GIVEAWAY and REVIEW
I. T. Confidential
by C. D. Rahm
I. T. Confidential is the hilarious new book by C. D. Rahm (not his real name, of course). You can read my review and interview with the author. This blog tour is brought to you by J. K. S. Communications, who are kindly sponsoring our giveaway. Please make sure you enter below.
If you could be a fly on the cubicle wall of an I. T. Professional …
… someone would probably throw a stale bagel at you. But before they did, you would see what C. D. Rahm reveals in this tell-all book.
At great personal risk to career and plastic pocket protector, Rahm takes us on a tour of corporate malaise, rampant confusion, dinner-plate-sized chocolate chip cookies, and lousy box lunches.
Pulling no punches (except possibly the spiked punch from the disastrous office holiday party) he reveals everything: managers behaving badly, professional time-wasters, fast-food junkies, and the hygienically challenged.
An I. T. insider, his is a world of technology for all, productivity for none. It is a place where the confused and frightened lead the overworked and clueless. This is where polyester slacks meet PowerPoint presentations, and budgets meet their doom.
When network systems come down, I. T. professionals get up. And march straight to the vending machine. C. D. Rahm has been there, done that, and soiled the t-shirt.
Now you can know what I. T. geeks know: That if you have a chip on your shoulder you have probably stuck your head into the wrong port.
Whether you’re a tech expert or you don’t know your app from a hole in the ground, you will be astounded – or at least mildly surprised – by what you discover in I. T. Confidential.
So You Want to Be in I.T.
Whether you’re a seasoned I.T. professional or just breaking into the field, sooner or later you’re going to be looking for a job. Here are some tips on what to look for, what to look out for, and what to absolutely avoid if you want to keep your sanity (which is questionable considering you’re deciding to go into I.T. in the first place).
The Greatest Story Ever Told
Naturally when you are seeking a job, you want to know what the job actually is. The way you’re supposed to find out is by reading something called a job description.
Job descriptions are actually works of fiction composed of cute euphemisms to make the position sound good. Look for terms such as “fast-paced” (hectic), “constantly changing priorities” (disorganized), and “self-starter” (skeleton crew—everybody quit, so you had better be prepared to take responsibility for everything).
What you’ll often find connected to such a job description is a company desperate to run a series of poorly-chosen technology solutions championed by a now long-gone manager. The “tank to kill a mosquito” technology footprint requires an army of nerds to keep it functioning week to week with constant patches, upgrades, and restarts. You can be the head nerd.
There are also job descriptions that sound like four jobs put together: you have to organize, implement, travel to other countries, write code, and be a project manager and Unix system administrator while keeping all the databases running.
If the description of a job you’re considering is broken up into chapters, you may want to reconsider, even though the job comes with a high salary. Remember, it’s really four jobs, so that salary is basically paying one person ninety thousand dollars a year to do the jobs of four salaried employees. If you’ve dreamed of working eighty-hour weeks for forty-hour pay, here’s your chance.
The Wonderful World of Potential Jobs
The reason for the job description as fiction situation is that there are plenty of junk jobs out there. However, you can spot them pretty easily. Usually the first sign is that there is one person “managing” the department who has a limited technology background, perhaps as a programmer for six months about nine years ago.
Under his employ is a guy with technical aptitude but no social skills, who has documented nothing and over time has become the only living human being who knows how all the systems interact. He serves two purposes: (1) to allow the manager to make catastrophically bad software and hardware purchases and (2) to permit the manager to get away with running the information technology functions of the company like a chicken coop. This can mean anything from questionable hiring decisions, to servers plugged directly into the wall, to having boxes of parts lying around.
The number one sign of this type of situation is a dependence on this technical “guru” whose departure would cause the I.T. function of the company to unravel.
Here’s how an interview can go if this is the situation with a major retail chain. The manager may bring up that every time they have to make a change to their accounting software, they call someone from the vendor, and one of their technicians will make the change remotely. The customer (them) has no administrative access to their own accounting systems. Don’t jeopardize your chances of employment at this dream job by saying, “Glad I’m not the guy who made the decision to buy that software.”
Another job that will make your career take off like a North Korean rocket is the company that needs a network administrator to manage their server, which is sitting in a tiny storage room plugged directly into the wall just waiting for a lightning strike or power surge. The pay scale resembles the compensation at Clucky’s Chicken and Waffles.
If that doesn’t get your heart racing, try the small company needing support on an awful desktop application written in some crappy tool for what may seem to be an overly generous salary.
Or you could explore the opportunity at a small consulting company in a really nice facility in a technology center. No one really does anything, however. They sit around all day waiting for someone to tell them what to do and when to do it.
However, if none of these options appeals to you, there are a few jobs out there that you might actually want. Here are a few tips to help you get a good job.
Write a Resume
To get a good job, you want a good resume. But don’t overdo it, Sparky. Keep it under twelve pages because the shredder in HR is warmed up and hungry. And don’t put your picture on it, especially if your normal look is a mix of disheveled, America’s Most Wanted, and Larry the Cable Guy.
Once in a while, a company will get a resume from someone that goes way overboard in the technology section. He lists about thirty-five different software products, databases, stuff he’s heard about or seen, and tools that he just picked up last week on his lunch break. It’s understandable to think that if you cast a wide enough net, someone is bound to have used this stuff in the last five years somewhere.
But it doesn’t really help you to list old technologies, like something from 1982, unless you want to sit next to a crusty lifer who will tell you war stories about the infamous batch job that ran too long during a snowstorm, and he had to replace a vacuum tube to make it start again. You don’t want to land a job at a company with a data center that looks like a museum exhibit.
Once your resume has paved the way for you, the next step is getting invited for an interview. Beware of the interview with someone who talks about how great the company and the position are and how you are their perfect candidate. This three-hour interview will include visits with an in-house recruiter, then the manager followed by another member of the group who calls in from Bleakville, Minnesota, and back to the manager, who, you’ll find out, doesn’t really have a job description per se; it’s a collection of all the dirty jobs that no one else wants to do rolled into a job burrito and served with a side of dead end.
He will basically pull the job description out of thin air or whatever dark place is handy and jot it down on a whiteboard. If you want the job, don’t say, “Yeah, I’d really like to do these sixteen unpleasant things you’ve written down and pretend that it’s a good career move.”
Another fun experience is the interview where two people make you nervous and defensive by ganging up on you and firing questions at you. This is a great indicator of how you’ll be treated once you come to work for these yo-yos. The best way to make someone feel good about coming to work for you is to make him want to jump out the window to escape during the interview. Imagine going into work every day and dealing with those clowns.
The classic “nerd” interview is always memorable. The top geek is brought in to ask obtuse questions that no one would know off the top of his head to make the interviewee prove that he really worked on the software product. This nerd, who has never kissed a girl, may be outfitted with a short sleeved polo shirt with the top button fastened. The questions asked may be a little abstract and require explaining concepts of quantum mechanics as they relate to the number of bytes in a query that is cached.
When interviewing at a small company, one important question to ask is, “Are you bringing in enough money to make payroll?” This is important for two reasons. First of all, if they aren’t bringing in enough money, your paycheck will bounce.
Also, make sure that you clarify what “competitive salary” means. It should not mean that the first person to the bank gets his check cashed, while the other guy’s check turns into a rubber ball. The other reason is that, if they aren’t making sales, their product or the technology it is built on is a real stinker.
Also, don’t forget to inquire as to whether the bonus plan is limited to cash, or if it is awarded, for example, in ten percent cash, ninety percent frozen turkey. If the owner of the company also runs a turkey farm, this is a legitimate question. He can’t sell underweight, three-legged turkeys to the market, but he can give them to you.
The Interview Postmortem
If you want an idea of how you did at an interview, pay attention to how they treat you when it’s over.
Normally, out of courtesy, no matter how an interview goes, the interviewer will walk the candidate out and shake his hand because he took the time to show up and evaluate their company. If they just point you to the exit, shove you toward the exit with something resembling a pat on the back, and run back to their office, you probably didn’t get the job.
Sometimes you find a company where the pay is so bad and the turnover is so high that it makes the employee retention at Taco Town look good. Private companies are famous for that; pay your employees sixty percent of market pay and watch them run for the exits whenever anything better comes along, like stocking shelves at Wal-Mart.
If you’re a manager in such a place, your employees will eventually spend thirty to forty percent of their time polishing their resumes and going to “dentist appointments” (a code word for job interviews). Even though they forget to bathe, dress properly, or comb their hair, taking care of their teeth becomes an incredibly high priority.
The Coveted Bonus
Some companies pay a smaller salary but offer bonuses. If your company is better at handing out work than bonuses, you’ll eventually lower your expectations of getting monetary reward for good work. You may find yourself becoming excited about any bonus, no matter how miniscule. It’s amazing how some folks will go crazy for a three hundred dollar bonus. Of course, that money is usually carefully and shrewdly invested in high-return investments within a diversified portfolio of cigarettes, Jim Beam, and lottery tickets.
The reality is, however, a ninety dollar bonus is really not worth getting excited about. You will find you are better off if you donate it to a local charity or to a dancer named Charity at the nearby strip joint. You’ll see other folks blowing their “generous” bonus on a Nascar rug, child support payments, or new golf equipment.
An alternate way to reward employees doesn’t involve money at all. Sometimes what people really desire is food, and by food, we’re talking about frozen turkeys. In place of the bonus you were expecting, you might find that company management looked deep into their hearts and decided that turkeys, bought cheaply in bulk, were perfect to donate to employees in place of the meaningless cash bonuses that are traditionally handed out. It’s their way of saying, “Thank you,” or whatever two words you choose.
If you find that you’ve accumulated too many turkeys in your freezer to consume yourself, the recommended way of disposing them is to drop them anonymously on somebody’s doorstep before you leave town.
The Importance of Job Titles
Job titles are crucial—to the company. If they’re paying a sub-standard wage, they can compensate by giving you an important-sounding job title. Imagine how impressed your friends would be if you told them you were the Paradigm Evangelist for Data Innovation.
Job titles are also useful to the company when they don’t want to give you a raise but do want you to work harder.
Depending on the company and industry you’re in, as well as the stupidity of the HR function, you may get a job title that makes zero sense. With such a title, you’ll be forced to spend an inordinate amount of time explaining what it is you do to friends, colleagues, and the interviewer at your next company.
Sometimes the job title infers that you possess nonexistent authority. If you need three levels of approval for a bathroom break, then the job title might be better expressed as “beaten-down drone,” “low-level flunky,” “one-way ticket on the burnout express,” or “tries really hard.” When you’re in this type of career ditch, the only thing that “senior” added to the front of the title means is that you’re fatter, older, or both.
There aren’t any “senior” guys doing 5k races on the weekends. They’re planted on the couch, shouting at their kids through a mouthful of pizza, or at a stoplight in a minivan, looking off into the distance.
The Actual Job
Your resume got you in the door; your sterling personality during the interview landed you the job. What’s next?
A job may start out okay, but after some time has passed, usually after management changes, mass firings, or merger and acquisition activity, you could end up doing work that is the office equivalent of digging ditches.
One day you realize that when you started, you were involved in fascinating and challenging activities like putting in complex back-office systems; now you’re setting up user accounts, which is something any pimply-faced high school sophomore could do, or you are asked to watch the printer to see if anything comes out of it.
Another scenario is that in your attempt to be a hard worker and willing to pitch in because someone was out, the “junk work” went to you, while the important work defaulted to the folks who weren’t around to take on those tasks. Those individuals were running errands, taking long lunches, or recovering from hangovers. What we learn from this is to avoid being around the office too much, especially when the “opportunities” start getting handed out. That’s a good time to go grab a margarita and take in a late afternoon movie.
The All-Important Workplace
Believe it or not, there are some fantastic opportunities in I.T. for people who don’t care about their health. There are strange working environments, and you will find them. Ever hear of an “all smoking” office? When you enter into the office, there is a haze; it’s like walking into a bar. The upside is that the company probably has to have a really good health plan to treat the inevitable emphysema.
During the interview at such a company, when you’re starting to wheeze and your eyes are watering, it’s hard to focus on answering the interviewer’s questions. You will want to ask if it is acceptable to wear a mask during work hours to avoid lung cancer or if the bonus plan includes cartons of Marlboros.
If you’d like working in a “fast-paced” environment with “constantly changing priorities,” look for supervisors who de-prioritize important but unexciting tasks until systems reach “maximum capacity usage.” To test this, bring up some ideas on how to document and standardize processes and procedures. If you hear yelling, then you’ve hit the jackpot.
A “fast-paced” environment starts with communication problems, differing work habits, turnover, and overuse of consultants, combined with a lack of training. Sometimes senior management gets an idea that the entirety of the I.T. function is to jump at every whim of “the business.” The problem with that is that “the business” may be a collection of personnel with no technology background who think by putting down their giant chocolate chip cookies from their meeting and snapping their fingers, they can have what they want instantly.
These are the same folks who spend millions on a new software package and want it to do everything that the old one does in the same way. Some individuals in these companies will take a shot at making things better, but the process is similar to running up a slide while someone at the top is pouring grease.
In this type of working situation, make sure you have your phone’s volume turned up so that you’ll be able to hear it ring on the weekends. If you’re not much into sleeping, this is the management style you’ll love to work under. You’ll get some fast-paced phone calls to “reprioritize” your weekend, and what an opportunity for management recognition that will be. This is your ticket to the executive suite for sure.
A Word about Recruiters
When it comes to getting a job, recruiters aren’t much help. A lot of recruiters don’t understand technology; they go out looking for an “SQL DBA.” That’s like saying, “I’m looking for a journal entry accountant.” If you’ve had experience with databases, they may tell you they’re looking for someone who knows “how to query the software servers in a fast-paced environment with constantly changing priorities.” Put your future in their hands, and they’ll steer you towards a position that will make full use of your skills—the ones you possessed in your junior year of high school.
This is a tongue-in-cheek look at the world of the I. T. geek, written in the form of a job application manual. It gives you hints on finding your ideal I. T. job and what to do once you’ve got it. I’m sure anyone who’s ever worked in an office will be able to relate, either from the I. T. geek’s point-of-view or as the victim of an I. T. catastrophe (employee on the other end of the problem).
I. T. Confidential is well-written, humorous, easy to read. It is rounded off nicely with a summary of the working day, incorporating the lessons learned throughout the book. It includes an interview with the author, bonus tips, and the author’s favorite quotes.
As always, where humor is involved, there hides a grain of truth. All I can say is, “Beware of the frozen turkeys.”
Interview With the Author
Hi C. D., thanks for joining me today. What’s the most unusual cubicle you’ve seen?
The one of a 35-year-old guy who had his workspace set up like a 12-year-old nerd’s bedroom, with Star Wars and Star Trek posters, action figures, spaceships, etc. Ladies, he’s single!
No kidding! Any suggestions to make the workplace easier to deal with?
Don’t give cute names to conference rooms. Just number them: 110, 120, instead of “Sunflower”. Otherwise, you’ll spend hours tracking down where your next meeting is. If you don’t believe me, walk up to anyone in your office and ask them which direction is north.
Too true. What are you bringing to the office potluck this year?
Cashews. At least I’ll have something to eat besides the ostrich tacos our developer is rumored to be bringing.
Good idea. What was the weirdest I.T. request from a “manager”?
To take inventory of all the mouse pads. Seriously.
OK. What is one of the more memorable encounters you’ve had as a consultant?
An employee cornered me in the elevator and asked me if I’d talked to Jesus today. I replied that I’d been talking with Him all morning as we were having software problems. He backed off and remained silent for the remainder of the ride.
I don’t blame him! How do you know a meeting is going to run long?
When someone insists on a roll call, introductions, and individual statuses, even though the team has been meeting for months.
Grossest co-worker lunch?
The pail of “homemade soup” brought in by one of the less hygienic staff. Looked like lake water with debris floating in it. Why he insisted on wandering around with it, no one knows; it smelled awful.
Which management fad book is your least favorite (like you’d have a favorite)?
Leveraging Your Core Paradigms by Dan Acronym. It’s completely incomprehensible, yet some manager in a desolate backwater sweatshop will try to make their team implement chapter six.
How do you know a catastrophically bad technology decision is about to be made?
The decision maker is on their BlackBerry for the duration of the meeting and is not paying attention to the awful technology idea being presented.
Thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule for the chat. Now you’d better get back to work!
About the Author
C. D. Rahm has been an I. T. professional and innovator in the field of I. T. since he first heard the word “geek” and knew he wanted to be one. He worked alongside Thomas Edison in inventing electricity and Al Gore in inventing the Internet. He is believed to have come up with the name “mouse” for the device used to move the cursor around a monitor when he observed his cat chasing the one he employed across his desk during an earthquake. (The cat was very disappointed when he caught it, but ate it anyway.) Rahm is perhaps best known for his sage advice to Steve Jobs when he said, “Who would buy an electronic thingy named after a piece of fruit?”
C. D. Rahm lives in anonymity inside an honest-to-goodness I.T. guy who, for reasons of sanity and job security, prefers to remain nameless.
Enter the giveaway for your chance to win one of two paperback copies (US only) or one of two ebook copies of I. T. Confidential.