My imperfection does not excuse your imperfection

It is more than marginally ironic that SmallAgency’s relationship with Floundering Non-Profit would be the tipping point to the end of my working at SmallAgency, a tipping point that also included an indicator to what the last straw would be: lack of accountability.

A couple of weeks ago in a project meeting ManBoss, whose pedagogical method is the equivalent of the classic ugly American in Europe (just keep saying the same thing louder hoping whomever you’re talking to will get it), was attempting to explain a concept to me I was only partially familiar with. Being stressed out, I wasn’t asking the right questions. Instead of saying “But wait, it sounds like you’re saying [X] which I know is wrong based on what I do understand about this concept. I can’t be hearing you right.” I kept trying to reconcile the patently wrong information he was giving me with what I knew and asking poorly formed questions. His reaction to this: to lose his temper and scream at me in front of another developer and the project manager on the job, storm out of the room muttering insults under his breath, and then slam the office door on the way out to get lunch about 60 seconds later.

Since I was off the next day, we weren’t able to address in incident immediately, which in retrospect was probably a good thing since his behavior was just the latest in what could most charitably be called “a developing pattern of inappropriately confrontational relationships with staff,” which is management speak for he’s been a condescending, sulky, moody prick for the last six months and I’m not the only one he’s been behaving badly toward. His behavior toward me was just the most extreme incident.

My next day back I asked for a meeting with him and WomanBoss to “discuss what happened in the project meeting” earlier in the week. I’m a little bit proud of myself. I had recently watched this lovely short video from Brené Brown on blame. Dr. Brown often uses herself as an example in her talks, which is something I find very motivating. But the gist of the blame talk is blaming someone else for your choices and actions and refusing to take accountability for your behavior is toxic. It’s infantile and it needs to stop.

In my meeting with ManBoss and WomanBoss I told them I’d been thinking about the incident earlier in the week, that I realized I wasn’t asking the questions I needed to ask in the right way, that instead of contextualizing and airing what I knew and how I was trying to integrate that with what ManBoss has been saying I had been doing all my processing internally leading to poor, confusing questions, and I understood how that was frustrating. I literally said “I take accountability for asking poor questions and I take accountability going forward for asking better, clearer questions in the future.”

Based on a “you get more flies with honey than with vinegar” conversation I’d had earlier in the morning with the Project Manager, who is very Southern and was present when ManBoss completely lost his shit in the meeting, instead of going in hard I asked ManBoss if we could agree that his behavior was inappropriate? His response: attack.

  • My behavior was inappropriate.
  • I “get angry” when people try to help me.
  • It takes me “forever to understand anything.”
  • He’s “just not seeing any improvement in my work.”

By this time we’d both increased our volume a bit and WomanBoss interjects with “I think we’re getting a little angry here.” Given that I wasn’t in the slightest bit angry, I told her I wasn’t angry at all. But yes, she did that silencing thing that often happens to women: if we speak at anything more than a conversational volume level we must be “angry.”

I tried to counter: yes, my work for Floundering Non-Profit wasn’t the best, but I didn’t want to open that can of worms, and I suggested that if he compared that project to the one I was actively on he’d see a big improvement. Nope, more attack.

  • My work on the current project was full of mistakes.
  • He’s constantly having to correct my work.

I allowed as how I hadn’t heard from the PM about any bugs, and I’d had an extensive conversation with her that morning, and if he was always having to correct my work and not telling me about it he wasn’t giving me the opportunity to improve. His response: he just doesn’t have time for that.

This is when I snapped. I got angry, and when I’m really angry I get quiet. I looked him straight in the eye and told him “nothing, no level of frustration, no opinion about the quality of my work or my skills, no amount of salary paid to me, nothing” gave him the right to speak to me the way he spoke to me the other day.

Sometimes, not often, you get to surprise people, and sometimes you get to see it. ManBoss literally did a double take, as if he expected me to just roll over, to not stand up for myself, and just give in.

At this point WomanBoss says we need to table (in the defer sense) the conversation for later while they come up with a work plan. I spent all day that and all day the next day, Friday, alone in the back of the office with ManBoss. It took me three xanax and half a dozen Tums to get through my workday. Sunday afternoon I resigned by email.

Given that ManBoss’ response to me asking him to take accountability for his behavior was a classic abuser response – “If you didn’t make me so mad I wouldn’t have to hit you.” – I think I would have been justified just emailing my resignation and never going back in to the office. Given his response, is it any wonder I didn’t want to be alone with him? Given that for the past six months he’s been snappish, pouty, condescending, and generally cranky not just with me but with the PMs and the other two devs, how am I supposed to predict how he will respond to the simplest question? As TGF points out, he’s a big guy and I had no guarantee that the next time I asked him something he wouldn’t get physically violent.

Monday during the project hand-off ManBoss still took no responsibility for his actions, and I got yet another of those rare opportunities to surprise someone: when I told them I was prepared to offer them three weeks’ notice WomanBoss was visibly shocked, as if I would be unprofessional enough to just walk out that day.

They elected to have my last day be the end of the month, which was the end of the current pay period. So I have been officially unemployed for nine days.

But it hasn’t been all bad. One of the things I’ve discovered is how big and supportive my network of friends and professional contacts is. I am extremely lucky. I’ve already had one job interview. And I will come out of this better off. I’m already better off; I’ve started sleeping through the night more often than not, something I haven’t done in almost six months.

So it’s 6ft tall, blonde, and Swedish with a D-cup

I am enough of an adult that I can take criticism and judge for myself whether it is justified and constructive or it’s motivated by something else and, intentionally or not, serves only to attempt to do damage. Sometimes it takes me a while because I tend to take any kind of critique very personally, but not in the usual way of believing that I can do no wrong. No, I tend to believe that whatever critique I’m getting is justified as I flail about wondering if I’ve missed a deficiency somewhere. And, of course, I have just enough of the human tendancy to deny criticism that I then have to fight off those thoughts before I can look objectively at whether or not I need to make changes. This is why it took me a few days to process the abortion of an annual review I received two weeks ago.

After serious consideration, and looking around at some job listings, I realized that ManBoss was right: I have become complacent in my professional development. I’ve let my skills lapse relying on the fact that my job is basically the same thing over and over again supported by people who have skills in areas where I am deficient. To fix this I looked around at various free and paid training programs. Teaching methods have changed quite a bit since the last time I learned Javascript.

Now instead of pages of reading followed by an exercise at the end of the chapter there are two basic instructional methods: watch a short video then do an exercise or “learn by doing” with bite-sized lessons that accrete to a section ending exercise.

The watching a video method has not proven successful for me (so many unwatched courses bought on sale) so I chose the learn-by-doing route. The price point is roughly the same, about $20/month USD, for pro/premium plans across all providers who take this approach. I picked one and signed up.

I as a pro customer they created custom path that will take me from vanilla Javascript to jQuery to Angular JS. Another path at this provider is a PHP to Python to Ruby progression. They also have a course in using Git which looks interesting. And it seems to be working for me. I’m remembering more and am able to apply it better. I’m also able to squeeze in a little bit of studying every day because each lesson takes less than 15 minutes.

In considering the other critique, the one about my pace, I decided to do a little experiment based on a comment from ManBoss during my review. He acknowledged that my computer is a POS and that it was ridiculous for me to be waiting a minute or more for it to load a page served by localhost.

At this point I would like to rage for a minute: Of course it’s a POS. A Mac devoted guy bought the cheapest Windows laptop he could get away with four years ago. When I was handed this machine new it had 4gb of memory out of a possible eight…four years ago. Everyone in the office, including WomanBoss, who has a perfectly good Mac Mini sitting on her desk, has gotten a new laptop in the past 18 months. Everyone except me. Me, I did some research last summer and found a company that sells compatible after-market memory and got ManBoss to agree to spend under $70 to double the amount of memory available to my machine, which helped a lot, but isn’t the same as a new computer.

To figure out how much of my pace problem is me plodding, and I’m willing to admit that I am probably slower than the average agency would like, and how much of it is a technology issue, I decided to use the tool I’ve been tracking my daily time with to figure out how much of my day I spend working and how much I spend just staring at my computer waiting for it to do simple, routine tasks like clear cache, load pages from local host, compile SASS into CSS files, and load external, work-related sites. I’ve been doing this for nearly two weeks and on average I’m spending a fifth of my tracked time per day just waiting for my computer. One day in the past week I tracked just under 6 hours and spent 54 minutes of that just waiting for my machine. That’s nearly an hour of lost productivity.

I’ve had a very frank conversation with our other PM (not the one who ignored the circus of a project for Floundering NonProfit) about what’s going on and she’s helped provide some balance and perspective confirming that yes, a lot of the underlying management problems I see are really there. Wednesday I had her review a note to my bosses to follow up on my review and let them know what steps I was taking to remedy the things they brought to my attention. She thought it seemed reasonable. I thought it seemed reasonable. Here’s what it said:

Hi ManBoss; Hi WomanBoss,

I want to let you know what steps I am taking to correct the skills and speed deficiencies you brought to my attention during my review.

For the skills piece, per ManBoss’ request I’ve started with Javascript. I’m currently following TrainingCompany’s Javascript path which starts with vanilla js, goes to jQuery, then on to AngularJs. I think their approach – bite sized lessons with small tasks that accrete to a larger task at the end of each section – is working well for me. I’ve also set myself an overall course task of improving on the first unit’s project – rock, paper, scissors against the computer – and being able to apply other things I learn to that program. Once I’m done with this path there is a PHP, Python, Ruby path which I intend on pursuing. They also have a Git course that looks interesting.

With respect to increasing speed, I am applying ManBoss’ suggestions for being less exacting with comps to CurrentHosedProject and it seems to have improved my pace dramatically. Too, I am trying to keep better track of my actual work time vs. time spent waiting on my machine to do routine tasks. If you’ll look in Admin > Dev/Ops you’ll find that time spent waiting for those routine tasks is not trivial. I would like us to come up with a plan to address this – whether that is a new Windows machine or transitioning me to Mac (and giving me the time to learn that new system) – as there is no chance I’m winning the Indy 500 driving a Yugo. 🙂

One thing that would be helpful for me moving forward is if we could more expressly define what is expected of me in my role and position here at SmallAgency – am I to be a front-end dev with some back end skills? a full stack developer (and if so, which stack? with a specific CMS specialty (e.g WordPress or Drupal)) a primarily front-end dev with project management and content strategy experience? This will help me concentrate my time on improving in the areas that are most beneficial and contribute most to the team as a whole.

I also think it would be helpful for SmallAgency in general if we could better define what it means to be a back-end dev and a front-end dev on a project. I say this not so that people can work only to expectations but more so that people can concentrate on primary expectations more effectively and then use additional time to help out where needed.

I look forward to your response. If you would like to discuss this further in person I’m happy to do that as well.

Thank you,

Seems fairly resonable: you gave me critique, here’s how I’m correcting it, here are some data I’ve discovered, and here are some requests of you based on those data and some about setting expectations that will help me do a better job for you.  Also this helps me know what your expectations are.  If you’re looking for me to be a 6 ft tall blonde with a D-cup who speaks Swedish then our continuing relationship is a waste of time for both of us: I can never be that and you will always be disappointed.

I admit that this line – (and if so, which stack? with a specific CMS specialty (e.g WordPress or Drupal)) – is missing a question mark inside those parentheses [(and if so, which stack? with a specific CMS specialty (e.g WordPress or Drupal)?)] so it could be read ambiguously but I would say that it’s not the most important thing in the message.

A day later I get this back from WomanBoss (punctuation or lack thereof as sent):

Hi myRealName
Thanks for following up and updating us. We appreciate that. We’re researching a new PC for you and will try hard to slot that in the budget.

Regarding CMSs as you know our primary work is Drupal and WordPress and our developers work in both. We’ll need you to continue to work within both at SmallAgency.

ManBoss will follow up on your other questions.

I had to read it twice and walk away from my computer before I could fully digest this reply. Picking it apart several things stand out:

  • The aforementioned missing question mark and the response to that: Any time you use the phrase “as you know” you’re being condescending. There’s absolutely no call for that.
  • The new computer issue: They’re going to “try hard to slot that into the budget” could mean one of two things:
    1. They’re planning on firing me after the current project wraps up so why bother to get me new equipment?
    2. They’re terminally stupid about how they manage their resources and expectations.

    At this point either of these is just as likely.

  • Following up on my other questions: ManBoss won’t follow up on my other questions. Setting those kinds of expectations would actually require ManBoss to make a decision and not be “improvisational.” It would also set clear boundaries and require both of them to maintain those boundaries. That means they can’t move the goal posts at a whim.

Speaking of moving the goal posts, Alternet ran an interesting article on bosses this week. Seven eighths of it applied, in varying degrees, to where I work.

The coffee should have been my first clue.


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