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The choice to do it all wrong

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A few years ago, I’d started to transition my mind from one way of thinking.

“There’s usually one right answer”

And began replacing it with a new concept:

“There are infinite potential answers, all equally right, and my choice to choose what’s best by and for me is based on everything I am”

With this paradigm shift in thinking also came the realization that marketing was guiding science and discovery, that belief and desire among other things shape this thing called reality, and that fiction, hallucination, illusion, dreams – were all classified as such not because they weren’t fact, but because they didn’t support the belief system in place.

Put specifically.

MY belief system.

In 1996, I was working for a company based out of Phoenix, Arizona which specialized in providing call center support operations for companies to outsource portions of their call center operations.

I’d taken the job as a consultant because they were one of the few domestic companies with direct access to the country’s primary switches, and I was interested in learning about call routing, interacting with hardware at the switch and router levels and real time monitoring and processing of data dynamically.

Excell Agent Services was the name of the company, and I liked their business model. They’d market themselves to small and mid sized companies who either preferred a small and tighter staff or were budget conscious and moving the ‘dumb’ portion of call center operations – calls they’d receive regularly which could be dealt with through scripted responses – to Excell.

A win/win. Excell provided a valuable service which allowed small to mid size companies remain their size, and for larger companies. they provided a way to offload some of the volume of the calls received from their own call center operations as a ‘front line defense’.

Let’s take Dell for instance. There’s many calls they might receive on their products which consist of the same ‘help support’ responses, that really does behoove customer support representative to ask.

Questions such as “Did you turn on the power” or “Is it plugged in”

Things that should be obvious, but to the first time or novice user, these simple things might be glaring oversights they missed.

Excell allowed companies like Dell to segment the level of call center operations. “Level 1 support” might include weeding these calls out before forwarding it on to a customer service representative at Dell, where there are higher skilled representatives under employ, who are paid more to do what they do, and they get to answer the calls that ‘make sense’ and the level 1 questions have already been asked.

Now my job at the company was to interface with the switches.

Upper management had made a command decision to expand their presence overseas, so my job as a consultant was to create automated processes and procedures which would poll the switches on a timed basis.

It wasn’t quite the real time gig I’d signed up for. Polling can have a latency of up to 15 minutes where real time happens in a literal sense at the time the transaction occurs. But fortunately, I was in a position where I could investigate how the real time operations would work.

So my first program I was tasked with creating was this application which would scrape information from the switch logs every 15 minutes.

Which, in Visual Basic, required creating a program which remotely accessed the switch via TCP/IP commands.

This information would then be thrown into A Microsoft Access database (a part of the ridiculous design requirements).

So when you make a call that leverages a call center from say Pennsylvania, that call is logged with a specific date and time associated to it. The continental United States has four different time zones, and in this case, Pennsylvania would fall under the Eastern Time zone, which would be logged as – say “3pm eastern time” in the database. Similarly, let’s say you’re in Arizona, the time logged would be relative to Arizona time.

So when that information was thrown into the database, my other responsibility was crunching the numbers for contract costs and pricing which is ultimately billed to the client.

Let’s say the client is Dell. Dell signs a contract with Excell that says “Between the hours of 10am and 5pm, we’re expecting a call volume of a million users a day, spread fairly evenly across that time period, and we agree on a contractual price of 30 cents per minute. And in the off hours, between the hours of say 5pm and 10 am in the morning the next day, Dell agrees to pay a slightly elevated cost of 40 cents per minute, knowing full well that it’s harder to find workers at this hour and the volume of employees will be less to cover the costs.

This contract is relative to Arizona time.

Well first, it was my program’s job – once a switch was scraped – to calculate actual numbers and actual costs.

So a conversion was first made from the local time the call was received – that Pennsylvania call for instance, I would have to programmatically calculate daylight saving time variations, taking into consideration Arizona didn’t have daylight savings, and THEN once I’d figured out what time the call came in – Arizona time – which is what the contract was based on – I’d then sum up all these calls received in a given period of time – every 15 minutes, and from there, update the billing information by taking these sum totals and multiplying it by the agreed on costs.

For Excell, this method allowed them to plan how many staffers would be on board to field the calls, and should call volume fall outside of expected volume, it was information that both Dell and Excell could use on the next round of negotiations. Less call volume than expected generally speaking meant higher per minute costs, expectations set by Dell set the initial staff levels but ongoing oversight by my program made it possible to manage staff levels dynamically to ensure Excell kept it’s costs in check.

Now while Excell was a wonderful learning experience technologically, it was also a wonderful lesson in how funny and fucked up mismanagement can be.

Don. A red faced Irishman with a temper the size of Texas. Was my manager.

And to him. While he acted like he respect those who worked under him, was easily one of the worst examples of managers I’ve ever had the experience to work with.

To me. There were right tools and technologies and languages to develop the applications with, particularly since these mission critical applications would be running 24×7, and there were decidedly bad decisions.

For instance.

There was a server running 24×7 with little one off Visual Basic applications each doing their own thing.

His structure and design. Because, by god as a manager if he had to dig into someone’s code, it better be easy and understandable.

At my level 47, I suddenly see the validity in his rationale and am considering doing this with my WOW World Server. It’s almost fun thinking about coding something as easy and wrong as possible.

So thank you, Don, for that inspiration.

The ‘Right way’ in Windows would have been to create C++ services, and have these services run transparently in Windows, and messages logged to the event log for administrators. But with this decidedly wrong way. If an application fucked up, it required immediate attention. Because the entire system would crash. And those dependent on the numbers and billing information couldn’t do their job.

It’s the first gig I ever had as a consultant where I’d carried a pager, and on more than one occasion, drunker than a skunk on a Friday night I was remotely logged into the systems fixing a problem I hadn’t expected to occur which caused the entire application to crash.

So needless to say. His decision to architect the application this way caused a great deal of stress.

But looking back on it. I do have to admit.

It was funny and worth the smile it puts on my face.

Similarly, using Microsoft Access as a Database isn’t exactly the best decision either -in part because the environment was a multi user environment where people would be interacting with the database actively and Access simply wasn’t designed for multiple users. So when you try to alter an Access Database when someone has ‘exclusive’ access to it, it in a literal sense refuses to let you make modifications to it.

Which happened ALL the time with uneducated users.

But familiarity with it is what drew Don to stick to this database scheme. And as a $65 dollar an hour consultant, it was my responsibility to ensure this company got what they wanted no matter how much I didn’t think it was the best approach.

I kept telling myself “it works for them”

And “Not my code”

As I gritted my teeth and worked 60 some odd hours a week receiving a 1099 tax free paycheck of $4,000.00 USD per week.

For that year working for Don and Excell Agent Services I cleared $200,000 for the first time.

So with Don’s decision to stick to Access as the database repository, where something like Oracle or SQL Server should have been used, I was forced to place error checking in to check for concurrency issues such as exclusive locking, or row level locking which could disallow my updates.

Bad architecture and company support decisions made by Don aside, it was one of the most disrespectful environments I had ever worked in, from the start.

When I arrived. I along with two other consultants were given an office in a janitor’s broom closet. The company was so full with no available seating anywhere, they literally had no space available for us that could be wired instantly for us. So we were placed in a broom closet in the basement for the first three months of our assignment until they could find common seating for us as a team.

A broom closet.

There were three full time programmers, one – the manager – Don, wasn’t really a programmer he just thought he was one.

Another full timer – was neurotic as all hell, and paranoid to the extent that he’d acted like a beaten dog, and had a mirror taped to his monitor like a rear view mirror so he could see what was going on behind him. I couldn’t help but crawl up behind him below the mirror level to scare the bajeesus out of him on occasion. I know, I didn’t help his behavior, did I?

And the other. A genuinely good guy.

But management. The full timers were working no more than 40 hours a week. And since consultants came out of a different budget than full timers, guess who got the brunt of the workload and the hours?

The consultants.

Along with the abuse.

When an application we’d created failed. You could absolutely guarantee we’d be called into the director’s office. Where Don would proceed to yell for 15 minutes about how bad a person we were and how fucked up our code was.

For my anniversary, I’d planned a retreat with my wife well in advance, and paid for an extremely costly hotel for three nights.

Don had gotten pressure from management to start and complete an application in which I was the only one he felt was qualified enough to complete it.

So on a Friday afternoon – three hours before I’m going to leave with my wife, he says to me.

“You are going to stay and work 24×7 on this application until you’re done with it and THEN you can go on your trip”

I’d been done. Absolutely done with the psychological, mental, and verbal abuse.

I looked at the Director, and said to her “You’re both well aware of my plans for this weekend with my wife, which I won’t be able to recover the $1500 dollars I spent reserving the hotel and airfare because this would be a last minute calculation. Are you in support of Don?”

She nodded her head in agreement.

It was one of the first times I didn’t raise my voice.

And just acted.

“Don, are you sure you’re going to place these demands on me?,” I said, “knowing full well how I’m going to respond.”

His face grew beet red, he was even more angry than I’d ever seen him before.

“If you walk out that office, you’re fired,” he said.

I smiled. “No Don, you can’t fire me, I quit”

And then I walked out of the office.

As I was driving down the road, I picked up my phone to call my consulting company to tell them I’d quit. But as I picked up the cell phone, the phone rang. It was my contracting company.

Jeff, my rep at Cara Corporation, the company representing me, said “Don just called. He just said you’re fired. “

I laughed “That’s funny because I just quit.”

Jeff responded “What the hell is going on over there, I thought things were going so well!”

I had calmed down by then, and said “Things weren’t ever really going well, I was just working a lot and getting paid well for it, but the environment sucked and Don was just a major dick that I finally got fed up with it and walked out.”

His company, Cara, cared greatly about supporting his consultants, and would regular throw happy hours and Christmas parties for us, as well as take us out for lunch to see how we were doing. “Well, how about we meet up for a drink, you can tell me what happened, and chat about what’s next. I’m not done with you just because Don is.”

It was nice hearing that, and I had a couple hours before Lisa would get home so we could get going on our anniversary trip.

“The usual?,” I said.

“Centerfolds Cabaret it is, I could use an early escape myself,” Jeff said.

The moral of the story is this:

When I first started in the corporate world. There were company sponsored happy hours, typically on premises. As I shifted into consulting, I was a partner with my consulting firm and they’d usually find wonderful opportunities that clearly benefited them, myself, and the company we interacted with. It wasn’t just a financial relationship with these firms. It was a personal one.

And these firms provided a sense of belonging and friendship.

But somewhere in there. And I fault myself for this. I became obsessed about wealth. With so many years seeing the lifestyles of the rich and famous, I myself wanted a better quality of life and life style. The yachts. The custom Lambos. The weekends in Paris. The secret sex clubs And to be the reason conspiracies exist rather than being on the receiving end of those conspiracies.

Money. To me. Had become my path to freedom. And while I was able to focus on learning throughout my career, the focus on money made me tolerate the abuses from people like Don for far longer than I really should have.

I dont regret it. One bit.

If I were offered a job. I know, full well, that the people who’d mystified me with poor decisions managerially or programmatically would serve as my inspiration. I wouldn’t do most of work, as I was told, I freely admit that, but I would absolutely have fun with the work and try to add levity to the lives of others around me. That, or I’d intentionally focus on making them scratch their head in confusion.

Are there any jobs like this? Where fun is encouraged? Where productivity isn’t the baseline measurement and happiness is?

That’s why my focus is on becoming like Q with superpowers similar to his.

Programming is a job. But meddling with civilizations across space and time and being perfectly ok with being me…

I was born for that.

And trained for that by really angry people like Don.

I suppose this was among the most ‘important’ real life roles I had which would train me about how to become Q and to understand time and synchronization across timelines, as well as balancing decisions made by those ‘in charge’ and why they did what they did.

The funny thing was, this unusual education was all deftly and subtly positioned under the guise of this thing called….

“work”

 


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