Three months under a clueless, overbearing boss

A tech pro lands a new job that involves working for a difficult person in a company that will not deal with personnel problems

I never thought I'd leave a company after a short amount of time. But then I got hired by Company X, working for a "difficult" person. I'm proud to say I lasted a full three months.

Due to the recession, I was laid off from a company after working there 12 years. Panicked about supporting my family, I hit the job search hard. One day an opportunity arose that was right up my alley: helping set up a new section for information security at a midsize organization. It sounded challenging and, quite frankly, fun.

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I was called for an interview and met with "Zack," who would be my boss. He asked all the standard questions, but something seemed off about the situation. I couldn't figure out what bothered me, except I'd been through enough interviews that I expected to be questioned by more people in the organization; I wasn't. When I was offered the job, I told myself I was reading too much into it and accepted.

A few days on the job went by. I learned that Zack was also a new hire. He may have been my direct boss, but the one calling the shots and whom I ultimately reported to was the director, "Jill." One of the first tasks Zack gave me was a request from Jill to give feedback about one of the security processes in place. I wrote a three-page report, ran it by Zack, then sent it.

Jill replied that she would not even read the report until I produced it on the "Word template for improving processes." I asked around for a copy and was told that there was no such thing. I asked her in person and was advised that I should get the template from one of my colleagues and to not bother her again until I had it. I asked around again, and one coworker told me that the template did not exist and that he'd had a similar experience. My report was ignored.

I was quickly learning that Jill lacked personnel skills, and she did not understand information security concepts even at a basic level. And yet she was in charge of creating an information security section.

In one case, she pulled her entire staff off current projects to work on a compliance activity for government regulators. The task she gave us didn't make sense. We explained our concerns and asked to see the request from the government ourselves. She refused, demanding we do what she asked.

It turned out that Jill had misunderstood what we were supposed to do and given us the wrong task. When she gave the completed project to the government, they emailed their initial request to the entire team demanding to know what had gone wrong, because what they received was so different from what they'd asked for. Jill swiftly called a department meeting and chewed us out for not telling her about the problem.

I started hearing more bad things about Jill and experiencing run-ins myself. One week, I'd been trying to complete an audit and had put in long hours at the office. On Thursday, I got stuck in traffic and was 15 minutes late to work. Jill met me at the door and said it would be assumed that I would stay an extra 15 minutes at the end of the day "to make up for it."

Another time, as luck would have it, I got called for jury duty. She told me I'd have to find a way to get out of it because she wouldn't let me have the time off. A few hours later, after she heard I'd asked another manager about it, she backed down, claiming it was a joke.

Having certifications was required for employment, and Zack had told me at the beginning that it was essential employees keep up with training. But when I submitted requests, Jill found me and told me there was no budget for it. I located a free user group meeting and, thinking it a win for everyone, asked for a day off to attend. Jill visited my cube, saying it was not in the terms of my employment to maintain my certification and to not bring it up again.

To add to the insanity, Jill saw a family picture on my desk and started giving me unsolicited parenting advice. She also liked to talk about her personal life in detail. She didn't have children of her own, but was in her second marriage and had two stepchildren in their late teens. She boasted that she'd kicked them out of the house -- and felt compelled to tell me how I should raise my kids.

There was nowhere to turn to in the company. HR told me -- and others -- there was nothing they would do and to talk to Jill directly, but that was always a dead end. Zack was no help. Jill's boss would ignore even a basic "hello" in the hall from those below her level. Each department worked pretty much in a silo, and it was well known that their employees had similar stories.

Not surprisingly, turnover was high. One of Jill's reports left after one week, another after four. I was proud to last a full three months before being lucky enough to find a new job with a great company. I look back at how miserable I was working for someone who did not respect or value her employees, and remember that after the initial interview I'd been hesitant about the position. I should have listened to my instincts.

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Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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