Saturday, October 28, 2006

The Office and how I became "a hothead and a rebel"

Like most office workers, I can strongly identify with TV and movie comedies focusing on office environments, such as both versions of the hilarious The Office (which I accidentally left off my list of best shows in the last post) and Office Space. I read Dilbert every day and recognize so many characters and events that often it's too true to be funny.

For the first five years of my career, I worked in various cubicles, all rather large in size thankfully, in the main headquarters of my company. The structure of our head office building is very unusual, so you don't see the Dilbert-style cubicle farm when you walk in, but every joke ever made about cubicle dwelling still applies. Luckily, with my transfer earlier this year, I moved out to a regional office and was upgraded to an office of my own, with a door and everything. It's a unique location because of the number of offices available versus the number of staff, so it's a luck thing mostly.

In almost every way, my new job is an upgrade: better work environment, better project tasks, better responsibilities, a laptop instead of a workstation, better co-workers (there was only one co-worker in my previous job that I could even stand, and we became good friends), and a better boss. Not that it was hard to go up from my previous job in most of those areas...

At different times, my first boss took on the characteristics of the PHB, Michael Scott, and/or Bill Lumbergh. He was a nice enough guy, but he was very passive aggressive in his supervision, not as funny as he thought he was, and losing his edge when it came to understanding the work we did. And he didn't like me much, since I had the gall to sometimes tell him he was wrong. When one of my co-workers told me that he had described me to her as "a hothead and a rebel," I was flabbergasted. (He even repeated these words when he got the call to be my reference for my new job--which might have cost me the job if I hadn't been the only qualified candidate.) It's such an inaccurate description of me (most of the time...) as to be completely laughable. However, when it comes to IT issues, I do sometimes fly a little off the handle...

That is because I know computers, and in my corporate environment, I'm treated like the complete idiot that I'm well aware some of the other users are. I have a computer science background to go with my engineering education, I have always built my personal computers from separately purchased components, I tweak settings on my personal PC endlessly, I spend hours and hours on the internet (yes, even at work--although I will not blog at work, since I don't want to get in trouble for blogging about work at work...), and I try out new software all the time. Which, in the world of corporate IT, is a bad thing.

From the beginning of my time at the company, I have always been on IT's radar. A month wouldn't go by without someone calling me or emailing me to tell me to remove some unauthorized software off my workstation. "Security risks" such as Winamp, Netscape Navigator, Quicktime, Real Player, and most recently Firefox. Of course, these programs are not security risks, no matter what IT claims. (Oh, and they were/are all freeware.) The real issue is control. IT would phrase it something like this: it costs lots of money to keep all official software upgraded and patched, and it would cost more money to add more programs to the list. So, why not let their users take care of the upgrades? Oh, because we are all idiots that can't be trusted to look after our own computers? Never mind the fact that I use the same programs at home and always keep them updated on my own... no, IT must control everything in the corporate environment.

Funnily enough, despite my ongoing problems with IT, my first department made me their liaison to IT. I was responsible for attending IT meetings and placing material requests for new IT hardware and software, amongst other minor IT-related tasks. When I transferred, I thought that I had escaped that role (which would have been a good thing because it's far more of a burden than anything), but I was quickly made the alternate liaison because of my past experience. Thankfully, that's not as much of a burden, as I don't have to do anything unless the actual liaison is unavailable.

Anyway, back to my first boss' claim that I'm "a hothead and a rebel." This mostly goes back to a single email written during my five years under his supervision. It obviously made a strong impression...

When IT decided to roll-out an instant messaging client with our terrible corporate email software, the higher-ups in my area decided that they didn't want it. On the day that the e-mail came from IT telling everyone how to install the client, my boss took quick action in sending an e-mail out to everyone and telling us to not install the new client. I had already installed the client and had no intention of uninstalling it, so I sent a quick e-mail asking for the reason for this decision. The response was some amazing bullshit about how we have enough means of communication, and how we would all just end up using IM to waste time chatting. So... I responded. In strong words. About how I was embarrassed to be the department's IT liaison when the department was so unwilling to look forward and embrace new ideas for communication. And I said that I wouldn't uninstall the client on my workstation for any reason. I will admit I was arrogant. I will admit I was angry. And I will admit that it was a damn fine example of an e-mail.

At my next annual review, a full six months later, my boss brought up the e-mail. He wanted me to acknowledge that maybe the tone of the email (which was pretty condescending to him) was a mistake, but when I assured him that the tone of the email was 100% deliberate, that was the last straw, as they say. From that point on, I was eternally "a hothead and a rebel" in his eyes.

And I started my new job not knowing at the time that he had passed that description onto my new boss. It was a few months into this job when a co-worker asked me if I had had a fight with my old boss. Confused, I asked what he meant. He explained that my new boss had talked to him after making the reference call, and that my new boss had been really concerned about my old boss' description of my character. I was shocked, to say the least, that my old boss would basically try to sabotage my transfer over what amounts to such a minor issue in my mind. Luckily, it didn't matter, but I know now that my new boss is watching closely for signs of these so-called character flaws.

And I didn't do myself any favours when I took on IT again...

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