business and tech initiatives, and they treated us like third graders, using witty phrases like “are you OK with that” or “I don’t want to hurt your feelings” or “give yourself a pat on the back.” If you didn’t physically pat yourself on the back after, they got up and did it for you.
The final straw came when I had three active projects (no one on the team even had a modern technical bone in their body) all deployed in the same week. My boss was concerned, noting that I “looked stressed.” Let’s see, in an environment where most employees were waiting to retire, barely had one project at a time, and would prefer to shoot the breeze for hours on end rather than do work, here is someone busting their hump on three projects. Why would they be stressed?
When I told my managers that this work had a hard deadline and no one else had taken responsibility, they said, “No one asked you to do all that, did they?” That is, they hadn’t asked me to do it, so they weren’t at fault. Management didn’t know what planet they were on, and yes, the business leads did ask for this work.
All three projects were deployed successfully and I learned my lesson: Stop. I left to take a mobile architect role at a company that is a joy to work at. Talk about a complete 180, and I’m loving every day of it.