Well they shake their heads and they look at me as if I’ve lost my mind,
I tell them there’s no hurry…
I’m just sitting here doing time. -John Lennon “Watching the Wheels”
Once, not too long ago, I was in a “promising career path” as its called in the human resource vernacular. I was head of a department, managed some 150 desktop machines, a dozen or so servers, a few remote sites, and some networking gear. Not too shabby for a self taught tech at the very young age of 23. I commanded a salary roughly triple what my friends, still in college, were making . I had new cars, a new wife, and a new baby.
There were however some problems. I was cocky. I was brash. And I was young. Not a good combination for long term success. So I made mistakes…many of them. Enough that so that a few 20MM anti-aircraft guns were brought to bear on me to shoot me down from my lofty position of power to the Earth, never to fully return to the tech world.
I’m from an older generation of techs, then ones that obsessed over clean technology. Technology for technology’s sake. We intuitively understood what its purposes were, how it should work, and why it did what it did. Almost all of us were self taught hobbyists that were drafted into the tech boom of the late 80’s running all the way to the early 2000’s. A unique cadre of people with talents that were tossed aside and replaced by the Internet generation and failed miserably in regaining our foothold because, while we understood technology, we failed utterly at understanding the human condition.
When I was Director, Information Technology, I fooled myself into the belief that people were annoyances to be dealt with at arm’s length or longer, whenever possible. At best they were problematic to the safe and secure operation of your network, at worst; actively seeking its destruction.
And so, when the flak settled and the fall out from my termination was secure in its total obliteration of my career I found myself unable to and unwilling to change. I went to interviews, met with recruiters, took aptitude tests, did whatever I could to find a job in the tech world, any job, and failed each and every time because I still thought of myself as cock of the walk. This went on for roughly three years, bombing one interview to the next. Never fully understanding why it was a person with my pedigree shouldn’t be a fantastic addition to any company I chose to interview with.
Desperation finally took hold sometime in 2008. I had exhausted every avenue and my Father’s patience (he was footing the bills) enough so that I attended a job fair in Fort Lauderdale. A non technical job fair. The kind that entry level and blue collar workers attend to beg and plead for any bit of scrap the job haver’s dole out. If you’ve never been, let me describe: You dress up in the one suit that you have left, its probably a relative’s and you’ve not had it cleaned for a while because you can no longer afford to. Beg, borrow, or steal the $10 you need in gas to get your car to the fair’s location. Once there, there are hundreds of people also milling about in the same colour suit you’re wearing with a look of despondence upon their faces that can only be assumed to be just a step above “if this doesn’t work out I’m going to shoot myself, but, first I’ll have to borrow some cash from the folks, again, so I can afford the bullet…”. You go from table to table in an effort to look interested in whatever menial job the company residing at the table is offering. 3rd shift setting appointments for $8.00? Can’t be too bad… So you ask the person, the HR person, the person that has made a career out of the hiring and firing of people, the person that presents the touchy-feely seminars on workplace harassment or rather: non-touchy feely, the person that knows they have a position to fill, but can only look at the job description paper in front of them to describe it, the person who can’t do, only preach…”so, what possibilities are there for advancement within your company….?
Answer? None. None whatsoever. Even they know that they’re peddling a dead end ticket to Nowheresville. But, at the end of the day everyone must eat, usually three times daily….multiply that by a few kids and stay at home mom, and………..
“This is the Noweheresville bound BMT, watch the closing doors”.
I took a position, if you’d like to call it that, from that job fair at a company in Coral Springs. Desperate for any scrap of anything I could get, I leveraged my experience in Payday Lending to fool the Sales Manager into letting me work there. Little did I know that he was looking for anyone that could speak English and be able to lift the weight of a telephone receiver to my head 7 hours a day! And so on my first day in the new company, wearing my Dad’s old brown monkey suit from the 80’s I arrived early to my first lesson in humility and telephone sales.
On arrival, there was the usual amount of new hires milling about, 3 guys with the look of “Oh thank God, I’m not the only fish out of water here” milling about in the fore office. Soon though, I noticed more and more showing up. Kinda strange, that many people showing up for one or two positions…
At final count at 10am that morning there was a total of 11 new hires awaiting their chance at having a meaningful job, three of them wouldn’t survive the first training session. 11 Little Indians.
I had walked unknowingly into a sales organization. A Boiler Room. A Cold Call factory, where dialing for dollars was not only the norm, it was to be my new life for the next year. Cock of the Walk will now be calling your place of business to the tune of 200+ calls a day for 35k and commissions.
The Sales Manager handled the initial training sessions, breaking their program down to barely useful tidbits of information that I learned to despise. It wasn’t the Sales Manager’s fault, the company had a pervasive sense of entitlement and paranoia that pervaded everything that it did. And later I found out that he had been sold the same bill of goods that I had been sold, only three weeks previously! Training went well enough till an unfortunate house mom late in midlife had a panic attack when she finally realised that home life was preferable to this new life of dog eat dog that she had tried to prove she was ready for, and promptly and summarily quit. And on that note, we broke for lunch.
Coming back, the Sales Manager had a gloomy look on his face (which I had later began to understand meant that there was serious trouble on its way). He announced that “Today, we’re very lucky to have the owner of the company here to help us with the new hire process.” Good and well I thought. Nice to see the owner paying attention like that. Shows good faith.
Boy was I wrong!
A teeny weeny mousy looking lady appears in the middle of a whirlwind, I swear there were actually tornado whippets flowing around her, looks around the room and announces that “She doesn’t have time for these losers!”. Yes folks, we have entered a scene beyond sight and sound, a doorway into corporate dysfunction, we have entered the Twilight Corporation.
So, this captain of industry, this powerhouse of corporations, this chaser of the almighty dollar, hates her employees. Not the first. Certainly not even remarkable in its truth, but, never has it been laid so bare to me that employees are a paid resource to used and thrown away by those with money. As she used every ounce of bad will against the 10 of us in the room with her, I began to understand just how badly I’ve fallen.
After the training sessions, which, really weren’t all that bad. We were brought out to the sales floor minus two of our numbers who failed to show up the next morning, 8 Little Indians…
I sit down at my assigned cubicle which feels like home. Any office drone worth his or her salt, immediately likes the feel of Formica desk surface in off grey or bone white, lit of course by rows of low power fluorescent lighting with wonky ballasts. Whip out the underdesk keyboard holder like a pro and attempt to sign on to my assigned PC.
Ok, Maybe I fat fingered the password.
Nope. No worky on the third attempt. This is clearly a problem that requires assistance. Damn. First day on the floor and I can’t even log on to the machine correctly. There will be news reports tonight “Local former IT manager can’t log on to his new computer, film at 11…”. I flagged down the IT manager there and said “Hi, my name is Corey Kleiman, I’m assigned desk 335, and I can’t log on to the machine using the assigned username and password combination” using specific lingo to let him know we’re kindred spirits in the IT world. That failed spectacularly. The response I got was and I quote verbatim: “I don’t need to know your name, you won’t be here long enough for me to remember it.”
Ok, this is a new world, you’re not in charge and you’re the lowest form of life at this company right now. Let it go. IT manager logs the box in for me and leaves promptly. As a habit, any job I’ve ever held has required me to change the password on the workstation to something not known by everyone. So, I change it to some long drawn out thing with letters, numbers, ASCII characters, you know, going all out to make sure that I can at least do this little part correctly. Logged the machine off and then back on and wouldn’t you know it? It can’t see the network! What the flying fuck??
“Hey, uh, Boss Man, uh, sorry, I seem to have another issue with my PC….sorry.”
“Whats the problem?” he replies, clearly not happy that I’m causing a fuss on something so banal.
“Well, uh, uhmm, this machine can’t see the network, isn’t pulling any shares, and it’s not talking to the printers…”
“What is that in English? Boss Man is not pleased. So I changed tactics, if this language won’t work I’ll have to try something else.
“Oh, uh, I don’t know what’s wrong with the, ah, uh, computer, its uh, not thinking right..” Trying desperately to replicate what my users used to tell me when their machines didn’t work!
“Oh, OK, Call IT on extension 135…they’ll take care of you..”. So I pick up the phone and direct dial.
“Hello, IT, what’s up?”
“Yeah, hi, uh, Corey Kleiman at 335, and I hate to bother you again, but my machine has no shares, can’t see the network, or printers..”
The reply, icely: “…….what did you do?” Ah yes, I can understand now why people hated calling me to get an issue resolved!
“I changed the logon password from what was issued to user generated”.
“……….you did what now?………why….how did you know where to do that? I told the sales manager that you people shouldn’t alter the machines, did he tell you to do that???”
“No, uh…I did it on my own..”
“…….you changed the password by yourself? …. I don’t believe you! If you touch another setting on the computer ever again you won’t work here anymore! How did you figure out to change the password??”
Ok, now I’ve been on the other end of this call before, I never realized just how dehumanizing it was. So, I decided to let my cards fall where they will.
“I didn’t figure out anything, I’m former IT, I ran a Win-tel shop, and you my friend have DNS issues on the net, preventing Active Directory from authenticating my logon attempt!” that’ll show him!
“……….excuse me? You’re IT?!”
“YES!, AND I don’t like the way you’re talking to me, especially since we’re in the same damn field!”
At this point my manager came by, taking the phone from my hand, and says to IT “When you have a moment, please set Corey’s password back to the original, he needs to be making calls….”
I figure I’m now done for. I’ve got in a pissing match with the IT guy, annoyed my boss, and its only day two.
My manager in a very quiet voice so that no one around could listen: ” You have to understand something. You are not in IT, you aren’t a tech anymore, you do not fix machines, you don’t offer advice on how to fix broken networks, yes, he knows he’s got authentication issues, I’ve pointed it out to him as well. His shop is understaffed and underfunded and they don’t have Active Directory handling the logons, he hard codes in order to make it easier for him to manage. I’m telling you this so that you understand that I know what is you said to me, and that at some point, SOON, you will have to understand you AREN’T A TECH! You’re in sales, you use a telephone to make your living and you need to focus on that and that only.”
As he lets that sink in, he moves to the opposite desk from me and quietly asks the person occupying it to join him in the meeting room. Never saw that person again…7 Little Indians.
Upon leaving that day and driving home from the hellspawned, I called my Dad in a shameful attempt to get the hell out of there. After describing the insults, the abuse, the fact that my cube was off beige instead of off white like I preferred his answer was succinct and brutal: “Boy, that’s too bad.. I really hope your stomach is made from stronger stuff than this… have a nice day, Corey.” CLICK.
Damn! I’m gonna have to go back there tomorrow!
The following day one failed to show up, and another was let go after the first hour. 5 Little Indians.
I learned how to make outbound calls, tentatively at first to be sure, but I got it after a few hours. And it well and truly sucked. You call, you do your best to get a hold of the person you need to talk to and they tell you in a very nice manner that you and people like you should die at their earliest possible convenience. It’s demoralizing and repetitive. At around three in the afternoon on day four the Sales Manager let another two go that just couldn’t get it. Wasn’t their fault, wasn’t the Sales Manager’s fault, they just couldn’t do it. 3 Little Indians…
Right then I decided that screw this, the Sales Manager isn’t gonna fire me because I can’t hack it. I went full force into learning the trade, learning the program, and learning how to survive in a hostile work environment, one which wasn’t very different from what I had created back when I was in charge. Over the course of the next year, I watched people being brow beaten into submission, people steal from each other, workers so inept that its hard to imagine they found their own shoes in the morning, and apathy the likes of which I never encountered before and hope to never again. I survived 8 rounds of hiring and firing, until it was my turn to be fired almost a year to the day of my hiring. And I’m grateful for having endured. 1 Little Indian.