TagIT

Care

Terrapin Systems (Terpsys) is the only contracting company I’ve ever worked for I felt cared about me as a person, as an employee and wanted me to stay. They invested in me like I invested in them.

How?

We had face time with our manager. She would sit in with us periodically. She was available in person or by phone and she was on our work site enough it was easy to schedule in-person chats with her.

We had two reviews a year. Every six months we’d get a review, the 6-month meeting was a check-in. It was a chance to see how we were doing and if we needed to make any corrections. It also provided a time to talk about goals and hopes for the position and advancement.

What?

The 6-month review offered a chance at a pay bump. The yearly review offered chances of both a raise and a bonus. Both were calculated based on a number of factors.

All of the factors were provided to us at hiring and made available at each meeting. So it was very clear what the company expected of us and how we could maximize our earnings and performance. There was no mystery. What we needed to do was very clear and spelled out.

Perks

Regular Time Off

Terpsys had a Regular Day Off work schedule. It was a compressed work schedule that meant we’d work an extra 30 minutes everyday, and earn a day off every pay period. It wasn’t always the same day and was decided based on coverage needs.

The schedule was setup at the beginning of the year, so we had all of our days off scheduled and we could plan accordingly. It was a perfect time to schedule appointments and run errands. It made vacation planning easier and we could use those days to extend or replace our Paid Time Off.

It wasn’t something the company had to do, but it was something they offered because they could. And they cared enough about their employees.

Certifications

Terpsys also required certifications. I got my Comptia A+ and Network+ the first year, which they required all of their tech people to have those as a baseline. After the first year, we were required to get one certification each year after that. The company reimbursed us for all test costs.

Those tests can be very expensive. And Terpsys paid for all of it. They wanted us to better ourselves and in turn better the company.

Gear

The gear. Oh man, Terpsys loved to give out gear. At the 90-day mark the onslaught of Terpsys shirts began. For the 2.5 years I worked there, I never bought a single polo shirt. I was given a couple new ones twice a year.

They were nice shirts, many of which I still have and wear outside of work because they fit well and are very comfortable. I was only there for a few years and I have:

  • 1 Raincoat
  • 1 Light jacket
  • 1 Sweatshirt
  • 1 Set of tools with drill and soldering kit
  • 2 T-Shirts
  • 12 Polo shirts
  • 2 Hard plastic to-go cups
  • 2 Glasses cases
  • 1 Picnic blanket

And I’m sure I’m forgetting some other stuff. We were not required to wear the shirts for work and some people never did. But they were nicely made and stood up well. So I wore mine all the time.

The raincoat and light jacket are still the only ones I own and the blanket gets lots of use in warmer weather. The toolkit I reach for all the time.

Inclusion

It’s hard to feel like you’re part of the company you actually work for in a contracting environment. You begin to feel much more in common with the client, in this case, the National Institutes of Health. I felt like part of NIH and not Terpsys. They were just the name on the pay check.

But they did a lot to try to make us feel included.

There was a softball team. There were monthly staff meetings. There were cross-training opportunities and stand up meeting with others who worked on the same campus, but not the same building. It was helpful to put names and faces together and to get all of us to feel part of a larger team.

I didn’t always appreciate all the things they did. I didn’t play softball or attend the pizza nights, an opportunity to learn something taught by another employee unrelated to our work. I never attended a happy hour after the staff meetings (partly because I didn’t drink at the time.) I didn’t attend the summer company anniversary party (which always fell on the week I took off for vacation).

I did attend the winter holiday party (called that because it was in February). It was a grand affair at the National Building Museum in Washington DC. Everything was paid for and there was a theme each year. The food was good. And it was nice to introduce my wife to my co-workers and vice versa. These were all the people I spent my days with and now they’d get to meet each other.

The End

There was a lot Terpsys did right. Their only major misstep was relying on one single, huge contract. When they lost that contract, most of the company lost their jobs. Many people transitioned to the new company who won the contract and many more, like myself, left entirely to pursue other work.

The sad truth in contracting is the only way to get a major raise or promotion is to move jobs. In the past 7 years, I’ve doubled my salary by moving around every couple of years.

I tend to get bored with my work I do about two and a half years into where I’m working. I know the work. I’ve mastered it and I have no other challenges to meet. So it’s time for something new. And because the contracts are so narrow, there’s nowhere to move within the contracting company and the client’s site has nothing since you don’t work for them.

So it’s time to move. I’ve made wildly differing amounts of money for the same work. It just depends who the client was and the size of the contract. Money is always flexible. At the end of the day, I have to make the best decision for me. And often times that decision is to move on. Whether there’s a big event like losing a contract, or I need a new challenge.

Evolve or Die: How IT Can Damage Your Company

Recently I had a customer come to me with an HR problem – it was a bit odd, I admit, until they explained it to me. Due to their company’s policy of not offering Mac as a choice of computing platform for their employees, they’d had prospective employees turn down job offers and go to competing companies because they could not use the platform of their choice to get their job done. They also had seen an uptick in IT training spend due to new employees who were fresh out of college having never used Windows before. Let that sink in for a minute – employees that had never used Windows before. I thought it was an interesting problem and having given it some thought, there’s a few very good reasons as to why this has happened.

Source: Evolve or Die: How IT Can Damage Your Company | Nerdily

This entire piece sums up perfectly how large IT infrastructures are being left.

The very first paragraph of the post is true and if you don’t think it is, you’re deluding yourself.

Times change, users do, users can, and if you tell them, “no,” they’re simply going to see where you erected the last fence post and do an end-run around it.

I added the emphasis because this is such an important point. If you put up arbitrary roadblocks in front of people trying to get work done, they’ll find another way. The example has been 100% true in every organization I’ve ever worked in support.

For example, does your organization attempt to block services like Dropbox, Google Drive and iCloud? Very likely. Do you have an internal cloud so that users get that cloud functionality? Very likely not. In that case, I can guarantee that your corporate data is on Dropbox, Google Drive, iCloud and other services outside of your control.

In 2015, you can’t block services that help people get their work done and not offer a solution of your own. All of this is being done while asking more and more of people.

Blackberries and smart phones tether people to their corporate responsibilities longer and later in the day. Telework, laptops and VPNs mean working from everywhere, anytime goes from a luxury to an unspoken requirement.

Before, I worked at a place where Macs, Linux, Irix, Unix and Windows all worked in harmony to support an overall mission. Now, I’m in a place that views anything outside of Blackberries and Dells as alien technologies. I’d forgotten how limiting it is to try to pretend half a world of technology doesn’t exist.

My new role is no longer straight IT Support. I describe it as part event planning, part troubleshooting and part evangelism. And everyday I have struggles with technology here. I realize I am one of the edgiest edge cases because I work directly with all parts of the agency where I am. And it’s clearly not setup for that.

It’s 2015 and I’m still fighting battles in trying to move 1GB files across our network to other agencies. I’ve done my part in working around the limitations of my job to better serve my customers. But it’s a struggle that shouldn’t exist.

Show me the money

If you bring someone in for an interview, or even have a phone interview before they know the salary range for the position you’re hiring for, there’s a good chance you’re wasting both your time and theirs. A candidate should not learn the position’s salary range for the first time in the interview. – Marco

Like Marco, this is one of my biggest pet peeves. Why should I waste my time and the employer’s time talking about a job I don’t want. Sure, I want to work. I want to find a job, that’s why I am hunting in the first place. If I find out the salary being offered is outside of my range, then we’ve both wasted time setting up this interview.

I want to work at the same level or higher than I am working. If I am employed full-time either directly or on a long-term contract I want the same stability and more money. If I didn’t, why would I be looking?

I get a little crazy when I see job postings with salaries listed as DOE or competitive. I have to ask, competitive to what? Depending on experience how so? I’ve got tons of experience but maybe not in what you’re looking for exactly. Are you competitive with my last employer? Competitive for an entry-level position? Who is the competition?

When I go job hunting I want to know I am not wasting my time. There’s no point in talking about a job that pays $10,000 under what I’m asking. There’s no point in looking at 3 or 6 or 12 month contracts. I am looking for something long-term not stepping-stones.

I am fine with a probationary period. It takes about 90 days to really feel comfortable and learn a new job. Six months are fine too, especially in a contract-to-hire situation.

I’m at the point in my career where I ask for what I want. When I show up to the interview, I have a pile of questions. I want to interview the company I’ll be spending 40+ hours of my life in every week for the next few years. I want to make sure we’re a good fit. I don’t want any surprises.

Learning The Hard Way

When I was younger, I would go into a job interview and do my best to be likable and impressive. I wanted to prove just how much I knew and how they would love me. I desperately wanted the job. And it showed.

I hadn’t done my research about the company. What did I need to know? They had a job, I was a job seeker. Seemed like a perfect match to me. I read the job description but I never looked deeper.

And that’s how I got myself into trouble.

My second job out of college was working at a Honeywell plant. I was a technician support contractor. I was hired by Unisys, to work on the Honeywell plant as a Dell technician. Honeywell was a Dell shop. All their computers were Dells. So it was part of my job to diagnose and repair the machines. I was Dell Certified and had access to order Dell parts and replace them.

It was a pretty good job. However, during the interview process the recruiter, who was not local, told me the position was in the Richmond area. This was my first mistake. I didn’t know exactly where the job was. I knew it was close, but close is a relative term. I needed a job. The contract position I was working was ending because the project was over. I needed something new to pay the bills.

So I accepted the position when it was offered to me. Then I learned the plant was 25 miles South of Richmond and would be a 45 minute drive, without traffic. I spent eight months driving 90 minutes round trip to a job that paid barely enough to cover the gas I used to get there and back.

Vacation Policy

Everyone needs time off. For the Honeywell position as well as my first few jobs out of college, I got no time off. If I was sick I worked. If I wanted to travel, I didn’t. More than once I drove through the night and arrived at work for the day without having slept at all. I did the best with what I had to work with, which wasn’t much.

As a result, I burned out of those jobs. I had perfect attendance, but I worked through being sick and wishing I was elsewhere. I couldn’t travel to see family. I couldn’t take leisurely vacations. I skipped holidays. and all the while I was miserable.

I spent my time looking for other jobs. I wanted a job that paid more money and a shorter commute. Since paid time off was not an option, I tried to compensate with money and a better commute.

It wasn’t sustainable.

Having time off is vital to a happy, healthy employee.

To quote Marco again,

Working in the environment without time off was miserable and I did it because I felt like I had to pay my dues. Each job held the appeal of maybe being offered a full-time, non-contract position. But it never did. So I would work for a few months, then leave for somewhere better.

I learned too late in life the grass is always green and if it wasn’t where I was, I needed to move. Because no one is going to look out for me, but me.

Contentment

The current landscape in the web encourages this movement. Even when employed in a position, designers and developers are not truly employees, but hired guns. How often do we see a talented designer hired by a company leave in under two years? I’m not sure if dissatisfaction is the cause, but the “grass-is-greener” mentality seems alive and well in our industry.

via Chris Bowler’s Cultivating Contentment

I see the same problem in the IT Support industry. I’ve worked in tech support for nearly a decade and I’ve always felt like a nomadic hired guns. This goes double for large corporations and government agencies.

There are very few full-time employees. And the few positions that are full-time are managers and executive staff. Basically, the overseers of the crowd of IT contractors they use to perform the jobs of the department.

The help desk techs. The desktop support techs. The network and server administrators. All these people are contractors. Maybe we stay for ten years and have a great career in one place. But more often, we tend to roam from place to place as we get bored, company culture changes or we just want something new.

There is no end to the available work because IT Support is always in demand and the grass is always green.

The process is broken

How to get a new program installed in my work computer?

  • I decide I’d like to have a new program.
  • I choose a free one like Google Chrome.
  • I submit the request to the Help Desk.
  • I’m informed I need to get permission from two people before they can install it.
  • I email my IT Point of Contact.
  • I wait for a reply.
  • I attach the reply email to my request.
  • Then I write to a second person, whose role I don’t understand other than being identified as a person who has to approve requests.
  • I wait for a reply.
  • A few days go by.
  • I receive a reply and attach it to my request.
  • Now, the Help Desk can start to work on my request.

It took four days to get Google Chrome installed.

I am still waiting to get an add-on for WebEx installed. It’s already been four days and in still waiting on one of the emails I need.
I support WebEx for this company. This is my job. And I’m stuck with this ridiculous process.

There is no chance in this process changing. That was the first thing I asked. It’s been like that as long as anyone I spoke to can remember. Its a broken process.

How the process should work

  • I request a program be installed to the Help Desk.
  • Help Desk checks a few things
    Is it free / Does it need a license?
    Will it work in the environment?
    Is there a business reason to have this?
  • Unless there’s an issues with one of the above, the Help Desk dispatches a technician to install the program.

It’s a much faster process. It doesn’t require waiting for busy people to send emails granting permission for a free application. But most importantly, the customer experience is far better.

The problem with big organizations is they lost sight of how the process works for those who need to use them. The process in place is broken. And it’s never going to change until someone cares enough to change it.

Next time I need to have something installed, I’m going to think if I really need this new program. It’s not worth the hassle.