The Last Entry About Brady

August 29, 2003

First, some randomness.

Odd... while I was on my way to Palomino's to join some co-workers and vendors for dinner (woo-hoo -- free meal!) I ran into John as he was leaving for the day. He seemed rather amiable. That seemed strange, given that I'd heard through the grapevine that the cut-it-the-hell-out letter I got last summer was the result of him seeing my please-hire-me site and going ballistic. The "active snubbing" Rob received at PPG Place a while ago added to that feeling.

Maybe he decided that it'd be tough to "ignore" me when we were passing within two feet of each other and were the only two people around. Or maybe he just decided to bury the hatchet. I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt here (ain't I just so naive?), so I'm going to say that after almost a year and a half he decided there were no hard feelings. Can't say that's not a good idea. Definitely the healthiest one physiologically and mentally.

Met up by accident with some former co-workers the next week at the PPG Plaza food court. They're all doing OK, still there. Never really hung out with them as much as some others (one's an account manager, the other two are production), so they didn't get counted in my last entry about Brady. Just sat around and shot the breeze for a few minutes before I headed back. For some reason that made me feel better about the place. Not sure why, since my coworkers were never a problem.

And now for the stuff I planned to write.

I got my job at Brady in September of '99. A friend and fraternity brother, Mike, got me the interview. I found out a little while later that I got the job; I may have been the only person they interviewed for all I know. Anyway, I started on my first "real" job (the stuff I did at CMU doesn't really count) and everything seemed to be going fine.

Well, except for the fact that I was 23 and still an immature little shit. But if you've seen much of the archives, that isn't news. And I haven't exactly changed much.

Anyway, as time went on I noticed a few things that didn't quite sit right with me. For starters, John (the head honcho) seemed to be a big fan of buzzwords. He went so far as to use the phrase "grow the business," which is one of my pet peeves. Some of the people played Buzzword Bingo in his meetings. I knew I'd laugh and get busted; I stayed out of that mess.

Now, this may very well have been how John drummed up business. But in my experience, using jargon and buzzwords indicates one of two things: (a) I have no idea what I'm talking about and hope to befuddle you to avoid questions, or (b) I don't want to take the time to communicate clearly. So you can see where I'm not a big fan of that style.

I also noticed that the only people I ever saw getting reamed frequently were in production. Designers and project managers caught it every once in a while, but production seemed to bear the brunt of John's temper. That struck me as odd: The production person (and the programmer, who has the same role in the not-print parts of the business) can really only work with what they're given. Designs always seemed to go to production and programming later than expected (usually the clients' fault, the designers were good about maintaining a schedule) but there would be no deadline change for production; if they had to work 12-hour days to make up for someone else's delay, so be it.

Finally, there was the work load. John had been in business for about 20 years when I got there, and he'd gotten print stuff down pretty well. People doing print stuff were always busy. But he'd only been doing interactive stuff for a couple years, and I was (I think) only the third person hired specifically for interactive work.

What that basically means is that we'd go for pretty long periods of time without any projects to work on -- there were some weeks where my only billable hours were 15 minutes for a Web update that took me less than 60 seconds. Going by billing time, that's 3.3% productivity. If you factor in actual work, it's more like 0.2%.

But when projects did hit, they tended to come in bunches. We were fortunate that we didn't have to work loads of overtime like production, but there was still some. I always thought it was avoidable; to go from 3% productivity to 133% (10 hours a day out of 7.5) in the course of a week just seemed like bad project management.

And like I said, I pissed some people off. When John hired a new project manager, Mark, I reacted kind of skeptically. The guy struck me as a cheerleader type. Turns out I was right. I think he honestly was excited about the work he was doing and the stuff he was bringing in, but I wished he'd dial it down a couple notches. At the beginning he also micro-managed. I hate that.

I don't like feeling like someone's looking over my shoulder. In fact, given that I'm partially distracted by it I tend to make more mistakes. Which usually leads to more micro-management. It didn't help matters any that I dealt with it in a very passive-agressive way. Oh hell, the time for euphemism is gone: I was a prick to the guy.

I don't know who's idea it was for what basically amounted to a timeout for the two of us (although I have my guesses) but it's probably why I was employed there as long as I was. Between me being within an ant's antenna of telling the guy "fuck you, I quit" and how close I was to getting fired (which I found out about a little later... kind of sobering, that) I probably wasn't going to be there much longer.

In fact, after that Mark and I worked together pretty well. We balanced his desire for frequent updates with my desire to be left alone and managed to avoid stepping on each other's toes. In fact, he did something that I never saw any other manager do -- he'd ask my opinion about projects (as far as timeframe and doability) before talking to the client, and took me along to get the word straight from the client's mouth so there wouldn't be the possibility of a mistranslation.

At the time, I'd forgotten what it was like to have my thoughts taken seriously. It was rather nice.

I was still pretty frustrated though. I was looking for work on and off, taking personal time to interview, going so far as to change into my suit a couple floors down and taking the stairs to avoid accidentally bumping into someone from the office. It felt very cloak-and-dagger. Probably as transparent as a sheet of glass, too.

Oh, before I forget, I actually spoke with an HR person once about how I worked the least amount of overtime in the company, and how that wasn't a good thing. I realize that since I'm overtime exempt (Employer-speak for "w3 0wnz j00") that it's in the company's best interests to squeeze as much work out of me as possible. But should it really matter if I'm making deadlines and helping other people out? I didn't do it terribly often, but I did stay late on more than a few occasions to work on a project I wasn't even assigned to. My coworkers were good people after all, and I helped them when I could.

But apparently since I like seeing my apartment during daylight hours I'm not dedicated enough. I had no answer for that when I heard it; I was too flabbergasted.

To skip ahead a little, my job searches never really went too far and I always gave up after a month or so. Then the company got ready to move to its new office. A consultant was brought in to help with the IT aspect and somehow wound up doing project management. Apparently she'd "heard" that I made "a lot of mistakes" with projects and was going to make sure it didn't happen again, that it was unprofessional.

No, actually, making mistakes is part of being human, everyone does it. One mistake I know of almost lost the company quite a bit of money. The unprofessional part comes from frequent mistakes, which I don't think I was doing, and not correcting them in a timely manner. And I know it wasn't the second, because I treated mistakes -- even typos -- as a drop-everything-and-fix-it thing. I don't like my work looking bad any more than the client likes having "teh" on their Web site.

Suffice it to say, her and I didn't get along to well. After spending a couple nights preparing for the move and unloading afterwards, saying my morale was in the toilet would be an understatement. It had already been flushed and treated, and was halfway to the Monongahela. Honestly, I don't know how anyone could stand to be around me. I was making snide remarks for no discernable reason, other than to be contrary. Once again, I was being a passive-agressive prick.

I was assigned to work with the consultant that I didn't get along with, and things got worse. I mis-estimated a time requirement by a huge factor (I'd never done a project of that scale before and had no clue how complicated it would be) and was talked to by the "consultant" (now my boss, for all intents and purposes) about my "unprofessional behavior."

So with a lousy attitude that had been festering for two years or so, I delivered a GFY to the "consultant" while I was working late one night and got fired the next day. In a way, it's the best thing that ever happened to me. My hair was starting to gray and fall out, and I was popping Tums like they were candy. I probably would've taken 10 years off my life if I'd stayed.

Looking back with a year and a half of experience and introspection, I'm not the completely wronged party I thought I was. Yes, John ignored his programmers and operated through an environment of fear (if I had a nickel for every time he said "the next person to [do X, Y or Z] is fired" in the middle of a tirade...). And none of his managers really had a clue how to run an interactive project.

But I also learned all my skills there: Professional-grade HTML, ASP, Javascript, databases. I'm employable now because I was allowed to experiment and occasionally crash a server there. And for all my bitching both there and online, I never once took any action to improve things. One thing I've learned from Brady is how not to handle those situations, and in a way it's good that I learned them when I did -- I'm happier at this job partially as a result of knowing to do things differently should the situation arise.

But here I have a boss who used to be a programmer, and understands that programmers usually like to be left to their work. He even understands that I need to take a quick break and read CNN from time to time. As long as I'm getting things done in a timely manner, everything's cool. He's even let me cut out early and still put eight hours on my time sheet.

Well, that's it. The whole shebang. No more posts about Brady, and probably no more "at the old job" except for comparisons. I'm through. And yes, this isn't the hate-filled diatribe you might have been expecting. It's hard for me to think of someone as an evil little troll hiding in his office for half a day when he's civil to me. And I think putting it all behind me with a minimum of ire is the best way to go. Maybe I've matured a little bit after all.

August 28, 2003September 1, 2003