Monday, November 25, 2013

How to Not Catch I-Don't-Give-A-Fuck-Itus

Some companies are inspirational playgrounds filled with motivated people pursuing projects about which they are passionate. Some companies are dreary, and filled with people who are looking for ways out of work so that they can sit at stare blankly at their computer screen. If you are in the latter company, it is easy to have your spunk sucked out by the still silence of unproductivity. It breeds I-don't-give-a-fuck-itus and will turn you into a work zombie who only lives outside of the office.

Being a work zombie sucks. It's depressing because you are wasting time, and because you never really accomplish anything worthwhile. And if you have an engineering or science degree, you have a set of skills that you can actually apply to make something better!

So here are my suggestions for how to keep yourself alive in an undead work environment :

1)  Remind yourself of your passions. If you go in caring about the work you do,  don't let other people's negative attitudes change that. If you don't like the work you do,  look for ways to use this job to do what you want.

2) Say at least one nice thing to somebody you work with every day. By making the effort to make other people's days a little bit better, you'll help chip away at the dreary environment. Being proactive about changing your environment also helps make you feel like you are doing your best, and will help you maintain your own positivity.

3) Try to work closely with your client, vendors, or whoever else you encounter on a daily basis. Sometimes, these groups have a better work philosophy, and it can be a breath of fresh air from the daily grind. Plus, it opens up possible opportunities with other organizations!

4) Join a positive organization outside of work. I typically like to do volunteer work, but you can try hackers organizations, book clubs, geocaching, and any type of well organized activity where you interact with inspired and happy people. It helps you maintain good work habits by reinforcing them outside of work, and gives you a solid example of what is important in your work environment. I take a lot of the positive management tricks I see from outside of work, and apply them in my office.

5) Remember that your coworkers and your work environment do not define you. This seems obvious, but it can be the hardest to put into practice. Even in a large corporation, as an engineer you are your own brand, and you will build a reputation for your own skills and work ethic. And if you continue to do amazing work, it will not go unnoticed forever.

With these tips, and a determination to make your office a little less apocalyptic, I hope you'll fend off I-Don't-Give-A-Fuck-Itus at least long enough to get yourself into a better position. Good luck!



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Monday, November 18, 2013

How to Respond to Emails

Today, I became everything I hate in an e-mail response.

I was typing a clarification email to a client (sent out to four people with me BCCed), and one of my interns stopped over at my cube to ask a question. Since he was patiently waiting, I quickly signed my name and hit send as I spun my chair around to give him my full attention. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my computer pronounce "Sending to... The guy who you intended and EVERYONE ELSE".

All hope was lost.
I frantically tried to cancel the email, but my reflexes were simply not fast enough. The deed was done. My intern continued to explain the details of his question, but my mind was completely consumed with the fact that I'd just committed a HUGE faux paus.

But why is this so bad? It was just a clarification email, after all.

I don't pretend to know all of the politics that go on with my client, but BCC-ing somebody is not an unintentional step. There are at least five clicks involved in doing this on my email client. And BCC-ing is typically done as a favor to keep somebody in the loop when they shouldn't be. So all I know, is that I was being told this as a secret favor,  and then I fucked it up by hitting the wrong button. Honestly, I have no idea why a BCC-ed person can reply all to people who didn't couldn't see they were copied,  let alone in 4 less clicks than it took to BCC them in the first place.

While I'm on the topic,  there are a couple other moments where emails have confounded me. For example, sometimes my boss will call me into his office to tell me that I am going to be spending the rest of the day at a client site to support emergent issues. As I get back to my desk and start to pack up the things I expect to need, my computer pings and I've gotten calendar items from the same boss with subject lines reading "Team meeting at 2 pm in fourth floor conference room ATTENDANCE MANDATORY". Now, I realize that these go out to the entire team, but I usually go back to his office just to clarify that the all caps warning was not intended for me.

The next type of email I don't get are non sequitur follow up emails. For example,  if I talked with someone ad nauseum about what Linux system we are going to use,  agree upon a solution,  and then I sit down at my desk just in time to receive an email stating,  "Per our conversation,  I am purchasing a Windows 8 tablet." This typically leaves me completely confused,  trying to figure out if they are being passive aggressive, if they simply can't type,  or if they are smoking a very potent hallucinogen and actually think that was close to being relevant.

The third type of email that I don't understand is passive aggressively CC-ing people. I typically try to email directly with somebody about issues I have found with their work, because I think that pointing out mistakes and copying people's bosses and important clients only makes them more defensive. And I think it's just generally douchey to make a spectacle of someone's mistakes before they have the opportunity to correct them. In response I have occasionally gotten vendors that will be frustrated with the fact that I have corrected them, and will send an email to me, my boss, our client, our client's boss, the vendor's boss, the water delivery man, the mailman, all the secretaries, and the President of the United States saying something along the lines of: "What exactly is it you want from me this time?"

I guess the vendor thought he was putting me on the spot here, by making it seem as if I have had completely unreasonable requests. Apparently, he had been complaining that he should be paid more to fix all of my unreasonable requests. What I don't think he entirely think through is the fact that I could, and would, reply all with a list of the bullshit problems they have had and continue to have.

After having that list received by the rest of the involved parties, you  can bet that I got a corrected document back very quickly. He also received no additional pay. So please, don't carbon copy people on an email chain if you haven't fully considered the consequences of having an open dialogue. Or do, because it is incredibly satisfying getting to destroy irresponsible people in reply all.



PS. What is the most embarrassing interaction you've had over work email?