The work zoo

Friday was the last day for the man who got me my job, and there were drinks after work at a nearby bar. I was there for about 90 minutes, chatting with colleagues and drinking beer. It was fine without being anything special, up until the Sales guys turn up. They’re a very different crew.

It’s no secret that Sales and I have had our run-ins and have an uneasy relationship. There’s plenty of practical reasons for that as far as I can see. For a start, I’m ethically driven, and they couldn’t spell it. To them, everything comes second to making the sale. They’re happy to do over other parts of the business to achieve that, and have no regard for anyone – including the customer – once the sale is done. To someone like me – principled, standards-driven – that’s poison. And I guess that’s the fundamental issue. Put us on a line, and they’re pushing the edges at one end, and I’m doing the same on the other.

That counts when it comes to basic style, as well. I catch a glimpse of various Sales guys around the office (you can spot ’em a mile off), and it’s rare that the style snob in me doesn’t emerge.

Friday night was typical. Three of them came along, all burly types leading with their belly. They have a distinct manner, splay-footed, stomach pressed forward as if looking to intimidate with it, shoulders pushed back, walking in a swaggering shuffle. They greeted each other with a hug, though they’d just shared an office together a few hours before. Filtering through the ranks influences seem to range from gangsta and rap to the merely gauche (Peter Jackson suits). Many of them are outright lairy, right up to chunky jewellery and baseball caps. They’re a shallow, egocentric mob in general, lacking grace. (To be fair, there are some reasonable characters too – I have a mate working there, and some of the women are very nice). As a general rule, they don’t give a fuck about anyone else and do whatever they want. (They ignore the lines and colour wherever they wish).

It’s interesting to differentiate between the different personality types. There are Sales, but then now I’m working closely with Marketing, and they’re different again. They’re decent people in general, a tad overdrawn to my taste – a bit louder, a bit more emphatic with their words and gestures (but then I’m old-school hard-arse), a bit gushier. They’re more touchy, feely. More ethereal.

In IT, where I’m sitting, there are some classic IT geek types. There’re a couple of guys who I’ve barely heard a word out of and who avoid all social contact. Much of the floor is taken up with Indian developers, industrious and humble. They’re smiling and gracious when you stop to chat with them, always ready to take time out to talk about the cricket. My own team lead is as lovely a guy as you’d ever meet, more reserved and quiet than anyone from Sales or Marketing. He just gets on with it.

I’ve got some of that, but I’ve probably got a bit of everything here. I’ve got a bit of swagger, but balancing it out is a decent work ethic and a genuine interest in others. I’ll colour outside the lines myself occasionally, but only because I think the lines are in the wrong place (and I don’t always recognise arbitrary boundaries). I’m not as loud as marketing, but I can fire up and be just as smooth and extroverted as they are. What I have and they don’t is a touch of mongrel. I’m having my qualms these days, but even still it doesn’t stop me from being direct and focussed. I’m ideas-driven, and everything comes second to that.

I think back to where I’ve come from, and it feels disorganised and ineffectual. There’s a jobbing mentality. People come and go, and while there are some excellent performers, most are happy to turn up and go home. Even the management is amateur by comparison, lacking a framework and driven by individual whim.

It’s no surprise I left soon after Sales turned up on Friday. We shook hands warily, nodded heads, but we’re not for socialising together.


Through the eyes of others

So, I was pondering the sense of futility that seems everpresent these days. What is the value of what I do? What is the point of this existence? But then, on Thursday night, we had a work function after work when we went to the same bar I went to a few weeks ago with JV. Drinks were laid on, and tapas and the atmosphere was convivial. I had 3-4 drinks and spoke to different people, but more most of the evening was in conversation with my new manager.

I’ve mentioned before what a lovely bloke he is. He’s a cracker. He’s a couple of years short of 60, originally a Malaysian Chinese who’s been living here for about thirty years, and about a foot shorter than me. We’ve always got on quite well, but now our relationship has changed. I find him a straightforward and decent person to work with. Judging by our conversation on Thursday he’s quietly fascinated by me, and quite chuffed to have me on board.

When he interviewed me first, he hadn’t seen my CV, but obviously, he’s caught up with it since. He began to ask me about aspects of it, commenting on what interesting experience I’d had, and how strange it was that I had experienced both senior positions, and junior – I’d confessed to him how I’d started out there working on the phones.

It was not the time or place to give him the full story, so I skimmed over it, but it was enough to intrigue him more. As an individual, I’m very different from him. He’s always been the modest, hard-working family man, whereas he sees me as quite the adventurer – and approves of it. At the same time, he’s obviously excited to have me join the team. He realises that for the price of a middle-ranking role he’s got an experienced, and competent senior candidate. I’ve opened his eyes to possibilities, and suddenly he sees opportunities ahead.

It was almost endearing to see how enthusiastic he had become. He was like a kid believing in Santa Claus again. He’s encouraged me to do my thing from the word go, and the results are fascinating to him – almost as if he’s been made to think another way, and it’s revitalised him. To be blunt, I think he sees me as a bit of a meal ticket, though not nearly mercenary as that. He’s happy to ride in my wake and, as I’m always am when given my head, I’m happy to forge ahead. It so happens, as he is very conscious off, that with the senior Digital Manager leaving things are in flux, and the chance to stake out new territory is there.

I went home that night on the train reflecting on that. It was flattering to be seen in such a light. I knew I was capable of what he hoped from me, but it seemed particularly ironic considering what I had felt just the night before. I struggle to find meaning for myself, but here I am with my manager finding meaning in me.

Then yesterday. When I interviewed for the role I ultimately had to knock back, there was a woman involved. I hardly knew her then, but am now working close to her, though we work in different areas. She’s a lovely lady, kind, and obviously very smart, and takes every opportunity to be friendly to me. Yesterday we happened to be in the kitchen together at the same time. I don’t know how it started – perhaps she asked me how the job was going. Anyway, she said she thought it was a really good fit for me and that I’d be good at it – she’s like that. But then she said, “you’ve got a very interesting CV”. She said it positively. I was surprised and murmured something about having sought variety. “Variety is good,” she said.

So, in the space of 24 hours, I’ve had two different people basically validate my professional self, and express even how interesting that self is. It made me think about what I want. Did I want for me what my manager hopes what I can enable? The answer always is yes – I always want more, because more is interesting, and because it is better than less, and because what I never want is the dull, old status quo. But do I really want those roles? My ego does maybe, and probably my bank manager. I don’t need it, though.

What I want, I realised, is the room to be myself. I’ve been denied that, here, and in years leading up to this, but in the years before that was the source of satisfaction. I could feel myself, could be myself, without constraint, so much so that I took it for granted. My step-sister always said she’d never met anyone as comfortable in their skin as I was – but I felt that too, without knowing it.

My life was comfortable then. I’d achieved a level that made things simpler, but while there was comfort in that, the joy of it was not in the achievement, but in the freedom to achieve. I was given space, and I took it. Maybe the secret then is the doing, not the being. And maybe, judging by what others see in me, there’s another journey in me.

Touch wood

Okay, I’ve been busy, which is why I haven’t written – quit complaining. I started the new job on Monday and ever since it’s felt a bit like steering a spaceship through a meteor storm, hoping not to get pinged.

It’s not that the job promises to be that difficult. It’s more that it’s pretty busy and I’ve been introduced to about five new applications and a raft of ill-defined processes, with about five minutes instruction in each, and left to my devices. On top of that, I’m in a new team, which I’ve yet to be formally introduced to.

You know me. I hate not being in control, but I’m also reluctant to admit that a bit more help would be useful. I’ve asked for help here and there but, by and large, I’ve forged ahead figuring it out for myself. Around lunchtime yesterday, I began to feel more comfortable, as if I had a handle on things. There’s still much more I don’t know than I know, but the framework has become clearer. I’m not a big fan of what I’ve found, which coincides with the next phase: ownership. I’m not far from stepping in and saying okay, this is what we have to do from here on in.

I’ve got no complaints. It’s been an imperfect process, but it’s not been deliberate. They’ve been under the pump themselves. Besides, they’re IT people – smart at what they do, but some of the courtesies and things we think of as common sense elude them. It’s not purposeful, just the way they are. It’s up to me to fill in the gaps, which is what I’m doing. And in a way it’s not a bad thing – I can come to it fresh and form my own opinions on it (though it would have been handy to get some instruction on the apps I’m working with).

I finished up in the old role Friday. Would you believe the manager came to me, and everyone else, and asked us to work on the queues of work wildly out of control. It was my last day, and I hadn’t done any of that stuff for near on three years. It seemed a dubious proposition to me. I would be of doubtful productivity, and there was always the risk that I would fuck up.

I’m not precious, though. Reluctantly I started in on it – and took 40 minutes to complete something that would have taken about 15 minutes before. Once I had that done, I abandoned the exercise. I had other things to do on my last day, loose ends to tie up, and so I did that (and didn’t finish doing them until after 5pm, btw). What are they going to do? I wondered. Fire me?

At about 4pm a few people started gathering around my desk, and I knew something was on. I got a card and a bottle of gin as a parting gift, as well as a couple of speeches. I responded graciously. Later a couple of the lads, beer aficionados, brought me a 6-pack of boutique beer as their parting gift.

It’s fair to say that among the rank and file, I was always pretty popular. With a few (notable) exceptions, it was the more senior staff I clashed with, or relationships were strained. A lot of that was me, not that I was ever particularly rude unless you think being direct is rude (many do). It’s just that you make an assessment and it seemed to me that many were incompetent or unpleasant or self-serving. In those cases, I work around those people. I don’t pretend anything, but nor am I bothered to engage. Though nothing is said, they always know – but they know because they know the truth themselves inside, and it’s unpleasant.

I went out with JV that night and ended up having an unexpectedly great evening, as I described. I felt more myself. I wondered if that was the secret. These last 18 months, I’ve tried to be more authentic in what I felt. The tendency before was to always shrug my shoulders and plough through, like a ruck rover going through a pack. Now, I decided, I had to acknowledge what I felt and open myself up to it. It was necessary, and it was mostly positive. But though you let things go by doing it, some things you carry. I wondered if what I carried had become a burden.

I felt cocky Friday night. I remembered my old self. I had some of the old swagger back. This is me, I thought. And I thought it’s time to be that person again – to go for it, to be cocky and audacious, to shrug off the limitations I’d imposed myself, to once more take the risks that were a part of my essential nature. To be utterly free in my self.

I’ve lived a small life in recent years, and the argument has been I had no choice. Certainly, my opportunities were limited, but I also sought to be sensible. That meant denying myself things until the time was right – such as meaningful feminine company. In the crowd of women last Friday night, I felt roused in the old fashioned way.

I think there’s some sense to all that, but it’s not so easy. This week has been very hard. On Monday, I wondered how I would cope. I think a part of that is feeling out of control, but there is a fundamental issue underlying that. I sometimes wonder if I’m suffering from a form of PTSD.

Through the week I was up and down, but I managed. I reverted to habit and got away with it, but inside I felt frail. I think the truth of it these days is that I don’t have the buffer around me anymore. I feel things easily. I bruise easily. It’s a strange thing considering the man I was. But then, it seems, I can carry the bruise and function (much to my surprise sometimes).

I have no choice in this. I must function. I’m in a new job, and much is expected from me, and there’s no second chance. And there’s no reserve. I have to make it work because if it doesn’t, I don’t know what happens then.

That sounds bleak, but I reckon it will work out. I know this of myself. I’m as smart as I’ve ever been, and it comes through even when I’m not feeling it. And, to my surprise, many others seem naturally inclined to defer to me. I wish I could see myself to understand that, but I suspect it’s that veneer formed over many years of working. It’s not a true thing right now, but from the outside, it appears intact. I should be thankful for that as it opens a lot of doors for me.

I’d like to think the worst is over, but I know there will be other challenges. This ‘worst’ was just about the worst I’ve felt, but I’ve come from that a bit. That should reassure me. I think, ultimately, I’m a survivor.

Up and down

I was in such a good mood this morning. I got into the city around the usual time, just after 8am. Usually, I go straight to work but this time I stopped off at a hole in the wall café I’d read about where I got myself a coffee, and one of their signature, home-made crumpets with honey drizzled on it.

I walked into the office, and one of the girls brightly greeted me. We stopped to have a chat, and she offered me a donut she’d brought in. Nah, I told her, I’ve got my crumpet.

There was no real reason for my relative ebullience, except maybe because it was Friday, and yesterday was payday.

It didn’t last, and that’s what puzzles me.

My offsider is away today, and his offsider in Adelaide, and so the work that might usually come to them landed on my desk. It came out of nowhere. It’s been quiet, suddenly – with them absent – it became busy. Needless to say, it was all urgent.

I tried pushing back, knowing that was pointless. In the end I was entreated to help out. I cancelled my meetings and got down to it.

It’s not a remarkable story, but it left me feeling pretty sour, even despondent.

The work was unfamiliar to me. I’d done something like it over a year ago, but I had to make an effort to remember how to do it, feeling uncertain at every step of the way. The urgency of it all only added to the pressure.

There’s no doubt I felt some unaccustomed stress, but that was to be expected. The thing is I don’t typically suffer much from stress. Often, in situations like this, I feel invigorated instead. But not today.

Whatever I felt may have been exacerbated by the circumstances. That these were urgent requirements was because they either hadn’t bothered to advise us until the last minute, or they had fucked something up requiring a critical fix. There’s a lot of simple things that are managed poorly every day, and it gets me down.

I’m only speculating here. I can add the disappointment I felt at being so abruptly downhearted – and the confusion accompanying it – only made me feel worse.

It worries me, and it fascinates me, too. There’s no doubt I’m not as resilient as I used to me. There are moments I feel quite frail. I doubt anyone can see it, or know it, just the opposite probably – though maybe I’d be surprised.

In the event, I did what had to be done, without issue. Still…

Getting the job

About five minutes after I sat down at my desk this morning, the guy who interviewed me for the digital job walks in looking lost. I watch him, knowing that he’s searching for my manager to talk about me. Our eyes catch, and we nod, then he discovers my manager and closes the door behind him.

I knew this was coming, but it sat poorly in my stomach. I could hear her voice, if not the words. I didn’t much care what she said about me, what I hated was that someone so poorly suited to it was to stand in judgment of me.

I spoke to the Digital manager last week after I had the interview. He came down to see me, and we found an empty office to talk. He told me he was leaving in a month. He said that he had recommended me for the job, but it wasn’t his decision. He asked me how the interview had gone, and I scoffed at the idea of an ‘interview’ and expressed my reservations about the differing personalities. That’s good, isn’t it? He said. I couldn’t see what he meant until he expanded further, indicating without actually saying so that they – the powers that be – were aware of the contrast and that it might work in my favour. The inference was that, after a period, I might be placed in the top job.

That put a different spin on things. I was unexcited by the role, but it would be hard to turn down if there was a clear career path leading from it.

In the meantime, I interviewed for the other role on Friday. It still interests me much more. It may not pay as much initially, but I get training and certification in Intelligent Automation out of it. I find it pretty interesting, as well as compatible with my experience, and certification like that will open doors elsewhere as I get older. It’s a good investment, and in 12 months they plan for a Centre of Excellence which will create further opportunities. The interview went well.

I may get offered neither role, but I’ve decided – in principle – to accept whichever of the jobs is offered to me first (contingent on salary). I should hear back about the IA job by Wednesday. The digital job may be sooner.

You might think this activity would please me. It doesn’t. I hate the phoniness attached to the process. I just want to be me and do the job.

When it rains…

After applying for an internal job in digital the week before last, yesterday I interviewed for it.

Initially, I was to be interviewed by a combination of an HR person, the head of Digital, and the guy I would be reporting to. Come down to the interview; there was no HR person in sight, the Digital manager was called away elsewhere, and it was left to the guy who would be my direct boss.

I know him quite well, and he’s a lovely, competent person. We’ve worked together on bits and pieces over the journey, and he’s always been pleasant and helpful – unlike most of IT. Still, I wasn’t entirely thrilled when I heard he’d be my boss. Part of it was that I’ve never seen, or treated him, as anything other than an equal. It never occurred to me that he might be my superior (to be fair, it rarely does). The more significant concern is that he’s a retiring, reserved type and I’m hard at it and striving. No kidding, I reckon I’d overpower him without trying (and I wouldn’t be trying).

Regardless, we’re sitting there, and it’s less an interview than a conversation, and he admits he’s never interviewed a colleague before. I make reference to my CV at one stage, and he admits he’s not seen it, and I’m wondering what’s going on. I fill him in a little, and he tells me about the job, and the more he tells me, the less enthused I become.

Basically, a lot of it is managing issues with the digital entities, including service desk issues. That’s maybe 70%. The rest of it is more up my street, but still not thrilling. I know I can’t say no to the job, per se, but I’m thinking this is going to bore me to tears.

To put it in perspective. I’m in a role now where I can be both autonomous and very creative. Creativity is one of my strong points. I can look at a problem and come up with a variety of solutions, some of them sophisticated, some of them just smart, and a few right out of left field. It’s how I think, how I see. The problem is – as I’ve long articulated – is that while I can have a million smart ideas, I lack the leverage or authority to implement more than a scant few of them. Hence my eternal frustration.

Give me this new job, and I have a team about me that can probably build much of what I can conceive – but the role precludes creativity. It’s not my job to be smart like that or to formulate solutions. The position is about managing and coordinating disparate resources and no more.

But then – and isn’t this ironic? – another role popped up last week. It sounds much more interesting and a better fit for both my experience and aptitude – working with Intelligent automation (Robotics). This is a growing field and something good to get into, and it also aligns with how I think. Half of the solutions I scope are mapped out in Visio flowcharts. The job also includes full training in the app. All good for my CV.

The problem with the job is that it’s only a 12-month secondment, and the salary is $10K less than the other (but still more than what I earn now).

I feel as if I’m being fitted up for the digital job. It’s not a sure thing but, I suspect, mine to lose. I actually feel some obligation because of that. I’ve been complaining so long and the digital guys been so encouraging that I feel as if it would be rude to decline the role – and probably foolish, too.

I’d be no shoo-in to get the robotics job, though clearly, I’m a strong candidate. I’d enjoy it much more, and the potential opportunities are greater – but it’s no sure thing, and the money is less.

All this time I’ve been crying out for opportunities, but when they come, they come not singly but doubly. Watch this space.


So I return to work on Monday and I’m heading out for my morning coffee at around 9am and as I’m going in I run into the Digital Marketing manager as he’s coming in. We get on well, we closely on a few things, and generally have similar opinions on the organisation. We greet each other and he says: “did you see the job I posted?”

There was a position advertised internally for a BA/PM working in the digital team. I checked it out but it specified some technical requirements which I had no specific experience with. I’d actually suggested it to my offsider as something he might be interested in. He was, but he didn’t.

So, after the manager spoke to me I checked it out again. He’d urged me to apply for it. He told me I’d be working with him, as if that had always been the plan. Lot more money, he said, and waived off my hesitation over the experience I didn’t have. When I checked out the PD I found it a better fit than I’d first presumed. Sure, I didn’t have experience with Drupal (which is pretty basic anyway), but I had all this relevant job experience which few others here could match. So, I sent in an application.

Applications close today. I guess I’ll hear something next week. I haven’t spoken to the manager since as he’s in Brisbane, and while it’s encouraging I’ve learned that this is not a place to presume anything. I’ve been disappointed before.

Ideally, I’d like to get out of this organisation altogether, but more than anything I want to get away from the present management, which is uninspired and barely competent. I have a strong suspicion that I am being deliberately sidelined and denied opportunities. It’s routine that I’m kept in the dark about activities pertinent to my role, and things that should belong to me are given to others. I’ve made reference previously about being left out of invitations to events I’m entitled to attend, and it’s happened again this week.

Another situation has come to light which isn’t surprising, but goes a long way towards confirming my suspicions.

About two years ago I put together a detailed proposal for a new function. I was told at the time they didn’t have the resources for it, but a year ago they actually created the function, though (typically) without any reference to me. In fact I wasn’t even made aware of this (typically, once more), until the person given responsibility for it had to come to me with questions and to get a copy of one of the design docs I’d created.

Ultimately it was implemented in a half-arsed way (trademark here), and at no point was it acknowledged that this was my (very comprehensive) idea. I don’t know if someone else sought to take the credit as one of their KPIs, but it was clearly deliberate that I was left out of it.

One of the consequences of this is that when I do things now I’m careful about how I manage it. I’m more inclined these days to hand off these ideas to those I can trust. That means I get no credit for these things, but it also means I have a measure of control working in the background prompting and refining and striving to get it just right. I’m always more interested in getting the job right than I am in due credit. In fact, it’s not about the credit denied – I’m paid to do this, after all – the issue is others claiming credit that’s not rightly theirs.

There was another function I conceived of maybe 18 months ago. Once more, as is my way, I consulted widely and documented it in detail. As time has gone on I’ve fleshed out the function, and role, more completely, and been a strident champion for the role. There’s been a desperate need for this function but I’ve been told all along there’s no budget for it until the next financial year – basically the week after next.

Outside of the department there’ve been advocates for me running that show when it happens, but it’s very clear that’s never going to be the case – regardless that, once more, it’s my conception, that no-one has a better understanding of the requirements and actual detail, and that, informally, I’m doing much of it now.

For the last six months my manager has effectively been hedging that role against me. Today I learned that for the last six months that she’s been urging it onto my offsider, who is much more user friendly than me – but who has nothing to do with anything to do with it presently.

There’s been a problem with my manager for a while. I think she’s a terrible leader and average manager. She does some things well, but other things she’s deplorable at. One of my biggest issues with her is ethical. It’s my belief that your manager should be an advocate for you, but I suspect just the opposite in my case. I think a part of it is purely political – she’ll always do what is best for her, which is very common around here. I also think she’s wary of my capabilities and for that reason tries to keep me in a box – that’s why I’m kept in the dark, why she prefers others, why she’s careful to deny me credit. I think she sees me as a threat, which I’m not. I actually believe she bad-mouths me to others.

I’m aware this makes me sound paranoid, but there have been so many instances over an extended period that there has to be some explanation for it. I actually reported it to HR at one point, to get it on the record, though I would never make anything formal of it.

The reality of this is that if they turned around and actually offered me this role I’d have to think twice about accepting it. If I’m to be stuck in this area I’d be better off with it, but what I need really is to get out of this toxic environment. Like I said, I think this is one reason I’ve been crook.

So, if I can’t get a job outside the joint then anywhere is better than here, and the job I’ve applied for is one a different floor sitting just outside the CEO’s office reporting to someone different and working with a different bunch of people. There’s plenty I rate down here and like, but it’s an unprofessional environment and I want to be in a place where my work is properly valued and understood. I reckon my peace of mind would go through the roof.