Monday, September 19, 2005

Attitude Adjustment

It was probably ten years ago when I was working as a contract software developer for one of the most laid back, easy going and smart people I have ever come in contact with. Mase was opinionated and had a way of elevating his views as the only sensible ones, then threw up several layers of defense as you tried to offer your own in return. Most people were confounded by his ways, and would throw up their hands, some even angry; but Mase laughed it all off and thought the world was simplistic and funny. He was my mentor and manager, whose style of programming assignment was, "Ok, we have two parts that need to get done; you pick one and I'll take the other." He didn't mind which you chose, and trusted me and all his developers to deliver. In the programming world, he was literally one in a million. One of his favorite expressions was, "It ain't rocket science." If you know an accomplished software developer, chances are he or she thinks highly of their own intellect; Mase however believed a monkey could do his job.

He and I traveled to Topeka Kansas to work on and install software for ATSF Railroad, which turned out to be the gem of my career. Everyone involved that contracted us was promoted; the software was installed and ran without a single problem, completely bug free. Anyone in the know will tell you flat out that I am lying, because that is nothing short of a miracle. But it is so, and even Mase will grin when I bring it up today.

Mase was a notorious figure amongst the employees on our project at ATSF. I took a break and caught a group of them imitating him around the water cooler. I ducked behind a cubicle wall and eavesdropped. They were really good. Mase has a manner that is hard to describe. He is very particular, and always wears what appears to be the same slacks, loafers, shirt and tie--every day. His laugh is free and staccato from years of smoking. He has a quick, inappropriate wit, but for whatever reason people give him a pass. One member of the ATSF group told him that she was a Sooner, to which he replied, "Oh, I'm sorry. I'd SOONER be dead." He was hardly ever serious, but when it came time to explain something technical, he cleared his throat and went into professor mode, full of pomp, and commanding full attention, which he got. That tone of voice was being imitated to expert perfection on the other side of my cubicle wall. I stifled a laugh, collected myself and sauntered by like I hadn't heard anything.

"Hey guys, what's going on?" I asked innocently.

Mitch, the natural leader of the group, said uncomfortably, "Oh, nothing. J-just hanging around. What's up?"

"Nothing. It's weird, but I could have sworn I heard Mase over here."

They all shrugged and tried to look innocent.

"Ok, try this one on for size." I stood with my palms up and extended and rolled my eyes like Mase when he is disgusted with something he has seen in my code, and with a high pitched voice I squealed, "You can't fucking do that!"

The group cackled like a bunch of hens and the Mase show was back on prime time.

Mitch called me for support on the software, some six months after we had gone home. He asked me a question and I tried to answer as best I could, but I was struggling because I didn't really know. Mitch replied to me, "That's great Scott, now why don't you answer the REAL question." I lost my temper badly and gave him a few choice expressions from my archive, then hung up. Mase was sitting across the desk from me and just looked grim. I wasn't trusted anymore to speak with customers, and it became a joke and tarnished my reputation for the rest of my tenure.

That brings us to present day. My company had to thin the herd in order to survive, so quality assurance and technical support people have moved on to the happy hunting grounds, leaving us software guys to test our own work and to deal directly with our customers. Fortune has given me a second chance to prove that I can rise above my emotions to deal with a difficult person once again. Our customer has hired a consulting firm to write a software product, but that group has missed two deadlines. We have been brought on board to provide a small service that integrates with this delinquent group's software, so the "customer" that I am actually dealing with is one of the consultants. What I am finding, is that these people are trying to shift blame onto us, such that when things go wrong emails with stark accusations are sent to managers and their manager's manager.

The first problem started with an offhanded comment on the phone.

"I have to tell you," Sanjay told me when I had to email him a missing file, "my experience with your company so far hasn't been a good one."

"That's because you haven't dealt with me yet."

"Well let's hope it gets better."

I sent him a description of how to install what I was sending him, but it was tailored for a Windows machine instead of Solaris. I got an email, with everyone from his organization and mine CC'd, that condemned my documentat as inadequate and unclear.

I sent him an unofficial release late Thursday night as a favor because he was working late and he wanted to see if my changes fixed some problems we were troubleshooting together. I emailed the changes to him and took my family to dinner. The next morning, again with everybody CC'd, he accused me of not sending anything to him, and implied that I was holding the project up.

I guess I am old school, but when one guy behaves like this in relation to another, there is no authority on the planet that would convict me for hunting this prick down and giving him an old fashioned ass kicking. Hank Junior calls it an attitude adjustment. So far, against every screaming impulse, I have held my tongue.


A. Darcy said...

Sometimes, and only sometimes, it is best to stay quiet. Let him make an ass of himself for now. Soon he will get cocky and step in something he cant explain away.

Mr. T said...

Dude, that one scenario, is a typical day in my life. I've found a few things to be true when dealing with consultants and customers.
1. Customers are always right... WRONG, usually they have no idea about what they are doing and will usually lie to avoid looking like a dim wit.
2. Consultants are your eyes and hands onsite. PARTIALLY but they will not think twice to throw you to the wolves if they think it will make them look better.

I once had a consultant call into support and my team work near around the clock to assist him as he was under the heat from his client. When it was all said and done, he had taken the credit for its expedient resolution and commendations were poured upon him.

These days if we only converse with him on conference calls and emails (with managers CC'd) just so the world will know that he doesn't know crap and who the real hero was.

Being a manager is even worse as I have to keep the diplomatic smile attached permanently to my face. But deep down inside, I too, would like to meet some of the "customers" in a dark alley with a lead pipe in my hand.

Scott said...

AD - You are correct, but it is hard to do. That's why some people are managers and others are workers.

Mr T - I knew you would relate to this, from things I have read from you before. It takes a special breed to do what you do. I feel like a ticking time bomb when dealing with an asshole. After I get off the phone with this guy, I write an email to explain everything to my boss. My manager is laughing at my rants because the customer has driven them insane too. The good news is, I delivered the product and it works perfectly now, and suddenly the silence.

magnetbabe said...

Usually jerks like that can't contain themselves for long. That type of behavior (emailing people rudely and CC-ing the whole world on it) can send red flags to people higher on the totem pole and soon he just looks like he's full of sh*t. Case in point, your manager sympathizing with you instead of maintaining the "customer is always right" attitude. Grown up jobs suck.

Scott said...

MagnetBabe - What I like about my job is the individuality of it. Practically nobody is looking over my shoulder, and for the most part I'm free. I have a boss, but that boss appreciates what I do, as he cannot do it for himself. My technical managers appreciate my ability, and usually I can impress my peers. And good natured customers love me. Bad customers are like Kryptonite to me. I think you are right though. If I don't get pulled down to his level, somebody high up is going to notice my lack of lurability. So far I have been well behaved. Give me strength to resist myself!

jenbeauty said...

Passing on my strength Scott. I am in a different industry but have found that holding my tongue and moving forward (with lots of documentation) is best for me.

Never had many bosses that would take my side or back me up, so my mouth would lead me astray at times.

In the long run, unless it will cost you your job, this asshat will go away.

Tee said...

You can do it, Scott - and if you manage to not give this guy what he wants (losing your temper), you'll be the winner. I know it's cliche, but it's really true.

I hate when people CC to others in this type of situation. He's obviously trying to embaress you and get a rise out of you. Don't give it to him.

Sadie Lou said...

I have always worked in customer service. I have enjoyed my jobs as a saleswoman and a waitress over the years. I'm not working anymore--I'm a stay-at-home mom by choice but I have delt with just about everything and every type of customer.
I can handle any situation you throw at me when it comes to grumpy customers--it's co-workers that get the best of me.
I have had so many instances of co-workers undermining me or stabbing me in the back.
Nothing is more aggrivating.
I wish I could tell you exactly what to do with your annoying, little problem. However, what I would do in this situation, is not what you SHOULD do.
You have done a better job thus far than I would have. I trust you'll come out on top eventually.

mr. schprock said...

Stay strong, Scott. That's the only advice I can give, because, quite honestly, I don't deal well with asshole customers. I mainly just contain my rage and work on forming an ulcer.

Joely Sue Burkhart said...

Scott, in your comment to Mr. T you said "suddenly the silence." I think that's the best retaliation! It's hard, though, to go above and beyond for somebody and have them rag on you. Grrrr! I hope this week is a little better for you!

amberdusk said...

That just pissed me off reading that! I hate people who are arrogant jerks like that. I hope he gets what is coming to him. I hope for your sake he does get more "cocky and step into something" like a. darcy said.

The Zombieslayer said...

I hate finger pointers, and people who CC while making someone else look bad do need an ass kicking.

Scott said...

Thanks all for the advice. I know I'm doing the right thing by keeping my mouth shut; it is just so difficult to do sometimes.

Ashynioki said...

Until I worked for people I knew put a lot of trust in me, I always kept my mouth shut. Oh, how I hated it! But, when I finally did work for people who were more interested in preserving their integrity than the size of their pocketbooks, I spoke up about a moron I worked with. He was technically above me in the company, but he was an unscrupulous liar, a racist, and he cheated the customers. I got his ass fired, and I have never been ashamed of it. The company was much better off without him. So, once in a while, it's okay to bite the bullet and say what no one wants to say but everyone knows is true.

Scott said...

Mon - I don't know what it is about what you said, but it reminds me of something that happened to me in the past. I agree that when you see somebody really doing a poor job you owe it to the company to let management know. I put myself in the shoes of the owner and wonder if it were my company, would I want this person working for me.