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comment by goobster
goobster  ·  74 days ago  ·  link  ·    ·  parent  ·  post: Pubski: May 12, 2021

Some of the managers I was the most fond of, turned out to be terrible managers. But it wasn't until they left, and I was put under a competent and professional manager, that I realized it.

Employees are just cogs in a big machine, essentially. They are reliant on the ones in front of them to provide them with good information to work with, so they can do their job, and pass their work on to the next person in the chain.

As a "unicorn employee" myself, I have fallen into the trap of irreplaceability a couple of times.

The problem with being irreplaceable is that you can't grow, get promoted, take vacations, or leave, without everything going to shit. My boss and I actually did the math, and if I walked out tomorrow, they'd have to hire three people to replace me.

This is a VERY weak point in their structure. I get eaten by tigers on the way to work tomorrow, and they'd be screwed for 6 months. If I get promoted, then the company needs to hire at least 2 people to fill my shoes, and cost of operations goes through the roof.

So we have spent the last year making sure I "Only do what I can only do" and offload all the other work onto other people in the organization who do those things.

This reduces the company's exposure if I ______________ tomorrow, and makes it easier to find someone with the specific narrow set of skills to fill my core role.

Perversely, it also protects me, since there are now 10 other people in the company doing small parts of my job, who all need to be in tune with me and my work and rely on me to make sure they meet their goals that are pinned to what I do. This makes me key to many people's success, and gets me and my contributions noticed much more. Before, I was working my ass off, all alone, and nobody saw how I did what I did. Now I and my work show up in quarterly reviews for 10 other people across 4 other departments, increasing my visibility and the perceived critical nature of my work.

All because my manager wanted me to be able to take a vacation and not be a single point of failure in the system.





kleinbl00  ·  74 days ago  ·  link  ·  

    Perversely, it also protects me, since there are now 10 other people in the company doing small parts of my job, who all need to be in tune with me and my work and rely on me to make sure they meet their goals that are pinned to what I do.

Don't believe that for a minute.

I was doing 90 hours a week for PlayNetwork. In one 48-hour period I had a meeting in DC, a meeting in Dallas, a meeting in Laguna Beach and a meeting in Las Vegas (Dallas was chosen because it was the airport we could all book connections through on our way to other meetings). I saw an agenda for an executive board-level meeting that had "the kleinbl00 problem" on it at about item number seven. An efficiency expert followed me around for two weeks asking how I knew to do this, that and the other; about the eighth time I answered "folklore" she burst into tears.

I didn't understand until a week later when my CAD monitors were suddenly boxed up and shipped off to a job. Two days later they let me know they were laying me off. They made me organize my own going-away party, and then nobody came.

They lost $23m worth of contracts within six weeks.

Now - they'd probably made the decision that given the choice between the care and feeding of marquee projects like the ones I did and the care and feeding of two-speaker Starbucks hang'n'bang installs, they'd rather stick to the stuff they could pay any schlub to do. So "exiting" the market that they had hired me to build was probably a conscious decision. There certainly weren't enough people around capable of doing what I did - I'd seen the applications and of the 150 resumes, the only one that was a "maybe" was a guy I knew as a friend of a friend and that friend went "naah you don't want to give that guy any money to do anything he's an incompetent liar." The company definitely bit off more than they could chew, hired me to help munch, discovered that they needed four of me and then discovered that four of me were not available within five states of searching.

But I was still out of a job.

I would like to report the company ate shit not long after. But the fact of the matter is, they zombied on for another ten years, purchased by increasingly incompetent conglomerates until finally they were the ass-end of a licensing deal with Apple.

When I look 'em up on LinkedIn i still see a lot of names I recognize even now.

WanderingEng  ·  74 days ago  ·  link  ·  

This is interesting, because I see some of myself in this. In my group of six, I'm the strongest technically, and my boss is probably stronger than only the new guy. Of the maybe fifteen others in the company who do similar work, only two come to mind as similar (probably better).

It's interesting to think what direction the company would go without me. There's work we need to do that I'm doing, but an incompetent organization could pretend they didn't know, not do it, and hope they don't get caught.

So if they had to cut a position, would it be my worthless boss (my choice), the least experienced, or me at one of the higher paid and also pain in the ass because I keep identifying issues we need to address?

kleinbl00  ·  74 days ago  ·  link  ·  

It'll be whoever is least likely to sue and win.

goobster  ·  74 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Well... "protects me" in as much as anyone can be "protected" in a job. I don't hold compromising photos of the CEO, or anything.

But I am the one guy in the company who can do the work necessary to maintain the clients where about 70% of our revenues come from. (Government contracts.) Yeah, they could hire someone else to do the writing I do, but then they'd need at least three tech people, two people from the Installations/Training teams, a lead salesperson/account manager, and sales administrator to do every one of the projects I work on.

And I have 7 in the hopper right now, all that must be finished and submitted by the end of next week.

If I bunked off today, they could do two of those projects, max.

I kinda see myself as the spine, and my collaborators as the ribs. Each of them does an important job (less important as you go down), but none of them work with each other, and without me, they can't communicate or replace the work I do.

In the end, yeah, I'm a glorified specialist writer. But not one that is easily replaced, and one that has several other departments invested in ensuring my success.

Right now I'm just watching my ETH and wondering how long I need to go before I just pull up stakes and retire. :-)

kleinbl00  ·  74 days ago  ·  link  ·  

They can always pivot to something easier/stupider/cheaper/whatever.

    Yeah, they could hire someone else to do the writing I do, but then they'd need at least three tech people, two people from the Installations/Training teams, a lead salesperson/account manager, and sales administrator to do every one of the projects I work on.

To do it right, yeah. You can do it wrong for a long time before people catch on. 'nuther Playnetwork story:

We'd sold Jack in the Box on our ability to execute "Jack TV" - whereby there were video monitors that played inane bullshit during the lunch and dinner rush. But they only had about 20 minutes worth of inane bullshit and they'd discovered that they couldn't afford to lock down the bullshit effectively enough to keep Jack in the Box employees from unplugging the DVD player after about four hours of inane bullshit. So our video sales flak - I had to clean up a lot of his bullshit - pitched all this stuff on the basis that the audio would magically switch from the bullshit DVD player to our bullshit music player on a schedule without the first clue how to do this.

You did this with a dayparting DVD player, which cost a mere $1800 at the time. Then you ran it through an amp with a contact closure control, which cost a mere $400. Museum kiosks do this all the time, it's just nobody had thought to ask the engineering department before putting together a bid. As a consequence there was $300 for the DVD player and amp.

- But it was six months between signing the contract and having to do anything.

So now it lands on my desk and the project manager decides to just... you know, shine on the fact that we didn't do the dayparting.

- It took three months for Jack in the Box Corporate to bother complaining.

So now there are 25 Jack in the Boxes stretched across Texas with employees in open rebellion because who wants to listen to 18 minutes of Jack in the Box commercials all day long. Which means a truck roll to "fix" everything which meant a $400 amplifier had to go in along with a $30 digital thermostat I'd tortured into working, written up the instructions on, gotten forged into our inventory system as a "McGyver 1000" with a vendor of "Home Depot" and "deployed" to these toothless yokels living in a motorhome.

- Because the engineering overage came out of the project manager's monthly profit/loss statement so she went as cheap as she possibly could.

- But the sales guy didn't care because we'd crossed the fiscal year so the project profits weren't going to be actualized for another ten months.

So the project manager is so stoked at how adequately these toothless yokels executed their "string lamp cord between a thermostat timer and a contact closure control" contract, on top of their "why bother hooking up three component cables when one composite cable sort of works" work ethic that she no-shit offered them the contract for Washington and Oregon, too. Ye Olde MacGyver 1000 has now bought every Home Depot in a 100-mile radius out of thermostat timers; I had gophers smurfing them from Cle Elum to Silverdale. I switch over to a connector that's harder to fuck up but requires special pliers; the contractor legit steals them to sell to other contractors and uses Monoprice bullshit on my bid (I see this because they literally come by the office so I can show them how to terminate cable). But it's been a year by now and nobody has been punished for their tomfoolery. I'm spending a good 20 hours a week supporting a project that would be over and done with if it were bid properly. But everyone is totally stoked -

- until one of the contractors I like from my real world back where low voltage guys are bonded and insured

- gets breakfast at Jack In The Box, sees the toothless yokels and asks them where they're from

- finds out they're from Texas and didn't even know they needed a license in WA

- complains to the county, who complains to the state

- Who shuts down ALL construction at ALL Jack in the Boxes in the middle of their brand refresh to find out what sort of shenanigans is going on.

Somehow the project manager tries to pin this on me. I show everyone the email where I said we needed new contractors. Jack in the Box drops us like a hot rock - but it's been a year with no consequences.

And the sales guy isn't fired for another thirteen months, when an entire fiscal year's worth of nonsense becomes clear.

goobster  ·  74 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Fortunately, in my business, incumbency is a powerful thing. It'll cost a school around a quarter million dollars to remove our hardware, install another vendor, configure their software platform, and train up their team on the new system. All to get essentially the same set of features with a slightly different UI on top.

Not many schools (or other government agencies) can make a case for that choice.

And their purchasing processes are highly structured and regulated. And audited. It turns out that being a developer and project manager in the past helps me to ensure all the i's are dotted and t's are crossed in this complex and confusing system.

Can others do it? Sure.

Is there anyone else who can do it AND who knows our products (hardware and software) inside and out? And how our security infrastructure is built? And how our third-party installers work on-site to get our equipment installed? And how to integrate our systems with around 20 or so of the other common tools in use in the market?

Yes... someone knows each of these things. But I'm the only one that knows ALL of them, and can stitch them all together into a good story that wins business.

So yeah, I can be replaced. But it takes a lot of work by a lot of people who already have full-time jobs, and many of them don't have the skills/focus to attend to the all-important details like I do.

I have no illusion that my job could end literally any day. All I need to do is make one tiny error in one part of one document and either lose a customer, commit the company to legally or fiscally disastrous terms, or promise features/functions that don't exist, and I will instantly be The Fall Guy.

I am absolutely sure that, the day I am fired, my CEO will have a negotiation with some Purchasing Manager from a State-owned Utility, or huge school district, and the conversation will include the phrase, "... I apologize for that error, and the employee responsible for making it has been fired."

Either that or I retire. That's how this job ends.