Anxiety and the corporate life

Some 3 years ago I was stuck in the very definition of a dead-end project, where I was required to make sure that the web application I was working on would work on Internet Explorer 5 (which was released in 1998)…yeah, I was working on a project so old it would have been a freshman or sophomore in high-school should it have been a real person.

And during that project, I learned to hate corporations for the first time in my life, mostly because when the time came to stick up for their employees, the lovable managers of the company I was working for decided to stick it up our “place where the sun don’t shine” hole. This was very annoying because there was a period of two months when some people from the client side were stationed at the HQ of said company and made each and everyone’s lives a living hell, with constant overtime during the week and also during the weekends.

During those two months I also learned to hate the people who tell you you are a little b***h for complaining about your corporate job, because you should be grateful to spend your off-work time at work, am I right? And another thing I learned is the devastating effect that working in a stressful environment has on your physical and mental health. Because during that time I’ve seen many of my colleagues break down, a whole host of them left not too long after the project had ended (or during the project) and I myself experienced a panic attack, when I had to go out and get some fresh air because of all the stress. And aside from the mental picture I have of someone being shocked that I had to take some food supplement pills (in order to get my vitamin levels up so as to avoid this scenario again), there was nothing funny about those times.

Living in a constant state of anxiety, stress or fear of what’s to come is probably one of the leading factors to becoming numb or even worse, depressed, because of one’s work. And it’s more annoying when managers don’t do anything to help the situation, because of this stupid rule that “the customer is always right”.

I’ve said this before, but basing your actions around this quote is a sure fire way to alienate each and every last of your employees. Why do I say this? Because more often than not the customer doesn’t really know what he wants and actually welcomes input from the teams working on the project. And if he does know what he wants, then the problems should, in theory, not be there. I get that some customers are more difficult than others, but taking a giant dump on your employees instead of telling the customer to back the f**k up is a really s****y thing to do to the very people that actually BRING YOU THE BLOODY MONEY!

I originally set out to do a sort of X ways to handle anxiety at work, based on how I got through those times, but I feel that this issue is a bit more difficult and I think that I need to mull it over a bit more before I come up with ways to beat anxiety. Suffice it to say that you should NOT feel guilty if you feel overwhelmed at work, regardless of how many people tell you about the infinite number of other workers who would absolutely love to be in your place. If corporate, anxiety and stress-inducing jobs were so lovely, you’d have a line of people forming around the block to join said corporations, not to leave them, which seems to be the case as of late.

The overbooking phenomenon

By now you may have heard of the debacle at United Airlines and their less than gentle way of handling overbooked flights. If you haven’t, there was this flight that was overbooked and the crew asked the passengers if they would like to go on the next flight, which was the next day. They didn’t, so the crew chose randomly. I think 3 out of 4 passengers were ok with the decision, but the 4th one wasn’t and he was dragged out by the police.

Anyhow, this event reminded me why I hate this overbooking phenomenon and why airline companies and hotels need to STOP THIS! Seriously, why would you run the risk of having overbooked flights? Why do that? Why be so damn greedy? Sure, the statistics are on their side, because more often than not, if they overbook a flight, some passengers might not arrive to catch that plane and so they don’t have to worry about it. But why? Why, in an age when people travel so much do these companies STILL feel the need to do this? It’s one of the sh*ttiest things you can do, and handling it the way United Airlined did doesn’t do them any favours, especially in this day and age when stuff like this goes viral.

And hotels have followed this direction as well. Last year when someone I know wanted to go on vacation, the hotel they booked, through a travelling agency, turned out to be overbooked, and they had to be moved to another hotel in another resort. While it all turned out ok in the end, I still don’t get why the traveling agency did not inform them before hand (they found out on the spot, after the plane had landed and the guide wanted to see where each passenger had to go afterwards). This kind of stuff doesn’t just happen overnight.

In a previous post I have stated that there is a medium sized list of things that annoy me, with politics and news being number one. Well, safe to say that at number two we find greedy f*cks like airlines and hotels who practice overbookins and want to squeeze every last penny they can find, even though there is plenty for all of them. People travel a LOT these days, there is absolutely no f*cking need for you to be so freaking obsessed and greedy!

I can only hope that events like the one mentioned above are scarce. There is an easy way to handle situations like this. If you were so greedy that you overbooked, you either pay the unlucky customers a hefty amount of money (you know, because you’re a sh*thead) OR you offer them accomodation nearby if the flight isn’t on the same day. Or, you know, you can continue to forcefully drag them out of the plane even though they have paid for their ticket and have every bloody right to stay on the plane if they wanted to.

Workaholics

Nobody wishes they’d have worked more when their time is up. This is a fact stated by many people when asked what they regret about their life. NO ONE REGRETS having not worked more in their life. Shocking, I know.

Where am I going with this you ask? Well, as the title might suggest, I am going to talk about workaholics. What is a workaholic? A person who willingly, irresistibly etc works long and hard hours, even though no one asked that person to do it. You may have them at work, those people who come in at the same time you do and then almost refuse to leave until they are the last one standing, even though everyone around them has gone home or is telling them to leave. Let’s face it, work never ends, and your productivity goes down exponentially once you’re tired. And make no mistake, you DO get tired. You may not think you are, but your body and brain know.

I’ve always wondered why people do this. I mean, excluding the ones who have big debts, for whatever reasons, workaholics who actually have a stable financial situation or even moreso a FAMILY are just plain imbeciles. There is now sugar coating this, you’re a bloody idiot for wasting precious family time (or free time in general if you have no significant other) working for someone who I can guarantee doesn’t give two craps about you.

People have this belief that if you work hard and long, your boss will somehow hold you in high regards or will be there to support you when times get rough. You know what will happen if you get sick or have some other trouble? You think your boss will be there to support you in your time of need? Fat chance. The first thing he’ll want to know is the time you’ll be back and how much it will cost HIM (yes HIM, not YOU) to either replace you for a determined period of time or how much your medical bills are. Sure, he might SEEM he cares when he asks how you’re doing, but he doesn’t really care. He has a business to run, you’re just a cog in that business, so easily replaceable it hurts if you think about it.

Now don’t get me wrong, there are some companies where overtime (unpaid, of course) is actually encouraged and those companies can f**k right off. That is one of the worst behaviors I can see in a company and of course, the ACTUAL people responsible rarely pay the price. I am talking about the managers of course, the ones who should be able to allocate enough time for the project, including periods of holidays, downtime due to whatever technical reasons or unclear specs which force the teams to have to redo some work. More often than not though, in order to impress the client and get a “who’s a good boy? you’re a good boy” out of the them or the CEO, they are WAY too optimistic and come up with a deadline so unrealistic you may as well put it in Hogwarts and hope all unforseen events are automatically solved.

In the end, people need to realise the following: no one will care about your career once your time is up. Not even you. You think your offsprings will care about that time you helped a complete stranger achieve success, a success you only get crumbs from? Probably not, but they will always remember the day you skipped an important event in their life in order to put in that extra effort for said stranger.

5 things corporations completely misunderstand

I’ve been out of the corporate world for almost a year now and this has allowed me time to look back into what exactly goes wrong in certain corporations with regards to their relationships with their employees. And while there are a great many things former employees might tell you is wrong with the corporation they won’t leave, I’m going to try to nail it down to 5 meta-things. By meta I mean ideas and terms that have a domino effect if implemented/understood wrong. So here it goes:

1. The definition of proactivity

Proactivity in its ACTUAL definition means to be aware of the fact that you are in charge of how a certain stimulus affects you. Proactive thinking is the opposite of reactive thinking, which basically means that you have no control over how a certain event influences you. A proactive thinker will think a traffic jam means more time to reflect on his goals or alternate routes for the future (or he realizes there is enough time for Bohemian Rhapsody to end without him having to sit in the car for a good 5 minutes). A reactive thinker will simply get annoyed at the traffic jam, because that is the normal reaction to a traffic jam.

So what in the name of dictionaries and self-development books do corporations think being proactive means? Even they are not sure. But from what I can gather, it involves a lot of “pick me for this task, boss” attitude, which is NOT a proactive attitude. This kind of attitude shows a whole host of other traits such as eagerness, ass-kissing for that raise or lack of experience because you’re a junior and want to get noticed, without a second thought as to what you’re getting yourself into.

2. The importance and use of a company culture

Corporations fall into 3 categories, 2 enormous ones and an outlier. The 2 enormous ones contain corporations that either have a company culture in place but hire people which represent the opposite of their values and the ones that have a cult, rather than a culture, in which you actually expect to be fired (or worse), for not adhering to any and all values and creeds and beliefs and so on. The outliers of course are the companies which have decent values, which are explained in detail and the management actually hires people who fit into the company culture.

As for the use, well…let’s just say I’ve seen corporations who only have the values because they’ve read it in a book. Company values are useful because they help you as a company decide what you stand for and what you want the people you hire to stand for and believe in…in normal amounts.

3. The importance of putting employees first

It’s like Richard Branson said. If you take good care of your employees, they will take good care of your customers. But if you treat your employees like what you wipe of your shoe, you really have to have a highway long amount of nerve to actually ask them to be nice to your customers. They don’t care about your customers and they will certainly not care about the image they project to them about your company if they are treated badly.

4. The importance of having an answer to WHY the company exists

Simon Sinek has a book called Start With Why. And while it’s way too Apple oriented for my taste, the ideas in it are genuinely good. If a company doesn’t have a purpose in this world (other than money), it will only attract people who have no direction and are only in it for the money. Results are important, but you always have to remember WHY you exist as a company. Having that answer will attract people who believe in the same goal as you and will yield greater results since the people who are working in your company believe in the same thing as you do, and motivation will always be there.

5. The values of employee input and transparency

Ever been to one of those All Employee Meetings where the CEO always tells you that everything is fine, even though the project you’re working on sucks the life out of you and people around you are fleeing the sinking ship faster than people claim they’ll leave their country because of who is leading it? I have, and it’s pathetic. Corporations who don’t allow employees to have a say and who don’t listen to them will end up losing them. I’m not saying to give every detail to everyone, but always claiming everything is fine when it clearly isn’t is bad for business, because it won’t motivate anyone to improve the things which are actually damaging the company.

While these aren’t necessarily all the things that go wrong in corporations, I feel that a basic understanding of human interactions (and overused terms) is vital to the success of any and all relationships and businesses. Sadly though, this will probably always get lost in translation between all of those managers telling you how good their business is going while you’re handing in your resignation.

Post-school depression

School is quite possibly one of the most important time periods in one’s life. Most notably because you have many different stages in school, from kindergarten to college. And it’s a time of both highs and lows which more or less determines the field you’ll be working in once you’re done. I say more or less because in this day and age, people can change working areas much easier than in the past and the profile of your school has diminished in importance.

While on the loveable World Wide Web, I’ve noticed that some people claim to have lost their happiness and or sense of direction once school was over. And even if they didn’t, they still long for the days when they were students. Of course, some responsible (read BORING) adults might say that it’s merely because, while in school, you have very little responsibility and very little to care about, apart from exams, dating partners, latest music trends etc. Those same adults fail to see, in my book, that there might be more to it than that. And I’m going to try and give you 5 reasons as to why people miss school:

1. Their field of work is not what they were told it was

You know what I mean. When you wanted to become a software developer, all you had in mind was how you’re going to revolutionize the programming industry and be the next Bill Gates, only to find yourself trying to work through decades old code (no, I ACTUALLY mean decades, not a mistake there…believe me, I know) to figure out what in the world is causing that ridiculous bug the client wants solved yesterday. It kind of depresses you to see all the hard work you’ve put in to get your diploma and/or grades, only to end up doing pointless and meaningless work.

2. The sense of accomplishment and purpose is all but gone

When you’re in school, you know WHY you are in school. You know WHY you do it. It’s so you can get a diploma at the end of it so you can then have an easier time in getting a job so you can provide for yourself and your family. So any and all hardships you endure are for a greater purpose, which you KNOW and actually want to achieve.

But once school is over and you get a job, you’ll more often than not find that the work you put in…has no real purpose whatsoever. It doesn’t really matter how many times you hear the phrase “’cause the customer said so, man”, you won’t find motivation in doing what you do if you can’t associate it to a higher purpose. And it won’t matter how many tasks you mark as done in JIRA either.

3. Coworkers will never be your friends

Sure, some people end up in a place where their coworkers are actually decent people. I am working in such a place right now, where, given the fact that we aren’t a big corporation, you get to bond with people much more than in a large company. But for most others, going to work is essentially them having to spend 8 hours doing something they vaguely enjoy while being surrounded by people with whom they don’t really have much in common. It’s very rare that you actually end up in a team of people that have similar interests. In school, whether you were with 1, 2 or 10 friends, you had similar interests and similar tastes and you could behave more naturally, since the people you were surrounded by had similar life values and/or hobbies. Your work relatinoships tend to be way more forced and unnatural.

And no amount of forced company values and/or team buildings will help solve that issue.

4. You don’t get to spend as much time with your actual friends

An extension of the previous one, but you get what I mean. If by some miracle you actually work in the same company as your school friends, then consider yourself lucky, but the chances for that are very slim. And while I and so many others still keep in touch with old friends, it’s still not the same as hanging with them and facing challenges together.

5. Lack of predictability and closure

School is predictable. You go to class, write down what the teacher says (or record or whatever), then go home and prepare for the next day by doing homework. And save for the odd pop quiz, it’s pretty much the same, year in, year out. And sometimes, predictability is good, because it allows us to be prepared for what is coming.

When you graduate, things tend to get unpredictable really fast. Because while your job may seem secure now, you never know when the company you’re working for hits a crisis, or when it needs to downsize, or when your boss might become an outright prick and fire you. And this might cause some people to work with the blade of the sword right upside their head, which inevitably leads to stress and a lack of a will to live.

Also, work never ends. There is a beginning, but there seems to be no end to the project you’re working at. And for some, me included, closure is important. It’s a very good feeling to see the project I’ve been working on go live and get used by people. But save for one, and even that one for a small company, which is being used by 5 or 6 people, if it still exists…

So yeah, these are my thoughts about why this post school depression might appear. I don’t think I’ve suffered from this, at least not that bad. I don’t think people actually miss school. People usually miss the idea of school. The idea of working alongside their friends in order to surpass seemingly insurmountable challenges. And the idea of celebrating that success once the challenges are over.

The IT world – where everyone is a leader

If you’ve ever went job hunting for a new position as a software developer, or tester, or PM or whatever, you’ve undoubtedly went through some job descriptions. And with each job description comes a description of the company.

And boy oh boy is this IT world full of leaders. In fact, every company is a “leading company in IT services”. Which they are NOT. It may come as a shock to all of the people who think “everybody is a winner, yay, ribbons all around!”, but in every competition there is only ONE leader. Not two, not three. ONE. It doesn’t matter if the competition is football or IT services, only ONE team is leading…or ONE company is leading. And only ONE of them gets to be called a winner in the end.

I know it pains people to not be first in their domain, but calling yourself a “leader” when in fact you’re 5th or 6th in whatever ranking system is used to determine the best of your field is not going to make you one. Actually doing something in order to become said leader will of course generate results, but come on, no one ever does that. Bitching and complaining is WAY easier than actually improving one’s performance.

It’s just like with task prioritization. If everyone is a leader, then no one is.
However, I’ve seen this mistake over and over again. Managers think that “hey, if that company is doing this and that, and it works, maybe we should do it as well”. They never stop to think that maybe the company was built on a certain set of principles, which makes the model that they implement work ONLY when following said principles. A perfect example is when tech companies try to outdo one another in the number of people employed per month. I’ve actually heard managers say “hey, we need to be better than company Y, let’s try and do a day-long event, they do it, and it works for them”. Once again, not how this works.

I’ve always found it funny that copying something word for word from a research source and passing it as your own is a criminal offence while copying a business model word for word and trying to pass it as your own is considered good business, when more often than not it fails on a scale so large that even loners who live on top of the mountain hear of it.

So, tech companies, for the sake of it, can you at least TRY a different approach when describing your company? It’s not that hard to emphasize on things that you actually do better then your competitors. And if it is…are you actually better than them?

“Creative” job titles and descriptions

A stereotype about programmers that has been lurking around the world for eons is that they are these Gandalf like wizards who tame computers and make them do what they want. The usual look attributed to these human entities is that of a nerdy, geeky person, sometimes with glasses from all the coding and their usual way of work is listening to heavy metal while coding and ingesting alarmingly high amounts of pizza and cola.

Sometime between Denis Richards and 2016, tech companies decided that this perception needs to be altered and that by shining some light (like, natural light, I’ve seen way too many coder people working in the dark like they were in the Batcave or something) on them and by treating them like people, rather than some odd creature that gets startled if disturbed, they will start to expose their non-geek-computer-obsessed-wizard-like persona.

And for the most part, it seems to be working. I mean, I kind of enjoy this approach with team buildings, team outings and stuff. You get to see the human side of your colleagues. Not just the robot one.

However, I’ve seen this trend at some companies to label their positions and/or job titles with some eerie, creative names. And I’m not talking about plastering some well known character from a video game or something in the job description, no. That actually looks cool. I’m talking about companies searching for Uber Java developers. Yes, that’s right…Uber. Not middle, not senior, not expert…Uber. Or better yet, Super Villain Java developer (these were actually from the same company). Of course, should you be hired as an Evil Java dev or whatever, one of your responsibilities would be to train other henchmen (of course, that means fellow developers). Seriously, that’s in the description. What is up with that?

I mean, I get where they’re going. Be different, stand out, whatever the fudge. But I for one am not attracted to this kind of description. I mean it’s fun to read and all that…but I don’t think I’d be tempted to apply to such a job. I’d much rather see a job description or position with a simple name, but the description itself contain something resembling a higher goal of the company (you know, besides money) or some mission that the company has to finish. I think it’s because I am not the stereotypical software developer. I mean, I enjoy a lot of geek culture related stuff such as Dragon Ball and the MCU, but that’s just in my free time. If I’d have to be surrounded by people talking about this all day, I’d be more burned out than I already am about these things.

The funnier part is that this trend of silly job names has expanded to others as well. I’ve seen so many Ninja IT recruiters and other weird slang for Recruiters that I don’t even know what to think anymore.

In the end, I guess this is all about companies attempting to show that they are a place where people can have fun. But you know a better way to do this? Put a page on your website that emphasizes what fun activities one could enjoy should that person be hired in the company. Show pictures from team buildings, fun rooms, team outings etc. Way better than fancy slang. Also, if you want to catch one’s attention with a job description, drop the bullet points and tie it to the mission of the company, as I’ve mentioned before. You might be surprised at the outcome.