Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Wrong Department

I had an interview at a company located out in the suburbs. It was a huge, modern single-story building on a very beautiful campus. Huge green lawns, walkways, and a fountain. Really beautiful.

I was in my best suit and tie, very professional, and introduced myself to the receptionist in the lobby. I told her I was meeting Mrs. Smith [not a real name -ed] in the I.T. department.

I sat and waited.  And waited. And waited. Well past my interview meeting scheduled time.

Just as I was about to check with the receptionist again, a man walked in to get me. He wasn't wearing a suit, and looked like he was the building engineer.

I remember he said, "A little overdressed, aren't you?" and I thought he was being sarcastic, so I chuckled at the comment.

I should have known better.  After a very long walk across the whole building, we get to his office. It's a desk sitting in a huge garage that smelled pleasantly of fresh-cut grass and gasoline. Turns out he was the building engineer!  He was expecting to interview a candidate that day for his department as well.

Once we worked it out, he took me back to the main lobby.

The receptionist told me "You said you were here for 'facilities'."  I didn't argue, or point out that the fellow I'd just met had a different name than the one I'd given when I arrived.  She finally called the right person over in I.T.

When I did get to the I.T. department, they chided me for being late to an interview. I did explain that I had arrived early but was sent to the wrong department. They didn't believe it, figuring I'd screwed up somewhere and not them.

The ended up offering me a position, but I turned it down. I got a bad feeling from their blame-game at the interview.

Well, 'facilities', 'I.T.', say them both a few times and a lawnmower starts to look like a laptop I guess....

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

More Mistaken Identity

Here's another case of mistaken identity at a large company...

I'd taken a job as a programmer right out of school. It was a huge manufacturing company with big government contracts and tens of thousands of employees across the country.  I was assigned to a group responsible for analyzing certain kinds of data and creating one-off reports whenever someone demanded one.

I started on the same day as another programmer, and our cubes were adjacent. We worked in a downtown skyscraper.

The manager of this group was a young VP who'd just graduated with an Ivy League MBA. He was the type to stand by the front door on our floor with a watch, noting who came in at 8:01am and making snide comments.

Pleasant guy.

He also could never remember anyone's name.

My day consisted of sitting in my cube, programming all day, eating lunch at my desk, and waiting for the clock to hit 6pm so I could get home.

The programmer next to me, the one who started on the same day, had the habit of wandering around and socializing, and hitting on the VP's admin/receptionist. I heard later that she didn't like this very much, and said so - a few times.

She must have escalated this to the VP, because a few weeks in, one morning at 8:30am, my manager came to my cube and told me the VP wanted to see me.

I had no idea what was going on, and wasn't nervous. I figured it was just a new-employee-chat sort of thing.

I got to the VP's corner office, and a security guard closed the door.  The VP was playing with a baseball, his feet up on his desk, and told me that I was being let go.

I was stunned. I asked why.

He told me it was for hitting on his administrative assistant, for wandering around and not doing my work, and for repeatedly making a pain of myself.

I was shocked! I told him it wasn't me, it couldn't have been. It didn't matter. He told me to get out, the guard would walk with me while I collected my things, and that was it. They would mail my last check to me.

I was young, and intimidated, and had no idea what to do, so I left. I think my heart was pounding for a week.

A week goes by, and out of the blue I got a phone call from my former manager (not the VP). He asks me when I am coming back to work, and why I didn't call him to say I was out sick.


I told him that the whole story.

Dead. Silence. Then he told me he would get back to me. But in the meantime, could I tell him where my programming work was, and in what state?

I waited a moment to think of what to say.  Finally, I said,


I got a new job a few months later at a great company.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Long Distance Calls

I was two days into a contract with a huge insurance company (you've seen their ads on television over and over) in their huge corporate complex. I was brought in to replace the previous mainframe programmer who'd left a few days before. It was a simple job: write various reports for upper management in their legacy COBOL system and in a more recent custom-report-writing package.

They put me in a cube, and this was back in the day when every desk had a phone on it. Touch 9 for an outside line, including long-distance calls. This is also back in the day when long distance calls were sometimes relatively expensive and shown as line-items on the monthly bill. In other words, it was the '90s.

Toward the end of my second day revising COBOL programs, the manager of our group abruptly and heatedly called me into his office.

He closed the door after me. "Sit down!", he said, with angry voice and angry body language. He slapped some paper onto the desk, and it looked like the narrow sheaf of a phone bill. "What the hell is this?"

He leaned on the edge of his desk, looking down at me.  Now I'm thinking yellow-alert. What was he talking about? I told him I didn't know.

He picked up the bill, "1234, that your [phone] extension?"

I shrugged, "I think so".   He handed me the bill and said, "What the hell is this?", he pointed to the large number summing up long-distance-call charges. It was an alarmingly large value. "I'm paying you to get work done, not to sit on the phone! We're taking this off of your bill.  If it happens again, your ass is out of here." He proceeded to rip me a new one, left and right, up and down.

Red alert! Clearly this guy didn't know who worked for him, or when. When I could finally get a word in, I explained that it was my second day on the job, and that the dates on the bill were for a range that ended over a week ago, etc.

"But that's your extension isn't it!", he demanded. Well, yes... I probably looked clueless, but by this point, whatever. "So how is that possible? Magic fairies? Your extension, your bill. Don't let it happen again."

I suggested that the calls were made by the person who sat in that cube prior to my arrival, most likely the programmer I'd replaced yesterday.  There was no way I made the calls; I had been in New Jersey working at another of my firm's customers, and so on and so on.

The kicker? The previous programmer's name was on the bill as a reference. There, in plain sight, at the top of the page header.

The guy actually blinked at me a few times, and finally admitted that he hadn't thought of that.

In my memory, we stared at each other for a minute before he kicked me out of his office. In reality, he told me to get the f- out, and to stay off of the phone.

You know. The phone I hadn't been using. 

Sent by old-school mainframer. Edited by me.