Time changes and recognition shortchanges

The credit for aptly managing tasks like time changes is sometimes mistakenly given to people who didn't do the actual work

With a time change weekend now safely behind us, I'm reminded of a couple from earlier in my career.

In the late 1990s, I was a mainframe operator for one of the larger players in the IT industry. I'd been in operations for a few years and had quickly risen to No. 2 man on the totem pole.

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I was a little distressed over my manager worrying so much that our top dog (I'll call him Bob) would be out of town during the coming time change. We were responsible for 10 mainframe systems and had never run a time change weekend without at least two of our top operators on shift. I pointed out to him that I'd worked a couple time changes already and that I'd worked through plenty of maintenance weekends and major disasters without Bob there. While few people were as good as Bob, I told my manager that I'd certainly proven myself time and again and that he could feel confident with me leading the shift.

As it turned out, there was really nothing to worry about. The time change went off without a hitch. It went so well, in fact, that our datacenter manager sent out a glowing note of thanks to the team. But then he took the rare step of singling out a team member. He said that he was proud of everyone's efforts, but that one person in particular had outshone the rest and deserved an extra round of applause for his dedication and efforts over the weekend. I got goosebumps reading the note, right up until I realized he was talking about Bob -- even though Bob was 300 miles away and likely not even conscious during the time change.

Having dealt with somewhat oblivious managers before, I took it all in stride. My manager noticed what happened and told me he'd tell the datacenter manager about his mistake, although I never heard anything further on the matter. It did lead to some joking and ribbing from the other operators.

A few months later, as the next time change was quickly approaching, Bob was once again scheduled to be out of town. My manager was now completely at ease with me leading the time change. He asked me if we had enough manpower and mentioned he could assign Gary to the shift.

Gary was the newest operator on the team and couldn't handle even the most basic, routine tasks. He tended to spend more time on the Internet downloading pirated games and music, and introducing viruses into the local network than doing actual work. However, his dad was an upper-level manager, so those things were typically overlooked or blamed on "the team" rather than the guilty individual. I told my manager that we'd be fine without Gary.

Unlike the previous time change, this one didn't go nearly as well. There were major problems with one of our largest clients, and it took a great deal of effort to not only IPL all 10 systems, but to get their batch cycles to finish on time. In the end, though, everything came out fine and several major disasters were avoided. Over the coming days, I received several e-mails from client support, batch support, and the software teams thanking me for the hard work I'd put in.

A couple of weeks after the near-disastrous time change, we had a mandatory team meeting for all the operators and shift managers. A lot of the software support guys were there as well. After a lengthy presentation, the datacenter manager got up to shine a spotlight on two people who had set an example for the rest of the team and who had illustrated exactly what the company was looking for in its operators. The first, he said, almost singlehandedly averted a catastrophe during the recent time change and had saved the company and its client tens of thousands, perhaps even millions of dollars through his determination and expertise. He then asked Bob to stand up and take a bow.

I heard a couple of jaws hit the floor (one of which may have been mine) as well as one audible gasp. Bob was truly speechless. Before he or anyone else could say anything, though, the datacenter manager continued. He moved on to his second presentation, calling the next person the most promising new operator it had been his pleasure to hire. He said that this person completed their training and all three disciplines faster than any other operator he'd known and was an exemplary employee, not only through his professionalism and reliability, but by so quickly becoming the second-most respected and competent operator. However, when he said, "Gary, get up here!" the jaws hit the floor again, and the first gasp was joined by several others.

The main thing I took away from the experience was a better sense of perspective. It's rare enough to get praise for hard work, and I realized that the recognition I received from my peers, the technical support teams, and the account teams was more valuable than a pat on the back from someone who was disconnected from what was really going on.