It’s hard to grieve when work keeps going on the next day, and the day after. One could sit and second guess oneself forever. Did I not do enough? Was I wrong? Did they take my findings and just throw it out the window. Good heavens, was I an Appeasement Consultant, thrown at the little Wireless Company Who Could out of a sense of guilt? Clearly guilt is cheaply bought off in VC dollars, as I think my whole trip cost under $1,500.
Most of my time here, however, I really did like my boss and my team. My boss was a techie, a Network man with lots of hands on experience. They say you really understand things if you can explain anything in two sentences or less, and he really understood networks. I also started hanging with one of the web team PMs, who taught me the basics of requirements analysis, use case scenarios, and how to write spec documents for fun and profit. She was blunt and brash and brave, three of the Bs I so admire that are tragically undervalued in corporate America.
Because of her, I learned what really happened to that kid from the fairy tales who pointed out in the street that the Emperor was NAKED! There are truths that people just don’t want to hear, inconvenient and ill-timed. To back up before the parade, let me tell you about the Director of IT Security this place hired. He bought a lot of expensive equipment that lived in his office. He recommended an expensive biometric reader system that my people had to figure out, document, and then train others in as we maintained it. (My people here are the NOC folks. In case you’ve forgotten.) He implemented little key fob random number generators so that we had to log into our own email as ourselves. Oh yes, it was all very secure. Less comforting were his cocktail hour inspired confessions about the porn servers he ran at home. That which is learned cannot be un-learned.
Still, you can just imagine the sour expressions on a couple well suited faces when my buddy piped up with the objection that we’d spent an awful lot of money on physical security when a person could blind telnet into the customer’s network and machines from home. From one login, it was a simple series of Rlogins to hit them all. And by the way, the passwords were pathetic.
Let me tell you now, friends, that when you have a young, hungry, upwardly mobile VP executive that’s pals with the owner of the company doing a speech about how great the new datacenter is, you do not want to verbally point out that it’s derriere is hanging out in the wind. Even if it’s true. Especially if it is true. That kid that looks so good in a suit is not going to take being thwarted well, and you’re going to be labeled ‘not a Team Player’ and a ‘trouble employee’. No, it’s not fair.
That kid in the street? We don’t hear about it in HC Anderson’s fairy tale, but I know what happened. Agents dressed in subtle livery showed up that night, and threatened the family. All of it. No more attending parades for them, and if they couldn’t rein in that brat they were all going to be in trouble. Perhaps even an older brother was taken away to become a page at the Palace as insurance against future good behavior. The lesson in all of this is that truth will out, absolutely. But there are times when one might be wiser to whisper the truth in subtle little paper trails with time and date stamps sent through mom and dad up to the local bailiff.
Shortly after this fairy tale debacle, I got a new hat: Someone Higher Up decided that we should be ISO 9000 certified, so let’s get some ISO 9001 documentation done. And by the way, there’s an audit in four months, chop chop! And, not coincidentally, having sat in all the decision making meetings for the whole datacenter implementation from architecture to tools and processes, it became my baby. Good thing I read really fast, and write quickly as well. Luckily the requirements doc is only about 30 pages, and is reasonably well written. (Don’t read too many FARS or FIPS documents or you’ll need a law degree. Or a cocktail. Or both.) Writing up the policies and processes that we used was actually the easy part.
Getting meetings scheduled where everyone actually read said documentation was a little harder, and I felt like a sheep dog herding people into reading it. I sat on desks. I invaded personal spaces in cubes. I invited curses and spellcheckers and pedants galore, and four months later we passed that part of the audit. Yes, yes. I am completely smug still.
The other hat I was given was actually a crown. I was put in charge of the training schedule and budget. Brothers and sisters, can I get a resounding AMEN of support for the sheer power and evil joy that can be yours with money and a schedule? Thank you. I got a lump of cash and a list of required certifications they wanted key members of our staff to have. But how to spend it, you incipient despot you?
First you need a calendaring tool, and Google. Okay, there was Alta Vista at the time, and that dates just when this was going on. There was no Bing yet, and the web searching war was going strong. Lycos, Yahoo, Ask Jeeves, all of it was out there and full of fun to search with different results. Then you start thinking about negotiations. And then you admit out loud, “Hi. My name is Jeannie, and I’m a petty dictator.” So your sys admins and architects want to go somewhere nice out of town. Would it kill them to be nice about how they asked for their preferences? Oh, that kind one brought in lunch, and remembered your penchant for dark chocolate. How thoughtful.
Now, the rude ones that were going to a SANS conference? How about that session in Alabama in August? But you, oh you sweet thing, I love flowers! Yes, you should absolutely go to those classes in DC during the cherry blossom festival. Mm, how kind of you to share your quirky humor, I’d just love to send you off to New Orleans just before Mardi Gras, when your mother in law was visiting your wife.
I think the real lesson here is to be nice to people you work with, whenever you can. What does it cost you to treat all your fellow human beings with dignity, respect, and at least an even tone of voice if you cannot muster pleasant? We all have issues. Some of you have subscriptions. Why is it so hard to keep your internal angst bottled up, so that you can just be a decent human being to those around you? Save your vitriol and inner turmoil for the internet and the TV set, my beloveds. They don’t care if you yell at them.
My own splendid manager then decided he’d had enough cat herding, and longed to go back to the simple life in engineering. We spent the next week talking over what he’d offload to me to take over, advice, and other useful comments. The day of the all hands meeting, though, he pulled me aside looking very sober.
“I put in that you should be the NOC manager after me. They’re your people anyway. God knows they’re loyal to you, and you built that team and architecture.”
“Uh, hold that yay. They’re giving the position to the SLA manager. Watch your back.”
Buh? My team! MINE! Grr. Our SLA manager was hired to manage one whole contract. What does one do as an SLA manager, in this instance? Why, one plays for hours with crystal reports, trying to make pretty graphs of one very small data set. Days? Weeks! Why did we hire an SLA manager again? Gosh she’s pretty. And takes really long lunches with the IT Director. Any other duties were purely ceremonial.
So for the second time since I trained the computer guy at Kinko’s back in early college to take the job I wanted, I got to sit there and look impassive while my job was given to someone else, less qualified. When the announcement came, every single one of my guys turned to look at me, bewildered. I confess it hurt. The wryly ironic part was that I then got to explain very carefully what a NOC did and was, and how I’d arranged the staffing for coverage, and a lot of other basics about our work to the pretty little thing. In small words with a lot of pictures, as she wasn't that quick to get it all. I also endured her counseling me that this was her organization now and she’d make whatever changes she needed to, and how I needed to be supportive.
“Oh, I understand. I feel the same way,” I thought to myself, and headed off to another VP to see about changing from Ops to Dev later that same day. As it happened, his Dev team had room for a headcount to assist with project management and requirements gathering and analysis. So with a new job offer in hand, I went to go see about changing departments, only to be told it wasn’t possible. No no, the NOC couldn’t afford to lose my expertise. Ain’t that a kick in the pants?
Instead of an official transfer, I now got my first ‘dotted line’ reporting structure over to development. I didn’t have anything to do with the NOC anymore, but I was still technically their technical lead and trainer. Three weeks later, half the dev team (this time me included) got our walking papers. Our fearless leaders had run through the Venture Capital funding at a record place. (Did I forget to mention the executive bathrooms? Wow. You should have seen them. Palatial! And flat screens for everyone! Hush you, this was in the ‘90s and really impressive.)
I was saddened, but my separation fee was a few weeks’ pay so I had a cushion to go look for another job. Sadder still was the morning two weeks after me that my dear friend the project manager, who had only just recovered from the Security/No Clothes debacle, showed up to the doors being closed and locked for good. I think she stayed around a while longer, helping them catalog and sell off the assets to cover her own separation package. And offload our one contract for hosting to another site. See? Now there’s loyalty! I hope someday she finds a place that actually appreciates an honest and loyal soul.