The New IT Contract From Hell - Part 1
I had to take this contract.
I was in a contract close to home but the money was poor and worse than that the agency had just gone bust leaving me four month's out-of-pocket on a six-month gig.
Then out of the blue I get a call about a financial-services company wanting someone to run their website for three months. Great low-tax location in central Europe, fantastic pay, and I've even got an old girlfriend in the region who wants us to get back together again.
The agency pay my expenses to go for the interview and after a 30 minute chat with the manager I have the offer - more than twice what I'd just been earning.
I took the job.
What else was I going to do?
At reception the team leader, who had declined to be present at the interview, arrives to take me to my desk.
She greets me with a dirty look and en route to the desk she stops and announces, "BTW, we are very religious in this team and there's no cursing or taking the lord's name in vain".
OMFG, I think to myself. What's she telling me here?
I know you IT contractors are all foul-mouthed heathens. How did she guess?
That's some greeting and I'm thinking: Welcome aboard, sinner. She wasn't kidding either. Of a team of six, three of them were bible-belt fundamentalist american christians, including both the senior team members.
On a Tuesday, we have to report on "what we worked on this week".
Now, instead of having the team email her individually and compiling the report herself, as a good team leader would, she has the team take turns editing a text file on the shared-drive.
She, the team leader, instructs the office junior to "train" me on this.
My "edit window" is set at 14:00-15:00.
The level of incompetence of this "leader" astonishes me when I see that she uses the same text file each week and she hasn't even deleted the reports from the week before, including her own comment, which states, "I hired a contractor for three months, but we hope to replace him with an internal as soon as possible, certainly within two months".
Being the only contractor on the team I ask the junior rhetorically, "This doesn't refer to me does it?", and she went bright red, poor lass.
My first appearance at the "weekly status meeting" where marketing, legal, and other groups interested in the website contents discuss their upcoming plans.
Our entire team has to attend, but only the team leader will speak.
She is unable to set up the video conference link, but one of the girls from marketing does it for her.
THE FIRST FRIDAY
She keeps me behind until 18:45 on Friday for no good reason, but as I'm on an
hourly rate and my flight home doesn't leave until 20:50 I'm not complaining.
END OF FIRST WEEK
I'm up to speed with this job.
Each day we are required to attend an utterly pointless "roll call" meeting at 09:00am.
The team leader insists on this because she wants to make sure we are all in at the time she sets.
She also sets everybody's lunch hour as 12:00-13:00 not a minute before, not a minute after.
My work involves editing one or two lines of html each day (in an interwoven template) and ftp'ing the occasional pdf to the webserver. I am a webmaster with in-depth knowledge of interwoven, but for the money they are paying I guess I can put up with it.
Pity they don't allow web access for contractors though, so I'm going to be bored a lot.
Thankfully I have a window seat with a nice mountain view.
I notice some inefficiencies in their approach, and as my official job title is "consultant" I write a quick paper on process improvement and demonstrate it to the manager.
It uses capabilities of their existing systems and costs nothing.
He asks me to implement it.
Next day she cottons on, drags me into an empty office and threatens me, "This is why we had to let the last person go. You have to do what I tell you".
I tell her I have management approval and she tells me that neither the manager nor I know how to run a "digital service", by which she means "website".
On Friday she keeps me behind until 19:30 claiming that I have to obtain her sign-off for a Monday morning change before I leave.
At 19:25 she turns up and when I present the change-request for her signature she flipplantly says, "Oh, the manager can sign that on Monday".
End of month.
I submit my timesheet for signing and the manager freaks out. "You are not allowed to do excess hours without written permission. You stayed late twice on Friday. Don't do it again otherwise I will have to cancel the contract! I don't have budget for overtime."
I meet a couple of permies in the bar on the commuter train and they tell me that hardly anybody in the company will talk to this woman.
She was a secretary but they can't fire her because the redundancy package would be too high, so they stuffed her into the web team to get her out of the way.
They also tell me she has no knowledge of IT whatsoever (as I had independently discovered).
After having abandoned my process improvement and gone back to her overly complicated way of doing things (each stake-holder was signing off every change three times over) she again criticises my approach, says I am doing it wrong, and now tells me to do it the way I had suggested in week two, but this time, the process improvement has morphed into her own idea.
The office junior has a problem with her PC and it's clear that the team lead hasn't a clue what's wrong. I overhear them discussing the problem and quickly suggest a known workaround.
The team leader gives me a withering glare and snarls, "Don't you ever interrupt me while I'm speaking again."
I call up the manager from my previous contract and ask if his offer to come back under a trustworthy agency is still open, but he's just hired a replacement.
She tells me I'm doing it wrong again, and, in one sentence essentially tells me to do it both her original way, and the new way, despite them being incompatible.
By now I've learned to ignore whatever she says and just do the damn job.
It doesn't matter how I do it, she always will find fault. This is why she constantly contradicts herself.
She has a copy of "Stupid White Men" on prominent display on her desk, and when I open a discussion with her about it, it is clear she hasn't even read it.
The title appeals to her though.
The temperature outside has dropped to ten degrees below, and the bible-thumpers, it turns out, are also fresh-air freaks one of whom likes to come in at 6:00am and open all the office windows.
Brass monkeys never had it this bad.
A few UK wintel contractors are over for a couple of weeks and obviously they know this woman.
They are effing and blinding all day and dragging the lord Jesus' name through the mud - normal behaviour when working with windows.
She has no authority over them, and they are clearly winding her up.
I try to not laugh. When things go wrong for her she says, "shoot", or "fudge".
We all know what she means, but in her devout mind she has not technically committed any sin so it's ok.
Her ticket to rapture is still assured.