Recently in Work Category

I read two articles recently that made me think a lot about the way I think and how I see myself.  I don't know if I would say I have low self-esteem, but I do know that I am monumentally insecure, and I suspect the vast majority of my most annoying character traits come from that.

First was from Squaremans, his first article in a new series called "The Process."  He discusses the working relationship of three directors, and how an honest dialogue is important to their creative process.  That same sort of relationship is the one I want to have with the people I work with, regardless of the field.  Luckily, where I work now, I do have a very honest relationship with my coworkers -- if I screw up, I can count on them to call me on it and vice versa, and we can all count on each other to own up to our mistakes and point out our own errors.  I'm not sure if I have always been wired this way or it has just grown out of my working environment organically, but now I find it difficult to work without that kind of honest back and forth.  This has, unfortunately, gotten me into a bit of trouble when I work with people who don't work that way, or when I am not in a venue appropriate to that sort of discussion.  The people who know me well can probably guess as to what I'm talking about.  I'm slowly learning to self-censor a little better, but I think I will always crave this sort of brutal honesty.

The second article was Time's "Yes, I Suck: Self-Help Through Negative Thinking," which talks about how affirmations only tend to make people with low self-esteem feel worse.  This is a common problem for me; I tend to feel like the people I'm getting the compliments from are either trying to make me feel better or don't know any better -- yes, I know that sounds arrogant, no, I don't really have any retort to that.  I suspect that's another problem I can blame on my insecurity.  Part of this though, I think, comes from the working environment I talked about above, though.  If I'm not getting a good dose of criticism, I feel like people aren't being honest with me, and it drives me crazy.  The feeling I get is something stronger than simple frustration though, it's almost like I feel like I've been betrayed.  I realize this is probably insane, especially since they are more than likely trying to be nice to me, but I think over the years I've slowly become very suspicious of people who are unwaveringly nice to me.  Probably not the most redeeming quality, but it's hard to break out of.

I'm not sure where this particular aspect of my psychology comes from, but I think it goes pretty far back -- my parents have never been the coddling type.  They have always been very firmly on the side of the "teach a man to fish" philosophy, which has ended up being to my benefit, even if I didn't necessarily think so at the time.  They have always been supportive, but also honest about their feelings, with regard to my work (which, I admit, I sometimes feel they are a little too uncritical of) and everything else about my life, and I've come to expect it.  I really can't thank them enough, but I admit at times it seems like a mixed blessing.

Morale and Management

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Benoc made a blog post today that got me thinking about morale in general; note that his subject for that post is my current place of employment, so I don't think I'll say too much about his post in particular, but for people wondering why I have been a bit out of sorts lately, that might prove a bit illuminating.

I don't have any "professional" management experience; I've been a peon here at CITES for the last nine years almost, and I tend to like more hands-on tasks than meetings, budgets, and the other headaches that come with management anyway.  However, for nearly the last two years, I have been part of my corporation's command staff on Eve Online, and while I'm sure it's not quite the same as managing something people do for a living, as opposed to something they are at least supposed to be doing for fun, I would like to think that it has given me some insights on how a good manager can help people pull together and how important morale management is to the success of an organization, regardless of its type.

The most damaging thing to morale that I've seen is the same thing that causes customers to become upset with someone they are doing business with: a sense that the plight of the people at the bottom that the people at the top just don't give a damn about them, or aren't even aware that a problem exists.  Being told that your concerns are not important or watching someone tell you how awesome things are when you can barely bring yourself to come to work every day is one of the most depressing things imaginable, because it destroys the one thing that you might still have left, and that's hope.  If the boat is being steered into the reef, and you sit there trying to tell the helmsman to change course until you're blue in the face, but he insists that everything is a-okay and what really needs to be done is to lighten the load by tossing half the crew overboard, you can't help but feel like things can only get worse.

This is why I have tried to be as honest with rank-and-file members of my corporation on Eve, and not insult their intelligence by denying realities that they all can see.  I'm also honest about my limitations and recognize the strengths of not only the other members of the command staff but also those of the rest of the corporation's members as well.  This works well for a few reasons; first of all, in my opinion, we've done a good job of making sure the people in charge are actually good at what they do.  Second, we make sure to recognize the contributions of junior members of the corporation as much as possible, and reassure them that many of the mistakes they make are ones that we have all made in the past when we started.  Finally, and possibly most important, we get rid of people who don't contribute to the group, so that everyone in the corporation is a valued asset that we can count on in times of crisis.

Maybe I'm just naive (as Adam suggested in his comment to another post), but I've found that honesty is almost always the best policy when it comes to dealing with people.  It makes it harder for anyone to attack you, because it gives them nowhere to go unless they attack your accomplishments or lack of them specifically, it makes it less likely for you to get tripped up by your own words (which is closely related I guess), it gains you respect so that people will trust you in the future, and frankly, it makes it easier to live with yourself.  Unfortunately, I will also admit that it makes you look somewhat weak at times compared to people who inflate their own accomplishments or outright lie about what they have done.  When that's exposed, though, it all comes down like a house of cards.  There's plenty of people in my work life, my personal life, and my "Eve life" that I disagree with, often heatedly, on a variety of topics.  If they are well-reasoned and/or well-researched opinions, though, or even if they demonstrate that the person has put in a lot of thought and effort developing them, I still find it easy to respect them.  People who demonstrate that they have no idea what they are talking about, who haven't even tried to understand other points of view or dismiss them out of hand because of the source (or who call such things "insubordination"), will have a hard time getting any respect from me, and I suspect from many others.

It makes for bad management, poor leadership, and morale that makes German conscripts in Stalingrad look positively jubilant.

Here's a hint...

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...if you work for a living, you are too fucking old to be wearing a costume at work on Halloween (unless that IS your job anyway).  Every year when this lovely holiday rolls around, there are people who dress up in costume, often extremely lame ones, and come on in to work.  It's time to grow the hell up people.  Seriously.  You're not in grade school anymore, where everyone dresses up for Halloween and goes on parade through school.  You're not at a party with your friends.  You are at your goddamn job.

Yes, I know I'm Captain Crankypants today anyway, thanks to stress of many different sorts and my lovely hormone shot yesterday, but this has driven me crazy for years.  Yes, I know I strangled my inner child to death sometime between middle school and sophomore or junior year of high school, but come on.  I can't be the only one who thinks this.  I am fine with dressing up in costume and going to Halloween parties or whatever (Monday's Chuck was friggin' hilarious), but at work...gah.  I don't want to have a meeting with someone in a stupid Batman costume.  I don't want to be accosted by Godzilla in the hallway while trying to get to my office.  So grow the hell up and keep your stupid costumes for some other more appropriate venue.
So it's about that time when I need to actually polish up my resume again so I don't totally forget what I've done since the last time I've done it, and I came to the realization that I think a ton of the things I've learned and done over the last year that would help me in an interview aren't related to my actual job at all.  The only problem is, I don't think putting any of them on my resume would exactly be a smart move.

Over the last 20 months, I've helped to rejuvenate my corporation on Eve and take it from having twenty or so members, loosely affiliated and without a real cohesive strategy, to where we're now a corporation of 50 or so well-motivated people able to work well together, fight against corporations and alliances much larger and much better funded than ourselves, with a profile that makes us one of the better known small corps in the game.  During most of that time, I've been the person in charge of recruitment and publicity, and I've had a fairly large role in shaping our corporate policy.  The only problem is, I don't think putting that on my resume is such a good idea, at least for most jobs.  Maybe if I was applying for a job at CCP, but I don't think I'm doing that real soon.

Being involved in NSDM, even in the peripheral way I have been so far -- let's face it, even among players have a long way to go before I'm a standout -- has helped too.  Facilitating the few times I have and going out afterwards and taking part in the discussion with Dan, Mark, and everyone else about what went right, what went wrong, and how it could be better has really given me a lot of insight into how you can manage activities like that with that many people and how changes in the game can affect how it is played.  Admittedly, NSDM could probably go in my resume if I was more deeply involved, but I definitely don't feel like I do enough with it to actually put it on there -- but it has been something that has really changed how I see things like group dynamics.

The worst part is, those are the sorts of things I find interesting, considerably more than the system administration I do on a daily basis, but when you look at my resume, you'd never know it.  Even in my job here, what I like is taking various pieces and fitting them together, trying to find the best way to meet the needs of the service managers I support (without sacrificing the integrity of our infrastructure and procedure).  It's not so much how cool a new technology is for its own sake, but how that can be used with other things or in new ways.  Unfortunately, I think that whole process is hard to sum up and describe in a good way in a cover letter, and it's really hard to get that across in a resume.

Some days, I wish I was a lot more of a techie, because it's easy to put a list of the 10 languages you know on a resume and then impress people with how knowledgeable you are or how complex the programs are you wrote.  It's not so easy to demonstrate understanding of "soft" topics, especially when you don't really deal with them on a daily basis in your current position -- and you will have a hard time getting a job in that kind of a field when you don't have any experience in it.  The worst part is that you can hardly blame someone for hiring someone with 5 years of proven experience and a professional track record over someone with no obvious skill in the area.

I've resolved not to get upset about this anymore though.  If I keep working on the things I like, eventually I'll be able to parlay that into aspects of any job I have, even this one.  More experience and knowledge is never a bad thing.  And if I can have a good time collecting it, so much the better.

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