Swamp-Cooler Talk

I was going to lunch with my team.

Katelyn said, “I love working with F because she’s funny when she’s not even trying to be funny. She just tells it like it is.”

Some 30 minutes later, my boss and I are talking about a former coworker at our previous employer:

My boss: “…she just wants to be a big fish in a small pond.”

Me: “Too bad she turned it into a swamp.”

Being a Woman in the Workforce

I am not an engineer, but I have worked with many of them, side-by-side in the different job roles I have had. Outside of work, I have taken coding bootcamps through RailsBridge and even volunteered at an event or two. I am employed in the tech industry of the Bay Area, and I have worked at different startups over the years.

It was upsetting to me to read the (now) ex-Google engineer’s manifesto about women in tech. Horribly upsetting. I will not go into why he is wrong as there are other great responses out there, such as this one, that have already covered that territory. What I will share is my experience as a woman in the workforce.

It is fucking hard to be a woman in the workforce. It gets even more difficult the more checkboxes you can select for being a part of marginalized groups.

On Thursday, we had two sales reps from one of our vendors come to the office. My boss had left early for a flight, and my coworker who would also be joining was running late. This left only myself to greet the two sales reps, introduce myself, and escort them to the meeting room. I am relatively new to the company, so I had never met these reps before.

I introduced myself and said I would be part of the demo meeting we were having. The male rep (who dominated his female counterpart and gave her little room to speak), shook my hand and said, “Well who are you? Where’s Chris?”

Chris is a white male who no longer works for the company. I said he was no longer there. Next the sales rep asked if he would be meeting with X or Y — two other white males (only one of which is still employed at the company.)

I found it a bit rude. Here I am introducing myself as taking part in the meeting, and instead of chatting with me, he is trying to direct himself to talk with a white male instead of me.

I shake it off as insensitive, poor manners (trying to give the benefit of the doubt that it’s not blatant racism or sexism or both) and escort them to the meeting room. My boss had asked me to ask for a pricing sheet to make sure we were up to date for our billing processes. Once we were seated, I explained that I would be taking over billing and would like a copy of our pricing sheet to make sure what we have is up to date.

His response: “What background do you have in billing? Have you ever done any?”

When I said I had at my previous job and gave the name, he answered, “Never heard of it.” He remained unhelpful, did not offer to get the pricing sheet and told me to ask my CEO for a copy of it if I wanted one.

Around that time, my late coworker (a white female) finally arrived. He then focused most of the demo on talking with her rather than me (another flag). But I did not miss his comments to her, “Oh you actually know your stuff.”

What does that say? It says that he doubted our abilities, our experience, and our knowledge. He questioned everything we had to say, our credentials, and our authority.

I want to say that this was a one-off experience and rare. Sadly, it is not. These types of interactions are common for women. I cannot count how many times I have been in a room where someone has a computer question and I know the answer, but the person assumes a male next to me is the one who knows the answer.

How often does a white male encounter that? How often has he found his abilities, his experience, and his authority are questioned?

I cannot imagine meeting someone, having them say they’re a computer engineer, and then responding, “Do you actually know anything about computer programming?” But this happens to women all the time — in tech and outside of it.

I was angry after that meeting. Livid. So many wounds were opened. I thought about my white male friends in tech. Have they ever experienced this? I bet it’s been rare, if they have, while this has happened to me dozens of times. Dozens of incidents that you try to shake off and move forward and not let yourself become bitter despite the anger and pain it causes you.

I went to bed upset. I was still upset the next day and worked from home, not wanting any more human interaction than was absolutely necessary.

My boss wanted me to schedule a meeting on Friday with an engineer to execute a plan we had gone over together and that had been approved. So we had our video conference (my video wasn’t working, thankfully), and essentially the engineer said he was not comfortable with the plan and would not execute it without speaking to my boss first. Even though I had been clear about why it needed to be done and that the plan had already been reviewed and approved by my boss, he refused.

It was too much. My authority was questioned again, even though my boss had put me in charge of project managing this plan and had signed off on it, he was absolutely refusing to do his part. Alrighty then.

I had to do an hour walk after that meeting. I was angry. I was deeply hurt. I was suddenly reminded of all the times I had worked with other engineers where I pointed out there was a problem, the engineers would doubt me, and then I turned out to be right.

I’ve had moments like this all my life. Even now, I am still deeply hurt and angry. Every time I encounter just “one more” incident like this, it gets harder, not easier. The numbers keep piling up. It can feel hopeless: yet again, another obstacle to overcome.

I wish I had an answer for it all, but I don’t. I just know it gets harder and harder. I don’t want to let myself become bitter and hateful, and it’s taking all the strength I have to keep moving forward.

Elevate Summit at Saguaro: A Trip to Palm Springs

My team and I were given the opportunity to attend Elevate Summit in Palm Springs over the weekend. Although I grew up in Southern California, I have not been back in 6 years. I also have never flown in to Palm Springs airport. It is small but surreal: open canopies, lawn chairs, grass and palm trees alongside shops and restaurants. There are even umbrellas you can borrow once you pass security to get to your gate. It felt like a Hollywood set. I kept expecting to see a movie camera peeking out somewhere. A truly bizarre experience.

We arrived late Thursday evening, the last flight to arrive at the airport really, and landed around 11pm. There was a man effectively directing and coordinating taxis for everyone. It was warm. I don’t miss the desert heat and hot air.

We stayed at the Saguaro hotel, a hotel that manages to look appealing in website photos, and under certain diminished capacities such as it is late at night and you are too tired to care. The place is a maze. The room numbers do not seem to make sense. In the morning, I realized the weird slanted windows give it a Fred Flintstone vibe along with the bright colors.

We had four rooms total. One colleague had a room that reeked of cigarettes despite being non-smoking. Two rooms had their own bluetooth speaker while the other two didn’t. The room I shared with a colleague had a weird odor that others said was the smell of cocaine (I wouldn’t have recognized that smell). A co-worker started sniffing the walls and said we should flip the mattresses because it smelled like the room was somebody’s stash house.

The inner courtyard is also a maze of construction, metal decorative mesh wall-barriers (as shown in the right of the photo), a large pool, two hot tubs, and flowers where dozens of hummingbirds zoom by your head and do battle. You will feel like Pocahontas about to sing “Colors of the Wind” if you stand close to the flowers in the morning.

It became even more fun when, in the morning, I asked the front desk where Elevate Summit was being held. The guy instructed me to board a shuttle outside. We texted the rest of our group that information and boarded. We were driven to the Palm Springs Convention Center where a science teacher’s convention was going on and the shuttle nearly left me there in error.

When we got back to Saguaro, we realized the front desk failed to mention that Elevate Summit was upstairs and did not require a shuttle ride. I guess the guy just assumed I liked like a science teacher. Is that a compliment…?

Laughter

​One of the company cofounders comes over to our team. He pulls up a chair and sits next to the coworker beside me and says to her, “Just a quick question. Has anyone ever complained about X?”

Even though I am not the one he is asking, I respond first: I immediately burst out laughing. I laugh loudly. Loud enough to get the sales team to send someone over to shush me as they present to clients nearby.

My laughter, infectious, made the cofounder and my coworker also laugh.

My coworker: “This happens all the time. You ask what you think is a perfectly reasonable and normal question, and Fel just bursts out laughing.”

That Special Feeling

My coworker M was drinking a La Croix (they are all the rage these days, aren’t they?) It wasn’t a can I recognized.

“Ooh what flavor is that?” I asked.

M: Sandia! They do tropical flavors now.

F: Oh, damn but it has kiwi.

M: You’re allergic?

F: Yeah, my lips get tingly.

M: You know, some people like having their lips feel tingly…

F: I’m sure there are MANY things you love to have tingling—and thank god HR is not here to hear about it!

Working with a Druish Princess

I used to work in a small room (for 6 people, “the fish bowl”, we called it because it was an interior room with one glass wall overlooking the open office for everybody else.) A girl on the team at the time (almost two years ago) was the type of girl for which I could find no redeeming work quality: superficial in every way, fake and all up in everybody’s business, a gossip, no work ethic and sloppy, spoiled little “Druish princess” (thanks, Mel Brooks!), an embarrassment for myself just in having to accept she was part of the team and the reason people looked down on our team.

There was nothing about her that didn’t irritate me. She would badger me constantly, and each week asked either , “Are you and J getting married?” or “Has J asked you to marry him yet?” or “Am I invited to the wedding?” (Girl, you wouldn’t even be invited to the funeral.) It was especially a sore point for me because at this point in my life, the nights of rejections and lack of sex were starting to bother me and cast my doubts on our relationship–but not like I’d ever tell her that.

I was both relieved and disappointed when she finally was gone–the disappointment came from her being moved to a different department rather than fired. I really had wanted to see her fired, particularly since I would spend the next 3 months cleaning up her sloppy work.

I hate being fake. Absolutely hate it. I would still run into her here and there, and every interaction was painful. My colleagues (those happy smiling people) would laugh at witnessing our interactions because they knew it took every effort on my part to hide what I really wanted to say in those moments and hide my facial expressions every time she spoke to me. She’d catch me in the kitchen and exclaim, “F, I miss working with you so much!” My response: “Oh that’s…nice.”

The other thing my colleagues, the ones who really know me, is I don’t do small talk. It’s not my thing, at least not at 8am. They laugh when someone new comes along and thinks they’re going to really impress me by chatting it up first thing in the morning. Nope. Not even close. I enjoy being able to work in peace and quiet–especially when it’s early. I’m often the first one to the office and almost never late.

So of course this morning would be the day that I’m surprised to see the Druish Princess is in before 8 (again, the work ethic thing was never really her gig. When we worked in the fish bowl, she was late every single day.) As we’re the only two people in on that side of the office, she comes over to do her favorite: the fake small talk. (God, grant me the strength not to toss her out the window.)

“Are you and J getting married yet?”
“No.”
“Are you two ever going to get married?”
“No.”
“What?! Why not? Never ever?”
“No.”
“Really? NEVER?”
“Never.”
“You don’t want to get married???”
“We broke up.”
“What! When was this? Why didn’t I know? Was it recent?”
“Yes. This year.”
“Oh. Sorry.” Then she backs away, finally having gotten a fucking clue.
It’s certainly not how I wanted to start my Monday.

Pokémon in a meeting

Me: I can’t believe you are still playing Pokémon. Do you just sit and play all day when you’re in meetings?

J: No, I turn my phone off when I am in meetings, but then I find myself spending the whole meeting wondering if there’s a pokémon in the room.

Fire, fire, everywhere!

Fun week at work.

On Wednesday, Product sends out an email to 8k people it wasn’t supposed to after they removed one key filter on who should get that email. This incident causes over 400 new support cases in a 24-hour period as a result. People were confused, and it caused some users to respond and to ask questions completely unrelated. Thanks, Product!

Then this afternoon, my coworkers notice something seems to be wrong with our system and one of our products. We voice weird cases we are seeing to each other. I had one, two other coworkers had one each. Our tingly-Spider sense starts to go off that something is very wrong by these three cases.

I start testing and realize it seems to only be an issue for new users whose program starts Sunday. There are nearly 2k of them, so that’s a big fucking deal to have a product be broken on their first day and not linked correctly.

My coworker and I sit down together and dig deeper in our investigation. We confirm our worst fears that it IS an issue for that segment.

We report it to engineering. They appear to be confused because the product is working for everyone else, and they seem to have trouble seeing how it’s not working for the group of people we see are having this issue.

Sometimes I think engineers need to get their heads out of the codes. If they would just look at the UI support sees, it then becomes very apparent something is wrong. Very, very wrong. I then check email logs because we send an email confirming devices are linked when activated. We had only 8 so far for today. EIGHT. Out of 2k. I would have expected hundreds at a minimum.

Fuck.

Our team rallies, we brainstorm, we get an action plan going. We ask Product for help because, provided they prioritize this incident, they can save us a lot of work and make a better user experience by having shit work as it’s supposed to, or at least send these people a mass email for us. I mean, product has set that expectation for them that shit will work by a certain day, you know?

Product’s response: Fuck you, just ride it out. It’s only 2k people.

So now I and a coworker have to be on call this weekend to deal with this chaos if it’s not resolved on time.

The funny thing is we just had a workshop on non-violent communication yesterday, but all of us really wanted to flip some tables with Product’s response.

L’Idiot

Our team hired a new guy 7 weeks ago. We were all excited about him joining. Big mistake.

image
Scene from Detective Mittens (1940): "What do you mean I only see things in black and white?"

L’Idiot is arrogant, aggressive, selfish, and rude. He makes assumptions all the time and often is wrong, but he gets defensive if you point out his mistakes. Yesterday he even threw a tantrum and vanished for an hour because the whole team told him it was wrong to do what he wanted to assume would be correct.

And he makes a lot of mistakes. He doesn’t focus on the details unless it’s to argue over the nuances of “suspicious” as it is used in two different places in a document. He then overlooks actually important details like if we need to place a hold on new accounts for a client.

I am a very patient person. People compliment me on my patience all the time: “You have the patience of a saint.” If you have worn out even my patience, then something is seriously wrong with you.

And something is seriously wrong with L’Idiot. This is just a small sample of shit he’s done:

– Cut the lunch line with no sense of shame whatsoever.
– Seriously consider stealing the banana off a fellow teammate’s desk because, “He won’t notice, right?”
– Outright refuse to help a teammate with our normal job duties when asked because L’Idiot was too busy assigning himself projects no one asked him to do instead.
– Invite himself to a coworkers birthday party and then creepily ask her for the phone numbers of her friends. (Keep in mind he is over 40 years old and the coworker who had a birthday is mid-20s.)
– Ask a coworker with too many girls in his dating pool to send some girls his way (Ewww!)
– Refuse to read documentation about our role at this job; instead, he makes sweeping generalizations about everything and makes terrible assumptions.
– Waste time, waste time, waste other people’s time. He has spent many days sitting at his desk emailing others in the company, trying to schmooze, and not getting any work done.
– Never listens to the team. We have a meeting and talk about X and how to handle those cases. 5 minutes later after the meeting, I hear him ask a coworker, “What do we do with X cases?” God.
– Doesn’t pick up on social cues. The guy has 0 emotional intelligence. People have abruptly left the lunch table where he is sitting because they can’t stand hearing him continue to rail on about shit no one cares about. We witnessed one occasion where at least 4 people sat with him (the only open lunch table) and leave within a minute of sitting down when they realized they would be better off eating alone at their desks.

There are definitely stupid questions, and he will find them. I was ready to flip some tables when he told me, “I was looking through your documentation on ABC-LA. Does it apply to ABC-MN?” No. NO NO NO NO. WHY WOULD YOU EVEN THINK THAT! One is rules for Louisiana… how would those apply to Minnesota?! Is the document titled ABC- LA and MN? No, it is not AND FOR A REASON.

Before this, my team had been fairly lucky in hiring good people who were great team players; the team dynamics were harmonious and we were a close-knit group–and we have the most diverse team in the office. Other teams would comment how cute it was that our team would sit and eat lunch together when we already spend all our time together at our desks.

But L’Idiot’s presence has quickly become toxic to the whole team, and we try to time lunches to avoid him sitting with us. He is such a miserable failure at life that I really want to talk to his references. Who could ever recommend this guy for ANYthing? And how has he gotten this far?

Troubleshooting Shrödinger’s Kitten

A consultant for our team led a workshop titled, Imagining Solutions.

She wanted to empower us with the ability to solve problems as she does and has helped us in the past. She said we’re all so great at what we do that we don’t even realize how many problems we’re solving each day, and she wants us to feel comfortable tackling the complex stuff with which she has helped us in the past. She also said this knowledge applies not just in the workplace but in all aspects of your life, including relationships.

I now share this knowledge as a testament to what I have learned.

To get started, first you must understand that there are three kinds of problems:

  • Simple
  • Complicated
  • Complex

And of course problems are best explained when cats are involved.

image
Exhibit A: Coffee and Cats (auf Deutsch: Kaffeekatze)

Read more