or how I learned to stop worrying and love the corporation

I enjoy my new job.

I thought I wouldn’t. The past few years were spent at dot coms, which present themselves as an employee paradise. Casual dress, flexible hours, innovation, a fun atmosphere, perks, and the lure of possible big money cashouts: everyone wants it! The software tools are sexy and easy open source projects. It’s all very cool. And if you screw up, everyone understands and it’s all play money anyhow.

Now I’m at a large company. I work a fixed schedule and I wear Office Casual Clothing. There are policies and procedures for everything. Rank is important. Everyone is in a cube, some of us two to a cube. The software we manage is almost all proprietary and runs on proprietary operating systems. The work itself is locked into very specific tasks with step by step instructions. And if I blow it, I’m fired. Large sums of money rest on the competence of the staff.

It’s way better.

The dot coms I have known were all doomed. Almost all of them were the classic two-founder startups going after a niche in the market. All of them needed outside money to achieve their goals, and in every case the outside money wrecked the company. Uncontrolled hiring wiped out the competence and the culture of these places within months. Executives who came in with the outside money were out of their depth and resorted to arbitrary decision-making and tyranny, and sometimes deliberately failed at their fiduciary responsibilities.

Here are some examples of things I saw at dot coms: People hired to do nothing to make a company look bigger; openly racist senior executives allowed to carry out their prejudices; nonexistent products fraudulently sold by salesmen who then left with their money; stolen patents; illegal or impossible business plans designed to fail just after an executive had left for a better job; and indecision actually written into the procedures of the company to resolve differences between founders.

These things happen at bigger and better-organized companies, but it’s possible for all of them to occur at once at a startup dot com without any consequences for anyone involved. Too many of those places were all the boys playing the treehouse, complete with NO GIRLS sign, with the difference that being pushed out meant real broken bones down below.

In particular, the “two cofounders” startups were disasters. I’ll make an exception for the last one I worked at, where both of them were smart nice guys who knew what they were doing and cooperated. Everywhere else it was a disaster: Beavis & Butthead meet Leopold & Loeb. They were all white college grad males. Almost always one was technical and the other was business. They were inevitably rivals and often boyhood friends. Neither one could be completely in charge, and neither one could be seen defeated. I’ve seen situations where the two actually alternated between winning and losing the argument, so that the company sailed along zig zag for months.

I won’t ever work for a two cofounders startup again, unless it’s the last two. The rest is just the whole company as fifth wheel in the meltdown of a friendship.

So why do I love my current corporate job? Because it’s just plain old capitalism. Real money is being made and lost, and if enough is lost bad things will happen. Policies and procedures are in place that have been tested, and if they fail they are revised. Quality assurance is done by professionals with reliable tests. Software doesn’t go into production unless several groups agree that it works. Pay arrives on time each time. Insanity in the office is punished. A real HR department deals with out of control coworkers, even executives.

There’s nobody handing out beanie hats or taking us all to Dave & Busters, we have to wear normal clothing and show up on time, working from home is discouraged, the software and tools are totally uncool and often annoying, and there’s absolutely no chance of the company being bought or taken public to make us all millionaires. I love it. It’s just plain old employment at a regular profit-making company, making rich guys richer and slogging along. And the punchline? I’m making more money now.

With great respect to personal friends who are running their own startups well, the rest of you can keep your dot-coms. I’ll stick with the totally uncool skyscraper job working for the Man. He treats us all way better.

Annals of Employment: Tony the Ax versus The Phone Company

For a short time I worked at an internet service provider. They served medium-sized businesses. These guys really had their act together. All the tech people were smart. The bosses were hardcore ex Sun engineers. And they had a guarantee of reliability or your money back, which was unusual at the time.

That reimbursement didn’t get made, because they were good. Money was made.

Then one day the upstream provider, The Phone Company, failed. Suddenly the company was not providing any service at all to most of its customers. Not only were they looking like idiots, they were also now paying back all these customers. A gigantic taxi meter of money loss was running.

So our CFO called up The Phone Company. They were evasive in the usual phone company way. Probably told him they needed to "provision" something, or that it was "under investigation." The CFO was a nice guy, easy-going, loved his family and his vintage Corvette. He was also Italian-American from New Jersey. This is what he sounded like on the phone.

STOP, SHUT UP NOW. SHUT THE FUCK UP. I’M TAWKIN. I’M TAWKIN ABOUT WHAT YOU’RE DOING WHICH IS FUCKING FIXING THIS SHIT.  GET YOUR FWUCKING ACT TOGETHER OR I’M GONNA FLY UP THERE AND CUT YOUR FWUCKING BALLS OFF. DON’T EXPLAIN. YOUR EXPLANATIONS ARE FUCKING SHIT, THEY’RE DIARRHEA. SHUT THE FUCK UP AND FIX IT NOW. DID YOU FIX IT YET? DID I HEAR YOU SAY YOU FIXED IT? I DIDN’T HEAR YOU SAY YOU FIXED IT, SO SHUT THE FUCK UP.

I’M SHITTING OUT MY FUCKING BUSINESS HERE AND YOU’RE GOING TO LICK IT UP. DID YOU FIX IT YET? IT’S FIXED, RIGHT? NO? DO YOU WANT TO FUCKING SEE ME IN PERSON? YOU DON’T WANT TO FUCKING SEE ME IN PERSON, EVER.

They fixed it.

I was standing outside his office in fascinated horror. There was spittle on his desk and he was half standing out of the chair, leaning over the desk to scream into the phone. He clicked it off and slumped back in the chair for a few seconds and then looked up at me.

"I really hate doing that."

Friday in the American office

Smiles, casual clothing, greetings of “Happy Friday!”, discussions of forthcoming weekend activities, elevator conversations about how this sure is nice that it’s Friday…

Depression, pathos, and futility ooze from all of it. One day in the working five is half-dedicated to the idea that the next two aren’t spent in a fluorescent call center or an airless cubicle.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Major Barbara (slight return)

My new job is in the neighborhood next to the airport where all the aerospace companies sit. It’s creepy.

Raytheon and Northrop Grumman and Boeing and the others all have huge compounds of factories and offices. Silos emit gusts of white gas, roofs grow antennas and dishes, and big trucks arrive and depart with lumpy tarp-covered cargo.

Satellite systems, missiles, aircraft, God knows what else all come out of these compounds. The bearded 50-ish guys I see going to lunch make this stuff. They remind me of the dads of my friends from childhood, but these guys are now just 10 or 15 years older than I. They look worn. From my own experience I know that some of them are drinking themselves to death or just eaten up inside from the awful machines they design and build.

The only cheap lunch in walking range is a choice among some bad fast-food chain places around the corner: generic pizza, Subway sandwiches. Today at the Starbucks there I had one of my odd imagination moments in which I see an overlay on the scene in front of me. I imagined the Hellfire missiles and cluster bombs and lasers and supercannons and 2000 lb bombs arriving on this mini-mall scene: flaming debris and shrapnel, screams, office people writhing in burning Dockers, blood spatter on the Z Pizza sign.

There is what people now call a “disconnect” between the sterile and pleasant mediocrity of the Starbucks patio and the horrors of war machines. I’ll go back to just drinking my half-good coffee and taking a break, and that shocking filter on the camera will go away at least for a while.

It’s instructive to be closer to the business end sometimes. I’m too wimpy to be radical and it’s easy to relax and avoid big problems too. Maybe a few more reminders will help me change?

How I learned to stop worrying and love the conference call

I have lots of dial-in meetings for my job. Some of us are on mobile phones, some on office phones, some in a room together with a speakerphone. More than one person is on a speakerphone at any given time. Many of my coworkers are quick, verbal people who talk over each other.

For months my frustration has risen. I can’t talk or hear most of the time. Small noises near speakerphones are tremendously magnified: huge clacking keyboards, rumbling mice, ghastly gurgling mucus, and rustling paper like thunder.

Duelling cheap switches on speakerphones result in unintentional arguments, and questions that can’t be answered because everyone is talking over everyone else. Frequently the system overloads and only a buzz or shriek can be heard.

Today I had a breakthrough. This is a wonderful industrial/cutup anarcho-postmodern noise piece. Cabaret Voltaire and Adrian Sherwood are in the house. We are smashing the already smashed mirror! We’re going beyond! WE ARE ART DAMAGE!

But enough rejoicing. It’s time for me to get back to tuning feedback into the mix of bug report discussions and the hellacious crash of plastic water bottles. My JUICES are FLOWING!!

I don’t think I’ll be feeling the noiz today thanks

On the occasion of Kevin DuBrow’s death, an anecdote:

I used to work with the king of copy editors, A. He was perfect at his job: knew everything, meticulous, obstinate. A very nice guy outside of work also. He was slender and carried himself in an effeminate way, and had long brown hair parted in the middle.

A. was also seriously into heavy metal music. This was the late 80s, when metal and glam and pop-metal were king, and he was way into that scene. Aside from the long hair it’s not something one would have expected, but A. was full of unexpected.

One day someone mentioned Quiet Riot and he said “Oh, I have a story there.”

Years and years previous, A. had been shopping at the Ralphs market on Sunset at Poinsettia in West Hollywood. This is colloquially known as the “Rock ‘n’ Roll Ralphs” because it’s right next to the Strip and all the guitar stores.

A. was pushing his cart along looking for peas or something when he noticed a rocker dude trying to get his attention. The guy was very excited and grinning widely.

“Hey!” he said. “Do you play an instrument?”

A. said “Uh yes. I play bass. why?”

“I’ll tell you why. I’m Kevin Dubrow and I’m starting up the best heavy metal band in history. You’ve got the look and the attitude I want. YOU WANNA JOIN UP?”

There was a pause of about five seconds and A. declined the offer politely. Dubrow roared on off to find his next perfect metalhead.

I asked A. if he regretted not getting on the Quiet Riot ride and he said no, he couldn’t handle the lifestyle as much as he loved the music.

A. only wore tailored clothes and spoke with a refined, aristocratic accent. He was able to pass as gay well enough to work for years at a gay publication, but from what I heard his dating preference was for the Pamela Anderson type. Oh! And he’d been a pool shark previously in life, but had to give it up because he was too small to collect.