Monday, March 5, 2012

Old Job vs. New Job

There are certain things I don't blog about very much. This includes my job. I also don't bitch about it on Facebook or anywhere online that the public can get too. I've heard too many horror stories about people being fired or not getting jobs because someone read something they posted about work and took it the wrong way. But the differences between my old and new job are somewhat fascinating to me so I decided to risk talking about them a little.

Old Job was in  High Tech. New Job is for a Public Utility. You'd think they'd be like night and day, but in a lot of ways they aren't. Some of those ways are profound and some are not.

In particular, the decor at both places is very similar. It looks like New Job did a remodel in some of the public areas and used the same decorator as Old Job did when they remodeled two buildings so both places are full of psuedo-funky pretend-70s colors and patterns. (Not as gross as what we had in the 70s, thank goodness.) The older areas are worn out and a bit depressing in both places and both places are slightly dark especially in the hallways.

In High Tech it's normal to supply a lot of the comforts of home in an attempt to keep people there at all hours. When I was interviewing, most places had free drinks and free snacks at a minimum. Some places have lunch brought in at least one day a week, if not every day. And some places, like Google, supply even more meals and comforts than that.

Old Job, though, was slightly cheap in that area compared to their peers. Cold drinks cost 50 cents so they were subsidized, but not free. Hot drinks (coffee, tea & hot chocolate) were free. There were also 50 kinds of tea (but only two kinds of coffee?) and every kind of sweetener and five kinds of fake-creamers. To me, it seemed like they were trying to disguise the fact that they were a bit cheap in this area by having a lot of variety of the free stuff as if that way we'd forget that other places had free Odwalla and Vitamin Water while we had to pay for it.

The snack machines are full price at both places, but New Job has much better choices. They even  have one with frozen food in it in case you get stuck there at dinner time or forget your lunch! On the other hand, there are only four types of tea and now I'm sorry I made fun of Old Place for having 50. Yes, 50 meant we had five different types of black tea from three different companies, but with four I find myself bringing in my own tea as there's only one kind of decaf and it's not my favorite. Then again, for a while I was bringing in my own tea at Old Job too. (It's like that song: 200 channels and nothing on.)

The other thing that amazed me the first day is that there were no plates or plasticware. I just assumed there would be and hadn't brought any silverware with me. I had to ransack all the different kitchen areas (and there were a lot) to eventually find a plastic fork. It took a while, but now I remember to pack silverware when I pack my lunch and I have my own stash of plasticware at my desk for emergencies, but it still bugs a bit that this isn't provided. Of course, back in the olden days, way before PCs let alone the internet, no one provided this sort of stuff at work, so I guess we're just spoiled. (I say "we" because apparently New Job used to supply this stuff, so I'm not the only one who grumbles about it being gone.)

However, I like that there are so many places for employees to gather for lunch. It's really encouraged to do that. My entire group eats lunch together most days. Not everyone shows up every day in the break area, but pretty much no one eats at their desk either. Then, after lunch, we all go for a walk! It's very much part of the corporate culture and is strongly encouraged. None of this "work, work, work, don't you dare take a break, you should be working because what you are doing is so important" attitude that used to drive me a bit crazy, because I know that taking breaks actually makes you more productive.

Another area both places are the same is that the climate control kind of sucks. Old Job just had old buildings where parts would fail. It wasn't way too hot or way too cold on purpose and, whenever the A/C or heater went nuts, it would get fixed eventually. So there were weeks where it was okay. 

New job, though, is on this big "save the environment" kick (Old Job too but not nearly to the degree of New Job) and as a result it is FREEZING every damn day. People just wear long sleeve shirts all the time and keep sweater and sweatshirts at their desk and, if they have to, put on jackets. Being always cold, I just wear sweaters and bring sweaters to put on top of my sweaters and bring a heavy jacket even if it's 70 out.

But that stuff is all on the surface. Underneath and in areas where it matters, things are very different for the most part. When it comes to how projects are run, how the Help Desk works, and what tools we use, Old Job and New Job are as different as night and day. With Old Job, we'd tend to use industry standards, Open Source (cause it's FREE!) or roll our own (because nothing would meet our exacting standards even if it really would have). 

I used to bitch about how we'd roll our own when we should have bought, but now I realize I had it good. At New Job everything we use is the biggest, most expensive enterprise-based software from the biggest, staidest companies. Our source control software is so convoluted that's it's possible to check in changes and never have them distributed to anyone. Our Help Desk ticket system only works on IE. I told a friend what we use for our web server and he said "how 2002". Yeah, but it's from Big Name Company, babee, so it must be good, right? Okay, that's just my imagination of how the purchasing decision went. Oh, how I miss JBoss and Apache Tomcat and Perforce!

Projects at Old Job at least gave lip service to being Agile. Not at New Job. Here it's a lot more like working for the government. It's not as bad as when I contracted for the DoD back in the 80s, but there are so many steps and so much documentation and it takes so many people to do what we'd do with half the people in half the time at Old Job.

Which is both good and bad. The good thing is that I am not constantly being pushed to underestimate in order to meet arbitrary and unrealistic deadlines. We also don't have the group that decides what we're going to build taking 6-12 months to decide and then wanting the product in 3-6 months. (Then being told that failure in the marketplace was all our fault for building low quality products. Oops, I wasn't going to go into that. Guess that just slipped out.)

But there is a certain amount of stress to not having enough to do, too. I am working on that and one of my solutions is to do a lot more research and experimentation before picking an approach and not always go for the expedient solution. Also I am able to try a lot more new things. So far I've been able to make a button sprite, to add rollovers to a product that didn't have them (so now it matches the style guide) and make a web page work with both two and three levels of filters instead of making the customer pick one design for expediency. I'm also working on rewriting one of my mockups to use closures to see if I like how that works better.

Where it's bad is when there are several documents that have to be updated every time we make a decision and change something about how the product works. That's just wasteful and, as an engineer who wants everything to be efficient, it bugs. I hope to be able to introduce some changes in that area being as I am an Agile coach and a Certified SCRUM Master, but so far I haven't been in on a project from day one and just kind of fly in, do a little HTML/Javascript/CSS, maybe make a button or two in Photoshop, troubleshoot some JSPs, and then fly out again.

The final way that Old Job and New Job are very different is that New Job is full of contractors and so there is a very 9 to 5 attitude. At Old Job people wander in whenever (as long as you get in by 10:30, you aren't considered late), but almost no one left before 6:00 pm. Even if you came in early on purpose so you could leave at 5:00 pm, you'd still get the stink eye if you left before 6:00. As a contractor, it's all different. They don't want me to work more than eight hours a day, because then they have to pay me time and half. 

(So I can have a life outside of work and that's good. Too bad I can't train with that extra time. Sigh.)

The bad part is that, if I need to run to the dentist, I can't really make the time up so I'm just out that time or have to work late or come in early that very same day. Same if I meet a friend for lunch or otherwise just need time off. Plus... no benefits. That's the hardest part of being a contractor for me. I have kids and we have medical needs and COBRA is expensive and will run out eventually. I stress about this a lot especially with Mini-Mac having her tonsils out last month. (I'm still sweating that it really does get covered like they said it would and also that MacBoy's unexpected hospital stay also gets covered.)

There are other things that are the same and different but those get a bit personal so I think I'll just not talk about them. I'm probably going to be sorry I said as much as I did say as it is.

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