Monday, August 29, 2005

First and final warning.

The Education Coordinator came up to me today saying that they had four machines set up in the training room and that some of the new guys were going to be taking password calls tomorrow.

"You are aware that none of them have actually taken any calls yet and that, even under ideal circumstances, they wouldn't be on their own for another week, right?"

So, apparently even my impossibly accelerated schedule for training isn't fast enough. Normally it would be a week of classroom training, a week of listening on calls and then a week of taking calls with analyst supervision. I don't think three weeks is a bad turn around time for what is expected of these guys. But now we're just starting their third week and *BANG* they're being thrown to the wolves. And it's R***, the Education Coordinator that is going to be mentoring them.

It was because R*** was the trainer and doing a less that spectacular job that I volunteered to take over as trainer in the first place.

And management wonders why I think that what I have to say falls on deaf ears. I told the Site Manager outright last week that they would need another week. They got four hours.

Oh, and they didn't get paid on Friday like they should have. So, yet another batch of new people are having their paychecks screwed up.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Do you remember when?

After yesterday's frakas over the new printer procedures, I came in this morning to see an email from D**** reiterating the procedures I had violated in attempting to actually help a user instead of wasting thei time.

So, I replied and CCd to the Site Manager, the HR Person and my Team Lead reminding them of the Something Stinks Incident of last december and my request as a result of it that D**** not talk to me again.

If you ever want to talk to me or about me concerning policy, procedure or the cost of tea in China, you will go to the Help Desk Manager. Do not approach me in the hallway. Do not hover by my cubicle. Everything goes through Management"

If the new Site Manager hadn't gone through my file by now, I bet he'll look into it now. I did not describe the incident in today's reply, only the date and the resulting request to keep D**** away from me.

As of late, I've noticed that D**** has not been keeping his distance as he had been. Perhaps he had forgotten. Well, I have not. I still think about it often and steel feel uncomfortable with him on the floor.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The help desk shuffle.

Last week in my meeting with the Site Manager, I spoke with him about some of the stupid policies that had been instituted over the rears and that Managements inability to explain the reasons for these policies was one of the things that destroyed morale. I also admitted to ignoring particularly inane or tedious procedure when following those procedures interfered with my ability to to help the user's calling for my help.

Maybe if a Team Lead would say "Yes, I know it's a cumbersome procedure but we have to do it because the XYZ Group is accusing us of hanging up on them deliberately and we have to document what's going on," then maybe we would feel let put upon. We would be a team working together under the same circumstances towards the same goal. Perhaps with that knowledge of why such a procedure was put in place, those of us who are actually implimenting the procedure could come up with something better to resolve the issue.

He responded that he recognized those communication failures and that working with the Team Leads on that was one of his top priorities. He also expressed a committment to customer service.

A new, stupid procedure went into effect today.

Printer support in branches is provided my the printer manufacturer. They have consistantly shown a disinclination to go on site and resolve issues, I suspect because their contract doesn't pay them extra for on-site visits. So now, we have a new layer of troubleshooting. The analyst who gets the call needs to troubleshoot the issue. Then, if they cannot resolve it they must go to either J**, C**** or J*** to take the call and perform troubleshooting. If they are unable to resolve the issue then they need to conference in the Manufacturer Support Line to have them troubleshoot the call. Only if that does not work, then a ticket will be opened.

All the while, the user is waiting and waiting and waiting.

This is not good customer service. It's not good communication as to why this assenine procedure was put in place. It's not really workable. And, of course, when push came to shove, I ignored it.

Well, I didn't exactly ignore it. I waited for one of the Printer Triumverate but one was away from his desk, another was on another call that looked like it was going to take quite some time and the third, the person who is the head of our Hardware Escelation "group" doesn't usually bother with reading the entire ticket becauee he's so busy so why should I expect him to have time to troubleshoot.

I opened a ticket and said in the freeform that the "printer troubleshooting anaysts were unavailable".

D****, who I have had many a run in with before, threw a copy of the procedure on my desk, on top of what I was doing at the time. He had thoughtfully highlighted just the steps that I had violated. I was on a call, threw his paper out of my way, and took a moment to put the call on mute so I could tell him that noone had been available.

"You could have said that in the ticket."

"I did. Read the freeform again."

I'm pretty sure that D**** came up with the procedure, just as he has been the architect os so many poorly conceived and executed policies and procedures. And, that this happened yet again show me that the Site Managers rhetoric of last week was just that; empty rhetoric.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

What does that mean exactly?

I received a call from someone who saw my resume on the Internet. For a moment or two I was excited but then he said that it would involve 5 to 10 hours a week and earn me $2,500 to $3,000 a month. He said it was "redirecting buying power over the Internet."

"That's sounds fairly euphemistic. What does that mean exactly?"

He said that it was difficult to explain over the phone and that he would like to meet with me for twenty minutes or so at, say, Pannera's.

"When I've spoken with potential employers before, they have always been able to tell me what job I was performing. Even in general terms."

"Oh, I wouldn't be your employer. But it's like trying to get a haircut over the phone. I'd really want to meet with you to discuss this."

"Hmmm. 'Redirect buying power' sounds like a multi-level marketing. . . er. . . program."

"Well, yes. . . "

"Thank you for calling but I'm not interest in your scheme."

Many rears ago, I received a similar phone call from a "friend" of mine. We went on for nearly half an hour with him dancing around not only what his "offer" would actually entail or on whose behalf I would be working. It turned out to be Amway but I was astonished at the level of obsfucation. And it wasn't particularly effecting dodging. In this instance, I knew it was a scam as soon as he said "5 to 10 hours a week and $2,500 to 3,000 a month." An employer going to pay me essentially $75 a hour for my technical skill? No way.

I stayed on as long as I did just to see how long it would be before I could get him to admit it was a pyramid scheme.

It was disappointingly short.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Touched by his Noodly Appendage


Any description I try to make about this at this time will be inadequate. You simply must read it for yourself.

Open Letter to Kansas School Board
Touched by his Noodly Appendage by Niklas Jansson

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Upon the king!

I heard an open letter on NPR today from Stephen Mansfield, author of "The Faith of the American Soldier". In this commentary, he chided Cindy Sheehan for bringing her grief over the death of her son in Iraq into the spotlight by waiting outside the Bush ranch for an audience with the president.

The central issue is that when your son volunteered for military service, he placed himself upon an altar of sacrifice. Sadly, the ultimate sacrifice was indeed required. Yet he gave himself willingly, as all our soldiers do in this generation, and his death is therefore the noble death of a hero and not the needlessly tragic death of one accidentally or foolishly taken

When your son, and the thousands like him serving today, pledged himself to military service, he did not just "join the army." He offered himself to his God and his nation in an act of devotion that has been repeated for centuries. He entered the fellowship of those who offer their lives willingly in service to others. His death, though a horror, was a horror with meaning, willingly engaged.

My first thought at comments like these was that, in truth, these soldiers are not willing sacrifices. The vast majority of them are poor and undereducated, looking to do something better with their lives. They are enticed by military recruiters with promises of job training and money for college. I remember back in high school and early college when I was approached by these head hunters. They never talked about noble sacrifice. The never said anything about combat. They never mentioned the possibility of injury or death. They barely even mentioned service to country. No, this was a career opportunity.

The other image I had in my mind was Shakespearian. In Act 4, Scene 1 of "Henry V", the king, disguising himself as a "gentleman of a company" has an encounter with some soldiers pondering their fate and the coming battle.

One soldier speaks:

But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place;' some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection.

This is Cindy Sheehan's contention. The war in Iraq is not the noble cause the administration makes it out to be. Saddam Hussein, while a tyrant, had nothing to do with the attacks of September 11th and did not have weapons of mass destruction. Without those reasons, George W's justifications evaporate, leaving only revenge for his father's embarrassment in not bringing down Saddam in the first war.

Only if George W's cause is just, will the deaths of the soldiers that he ordered into battle have meaning. Only if the battle objectives are noble will the deaths of the soldiers be noble. The president will have much to answer for should this adventure prove to be a fools errand. And, in my view and that of Cindy Sheehan, it's not looking to well.

Upon the king! let us our lives, our souls, Our debts, our careful wives, Our children and our sins lay on the king!

Flash! AAAAA-aaaaaaa!

Do you remember the Flash Gordon film from 1980? There is the scene where Flash is in the Forest capital (or something like that) and Prince Barin (Tomothy Dalton) is challenging him to put his hand in this tree root where some deadly poisonous creature may, or may not, bite him.

Well, every day when I return to my car after work, I have exactly that feeling when I reach for the door handle. Waiting to discover if that bastard has greased my door handle yet again. I breath a sigh of relief each time I learn that he has not struck yet again.

But, I was lulled into a false sense of security today when I opened the passenger side door without problem and then got slimed wen I want around to open the driver's side door.

This makes number five.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

You get what you pay for.

I got called on the carpet today. Yesterday, just when my trainees were coming in and I was hoping manage things by breaking them up into two groups, one to be in the classroom environment and the other to be listening in on calls, there was a meeting in the training room. Some Bank people were using the space to do something and noone had told me. So I had to scramble to find spots for everyone on the floor untill they got out and freed up the classroom.

During this frantic scramble to get things organized so as to not waste people's time, I ran into the HR Person and expressed my frustration over this situation to her.

This morning I was called into a meeting with the HR Person, my Team Lead and the Education Coordinator to go over how this had been unprofessional. I should not present a negative impression to new trainees.

I knew this sort of thing would come up eventually. I have not been quiet about my growing frustration over a lot of things and figured I would step too far out of line eventually.

I apologized about my emotional outburst but said I was being asked to do something that I considered impossible to do to expectations, I did not have anywhere near the resources necessary to make it happen, I am not getting enough time to reformulate plans and adapt to changing situations (this whole project had been dropped in my lap with only a week's notice) and one needs to add to the the frustration of doubled energy costs and not having a raise in three years. It should not surprise anyone that I might get a little frustrated and emotional.

The one thing that probably kept me from saying "If you don't think I'm handling this or working to your expectations then you can find someone else" is that the Education Coordinator preempted it by saying they thought I was doing a very good job of training.

"But. . . "

In spite of the compliment, they still had their concerns and the final counter I had to that was "You get what you pay for." If they want me to perform in a professional manner then they should pay me like a professional and maybe drop a little bit of money to get the resources necessary.

I did learn that they aren't hiring the second group of eight next week. That's going to be put off for two weeks or so. Gee, it would have been nice to know that in advance. Gotta' love that proactive communication.

Once the trainees came in, things went fairly smoothly. Splitting them into two groups worked pretty well except that at the end of four hours solid of training passwords I don't have much of a voice left.

At the end of the day, I was called into the office to speak one-on-one with the new Site Manager. He's been here for three weeks and this is the first time he's introduced himself.

He started off talking about the tax issues I had way back in April. The one where my local taxes were being paid to the wrong boro and the other where I had never had my Pittsburgh Occupation Privlidge tax paid. He assured me that he was putting resolution of that on a timetable but, in all honesty, I don't see how he can apply any pressure to Corporate HR to do anything.

He said that he heard lots of good things about me and had also heard some of my recently expressed concerns. I went over them again with him and he was unable to make any committment over whether we would ever start getting raises again.

All in all, he seems sincere about his open-door policy, about being an advicate of the analysts, of working on communication issues between the leads and the analysts and all the things you would expect a new manager to talk about. But I have grown quite cynical and will believe it when I see it. Until something is actually done, until I get my job description changed or I see a new number in my paycheck, whet he's putting out is just rhetoric and empty platitudes.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005


Yesterday after work I drove out to the TRM Cycle shop in Monroeville. I had special ordered some Chamois Butt'r (something to keep me from chaifing during my upcoming Youghotomac bike ride) and got some tires while I was at it. My previous tires were getting very worn to the point where the tread was begining to pull apart from the core.

I can't say I was absolutely pleased. For one, they didn't have the right size. My original tires were 700x40c. The replacements were 700x38c, a little narrower, and they had more tread than I wanted. I was looking for something smoother like those on road bikes.

Well, today after work I came back to where I had parked my bike to find my rear tire flat. There was a sizable tear in the inside of the tire near the stem so it wasn't from any sort of road debris. Maybe it was just old but the pressure that probably blown through a seam. I tried to patch it but the patch just wasn't good enough.

I had parked at Golden Triangle Bike & Skate Rentals under the First Avenue T station and the sign on the door said that they were out to lunch and would be back in an hour. So, I needed to wait so I could buy a replacement tube.

They actually came back in about half an hour but they didn't have anything close to the right size tube. We tried patching the tube again but to no avail. So, I had to walk the three miles back to my car so that I could drive back to the bike shop and pick up my bike.

I had a tube at home.

Monday, August 15, 2005

And so it begins.

Today was the first day with eight new analysts that I will have to train before another eight start next Monday. Dealing with that has very clearly shown how impossible that task will be.

There is in my normal training cycle, a time where the new analyst will sit in from of the computer, typing in information and adapting to the system while an established sits behind him actually managing the call. This goes on for the better part of a week before the new analyst starts taking calls. Typically, I will have their phone system set to take only the password issues so that the calls are relatively simple.

With eight ne analysts, there are just barely enough seats during the training hours for them to sit with established analysts and, if I were to set them to "password only" then they would receive very few calls with which to gain experience.

And then next week we will have another eight show up, which will completely overwhelm the system.

This is not going to work.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

That's me.

I got in the paper today. The afternoon edition of the Tribune-Review has me on page 4 between an article on a shooting and another on a guy who thinks he’s Hitler.

Piddling little crap.

For some time now, Help Desk Managers have been pushing a standard for ticket description lines. What is broken, what is broken about it and where it. To drive that, they have added description line policy adherence to the incentive program metrics. For example:

This is an acceptable description line:


While this is not an acceptable description line:


See the difference? Yea, the first one has forward slashes separating the elements and the second one doesn’t.

I can understand the desire to standardize for consistency but to penalize someone for not entering a forward slash is asinine. No, really. It simply a method to prevent people from scoring perfect on all their metrics and thus keep them from winning some PTO as part of the increasingly inadequate incentive program.

So, the numbers were released today. Normally there will be four to sis names on the list of those who have made their numbers and are eligible to win. This week: no one.

I never really cared about my stats. I simply do my job and let the numbers take care of themselves. That’s worked out pretty well and I have plenty of incentive certificates to show for it. But with this new policy, that’s pretty much over. I simply refuse to waste my attentions on a stupid forward slash for a mere CHANCE to win some PTO.

Monday, August 08, 2005

To live the impossible dream.

Intitally, my rant for the evening was going to be about how the Corporate Overlords, in spite of recently landing a $150 Million contract with a major corporation, had decided to cut costs by no longer matching employee's 401k contributions. I was going to go on about how they had done this several years ago after making another announcement about how well things were going or how it had been reinstanted after last years merger.

But then the shit hit the fan.

The HR Person came to me at the end of the day and essentially informed me that hell was arriving next week. You see, as part of The Bank's cost saving measures, a helpdesk specifically for support of a major financial services subsidiary was going to be discontinued. That meant that the Corporate Helpdesk (us) were going to have to take up the slack.

Next Monday, HR will be bringing in eight additional employees. And the week after that an additional eight. I will need to train them all and have them up and running by early September.

This is, of course, impossible.

It's not that I can't teach that many people in a classroom environment. We don't have a computer projector but I can get creative around that. No, the real problem is when they have to start sitting in front of a computer. The HR Person, told me that they were working to get additional space and equipment but my point was that we didn't have the mentors.

There comes a point where the trainee needs to start taking calls. There is no way that they can go into it cold so they switch places with an established analyst who listens in on the call, coaching and, if necessary, jumping. With two or three new analysts, this isn't too much of a drain on Help Desk Resources. But eight or sixteen people essentially off the phones while trainees get their feet wet. . . Hell! We have about that many people on the phones normally. Can anyone in the IT industry anywhere imagine taking their entire staff off of whatever their doing to late an entire staff of novices take the helm? What sort of lunatic would do that?

Well, apparently I am that lunatic.

I told the HR Person outright: "It's impossible. I'll do it but I'm telling you right now that I think what you ask is impossible and will not work."

As I enumerated all the obstacles, I could hear my voice rising. More that once I stopped mid sentence to start over again at a lower volume. And then, I said what she probably already knew and I was too fed up to mince words about.

"This is a hell of a lot of work to expect from someone who hasn't gotten a raise in three years."

Years ago, when I started training, I asked about having my job title and description changed to reflect these responsibilities. I knew then that it would never happen because the title of "Trainer" would need to bring with it at least another $15,000 in salary, given market norms. I pursued it for a while because I was amused at the lengths they went in avoiding giving me an answer. They could have just said no but they kept up the pretense of trying to find out.

I'm not amused any more. This is too much and while I have too many ethics to tell them to take a flying leap over this, I am thinking that when this is all over I should just say, "You know, I really cared about being the trainer, about making a difference here at the help desk. But these past years have shown that you have been taking advantage of me by not compensating me for the work I have done. So I was thinking I would cut my losses and go back to doing the job that's in my job description and that I am currently being underpaid for anyway."

Monday, August 01, 2005

No Reported Issues.

We had a widespread issue today that brought down many of the teller systems in The Bank. But what really made the life of the Help Desk a living hell was the way in which it was handled.

It didn’t take very long for us to realize that something was wrong and not much longer after that to realize that it was such an issue that separate tickets were not going to be needed, nor was there going to be a single ticket under which multiple users would be added. We could simply tell users that we knew there was a problem, we didn’t have an ETA for resolution and that they needed to use specific offline procedure located in a folder at their branch.

Now, our phone system has what is called a "front end message", that is, a welcome message which usually says "Thank you for calling the Help Desk. We have no reported issues at this time." Under situations like this, one would think it would make sense to change the message to let people know that something was going on.

Sometimes it makes sense not to put up a front end message, especially for things like notes servers. For example, if Notes server 025 went down and we put up a front end message, people on server 030 who experienced a problem might hear the message about 025, assume it was for them and hang up so that we wouldn’t find out right away that 030 was having an issue. But in this case everyone was having a problem. There was nothing to be done and we weren’t keeping track of just how widespread the issue was because we understood that it was everyone.

But no front end message was up. Hundreds of people were calling and we were telling them all the same thing. Over and over again. Because so many people were calling, they were waiting in the queue for over 10 minutes to finally hear us take 45 seconds to explain the situation to them. If they had heard the message first thing, they could have saved themselves and us a whole lot of effort and aggravation.

Normally, I’ll take about 45 calls in a day. Today I took 150 calls. The most I’ve ever taken in a day.

Why a front end message wasn’t put up is beyond me. H**** suggested that it was because the Corporate Overlords want to leverage The Bank by saying, "See all the volume we need to deal with? We need more money or resources." Personally, I don’t think that flies very well. The Bank isn’t completely stupid and could see through such a claim with the counter argument, “These sorts of days only come every few months or so. The rest of the time you have more than enough to address the call volume.”

Some of the more cynical thoughts are that the support groups don’t want us to put up a front end message so that we get bounded and look bad. We are contractors, after all.

I am in the process of training some new analysts. The person sitting with me was wasting his time. I couldn’t put him on the phone to take what were essentially easy calls because we needed maximum throughput. There was nothing for him to learn as I said the same message over and over again. He eventually fell asleep. Literally. He was out for about 20 minutes. I didn’t care. Hell, if it were me in charge I would have sent him home.

The day was a complete waste that could have been handled so much better.