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.

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