Refusing to engage is engaging

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 third 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,
myRealName

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.

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.

I’ve long suspected that my happiness life expectancy at a job is somewhere around four years, and after that point the little things that aren’t right with an employer, or the management style, or the benefits, or the office politics become impossible to ignore. I was hoping this wasn’t the case at SmallAgency.

I was mistaken.

The annual review I had last week crystalized some things I’ve been feeling for a while now, chief among them that I just do not fit in where I work. Much of the criticism I got was totally valid – I do need to up my skill level in certain areas; I have not been moving forward developmentally in my field; and yes, I am probably slower than I should be – but some of it was, to put it mildly, complete and utter horse shit.

We are wrapping up a shit show of a project which is, ironically enough, my second stab at helping Floundering Non-Profit launch a new website. This project is now two weeks overdue. During my review last Thursday I was told that my “slowness is becoming a problem with project timelines.” I responded by saying I know that shit show project was, in fact, a mess and that I bear some of the responsibility for that but besides this particular project were there any other examples of my pace being a problem with a project coming in on time?

Nope. There were no other examples. There was also no recognition from my boss that anyone besides me – like say the project manager who only gave about 60% attention to the project, or my boss himself who completely ignored the project on the grounds that I was the lead developer while simultaneously refusing to let me set any kind of development direction only to deliver everything to me to do my part at the last minute – bears any responsibility for the state of this project. We discussed it further and I mentioned a second time that I realized I was partly responsible for the way the project has been going…and again nothing. No recognition whatsoever.

Smell the bullshit yet?

When I asked how I could speed up we discussed some strategies for dealing with design files with my boss telling me that he never uses all of the shades of gray, and there are often dozens, that our designer puts into a design because there are just too many. Which got me to thinking: if the files our designer produces are too detailed to use all the details why not tell him that, make the color palettes simpler and save our clients some design money while simultaneously giving people who have to work with these files a more clear directive on what to do with them? And how have my bosses not thought of this 10+ years into running their own firm? These are smart people. Surely this can’t be an idea I’m just having now?

How about now? Smell the bullshit?

Or maybe this bullshit should have been my first clue. The replacement rolls are less than four feet away. You have to pass them as you leave the bathroom.

Or maybe this bullshit should have been my first clue. The replacement rolls are less than four feet away. You have to pass them as you leave the bathroom.

The thing is, the bullshit has indicators. For almost four years I’ve been doing office-manager type duties – keeping track of whether or not we have paper products, making sure the water gets delivered in the right quantities, making the coffee every morning (even though I don’t drink coffee) and keeping track of beans and making sure the coffeemaker actually gets maintained – in addition to my actual job, and how we deal with coffee should have been my first clue.

These people like expensive coffee beans. We’re talking $75 for a five pound bag, and we have a gorgeous, burr grinder coffeemaker, that will make as few as two cups of coffee, in which to make it. Routinely my office makes a second pot, 12 cups, of coffee during the day, and just as routinely I throw out 6 to 8 cups of coffee the next morning to make a new batch. Why? Because they won’t drink anything other that freshly brewed coffee.

Now, since I’m not a coffee drinker I can’t really criticize the choice to not drink day-old coffee. What I can criticize is the ridiculous waste of one person brewing an entire pot then drinking less than a quarter of it.

And it’s this ridiculous waste that is really the indicator of the underlying problems.

Yes, it is time to formulate an exit strategy, and while I do, just nod and smile and remember the rules I have forgotten:

  1. I go there for money; it is an exchange of skills and time for salary.
  2. We are not friends. This is business.

Oh, and one more thing: Working remotely is a trap.

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