Toughest Career Challenge

I’ve been tagged at least twice now (Denis Gobo and K. Brian Kelley) for the Toughest Career Challenge.

My story: I took a job as a contractor, temp-to-perm. It was a relatively small shop and I was the only person working with databases. Since the shop was small I wore other hats. One of them was maintaining front-ends (forms and web clients) for financial applications.

The “to-perm” part never materialized. The first clue was about six weeks into the gig. I was responsible for implementing an upgrade. The schedule was set before I was hired and could not be altered. This had all the markings of a Crappy Job Test.

Crappy Job Testing is important. You can use CJT to detect whether you have a Crappy Job. A good Crappy Job Test goes something like this: Early on you’re given or decide to tackle something big. You dive in and succeed – or fail (you can learn from both). If you fail and are fired, that was a Crappy Job. Getting fired from a Crappy Job is a lot like getting thrown off a sinking ship: you’re going in the drink eventually, might as well get it over with. If you succeed and nothing changes – there’s no trust or respect (or no more) demonstrated by your boss(es) or peers – you have a Crappy Job.

I succeeded in the upgrade. The software was troublesome, buggy, hard to install, and even required hacking to set one of the passwords (the web interface was broken). But I persevered, overcame, and adapted.

If anything, I was treated with less respect after the success. I began a quiet job search the very next week.

I still did a good job. I came in early and worked on call late nights. I introduced virtualization and the Scrum methodology. Projects came and went, and life went on as normal for a few months. And then one Monday morning something happened.

We got a call that someone couldn’t access a project in the project management application. I looked and, sure enough, that project showed deactivated. Then another call came in. Same problem – couldn’t access the project. I checked and – you won’t believe this – that project was also deactivated. I decided to execute a query on the database to see where we stood on active vs. inactive projects. There was some history in there, but about 10% of the projects should show in an active status. There were 140,000 projects in the database. 75 were active. And all of them were active since late Friday afternoon.

My boss asked me how this could have happened. I told her I didn’t know, but all the inactive records in the table showed the same last-updated date and time: late Friday afternoon. She asked for theories, I had none. She asked if I could be responsible and I said “Yes”. She asked about details, I told her this could happen if I or anyone with access to the database (there were a few of us) executed an update on the table and forgot the Where clause.

She became physically upset. I found the last backup and began restoring to a new database on the test server. I’m one of those people who doesn’t do reactions. Unfortunately, I was working for someone who didn’t think they were getting through to you until you reacted. It was a classic lose/lose scenario.

After several hours of troubleshooting, I discovered a massive update had in fact occurred late Friday afternoon – at a time when I was about an hour into a three-hour road trip. I had identified the offending T-SQL embedded in a large stored procedure.

The oddest thing happened when I reported it wasn’t my fault and I could prove it: the tension melted. It turned out, as of that moment, that it wasn’t so big a deal after all.

Now if I was paranoid, I’d say my boss was gunning for me. It could’ve heightened my paranoia when she introduced me to people over the next few days that were interviewing for the “database position”. Or when my job description showed up on a large jobs website.

In the end everything worked out for the best. I was in the late stages of interviewing with three companies by that time, having started the job search when I realized I had a Crappy Job. I accepted an offer and submitted a notice a couple days before I was to be “let go”.

It wasn’t so much a technical challenge as a business one – a personality clash is more accurate. It was a disappointing experience, but also educational. There’s little you can do if you irritate someone by merely being who you are. From this experience, I learned the most important words in the phrase “I have a problem with you(r)…” are the first four.

:{> Andy

Andy Leonard

Christian, husband, dad, grandpa, Data Philosopher, Data Engineer, Azure Data Factory, SSIS, and Biml guy. I was cloud before cloud was cool. :{>

9 thoughts on “Toughest Career Challenge

  1. Sorry to hear about that, but glad it worked out. Those personality conflicts are always tough.

  2. Andy,
    The very notion that anyone on this Earth would think about letting you go is crazy. Is this company still in business? I would think that with such a track record of talent evaluation they would have been run into the ground about eight months after you left.

  3. Thanks Steve and SQLBatman,
      Steve, you are correct and that was tough.
      Thanks SQLBatman, they were purchased and re-orged a bit.
    :{> Andy

  4. It would be interesting to see whether or not your old boss, or the person who did the update while you were gone, is still working there!
    I’m very glad that you got out relatively unscathed!

  5. Reading everybody’s answers, I’m chuckling that the challenges are all related to soft skills.  When Chris started the quiz, I thought I was kinda cheating because one of my challenges was a soft skill, and I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one.  Technology isn’t that hard for us geeks, but man, the politics side of it is a minefield.

  6. Andy,
    At least you got a good story out of it.  I also love th Crappy Job Test and your conclusion that even if you get fired from a Crappy Job you are better off because it’s going to end any way.
    I’ve been in a Crappy Job before.  The company VP said that IT is "a necessary evil and brings no value to the company".  Of course now the location at which I worked has lost all its IT staff and most of us get to go back occasionally as contractors/consultants to keep things running.  It’s not a bad place to be a contractor/consultant.

  7. As your daughter, and a professional studying all kinds of psych, I’m very pleased with your last sentence- very self-differentiated. 90% of the time, most people’s reactions to us are about them and not us. One of my favorite theologians, Henri Nouwen, said that when we meet someone we clash with, it’s because they remind us of something we either don’t want to admit or don’t like about ourselves. Sounds like a lack of admission on her part… probably one of those "think she knows it all" types and gets angry when it becomes evident she does not, in fact, know it all. 🙂 Looking forward to your group meeting tonight and you getting to meet your incubating granddaughter!

  8. I absolutely had to respond to this post. I have had the EXACT same experience. I worked at a start up with unrealistic expectations, where myself and one other core developer (out of a team of 16) lead the project to initial success (despite some hacks). Many 80 hour weeks. Travel. More.
    I had a crappy job. After completing a monumental task of lifting the company off the ground, my PM, simply would make any excuse to point out any shortcomings that came out of my ballpark. My last week at the company I was given a ad hoc review by my PM, pointing out things that were reaching into minor issues we experienced during the process and some claims, were completely unsubstantiated. Was terminated. After leaving I shared the review with others in the group, everyone was dumbfounded. Within a couple months time, the other core developer also left/forced to leave. Since then, started another start-up, this time with many more options 🙂

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