Archive for September 9th, 2008

The other week, I heard that a former employer had gone out of business. I reacted with the same pleasure that an octogenarian might feel on reading the name of an unpleasant former colleague in the obituaries. I was glad to see the company go, and my only surprise was that it had crawled along as long as it had. I had been expecting to see it go under for years.

As you might guess, I was not particularly happy there. I used to take long walks at lunch, regardless of the weather, just to get away from the place, and would amuse myself by composing words to a parody of “Chantilly Lace” that I called “Genteelly Bored.”

Part of my unhappiness was the circumstances. It was my first full-time position since the dot-com crash. After being one of the powers at two different companies, I felt demoted to be working as a technical writer again, no matter how often I told myself that no honest living was shameful. But I felt massively under-challenged, and chafed at having to take directions, although I remained polite.

But a larger part of the problem was that, having been a leader (of what quality I’m not sure), I knew that the company officers and executives were border-line competence at best. The CEO was not only fond of purges, which inevitably included people with key knowledge, but also of inflicting the latest management fads on the company. He was fond of regular, excruciating company meetings at which he kept showing the same slides over and over. When I left, he was trying retreats at which select members of the company would discuss a book on the management best-seller lists – a move which instantly divided the company into the privileged and the under-appreciated. He never did seem to understand that he was sending mixed signals, and, when I briefly shared an office with him due to overcrowding, he used to wonder why no one was passionate about the company.

The other executives were no better. The vice-president of toadyism, as I called the CEO’s right hand man, was infamous for making decisions without bothering to gather necessary information.

Another executive, a fundamentalist Christian, tried to take me to task for using, “Does anal-retentive have a hyphen?” on my screen saver. He thought it obscene, and was put out when I suggested that he had better things to do than chastise me over trivia and I refused to apologize on the grounds that I had done nothing wrong.

Then there was the testing manager, a little man who decorated his office in unread books and inspirational posters, and would spend hours designing spreadsheets with the largest color palette that I have ever seen. He worked long hours, and like to call meetings with me just before I was leaving for home. But at least he didn’t last as long as his probation.

“Blind leading the blind” was the phrase that kept occurring to me when I had to deal with any of these characters. But although interacting with them was bad enough, what was especially hard to handle was the fact that I had enough experience (and enough memories of my own incompetence) to know that they were mismanaging the company, and making what could only be a marginal business at best a loser. I discovered that to see incompetence that you know how to correct, yet to be able to do or say nothing is one of the most uncomfortable mental states possible.

Still, I shouldn’t complain. If I hadn’t been so uncomfortable, I wouldn’t have started trying to write a book on OpenOffice.org. The book was never published, but my efforts over the fifteen months I was at the company have since repaid my effort many times over as I cannibalized the chapters for articles. I also started doing a couple of other articles per month, and I still remember the pleasure when I had earned enough from articles to buy my new computer. There was another short contract between my work at this company and my transition to full-time journalist, but if I hadn’t been so bored, I might never have done the ground work for a career change. So I can’t say that the company didn’t do me an unintentional favor.

Still, I wish there had been a wake. I would have attended, if only to dance on the coffin.

Read Full Post »