Tag Archives: employment

My Year In Review

This week is my annual review at my workplace.  I’m sure anyone that has an office job understands what an ordeal this is.  The post is already written in your head for those of you that have been through it.  So, what I’ll try to do is just give some insight as to our company’s brand of ineffectual review.

The process starts a few weeks out from your anniversary date.  This anniversary date is actually not your start date, because when you are hired contract-to-perm, the “contract” part of your time there is not as an employee.  Your actual start date is when you convert from contract to perm employee.  Yeah, I get it, I just think it’s kinda dumb.  If I really wanted to be bitter about it (which I guess I am internally, but you can’t blame fate), I could say that the difference between my first day of work and my first day of employment also means the difference between getting an annual holiday bonus based on my pre-raise salary or my post-raise salary.

Timing issues aside, what you get is a self evaluation document to fill out and return.  You need to return it something like a week before your review.  I always return it within a couple hours of getting it.  I never understand what the big deal is.

This eval form.  Because our department is considered administrative, the things we do can’t be evaluated, performance-wise, the same.  So we have a short list of statements and we have to choose how well we think we met the statement’s metric.  Is the scale 1-10?  No.  1-5 stars?  No.  It’s three options: Exceeds Expectations, Meets Expectations, or Needs Improvement.  This is the second year we’ve had the 3-option scale and the second year that I have been unable to indicate where I feel I am good or bad.  Everything is “Meets Expectations”.  I don’t think I consistently exceed anything and likewise, I don’t think I suck all the time either (just lately).  But there’s no way for me to say I suck a little, but that’s ok, because I make up for it in other ways.

On review day, we all meet in the conference room and the weirdness starts.  I get a copy of the self evaluation I did, then I get a copy of an evaluation by my boss.  And while my boss and his boss silently watch me, I read the evaluation silently to myself.  It’s truly an awkward silence.

But what’s weird to me about it is that my boss consistently ranks me higher than I rank myself.  Maybe that’s supposed to be good.  I understand they want to find cases where someone thinks, “I am on fire” and their boss has a totally different perspective.  BTW, the only time you can self-evaluate yourself as “I am on fire” is when the statement is literal and not colloquial.

So because of the useless ranking/rating system, what ends up happening is everything useful goes in the comments section, which as any programmer will tell you, is absolutely useless for extracting any useful metrics.  I’ve mentioned before that I worked on a survey engine.  One of the interesting sections of the report was a keyword search in the survey’s comment fields.  One interesting application of this would be to see if the survey taker “spoke the lingo”.  Anyway, that’s a pointless (and self-promoting) comment because we don’t do anything like that.

My comments are a list of higher-profile projects that I worked on the last year followed by some pity statements about how I didn’t meet my own expectations and that I’ll do better next year.  I’m not sure if my boss’s review of me is based off what I said, which would make his part super-easy.  But generally, it says kind of the same thing I said, just from a managerial standpoint, as if he’s pleading with HR to justify me remaining hired and even deserving of a raise.

And as time goes on – this is year 7 – this entire process becomes more and more irrelevant.  We aren’t so huge of a company that any IT person is unknown to management.  We all have high-profile projects.  We all save the day at one point or another.  Everyone knows who we are.  I list my biggest projects for the year like I’m releasing a greatest hits album and people are like “Oh, I remember that one!  Sick beat!”  But the greatest hits releases are the moneymakers, because that’s all people care about – the hits.  They honestly don’t remember the ones that never charted.  And they probably don’t care, because that’s not where we are now.

So, because I really want to beat this topic to death so I never have to talk about it again, I will say that we tried something to catch the failed hits, so they wouldn’t be forgotten at review time.  Or at least, they wouldn’t be a time bomb building up so your review wasn’t a shit shower blasted from a fire hose.  We tried quarterly, informal reviews.

This process was walking into my boss’s office, him asking “You got anything?”, me saying, “Nope.” and that was it.  To be fair, I was a lot more engaged when these reviews started, but there was more to talk about then, too.  Our team is quite stable and we all work well together, so there’s no changes worth discussing, like how the new guy is working out or OMG, there’s a female working with us now.

So by the time I got to the point of saying “nope”, they had scrapped the whole idea and the truth came out that these reviews were only implemented because some managers refused to talk to their subordinates.  I assume that problem cleared itself out through attrition.

But anyway, this year, I have an ace up my sleeve.  I’m taking the entire department out to lunch for the holidays and it happens to be on my review day.  As long as there is no food poisoning, I can’t lose.

The CubeRoof

At work, some time ago, we had contractors doing a build-out of new offices right beside our cube farm.  This got me thinking, why can’t we all have offices?  Along with this consideration, I am always hearing from the vampires in my group about how horrible the lighting is.  Everyone wants the light to be cut to 50% or less.  I’m not in that group.  I like light.  I brainstormed a new product idea to help us all.

Why does a company build cubicles and not not all offices?  Some reasons could be:

  • Cheaper
  • Layout flexibility
  • Increased communication, for better or worse
  • Increased oversight

Why do employees want offices and dislike cubicles?

  • Increased privacy
  • More environmental control (light/temperature/décor)
  • Sense of ownership

So what’s the difference between a cube and an office?

  • Door
  • Walls to the ceiling
  • Windows or lack of windows
  • Basically, enclosure. 

So let’s completely forget about convincing management to let their subordinates shut themselves behind a door.  I walk a tight line between being controlling and liberal, and with the co-workers I have, allowing a closed door is simply an invitation to sleep all day.

So if we can’t have doors, we can create enclosure by raising the walls to the ceiling.  This, however, would create serious issues with lighting, temperature, and airflow.  So, my idea is to lower the ceiling to the cube: CubeRoof.

The biggest design point of CubeRoof would be the modular, minimal pieces involved in the system.  Taking cues from both IKEA and ClosetMaid, the CubeRoof system would be cheap and easy.

The first element of any roof is the truss.  The truss is comprised of three straight elements and three angles.  To simplify the system, there are a small number of extendable aluminum beams, similar to “cargo bars”, in varying maximum lengths.  This comprise the angles of the truss and the support beams between them.  Then, there are adjustable angle brackets that connect the beams.  The adjustability allows any peak or pitch of the roof.  The angle brackets have a lip for attachment to the top of the cubicle wall, and a post to accept another beam to connect trusses.

Finally, the roof material is simple nylon fabric sheets connected to the trusses and to each other with Velcro.  Having different lengths, widths, and colors provides for an endless combination of roof styles.  Light color fabrics for diffused light, dark colors for light blocking.  Inset screens for ventilation and panels for adjustable “skylights.”  Aftermarket and customizing possibilities could be large.

I would estimate one CubeRoof requiring three interconnected trusses, which would be eight straight bars, nine angle connectors, and two properly-sized roof panels.  Of course, I’m not going to build it.  That would be for someone much better than me, if you believe in the power of capitalism.

The In Thing Is Crap

The place that I work at recently hired a new marketing person.  We didn’t have one before, but I guess we needed one now.  This feels a bit like my rant about the Mozilla Foundation hiring a marketing person who had to bring in enough new money to pay for himself and make the company more profitable.  But anyway, that’s not the point.

This new person has some fresh new ideas for how to market our company: videos.  You kind of have to understand the industry of our company is pretty tight.  Everyone knows who all the other players are here.  We’re not trying to break into new fields, certainly.  Yet somehow, we’re supposed to be gaining new clients.  That’s not really the point of this either.

To get more to the point, we had a day where a production team came to the offices and shot video of executives and some random videos of people pretending to work.  You know, it’s all staged, it’s not candid.  As part of the team’s visit, we were supposed to participate in a company-wide group photo.  It’s going to be so cool.  It’s going to be shot by a “drone”!!

So we’re bussed to our biggest company office and over about 20 minutes in the noontime heat (the worst time and the worst lighting to take a picture), a drone whizzed back and forth, forward and back, while we just stared at it, or talked to each other, or waved, or cheered, or whatever else the video team wanted.  It was a dull experience.  Not cool, not exciting.

It’s been about six weeks since that photoshoot and we’ve just been given a sneak peek of one of the pictures from the session.  I opened it with a lot of curiosity and immediately was underwhelmed.  There’s not a single crisp pixel in the photo.  And I’m not sure what I expected.  I mean, a drone video camera is probably 1080p (surely not 4k) which is uh, 2 megapixels?  And we know that the megapixel count is less meaningful than sensor size, so how big could a drone video camera’s sensor be?

Now a much less exciting photoshoot would have involved a rented cherry picker and a photographer shooting a quality DSLR on a tripod with a low-aperture, wide-angle lens.  That would give something a bit larger to work with.  The photo we got was 3840×2160.  Basically a 1080p video still doubled in size.  Also, the photographer could have taken a series of high-framerate shots and used software to do face swaps and prevent some of the worse headshots of some of the employees.

So, drones are big now, I get it.  It’s cool to have drone videos, sure, I agree.  Maybe having a video of one buzzing through the halls of the office could be neat, too.  But drones are not cameras.  They are not created for photo quality.  The plan to use a drone for such an important and expensive photo was poorly-conceived as best.  The result was crap, no matter how cool it was.

Do What You Love, Because What You Love Needs You

In my line of work, which is software development, there are two distinct types of people.  There are programmers and there are people who “do programming”.  You can probably relate that to your job, too, especially if you are in the former group for your field.  Some people are the field, and others are in the field.

If you define yourself by what you do, meaning you take pride in your work, you constantly learn the latest of what is going on in your profession, and you strive to push your profession further and be –if not notable – at least respected in your field, than you are your field.  That means you say “I am an X.” 

If you go to work to accomplish your tasks and mentally clock out at the end of the day to live your life, if you don’t have any interest in learning or studying what you do at work outside of work, then you are simply in your field.  Then you would say “I do X.”  Even if you work late or come in on weekends.  That just means you’re a good employee.  Then you would say, “I work at X doing Y.”

The people that “do” and not “are” should be reconsidering what they do.  Not only are they doing themselves a disservice because they lack the passion for their activity, but they are doing a disservice to the profession they are occupying.

In my line of work, there are plenty of people who are mediocre programmers.  And they get paid quite well and can do some good things for a company.  But they can’t do great things for the company.  And sometimes they can do bad things by not doing great things.  Think of security.  If you have a good programmer at a company and a great hacker who wants to attack that company, well, you know how that’s going to end up.

In any profession, do the people in the field bring down or hold back the ones who are the field?  Imagine going to the hospital and being worked on by not “a doctor” but instead someone who “does surgery.”  And what about those people who actually identify themselves this way unknowingly?  “I do house painting” vs. “I am a house painter.”  “This is what I do” vs. “This is what I am.”  It’s a big difference.

I feel I need to point out that skill and competency don’t play into this at all.  There’s the sarcastic, mocking statement, “I’m an artist!”, but despite skill level, the person that makes a statement like that has passion and will do the best that they currently can.  More importantly, they will constantly try to get better.  They push forward out of desire where others get pulled forward out of necessity.

There’s an endless number of professions out there and the one that you really want to do really wants you to do it.  They don’t want the clock-in/clock-out workers.  They want champions and leaders.  If everyone did what they loved, everyone would benefit.

In Recognition

There’s a job that is pretty well underrated in the modern age and it needs a little more promotion.  That job is: Lifeguard.  When you read that word, what’s the first image that came to mind?  A person sitting in a high chair beside a pool or on a high deck at the beach?  Just sitting there all day?  Maybe yelling at people every once in a while?  Sounds like an easy and/or boring job.  Anyone could do it, right?

If your lifeguard is not doing anything at your local swim area, be grateful.  That means you have a community that is educated in water skills and water safety.  But, there are many places where this is not the case.  In my area, where people come on vacation to go to the water, it’s painfully obvious that water skills don’t come naturally.  And that is why you need lifeguards.

A lifeguard is not just someone who likes to swim.  A lifeguard is not even just someone who can pull another person out of the water.  Lifeguard certification consists of many specific saving techniques – ones that EMTs and Paramedics might not even know.  There are precise ways to handle different emergency situations and skills that must be honed to perfection to avoid causing additional injury to a victim.  A lifeguard is an emergency first responder and is essentially an ambulance in the water.

There is another element of being a lifeguard that elevates them above EMTs. (You wouldn’t think this to be the case, but it is.)  When an ambulance is called and an EMT is sent to an accident scene, the damage is already done.  The EMT can only keep things from getting worse.  In the role of lifeguard, there is the opportunity to stop an accident from even happening in the first place.  Lifeguards are trained to identify signs of distress and trouble and can respond before anything bad happens.  Of course, this can be completely underappreciated, since the person being saved wasn’t in desperate need of assistance yet.

So the specialized skills of a lifeguard are beyond those of an EMT because an EMT is too late to the scene to help.  If that isn’t impressive enough, consider what “late” means to a lifeguard: 20 seconds.  Can you look out into a crowd of people, identify someone having problems and get to them in 20 seconds?  And if you think that any good swimmer could be a substitute for a certified lifeguard, consider some of these.

Could you save a a struggling person without being drowned yourself?  The victim isn’t trying to kill you and it’s nothing personal, it’s just self-preservation.  Could you save a person with an injury without causing further injury?  What if it was the neck?  What if it was the spine?  How long can you do CPR?  You don’t stop until the ambulance gets there.  How are you with heat?  You’re in the sun for a long time.

Lifeguards are not beach bums and they are not Baywatch.  They are trained professionals who save lives when needed and prevent bad situations from becoming disasters.  They will be the ones who are first on the scene for emergency assistance, whether for cuts, broken bones, jellyfish stings, choking or even drowning.  You may never see one in action, for which you should be grateful, but don’t discount the level of safety they provide.

I am almost always fascinated by trade magazines, because they illustrate how serious and passionate people are about their individual profession.  For example, at my first jobs working at pizza shops, the store would have a subscription to Pizza Today.  Yes, there was plenty going on in that industry, with techniques and technology to keep up on.  So, check out Aquatics Intl and get an appreciation of a lifeguard’s world.  They take it seriously and there is constant education and training happening there as well.

Write On

This is so weird.  I was reading a forum this day about site that did essay writings.  The forum was complained that essay sites were scams and had unprofessional writers with lesser grammar and no knowledge of true English writing capabilities.  I read so much of it that I believe in my heart that it has permanently afflicted my writing ability and compositional style.

Whew.  It’s pretty damn hard to write incorrectly.  But seriously, after reading so many posts by a site owner defending his business in broken English, after having to mentally extract the meaning from the words, it got to me.  I mean, you could understand the meaning, but the words were just wrong.  Even now, I feel a little tainted.  Or at least, I feel suspicious of what I’m writing.

I feel like I need to write more to get my normal thoughts flowing again instead of thinking in “foreign English”.  So, this whole experience made me realize just how identifiable native English is.  Even more so, how identifiable your personal writing style is.  I’m shocked to think that someone would actually turn to a writing service to create an essay or report for school work.  Do people really think they’re fooling anyone?

Maybe I’m just a lucky person who likes writing, but I’m not really an academic.  In high school, I had a term paper that was due before Christmas break.  I turned it in on the second-to-last day of school.  I almost failed.  Seeing the poor quality of work being created by these writing services, for a brief moment, I thought, maybe I should sign up to freelance for one.  Nah…  If the topic doesn’t interest me, I’d never get anywhere with it.  Plus, I don’t actually have the proper knowledge of the structure of an academic paper.

I have also heard of – and briefly considered joining – the freelance writing services for reviews/articles/blog posts/etc for the Internet.  It doesn’t pay all that well, and it seems like you’re constantly producing vapid content, but it could be a small income.  As long as you know how to repeat keywords, I guess.  I’ve been getting better at spotting canned reviews and comments lately, so that industry is in need of improvement, too.

And that would possibly be my downfall.  I would care too much.  I would have to make every fake review or comment unique and look as authentic as possible, which would then just take too much time and cost me money.  Sadly, it’s about volume.  I’ve seen it over and over in many different professions.  Even when I tried freelance remote computer assistance, the people that succeeded were the ones who could identify quick calls, multi-task multiple calls at once, and keep the churn going.  Meanwhile, I accepted a job from “an elder” who insisted on telephone support instead of chat, and then spent an hour showing him how to do email.  I didn’t make hardly anything from that call, but I’m sure I had a stronger impact.  I quit shortly after.

Welcome To The Jungle Gym

I’ve had a very strong feeling that 2015 is going to be a good year.  And the proof just keeps mounting.  One of the things you have to always manage is a sense of gratitude for what you have.  You have to stay realistic and remember that not everyone is successful – for a multitude of reasons.

The reason for this post is that my girlfriend recently entered the white-collar world for the first time.  She got the job for two reasons, both of which are very important for seekers.  First, she made it a priority to know more than anyone else in her desired profession.  I encouraged professional certifications instead of a generic college degree.  Second, she networked heavily.  She volunteered when she could and offered assistance for whatever event she was available.  To tweak an oft-used bemoaning, it is both what you know and who you know.

I went through the same stuff many years ago, but at the time, I didn’t have the same perspective that I have now.  I am able to look at my girlfriend’s situation and see how crazy it is when you become a professional.  I mean, everything changes.  One day you’re wondering what days you’ll be working next week and then, bam, you have a solid work schedule.  You used to share a break room with all your co-workers, now, here’s your office.  You used to pore over offerings from ObamaCare trying to find one that was good enough for what you could afford, now, here’s your company health plan.  And here’s membership to a credit union, and here’s your vehicle you’ll use during work, and here’s enough money to live on.

It’s probably overwhelming for anyone that’s in that transition, and for an outside observer, it can be shocking to a degree as well.  What got me was that it was almost like winning a lottery.  Don’t get me wrong, there was no luck involved here.  It was earned through a lot of study and honest self-promotion.  My background thought was for all the others that haven’t gotten there yet.  Maybe they don’t know enough yet, maybe they don’t know or haven’t impressed the right people to fight on their behalf.  You just can’t show up and say, “I’ll take that job.”

So to everyone that is searching, know what you want, know it inside and out, and find the people who can get you there.

Advances in Management Through Nudity

In other Florida news, a mostly-naked woman went berserk in a McDonalds, trashing the equipment and eating ice cream.  Yeah, that’s pretty much the headline.  But after watching the video, I had one primary takeaway.  It didn’t have anything to do with the nudity.

I have no idea what the woman was upset about.  That point actually doesn’t matter.  The thing that was the most informative in the video.  She calmed down after sucking on the ice cream machine.  She then made herself an ice cream cone and didn’t trash anything else.  Low blood sugar, maybe?

Regardless, here’s my idea.  With an agitated customer, the manager has to do two things: establish trust and defuse anger.  The first should be offering to meet on neutral ground to discuss the problem.  When a manager is behind the counter, there is a clear barrier between the parties.  This can allow the manager some safety and power over the situation, but it can also raise the perception of inaccessibility to the customer, which just intensifies the situation.  The manager can say, “Let’s sit down at a table and discuss this.”  There will still be a barrier between them, but the playing field will seem more level.

Defusing the anger can be easy.  Ask the customer if they want a drink, dessert, or ice cream.  Whatever they want, have someone immediately make it and bring it to the table.  The manager should not make or bring the request; the manager’s attention is solely on the customer.

If all goes well, the customer will be snacking and explaining the problem, maybe very aggressively.  But by seating them at a table, you’ve gotten the scene away from the front counter, where others would be subjected to the tirade.  Additionally, the customer may not back down from their argument in front of a bunch of spectators, but in isolation, may be more agreeable.  Everyone wants to look strong in front of others.

And if the customer is nude for all of this, it may be a blessing for some.


The recent Dilbert strips have got me thinking abut the concept of consulting.  I think it’s a pretty recent thing, probably since the 90’s?  At least in the tech industry, I think it is.  Maybe it’s always been around for other fields.

Consulting, as the comic depicts, is a lifestyle.  It’s at odds with holding a regular job and has different benefits and drawbacks to working in that capacity.  Personally, I see many more drawbacks, and not just for the consultant.  The consultant’s issues are pretty easy to identify.  I’m just concerned that some things have been allowed to become “the standard” because they’ve been going on so long.

In the first place, businesses have become accepting that they don’t need to retain the talent to have the most advanced “stuff”. (Stuff is an ambiguous term for anything: a process, a piece of hardware or software, a design methodology.)  They think that the most advanced stuff just handles itself.  You just need to set it up.  So you can “rent” the expertise instead of “buying” it.  That’s not how stuff works, and it’s painfully obvious when shit goes wrong.  But this is the way it’s done now.

Because of that point, you can make a summary statement that “consultants don’t make solutions, consultants fix problems.”  Database running slow?  Bring in a consultant.  Need to solve a technical hurdle?  Consultant.  Need to adopt an entire new accounting system?  Consultants!  But consultants leave, and when they do, it’s back on you.  Yeah, it’s great to be on vacation, but you need to come back to work eventually.  So, what if the problem happens again? 

And what makes a consultant so amazing, so important?  Because they’ve helped dozens of other companies with the same problem?  That’s a great breadth of knowledge.  Does it mean the same as a great depth of knowledge?  No.  Can a consultant get a great depth of knowledge?  Not likely, because they are constantly jumping from one flower to the next, pollenating fixes here and there.

Yeah, I’m sure there are good consultants out there.  Ones who will teach and share knowledge while they work; ones that will dig deeper and solve the root cause instead of addressing the symptoms.  But that also depends on what the business is willing to pay for.

I guess it comes back to my first point.  The fact that business (and life as a whole) is so sped up, there is no time (and money) to do things the right way and no time to learn something in its entirety before it is obsolete.  This, along with the idea that there is always something better, which is probably true, but that it is incompatible with older versions, which is simply bad, is leading us into a state of perpetual rebuilding, so that there is never time to actually measure the success we have attained.