It’s no secret I worked for “The Man” for nearly fourteen years. I’ve learned some pretty amazing technical things from that, but I also learned some tricks about ‘working’ with a big company that have yet to fail me no matter where I worked. They were all lessons my family instilled in me, but having some pretty amazing people like Bonine, Margie, Joe P., Nikki, Rae, and a host of other amazing people all reinforce the morals of the stories, and it made me know that these were the right things.

Always Admit Fault

Scariest moment of my life was the day I accidentally rebooted a trading server at 10am on Thursday. Those were only supposed to happen at 10pm on Thursday nights, well after all trading was done for the day. I did it mid-day which meant there was a high risk that in-flight data could be lost. I was tasked with diagnosing what had happened and, after a lot of review, I came back and said the only logical reason was I had typo’d when I scheduled the time. We since changed to 24/7 clocks and not AM/PM to mitigate, but I was up front about the error being me. Similarly, when a bad change I made to a script broke the internet for all of our UK offices, I said it was me, I fixed it, and I took the hit. This meant later when a change I’d fought against was put in and caused an outage, everyone believed me when I said I’d done it, but it was someone else’s idea. I had credibility and history and (of course) documentation on my side.

Document It Or It Didn’t Happen

I had a boss whom I did not like. I liked the work, but working with him was terrible. He didn’t grove like I did, he was misogynistic and racist. He also had a flagrant disregard for protocol. Love it or hate it, when your company has specific steps to follow to do a thing, you do the steps. He didn’t want to and demanded I make an on-the-fly change. Verbally. I didn’t. This ended in a shouting match which our manager had to step in and settle. But before that event, I was told to make a change I knew was wrong. I demanded it be documented that this was a change in scope and a requirement by him. I then, under duress, made the change. It broke. I backed it out. That marks the last time I ever let it go that far and may explain to many people why I’m so firm about not letting people do ‘wrong’ or ‘bad’ actions. If I know something’s wrong, I won’t do it and I won’t help you do it.

Remember You’re Special, And So Are They

I’m a techie. I know all sorts of weird things. Remembering that I know those things and understand the different between minimizing a screen and closing a window is important. Joe reminded me about that once. I never forgot it. I also don’t forget that my place is to make sure problems are solved. So just because I don’t panic doesn’t mean I’m being cavalier, but at the same time I have to make sure the other person knows that.

"Oh, you're using their Chrome APP, not their Chrome EXTENSION. They're very similar but one handles window creation differently." is a thing I hope I can stop saying soon.
Credit: xkcd

That window resize via a resolution change was the only way to fix a specific problem with a specific app. I used to travel across town to do it for people because trying to walk them through it on the phone was too difficult.

Use Your Calendar

“I’m sorry, I’m really busy.” has a lot more weight when they look at your calendar and see it’s booked. Solid. When I know I need to spend time working on a specific project, I schedule it as booked time and that way everyone can see and understand I’m busy. This is also a respect issue. If someone schedules a meeting, you confirm and click that damned ‘I accept’ button. It’s a contract, or a friendly agreement, in order to tell someone ‘Yes, I will be there.’

Don’t Waste Group Time

Irony. If you think about big companies, you think about wasted meetings where people never get anything done. I’m not talking about that (which is a thing). I’m talking about wasting time with being disrespectful of the meeting. Keep your phone/mic on mute in a conference call so no one hears you pounding on a keyboard. Turn off your video feed if you’re not presenting so you speed up the internet for everyone. Joining in a massive meeting with hundreds of people? Get a conference room for your location to prevent overwhelming the system. If it’s an on-line, text meeting, follow the announced protocol.

What Did You Learn?

I’m not the only open-sourcer who used to work for the Man. Did you learn anything that you still use today?

Those meetings, by the way, are generally a waste of time. I greatly prefer stand-ups. Everyone gets 60-90 seconds to state status. Everything after is taken outside meetings.

Reader Interactions

Comments

  1. Michael Arestad says:

    Befriend allies
    It’s super crucial to have allies in any department you work with. Don’t try to railroad anyone even if you are 100% sure your method is better. Be patient and their friend and they’ll be much more open to listening and backing you up.

    Avoid meetings at all costs
    I can’t stress this enough having worked for the government. Decline every meeting. If you actually need to be there, someone will be adamant about you showing up. If you do go, make sure whoever is running it has a pretty strict set of discussion points and is fine moderating to keep chatter down.

    Break the dress code a little
    Wear flip flops. Wear a T-shirt on Wednesday. Sunglasses indoors. It just feels really good to rebel even in small ways sometimes.

    Change will be resisted
    But keep pushing for positive change. Stay naive. Big companies tend to move pretty slowly. Be patient. Keep pushing. Have plenty of data/evidence/visuals to back up your reasons for change.

    Make sure your boss backs you up or get the heck out
    I was super lucky and my Director had my back almost every time. This is really helpful when pushing for change.

    • @Michael Arestad: The dress code, man, I used to wear ‘naughty’ t-shirts under my work shirts all the time because you literally were not permitted to wear t-shirts or jeans or flipflops. If you work for the non-man, dress up once in a while 🙂 It’s fun too!

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