Contract-to-Fire

workI recently started a new position; my first-ever contract job.  At the beginning, I was enthusiastic about coming in and doing a good job.  I noticed a few deficiencies off the bat and made some recommendations for improvements in a group e-mail to everyone in the department.  My intention was to avoid some of the large issues that had plagued previous workplaces and improve our processes, because to be frank, there were none.

My recommendations were shrugged off with a big fat ‘MEH’ by everyone.  I don’t know if it was due to my relative inexperience at the workplace, or the arrogance of leadership, but for whatever the reason, the end result was that nothing happened, and the glaring issues remained.

I was miffed (but not completely surprised) by the lack of response.  I imagined that the thought process went something along the lines of:  “Why should we listen to this new guy?  He doesn’t know how we do things here.

My first thought was that I needed to change my approach and need address my manager directly instead of broadcasting to the group in the hope that we could come to a consensus.  My second thought became a lot more compelling the more it bounced around in my head:

“Why should I care?”

I should begin by mentioning that the position I was hired into has a nearly zero chance of becoming permanent.  Folks come here, they work for a year or two, and then they’re gone.  Because of that, I have nearly zero investment in this company.  Indeed, one of the issues that I wanted to address was knowledge management; if you’re going to have a revolving door of people coming in and out of a department, you might want to have a good documentation process in place so that not all of a person’s expertise walks out the door when their time inevitably comes.

Ultimately, I let it go.  I had said my peace, and if the Powers That Be decided to ignore it, then why should I make a fuss?  Obviously they know what they’re doing.  There’s also no sense in wasting my time with people that have no intention of listening to me.

The unfortunate truth is that a contract worker will never be completely engaged in the future of the company they work at, especially if they have no visible road to bigger and better things.

I’ve since kept my mouth shut about any new issues that I’ve noticed and given up any hope of things improving.  It doesn’t make any sense to fight the current, instead I’ll just keep surfing the wave of incompetence until my contract is up.

Besides, why should I be fully invested in the company’s problems when the company isn’t fully invested in me?

 

The Difference…

workOver the last week, my Honda CR-V (aka The Excelsior) had been starting up just a little more sluggishly with each trip.  Eventually, it got to the point where it just barely started, but as is human nature, I figured that it would last just long enough to get to get the battery looked at.

Of course, I waited one trip too many and eventually it didn’t start at all one night.  Click-click-click-click-click was all I heard.

After getting a jump-start from a neighbor (always have cables in your vehicle, folks) I went to the auto parts store where I had replaced the original battery a few years prior.  I had a strong suspicion that the battery was dead, but when the gentleman asked if I would like to have it tested, it placed just enough doubt in my mind to make me think that might not be the case.  I didn’t want it to be something else, because as far as car repairs go, replacing a battery is on the fairly inexpensive scale, and it can be done by one’s self, assuming the vehicle can be taken to a good battery or vice-versa.

The gentleman grabbed a tester and followed me out to my noble (if not currently unreliable) steed.  I popped the hood and proceeded to let the gentleman do his job.  He attached the clips to the battery terminals and proceeded to push some buttons on the device.  After a few moments he told me the battery was good and asked if I wanted him to test other ‘start the car’ parts.  I said yes, and he asked me to start the vehicle.  I made a crack about ‘I hope it starts,’ but much to my surprise, it started with no hesitation.  A few moments and button presses later, the man told me that the alternator and starter were probably okay, too.  I thanked him for his time and went on my merry (if slightly worried) way to the grocery store, where the car started again without issue.  What the heck was wrong with my car?

As folks are oft to do these days, I went onto social media to share my ambivalence over the situation.  Friends offered advice and their own tales of automotive experiences, both good and bad.  One friend mentioned that a similar problem had been caused by loose terminal connectors.  This idea sounded intriguing to me, as I had recalled my interior lights flashing during the process of having it jumped, and so I resolved to investigate them come the morning.  I didn’t park the Excelsior in the garage because I had a feeling I was going to need another jump-start.

The next morning, I hopped into my trusty steed to go have some breakfast and was greeted by the clicking noise again.  No big deal, it’s the terminals, right?  Wrong.  Nothing was loose and there was no corrosion to be found.  It has to be the battery, I thought, but what the guy last night told me it was good.  I frumped for a while as I searched for nearby mechanics and groused over the pile of money I anticipated I was going to have to spend.

Finally, I decided to get a second opinion.

I got a jump-start from a different neighbor, and observed that both times we had to let my vehicle sit for a while and charge up.  The thought of it has to be the battery kept bouncing in my head as I drove to a different auto parts store.  I walked inside and asked to have my battery checked.  This time around, the tech got a frumpy look on her face when she saw my terminals.  The connectors to the Excelsior’s battery have these plastic covers that were getting in the way of the clips, meaning she could only reliably attach the clips to the screws that kept the connectors attached.  “I don’t like taking a reading from the screws, the reading is sometimes wrong,” She said.  The tech did her best to adjust the tester clip, but was not completely satisfied with the result: “I’m not getting a good reading, can you take the battery out?” She asked.

I said sure, and proceeded to do so, with the tools I keep inside the vehicle.  I also had to borrow a pair of pliers, but eventually dislodged the battery and took it inside the store.  The tech did her thing, and sure enough, the battery was bad.  Fortunately, I had purchased the ‘three-year replacement’ battery the last time and I received a new one free of charge.  I installed it myself, which was only fair since I had taken the old one out, and now my trusty steed is trusty once again.

I figured that it would be a good idea to let the tech know about my experience the night before.  We both agreed that the other guy just didn’t know about the screws providing unreliable readings.

And thus we have the difference between somebody who only knows how to follow instructions, and somebody that actually knows what they are doing because they have learned how things really work.

Whether they are fixing cars or computers, a good tech will have more in-depth knowledge about the things that they repair than someone who is only taught how to fix things or is working off a script.  When the ‘usual steps’ don’t work, a good tech can think things though and improvise to find a solution.  A bad tech only knows how to follow instructions, and when those instructions don’t do the job, they’re stuck, and so are you.

300 Seconds #79: Job Separation Anxiety

Click here to listen to this episode!

You are listening to ‘300 Seconds with Eduardo Soliz,’ and this is episode number 79, “Job Separation Anxiety,” so let the 300 Seconds begin!

I’ve had a feeling of impending doom at work for a few weeks now.  During this time of year, we usually start getting ready for our ‘busy season’ by preparing training materials and hiring new people so that they’ll (hopefully) be ready for the onslaught of customers in the fall. While there has been plenty of training prep going on, our boss hadn’t scheduled a single interview.  Suspicious, to say the least.

Finally, for the first time since I have worked at the company, every person in our department was called into a meeting.  The meeting began with a sad-faced girl from Human Resources going into a spiel about restructuring, company challenges, new directions, blah blah blah.  Yup, here it comes.

She then threw the hammer down: The thirty people in the room (including myself) were all going to be laid off after a few weeks.  The department was being scaled back, so if we wanted to hang around, we would have to apply for one of the new positions.  After some questions and one wire-acre comment from yours truly, we were each given a packet of documents and allowed to go home to digest the news, if we wanted to.  Needless to say, everybody called it a day.  I didn’t envy the Human Resources gals their jobs, but at least they would still have jobs in a few weeks.

In my so-you’re-about-to-be-canned document packet was a fun corporate-double-speak letter that referred to my last day on the job as the ‘job separation date.’  Yeah, I’ll be certain to file that letter next to the ‘thirteen dollar bonus’ one from a few years ago.  Yeah, that’s right.  Thirteen dollars.  And people wonder why I hate my job.

I chuckled at their choice of words: “Job Separation.”  I guess it beats ‘Don’t let the door hit ya where the Good Lord split ya,” though.  This being Texas, I’m genuinely surprised they didn’t just toss us out right then and there.

In a sense, I’m a little disappointed in myself; I’ve seen the writing on the wall at other employers in the past, and I’ve been lucky enough to get out of Dodge while the getting was good.

I guess I’ll have to start paying attention to those updates from Monster and LinkedIn now!

This has been 300 Seconds, the next episode will be posted after my update my resume.  I am Eduardo Soliz, and if you’re looking for a software developer, help desk analyst, tech support lead, creative writer, copy editor, or maybe even a voice guy, shoot me an email at edsoliz@yahoo.com.  Whether you’re hiring or not, check out Eduardo Soliz dot com for more podcasts and short stories, and as always, I thank you for listening!

myPhone

technology2There are a number of things that I don’t mind, but at the same time it’s sometimes fun to wave my metaphorical Cranky Old Man cane at the durn kids with their newfangled doohickeys and double-you-step music.

Case in point: Apple.  I don’t mind them.  I own a 2009 iMac and an original iPad mini.  Both are quite good at what they do, and I continue to use them.  Despite that, I like to thumb my nose at the ‘Apple guy’ in the office (there’s always one) and have back-and-forths with him about why I feel Microsoft is better.  As if in retaliation, my original iPad mini has been slowly inching towards obsolescence with each iOS update.  Recently, I was frustrated at not being able to play the neato new Fallout Shelter game for more than a few minutes without the poor thing crashing.

While the thought of getting a new iPad has crossed my mind, the thought of dropping a few hundred bucks on another one is not a pleasant one, especially since my Windows 8 tablet has proven to be quite capable, Microsoft Office notwithstanding.

Because of its creaky performance, I have been using the iPad mini as a hotspot more than anything else as of late.  I would use my cell phone as a hotspot, but Cricket Wireless has internet sharing disabled on my Lumia 530.  Jerks.  So I send a few bucks to Verizon, turn on the iPad’s hotspot feature, set it down, and then use my Windows laptop or tablet to get things done.

Which brings me to my next point.  I am, for better or for worse, married to Microsoft Windows as well as their ecosystem.  Windows 8.1, Word, OneDrive and OneNote have all served me well over the years and I have no reason to stop using them.

In spite of that, I have decided to get an iPhone for my next phone.  As I am not on a contract, I can make the jump whenever it pleases me, but more practical concerns such as home and vehicle maintenance take precedence. Nevertheless, whenever I am financially ready to make the jump I will be more than happy to for the following reasons:

  1. Apple makes pretty good hardware – My iMac and iPad have been pretty durable and dependable over the years.  I’ll likely have to get a case for an iPhone, but I’m pretty careful with my phones; I’ve never cracked a single screen over the years.
  2. Apps apps everywhere – This is the Achilles’s Heel of Windows Phone; the limited app selection wouldn’t be so bad if Microsoft would keep their own apps up to date.  The iPad version of Word blows the Windows Phone one out of the water, too.
  3. Accessories – Because I often get cheaper (or Windows) phones, cases and accessories are rare or nonexistent.  Stores seem to have three sections for phone accessories: Apple, Samsung, and one with a big sign above it for everyone else that says EFF-YOU.
  4. Microsoft is on board – The fact that I can get Microsoft Word on iOS and Android means no more Brand X Office apps.
  5. Hotspot! – I travel, and it would be nice to be able to fall back on my phone as a hotspot instead having to carry another device to do so.
  6. Android = suck, WinPhone = bleh, iPhone = ? Android devices have been craptacular for me over the years and Windows Phone trips at the finish line despite its nice interface.  I have never owned an iPhone so who’s to say I won’t like it?
  7. Get rid of iPad – I still only have my iPad mini for two reasons: to use as a hotspot and for work.  If I get an iPhone I can do without it completely.
  8. Updates for all! – With Android and Windows Phone, you are at the tender mercies of your carrier for updates unless you buy an unlocked device.  My Windows Phone is one update behind because of this.  iPhones, on the other hand, usually get all updates.

Of course, there is some bad with the good:

  1. Increased Cost – I am currently not on contract with Cricket Wireless and its been pretty sweet: $35 a month for 2.5GB of high speed data and unlimited minutes and texts.  To get an iPhone I’ll either have to pay a few hundred for the device up front or go on a contract again.  Either way that means more money.
  2. Durability – It is out of sheer luck that my Lumia doesn’t have a cracked screen given all the times I’ve dropped it (thank you Nokia).  I will definitely have to get a case to ensure my iPhone doesn’t meet an unfortunate fate.  It will remain to be seen if the iPhone is ‘Eduardo-proof’
  3. Apple EVERYWHERE? – Despite having an iMac and iPad, I am barely invested in Apple’s ecosystem.  Except for backing up my iPad I don’t use iCloud for anything.  That should stay the same with an iPhone…I hope.

I was on the fence about getting iPhone before writing this blog, but now that I’ve jotted down all the ups and downs, I’m all but certain I’m going to pull the trigger on one…eventually.  $35 a month for cell service is going to be really hard to give up, though!

RANDOM REVIEW: 2013 A.D.

2013As the final hours of the year tick away, I have to say that 2013 was a really good one for me.

After years of dealing with apartments and all that malarkey, I broke down and bought a house.  Home ownership has been pretty awesome so far: I went from one-bedroom apartments to a two-bedroom house with a garage and a huge backyard and rabbits and I can barbeque and have friends over and I love it.  Given the age of the house, home repairs and replacing things will eventually come but for now its been smooth sailing.

On the e-book front, I decided to try to sell printed copies of my work at a few conventions and events and failed spectacularly, at least from a business standpoint.  I can count my total sales on my hands.  People just don’t read much anymore, or at least not the types of folks that go to anime or furry conventions.  On the plus side, I did get to talk to lots of folks, present some panels and if nothing else, hopefully inspire some folks to ‘go it alone’ themselves.  I only published one new e-book (should have been two, but life and all that) and definitely need to up my output next year.

2013 was a fun year of conventions, camping, writing, video games, furries, cookies, home maintenance and most importantly, friends and family. I am optimistic that 2014 will be even better; my goal is to compete at least two story collections as well as the follow-up to “The Rules of Tech Support,” which is my best-seller so far.  I am also hoping to attend some new conventions, make new friends, and well, get some work done on the house.  So without any further ado:

MISSION START!

“De-empathized”

square coverTech support folks are often accused of not caring about customer problems.  Most of you won’t want to hear this (and the rest of you will nod your heads in agreement), but the unfortunate truth is that yeah, many of us in tech support really don’t care about your problem.

A tech support person hears so much wailing and gnashing of customer teeth over the course of their job that it eventually fails to have any meaningful effect.  We eventually become ‘de-empathized’ and thus lose our ability to feel empathy or sympathy towards our customers.  Most of us don’t start out with much to begin with so it doesn’t take very long to reach that point.

Why?  A few reasons:

First, a tech can interact with a lot of customers, particularly if they do phone support. Let’s assume a tech talks to 20 customers over the course of a day:  That adds up to 100 people over the course of a week, or 5,200 people in a year.  Considering that the majority of them of them are calling because something is not working, a fairly high percentage of them are going to be angry, upset, and frustrated.  While most people are civil, many are not, and of course, there are a few jerks, to put it politely.  I submit to you that it is very difficult to hear all that negativity (to say nothing of the stupidity) and not have it affect you.

Secondly, techs get the same paycheck regardless of how many problems they fix or don’t fix.  If a tech puts in extra effort its probably because you’re being nice, or at least civil, but there are usually no consequences for not being able to fix a problem.  As much as I hate to admit, there are some problems that we can’t fix.

Finally, there is the repetition of hearing the same cries/pleads/screams for help day after day after day.  When you hear every customer tell you their problem is a matter of life and death the phrase becomes meaningless.  There is a saying that sums this attitude up best: “A failure to plan on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.”  The constant exaggerating by customers only aggravates us further; are we supposed to believe that a customer just sat behind a computer for three hours on a stuck install?

Don’t confuse indifference for laziness, though:  Those jaded-don’t-give-a-crap support people are still going to do their jobs, but they are going to do it without a single shred of touchy-feely-ness.  I can’t pinpoint exactly when I stopped caring, but I haven’t cared about my customer’s problems for quite some time, now.  Unfortunately the lack of empathy and concern can be heard loud in clear in my ‘phone voice’ at work, and I’ve been called out on it on occasion.

But just like I do when I hear the cry of ‘it has to be done now’ or ‘it was working yesterday’ or ‘its your company’s fault.’  I sigh, fix their problem or tell them it can’t be fixed, and move on to the next person.  Its just water off an apathetic duck’s back.

Closing Windows

technology2I don’t drink alcohol, but it is going to be hard to resist the urge to raise a glass of something on April 8, 2014.  That particular Tuesday is going to be a special day for many of my fellow techies around the world and I have no doubt that many of my I.T. brethren will be celebrating the momentous occasion that takes place on that day.  What is it, you ask?

It is the day that Windows XP finally DIES.

Don’t get me wrong, Windows XP has had a hell of a run since August 2001.  It was a good OS and was definitely a step up from the awful Windows Me that preceded it.   Heck, it was so good Microsoft kept it around when Netbooks came into vogue a few years ago.  Those netbooks and the terrible Windows Vista probably helped to keep it alive probably well past its originally intended expiration date, but all good things must come to an end, so here we are…or at least here we will be in just under seven months.

Windows 7 is goodness and I finally decided to eat my Windows 8 peas, so XP is but a fond memory for me except for when I have to deal with customers that still use it at work.  I can’t give them too much grief, because I still use WinAmp 2.9 and Microsoft Money 2000!  That said, I’ll be happy as a clam when I no longer have to worry about whether users should click on ‘Add/Remove Programs’ or ‘Programs and Features’ in the Control Panel!