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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.