Tag Archives: IT professionals

The first three chapters of Cubicle Envy, the novel


Since you’ve been so kind to be a patron of the blog (yes even the first time viewers!), I think it’s time to unveil my novel.  Not all of it! What am I, dumb?  I’ll give you the first three chapters.  Hopefully you’ll get a sense of what I’m doing and want more.  It’s been a joy to write Cubicle Envy.  I’m in the process of looking for an agent.  This blog is the humor side of the book, but there are plenty of dark angles as well that the readers will get to explore.  Those of you who have set up your own cube in corporate living will be a curious spectator to see what happens to the characters in the story.  Most of them truly are, at least to some degree, figments of working friends, enemies, and everyone else I’ve encountered in my path.  I hope they mirror some of what you’ve seen.  Here are the first three chapters of Cubicle Envy (pardon any funky formatting).

Chapter 1








-Let’s do some onboarding and get you in the loop-

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

“I was in the copy room getting a printout and this guy walks in.  I remembered I had seen his picture in the financial statements so I knew he was big time.  It was William Ormsby-Gore, you know the VP of sales.  He had some lackey with him.  For the sake of the story we’ll call him Toady McKissass.  Like I’m an illegal immigrant he pretends that I’m not there and he says to Toady, ‘It’s been a long time since I used one of these things,’ referring to the copy machine.  Then I said ‘The first thing I like to do is loosen my tie a bit so the blood can flow properly to my finger to press the button, plus it makes people think I’m human.’ I didn’t say that.  In fact, I just grabbed my stuff and left and then I did a voodoo prayer for a paper jam which surprisingly was ineffective.” Chris had a rare turn as the lunchroom emcee.

“Who is this guy?” Dennis met J Lo once and he now knew more about her via internet searches than he did about the upper management of his employer.

“Dennis, dude you’re in marketing and you don’t even know who the VP of Sales is?” Chris’ role as an accountant provided that he meet a daily quota of questioning.  Lunch hour was as good a time as any.  His cohort, Lisa, liked to ask more pointed questions.

“Remember how steamed we were in February after the last ‘Town Meeting’ when they mentioned that we missed the earnings mark by two million bucks because we couldn’t get the final deal done with Lever?  Meaning the deal didn’t get cleared because Accounting thought the revenue recognition was too aggressive,” explained Lisa.  “Yeah, well that was freakin’ Ogre opening his big mouth on that one too.”

“Oh yeah, yeah, yeah,” Dennis recalled

“That’s the British guy that Kelly likes?” Dennis prodded

“Na-uh.  Well, I mean he does look like Pierce Brosnan a little bit,” Kelly offered like she was at a teenage sleepover.

“Yeah, but with a faker accent.  I bet he’s from New Jersey.  Like that Rockefeller guy.  He’s got a German accent, but he says he’s a Rockefeller.  OK, please don’t cut me up Jeffrey Dahmer Rockefeller!” A howl rattled through the kitchen at Lisa’s analogy.

The door opened slowly.  It was Philip.

“Speaking of creepy,” Kelly muttered softly.  Empty paper bags and plastic-ware were strewn all over the table.

“Philip, are you gonna break the microwave again?” Lisa was on a caffeine rush after drinking her Coke.  Philip ignored her.

“What’s the sign on the door?”  he asked.  While Lisa took another swig from the bottle, Chris explained.

“Our manager got a complaint that we were too loud in the lunchroom so then HR got involved and then the sign magically appeared saying please keep the door closed to preserve the work environment.”

“I think they’re just trying to smoke us out,” exhorted Lisa as she slammed the bottle down on the table harder than she planned.

“They send in spies to cook nasty fish in the microwave and stink the place up.  Philip, are you cooking fish?” Lisa’s eyes had a way of squinting slightly when she was being jocular as if she were always trying to sight the next target.

“I was going to eat it, but maybe I’ll just leave it in your cube.” He had played these games before with Lisa.  There was a line of demarcation in regard to their playful bickering, but more often than not Philip did not fight back when Lisa crossed it.

Chris looked at his coworkers and realized how much he’d miss the minutiae of eating lunch at the kitchen table.  It was April of 2009 and the waterline of the recession was too high to pretend nothing was happening.  Since no one is an expert swimmer when they’re being pushed underwater, he figured another job could be a life preserver.

Chris, like the others, was with Sound Tech before they were purchased by Product Wave Ltd. While the former office in Wakefield wasn’t much to speak about in general, a lot of time was spent in the kitchen during the glory days of the dotcom boom.  Over time the company spent money to make the kitchen corporate state of the art.  It was large.  It could hold thirty people without too much trouble.  There was a dishwasher and a butcher block island counter where bowls of M&Ms or Cheeze-Its sat.  A TV and foosball table occupied an adjoining room.  And, to HR’s delight, there was a big soundproof door to keep it all in.  Even after the bust the tables and chairs were never replaced, but they worked fine and gave a good view of the Italian tile molding job that was stopped halfway through once funds dried up.

Sound Tech never made any money, but the R&D was so impressive that a suitor was easy to find.  In 2006 the purchase was made by Product Wave, Ltd. based in Cambridge, England.  They scraped away the old management, both beloved and hated, but for the most part kept the same staff.  A year ago was the beginning of the corporate simplification with the first maneuver to move corporate offices from Wakefield, Massachusetts to Waltham, Massachusetts.  Physically it wasn’t a massive move. It was a question of how the soup would bind with multiple companies under the PW umbrella coming to the same site.

With the economy down Chris had to think about a lot of factors.  He had been in a long relationship with Donna, beautiful Donna, who as a veterinary assistant didn’t know much about corporate life, but she wasn’t only sensitive to dogs in pain.  She could see Chris was having a hard time.  He proposed to her over the previous Christmas, but the timetable for the wedding seemed to inch further and further away as if the newsmen were reporting on the sinking chances of the nuptials rather than declining stock prices.  It would happen someday as they were in love just at the wrong time.

Chris was already underpaid compared to his peers and now PW instituted a salary freeze for at least half the year.  He was still young in his career, though, and so he wasn’t used to moving from job to job.  He had spent five years at Ernst and Young; probably two years too many of the sixty-hour workweeks.  He said it was experience that kept him there, but in fact it was fear. Now he had come to the same spot.  He was leaving PW.  Chris had a couple of second interviews lined up so it was all, but done, though he’d been quiet with his co-workers.

It was springtime in New England and the energy would have permeated to PW if the staff had windows out of which to look – management offices rimmed around the outside of the building.  The rest of the staff was thrown in a heap of cubicles in the middle of the floor.  Rows of cubes all set up the same way like a phalanx that can bring the people closer together or destroy them all with equal speed and efficiency.  With the first quarter close completed, the finance team was just trying to clean up like London after the Blitz.  Papers with notes scribbled in the corners in multiple sets of handwriting, binders left open to chapter and verse, boxes brimming with old reconciliations, and post-it notes artistically stuck to plastic, but already withering.

Chris was fairly organized so his cleanup had been quick; Lisa less so.  They were opposites, which made them work well as an accounting team.  He was more serious and reserved.  While Chris had come to care for these people and listened to their daily thoughts about work and family, he preferred to keep a level of anonymity.  They had met Donna at the summer outing of the previous year and it took them about a month of badgering to finally get Chris to bring her picture into work.  It sat guarded in his cube by the square, plastic, pencil holder.  Lisa was an open book for whom, if she had been hiding anything, it couldn’t possibly have been legal or ethical.  She, like Chris, grew up in public accounting where succeeding as a woman required certain allowances for boys’ club activities.  As years pass it has become more equal, but maybe she was just born a little bit brash.  Lisa was about ten years older than Chris, and, given her stories of growing up in ratty Dorchester in the 1970s and 1980s he couldn’t figure out how two people with such divergent paths could both wind up in the same spot.

It’s hard to unwind after the late nights of a quarter end.  People who have spent years doing taxes during the busy season have restless minds, especially during the spring.  When deadlines end there is suddenly less work and the days drag.  PW management didn’t allow music in the office so Chris and others had taken to using their iPods.  At times one would think they were walking through the basement storage of a library with file cabinets and cubes, staring at each other silently.  Every few minutes a beep would sound from someone swiping their security badge to enter the office met with the metal tap of the door closing again, but it would all just fade into the office ether.  Occasionally a completely discordant noise would shake everything out of its torpor.  Ears would perk up when it was obvious You-Tube was involved, proven by the raucous laughter.  Soon management would be on the scene because they want to be part of the team and laugh as well, but they can’t.  It’s not in their job description.

The afternoon finally ends.  For some the whistle blows at exactly 5:00 when the four-note tone of Microsoft computers shutting down ripples throughout the office.  Others, like accounting, who have been trained to be most efficient, hang on until they find the proper breaking point.  For Chris on a nothing Wednesday that time was 5:20.  He said goodbye to Lisa which, as usual, turned into an unnecessary conversation about how busy she was or about how much they were getting done.  When he finally got down to the lobby and saw that it was still light out, his mind relaxed.  After pushing through the revolving doors he could feel that it was colder out than it looked even with the fading sun shining.  Chris sent a quick text to Donna to let her know he was on the way.  He always noticed the same cars parked in Lot E each day.  At least somebody else saw the value in keeping to habit.

Chris Mackey and Donna Catcher moved in together in November.  She had been living in Tewksbury in an apartment by herself.  Break-ins had increased a bit with the economy in a tailspin and her landlord was generally sleazy so it was an easy solution for them to come together.  Plus the relationship simply demanded this next step.  He enjoyed that the house actually looked somewhat fresh given that he had a partner now to help keep it clean.  The paint on the outside was a faded, peeling crimson red and the cornices had chipped a bit after some tough winters, but it was a good location with a garage and room enough for two.  Now there were flowers on the sills where dust used to advertise space.  Both Chris and Donna were pleased with the situation and seemed to get along in this new phase of the relationship.

When he got home that evening she was sitting on the couch.  Her long brown hair in its tired repose was beginning to reach for the arm of the couch.  As he put his bag down she was startled a little bit, but played it cool by transforming the jump in her shoulders into a full stretch towards the ceiling with her fingers before a slow leaning flop back onto the seat of the couch.

“Man, I’m tired,” she said, muffled by the cushions.

“I hear ya,” he said because that’s what you’re supposed to say.

“Whaddya thinking for dinner?” he said while placing his jacket on the kitchen chair.

“Ice cream?” she exclaimed with big eyes.

“Nah, I gotta eat something somewhat healthy.  How about a salad?  I’ll put cheese on it.  It will be wonderful.”

As Chris looked in the refrigerator he heard her slide along the tiles to put away his jacket.  It made him smirk a little bit.  He reached down for the lettuce and turned it.  Staring at the brown spots, he asked, “So, how about some ice cream?”


Chapter 2








-Let’s not spin our wheels-

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The next morning all of the important managers were in a mess of meetings.  With corporate simplification in full development mode, it had become a running joke that the controller wouldn’t notice if someone stole the muffin that sat on his desk until lunchtime most days.  Similar to SoundTech, PW had made a few strategic acquisitions over the years in the US.  The simplification plan, ‘The Squeeze,’ as the employees called it, would require a shut-down of the corporate offices of the sister companies in Sacramento, Houston, and Nashville.  Offers had already been made to the people whom they wanted to bring to Massachusetts.  The remainder were given severance packages and laid to rest.  At least their career was killed near their home and they were not relocated to be executed.

Few accepted the transition.  These new positions were to start by May 1st.  While there was tempered excitement about getting some fresh blood in the office, with the managers especially ringing this news far and wide, there was also some trepidation from the old SoundTech crew who legitimately believed that their identity would be polished away.

“This PW Peter kind of looks like a child molester,” explained Lisa.

“Ugh, what!!??” Chris chimed in, not actually surprised.

“You know, PW Peter from this crap that corporate HR sends around or corporate somebody talking about our great plans for the next quarter.  Nothing says corporate like corny cartoon characters.”

She started into a quasi-Cockney accent.

“A-low, moi name is Peda, Peda File, and oi luv PW products.  Oi also luv children.”

“Oh man,” Chris replied.  “You ripped that off IT Crowd, didn’t you?”

“Yes, but I’ve been given full authority by the president of this company to make you laugh by any means possible, copyrights be damned.”

“We’re meeting at the Nines tonight, are you going to be there?”  A rhetorical question by Lisa as she would shoot down any excuse that Chris had.

“Yeah, I can do it.  Who’s we?”

“Oh, uh Kelly, Tim, Me.”

Kelly Govoni was the payroll administrator.  She had been with the company longer than any of the others.  Tim Lovett was the AP manager.  There wasn’t a person in the company either of them hadn’t spoken to at some point, though often not under the best circumstances.  So, as hard as Chris and Lisa liked to believe that they had it there were others who had pretty lousy jobs that they were stuck in.  While Kelly and Tim were certainly very loyal to those in finance, if you crossed them they could be brutal and had a semblance of power to back it up.

There’s a point where those who are injured watch their slow recovery and the mind asks if things will ever be the same.  Like many of their colleagues at PW, these four were teetering on resigning themselves to the fact that the workplace they had and bragged about to jealous peers was irreparable.  This group was one stitch in the hem of the American economy silently ripping at every new step. Sadly, for as much adversity as Kelly, Lisa, Chris and Tim might have faced in their individual lives outside of work, they couldn’t always apply lessons learned through struggle to fix the inherent problems at PW.  Work just isn’t the same as life, though management doesn’t always help make that distinction for its workforce.


-Let’s get our ducks in a row-

“So Timmy, who are you going fantasize about tonight, Jenna Jameson, Ashley Allan, another porn star to be named later?”

Chris didn’t want to know what this conversation could possibly be about.

“She is a virgin, that’s what she told me and I respect that.”

“I don’t think you can be a virgin if you have a graduate degree in sucking cock,” Lisa deadpanned.

Chris slid into the bench seat. “I don’t want to know….no.”

Lisa cradled the Killians in her right hand and took a strong swig.  The 99 was about three quarters full, typical for a Thursday.  The people were trained on the various televisions hanging in each corner of the room.  There were guys checking out the scores scrolling across the screens, knowing the consequences of the Yankees being up by two in the third.  They would refresh their eyes rolling to the side of the room to meet a coed waitress bouncing back fast enough to see that A-Rod hit another one.

“You know why they don’t have 99s in Maine?”  The table stared blankly, expecting that they would soon get down to business.

“Because the people can’t count past seven.” Lisa snorted at her own joke.

“How much crack were you able to buy when you pawned your Ms. Dorchester 1988 crown?” Tim offered.

Lisa ignored the comment and blustered into a monologue somewhere between Police Academy 2 and Revenge of the Nerds in its dramatics.

“This latest crap from Ogre is killing me.  The reality is that he and his cronies have a strong hold of our team – it’s not legitimate.  We know how to do our jobs.  It’s one thing to do what they ask of you and get no recognition.  I’m an accountant, nobody loves me.  I accepted that a long time ago.  When they’re in meetings eating danish and bitching about how the company would only give them an Audi to use while their Beamer was in the shop they don’t say ‘When we put together a spinoff the first people I need are the accountants.’  We’re last and we’re losers.”

“That’s old news, though.  I think we’re all used to being ignored,” Chris interrupted,   “I don’t get your point.” As he finished his last syllable his Coors Light bottle tipped back and Lisa explained,

“I don’t want to be told what to do by someone who has no background to do my job and I certainly won’t stand for being made the scapegoat when there are problems.  That’s what’s happening and obviously now it’s left the boardroom and is slowly congealing in the minds of the non-finance people.  Do you want a reputation of being a fuck-up?”  Beyond her skills as an accountant, Lisa was a master administrator.  When things got done in the office it was because of her assertiveness.

She clarified: “So the solution is that we take it to this guy.”

“You mean we’re going to tell him off?” Kelly was bemused.

“Nah, he’s already got the rest of the company poised to attack us.  Talking to him or about him is like holding your own grenade.”   Somewhere between her lashes and eyeliner, her eyes had a faded intensity, as if she knew there was no plan that would be perfect retribution.  It didn’t stop her from making a call.

“Look, he’s got a bonus payment coming from HQ next week, $50,000.”

“Wait a minute, na-uh, there’s a bonus freeze on.”

“How does it feel to be left out in the cold, Chris?  Yeah, what they neglected to tell you is that your balls make a very pleasing sound when they squeeze them.  Don’t be naïve, man – they break the rules left and right and leave us to figure out how to account for it because there’s no Fucking Around expense on the P&L.” She paused to let the crowd soak it in.  “I’ve got an idea, though:  We take the payment and give it to him same as usual net of taxes, but instead of paying all of those taxes in maybe they ‘accidentally’ get spread across the whole company in a little bonus payment to the employees.  Merry Christmas, Love, Accounting.  Ogre won’t notice until he goes to do his taxes at the end of the year and owes money.  By that point it’s completely covered over and if they somehow find that you didn’t withhold on this one you just say ‘sorry, I missed that one’ – case closed.  We do have to figure out how to get the CFO to sign off on the payroll run, though.”

“But ya talkin’ fraud!” Kelly’s Worcester accent would come out when she got excited.

“Mmm let’s see: opportunity – check, rationalization – check, oh intent to deceive – ever so much, check, actual completion of the transaction, well that’s yet to be determined.  I really liked you better when you were dumb, but yes, there is an element of misconduct involved.  If you spread it across enough layers, though, no one’s going to be the wiser and it just simply looks like a mistake when you’re talking about 600 people getting ten extra bucks one week in their pay.” She noticed a fuzzy white lint ball on her shoulder which she aimed to pull off while Chris did his usual party-pooping.

“I just don’t understand why you would go to the trouble of risking your job to try and pull something like this off, when it doesn’t send a direct message to anyone.  It’s just a freakin trick or treat game.” This concern snapped Lisa back.

“Stop it.” Lisa paused to bring all eyes upon her.  “I’ve been working my butt off for years to get to this place and now someone’s going to question me or my team – not fair, not fair, NOT fair.  We had a real system and a real team when we were Sound Tech.  I feel it slipping away.  I make noise because nobody else will.  Let me ask you this: how does HQ, who is all the way over in England know what doctor you should be seeing or what phone service you should use?  They don’t, but they change the freakin’ benefits to whatever seems right.  We make noise and suddenly the kitchen door is closed on us or maybe it’s a round of layoffs coming around the corner.”

They had been here before to rail about working conditions, but never to this level of urgency.  No one would argue the company was being completely mismanaged.  There was a trail of success that, while fading, was still evident.  A company that lets its staff make all of the decisions is a happy drunk in a cycle of ineptitude.  It wasn’t lack of management that roiled the employees here.  The frustration at PW was the bureaucracy.  An example had recently been established.  Worldwide HR had ordered local HR to have its employees brainstorm on ways to improve the workplace.  There was some silly acronym attached to the whole process, but local HR diligently passed along the message.  While eating tuna fish in her office (because even tuna in the kitchen would catch hell with Lisa’s extraordinary sense of smell) on Valentine’s Day of the previous year,  Kelly came up with an idea for a ‘Suggestion Box’ which could be placed in the mailroom where people could put anonymous suggestions for local improvements.  Somehow her sincere idea had to be vetted through global auditing and others.  In the end it was a suggestion email address that was settled on somewhere in the October time frame.  Kelly was not given credit for the idea, but she had long since given up hope of being credited with anything that left her desk.

As top management was moving its Chinese Checker pegs around its local management teams, Lisa’s strategy to bring the employees a win was tied to a message they would send.  She wasn’t waiting for a suggestion box.  She continued to sell it to her makeshift team as a plate of fajitas sizzled by them.  “Chris, I understand your hesitation.  Look, I’m not saying we should run out of the place on Friday with a $10,000 bill hidden in our pocket hoping we have a job on Monday.  But, even in that case, if they let you back in the door you still have the same crappy job.  You took some of their money, but they’re still not afraid of you.  This plan…I don’t even really want to call it a fraud is just a slap to Ogre and the top management to wake up.  Will they even get what we’re trying to say?  I don’t know, but like I said we’re not risking jobs or jail time here.  We’re just flexing a little muscle and we can’t lose.”

Lisa took a conflict and negotiation seminar once.  While the tricks she learned never seemed to work on her cats at home, she figured her coworkers might be more malleable.  She continued, “Why do I say that?  If they don’t catch it, Ogre gets a pinch in his wallet.  If they somehow do catch it we just handed all of the employees a little bonus check.  If management demands that money back because of a ‘mistake’…wow they look like dicks.”

As she continued she could feel their hesitation softening as if the anesthesia of reason was starting to take hold.  Lisa was a game-player and a politician, yet she was awkwardly stuck in her place as a staff accountant in a massive company.  “I remember the day SoundTech made the announcement that we were going to be sold to an overseas company.  I was in the kitchen eating Cheeze-its and worrying about a cash rec.  I knew this was how it was going to be.  I knew it!  I decided that I wanted to get the experience and I liked you guys.  Not to get all sentimental, but I’ve worked with a lot of jerk-offs in the past.  When you find the right coworkers it’s like finding the right husband.  I haven’t been real good at that, lord knows, so I might as well be satisfied to get one out of two.  I figure you guys would’ve ditched this place a long time ago if you didn’t feel similar feelings.”

The moment was snapped as a batter in the Sox game got a fastball directly in the helmet, causing the room to gasp.

Chris escaped to the bathroom and found himself standing slightly dumfounded at the urinal, the ear of the Earth that any man can tell his secrets to.  “Why did I come tonight?” he wondered in the silence.  “If I just left the company they could play whatever games they wanted and I’d hear about the silliness over email somewhere down the line.  It wouldn’t matter.  I’d have a new job, with new friends.  But now I freakin’ know stuff I don’t want to know…Jesus.”  The door opened and Chris battled the sound with his own flush.

“She’s a nut, huh?” Tim said grinning.  “I don’t know where she comes up with this stuff.” While standing at the urinal he had his head turned about three quarters of the way to make eye contact with Chris.

“Yeah, I don’t know,” said Chris in a resigned voice as he stuck his hands under the weak hand dryer.

Tim continued the conversation. “Do you think it could work?”

Oh man, why did you ask me that?” thought Chris.  “Maybe.  I’ll catch you tomorrow, Tim” Chris stormed out of the bathroom and waved quickly to the crew remaining.  The car is an even better listener than the urinal and there was a lot of talking being done on that ride home.


Chapter 3








-Let’s consider our core competencies-

Friday, April 10, 2009

          The next day at work it was Friday.  It was funny to see some of the new British managers trying to dress down.  It looked painful to the Americans who had invented casual Fridays.

“Hello Nigel,” said Lisa in her almost legitimate British accent.

“Hello Veronica,” Chris replied with a bit of a laugh.  They had jokingly given themselves fake British names in case there were spies among them or something like that.

“What’s Tra-La-La going to come up with today?” exclaimed Lisa.

Tra-La-La, Christian name Terence Lardner, was the manager of local HR.  Terry was a nice guy, like the others, had been around for a number of years in Sound Tech, but obviously was trying desperately to keep his job despite the joke it was slowly turning him into.

“Ohp – here we go.”  Chris was reading from the latest email “Due to certain circumstances such as the impacts of first quarter geographical revenue inconsistencies as compared to budget, blah, blah, blah…we are requiring that all staff utilizes all of their accrued vacation time before the end of December.  Anything unused will not be available as of January 1.”

“Hey Flo?” Lisa called out into the forest of file cabinets.  “Can I take an eight week vacation starting like next week?”

“Yeah, as long as it lasts two weeks,” Flo said.  Flo was the accounting manager.  She had been with Sound Tech for about six years and before that, like Chris, had been with Ernst and Young, but in Ohio where she was from.  She basically knew each person in Finance’s job backwards and forwards.  Flo was only a year older than Chris, but yet was married with child and obviously fairly accomplished in career as well.  She was a good boss and managed to keep Lisa in line, for the most part.  The controller and other management would sometimes ask Flo about Lisa’s productivity, but Flo always vouched for Chris and Lisa.

In the old days of Sound Tech it used to take the accounting team two weeks to close the books each month.  PW wanted it done in five days and under Flo’s guidance the improvement was accomplished consistently.  PW was insistent on a lot of changes and projects to align Sound Tech’s accounting with their own and somehow Flo was able to concentrate all of these demands into something almost palatable to Chris and Lisa.  There was a lot of work, but they had become a really strong team.  Chris was afraid that when he did leave that he may have been pulling the legs out from the whole operation.  He had to continuously remind himself that he had to look out for his and Donna’s best wishes.  He didn’t want to burn bridges, but he didn’t want to be over-fortifying them either.

The vacation announcement was not entirely surprising.  Salary and bonus freeze is an easy way to save money.  Then those changes slowly develop into a travel freeze.  Finally vacation is the third major employee expense.  It’s not even so much the expense, but actually the liability of having to accrue all of the employees’ vacation.  By cleaning up the balance sheet it’s easier to meet loan covenants and bring in more investors.

Coming off a down year the previous year (as everyone had with the economy hurting), Product Wave was doing testing for version 5.2 of their VoiceScan software.  VoiceScan was a voice recognition software that had applicability in a number of products from cell phones to heavy production machinery.  While version 5.1 was at the end of the line in 2008, the company had hoped to make some inroads into Latin America in Quarter 4 only to find their patent had been ripped off by a Brazilian company.  Lawyers were involved and it wasn’t looking good.  Unfortunately, all of the facts of the pending cases could not be disclosed in the financial statements.  When investors saw a marginal increase in overall sales from Q4 they were not impressed.

PW realized upon the purchase of Sound Tech eventually (probably sooner than later) a corporate simplification would have to be made to allow them to keep control and make consolidation of the reporting numbers streamlined for their accounting staff at headquarters.  It was going to save a lot of costs when the transition was completed, but there were many headaches in trying to deal with these obstinate Americans.  Unfortunately Lisa and the Team were not aware of how hard the management was fighting for their benefit because they were only hearing about the concessions being made and not some of the critical items being kept status quo.

“They always get us with this stuff on Fridays,” started Tim, as the dissonant squeak of chair legs grinding the linoleum kitchen floor hugged his words.  “I know Office Space was just a movie, but there’s a lot of truth in that.  They do fire more people on Fridays.  And this one?  They’re telling us they didn’t know about this previously?  Kelly, did you know about this?”

Kelly was reticent to say because she was told not to disclose it though she had known for over a month that it was a supreme possibility.  Her eyes were blue and quiet as she flashed “Well, yeah.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Lisa splashed in.  “It doesn’t freakin’ matter who knows what.  It’s all coming down, man.  I’m sure there’s an internet block on its way.  My girlfriend, Robin, works for Converse, they have to go to IT just for approval to use the internet.  Eventually they’ll have us wearing hairnets and preparing toast and jam.  And it’ll still be wrong.  I don’t know.”

There was a collective moment of silence for the benefits that were soon to be gone.

“Philip!  Who made you pizza today?  Marie Calandar or Mama Celeste?”  Lisa was on target again.

“Uh, well we know it wasn’t you.  The only thing you do in the kitchen is complain.”

“Mmm…touché.  You know Philip, seriously, you should add on your online dating profile that you have impeccable cooking skills.  I’m sure there’s a lot of women out there that would be smitten with a guy who likes clothes shopping and makes them a good microwave pizza.”

“You’d be surprised, Lisa.  Your cats don’t mix you up a nice mojito when you get home?”

“Nah, they just poop on my couch and pretend they don’t see it.” Philip snorted a bit as he walked out and everyone else fell back in their chairs laughing.  Lisa had the room again.

“You have an interview today, Dennis?”

“What do you mean?” Dennis was intrigued.

“Dress shirt, nice shoes – something’s up.”

“I don’t think I could get a job at McDonalds right now with the way things are going.”

“Good point,” Lisa replied.  None of them really liked Dennis.  He was just one of those guys who is a coworker today and tomorrow he’s a former coworker whose funny stories get ripped off.  Their little finance clique felt bad for him having to be subjected to whatever marketing was actually doing each day.  Dennis was kind of entertaining though his LinkedIn requests kept getting ‘lost.’

“One of the bigwigs from Britain is here today.  I’m surprised I haven’t been assigned to show him around Boston this weekend,” Dennis explained.

“Or jolly old Waltham,” Tim chimed in.

Lisa caught up, “Here’s a Chinese restaurant you shouldn’t go to.  Here’s a Greek restaurant you probably shouldn’t go to.  Oh, here’s an ugly office building and everybody stuck on 128 watching us in our ugly office building.”

Dennis picked up his lunch tray and held his pose for a second.  “There’s just nothing out there.”

Chris could hear the sound of the crowd getting up from the kitchen table with chair legs moaning to call on a long afternoon.  He hated eating lunch at his desk, but there was a bi-weekly managers meeting and Flo needed a particular report done.  Plus he had a ‘doctor’s appointment’ in the late afternoon. Chris had gone right from work to the wake for Donna’s aunt a few months before where everybody in the office gave him the interview wink so he knew better than to dress ‘inappropriately.’


-Let’s talk about this offline-

With the Friday afternoon traffic stifled on 495, Chris was cutting it a bit close to get to the interview.  In fact when he got to the parking lot of Vivitech, another software company, he was only five minutes early and the rushing made him a bit sweaty as it was a warm day.  This was a second interview where he was to meet with the CFO and Controller.  The company, located in Lowell, was much smaller than Product Wave.  Chris had met with the accounting manager and a senior accountant who both seemed professional and like good coworkers.  The company was nice in that it was close to home and their products, software that was being integrated in household goods like refrigerators or toasters, seemed pretty cool to Chris.

The lobby of Vivitech was Spartan, with a black leather couch and a coffee table.  Sitting on the table was a 2007 Annual Report.  2008 had apparently been selectively misplaced.  Before Chris could analyze the table any further the controller came in.

“Hi Chris?  Phil Nardone, how are you?

“Chris Mackey, I’m doing well, thanks.”

“You didn’t have any trouble getting here I hope – oh that’s right you’ve already met with Linda and David.”

“No, yeah, the traffic was a little thick, but it always is on Fridays.”

“Sure, sure. So you’re coming from Product Wave, huh?  That’s interesting.  They were a client of mine when I worked for Deloitte.  They have offices in Houston, Nashville and uh…”

“Sacramento,” Chris exclaimed.

“Yes, right.”

Chris interrupted the thought, “But um they’ve closed those offices now to consolidate in Waltham.”

“Oh really? Well, it has been about ten years since I worked with them.  They had some interesting accounting issues surrounding their software.  Anyway, you’ve been there for four years?

‘Well, I started with Sound Tech and then while I was there PW purchased us and eventually started on this corporate simplification.  My role hasn’t really changed, just the logo on my paycheck, I guess.”  The controller didn’t really find the paycheck comment all that funny.

“Well, let me tell you about our company a little bit.  I’m not sure what Linda and David told you so I’ll just give you my take.  We are coming up on our ninth year in business.  I’m sure you’re familiar with the product so I won’t get too far into that.  We’ve been in Lowell for about a year and a half.  You live nearby?

“I live in Lowell.”

“Oh that’s great.  I see that you worked at E&Y so I know you understand the value of hard work and being part of a team.  I’m sure it’s a similar atmosphere to Product Wave in that regard.  We have one subsidiary in Mexico so in this senior role you or David would be responsible for reconciliations and consolidation.”

There was no sense in continuing to listen.  Chris knew the controller really didn’t know what was going on with his team and trying to divvy out a small amount of work to two people was never going to work.  He was frankly surprised a new position was created.  It seemed everybody else, including PW, was giving two or more jobs to each employee. Chris battled through the rest of the interview just for the practice, but he was dulled.

“How’d it go, babe?”  Donna was chipper for a Friday evening.

“Nothin’ doin’ on that one.”

“They already called you back?”

“No, but I met with the controller and the CFO today and I just realized how the company is…I don’t know what the word is…I’m just not feelin’ it.”

She hugged him in her soft sweater and her hair mischievously leapt from her shoulders into his face.

“The next one is Wednesday, right?”  She was just so hard to frustrate though he had thought about her reaction to the damp interview all the way home.  Donna held a key role at the Paws Animal Clinic, but her pay lagged behind her value.  Chris felt like he owned the couples’ financial success, whether that vision was old-fashioned or not.  Perhaps the Easter weekend together would present a chance to enjoy each other for the first time in a while.  Although Chris could usually find a way to multitask some worry about a variety of concerns into what should have been a relaxed day off.



Another acronym or stab yourself with a pencil: choose your own adventure


In addition to writing this blog I’ve been working on writing a novel.  The first draft is close to completion (!!).  As we start to work back out of this summer into the meat of the fall, it got me thinking about acronyms.  You’re like ‘What the hell suddenly got you thinking about acronyms?’ Well, they’re everywhere.  Being able to write out words and not use them in the regular degree gave me a chance to do some analysis.

When I was a kid there were a few acronyms floating out there.  You had the old reliable RADAR.  It was good to use IQ to belittle the other kids on the bus.  There were a couple others, but, for the most part, you were forced to write out everything…in cursive!  In fact, acronyms look weird in cursive.  We didn’t bend the rules.  Then you got to be a teenager and you knew about SATs and maybe RBIs if you were a baseball fan.  Hey, we got a vernacular – that’s pretty cool.  In health class they told you about AIDs and STDs.  If you were real smart you knew Lou Gehrig’s disease was ALS.  Still, you remained unfettered by adding too much to remember and decode to your already busy schedule of being a jerkwad teenager.  Even in college maybe you added on GPA or DPS.  It didn’t stop anyone from having a few beers.

Suddenly your bright eyes brought you into your first office job.  For me I was working for the CPAs.  We were battling against the IRS.  Did we ever call it the Internal Revenue Service?  Have you ever called it the Internal Revenue Service?  No?  Well, there’s your answer.  We used more form numbers than acronyms, but it’s still speaking in a language normal people consider…well, they wisely walk away.  If you learned how to say ‘I need to go to the bathroom’ in French you will probably get to go to the bathroom.  If you learn ‘I’ve got a section 1231 loss that probably needs to be put on a 4797 with possible section 179 implications’ you will never get to go to the bathroom and you might just get a wedgie for old time’s sake.

Many accountants get burned out by form numbers and move on (actually we get burned out trying to magically turn boxes of faded receipts into something approximating a tax return while the owners keep calling us asking how it’s going).  The corporate world is a slushpile of acronyms.  You thought you were the North America Accounting Manager, but suddenly you’re anointed the NAAM by the GAM.  You look across the table at the guy who washes his hands before he pees and he’s giving you the once over.  ‘I’m the VeepSO, bitch!’  And the other Knights of the Round Table (or misshapen table that your PS (Purchasing Specialist) bought when HP went out of business) sit stoicly with their awkward acronym armor protecting them from people trying to logically connect how the Director of Program Development (DPD) being a jackass has helped program development in your company.

Close your eyes.  Well, open your eyes because you have to read this.  Imagine if you read these two sentences:  Marty Richter is the DPD for 123 Systems and he’s here today to talk about why the company struggles with Program Development.  Marty Richter is the jackass Director of Program Development for 123 Systems and he’s here today to talk about why the company struggles with Program Development.  Wouldn’t you surmise from the spelling out of his title in number 2 that Marty is the reason they struggle, whereas he remains more anonymous when he has his acronym?

I knew for me it was time to return to the forest of tall, well grown words when I started using sentences with three acronyms or more.  “How can you be sure the TBL revenue is hitting the P&L properly in Q1 if we are using a JE instead of an MRE to book the transaction?”

Look, I live in an Amish Acronym world where I can get by on the bare minimum.  If a twelve year old makes fun of me for not knowing what TTYL means, I’ll just tell them I noticed their thumbs looked a little misshapen when they text.  Go find an acronym to describe that complex.

Do you have insane amounts of acronyms at your workplace?  Have you ever actually invented an acronym on the fly to sound like you know what  you’re talking about?  Have you caught others misusing acronyms?  Have you given up like me?  Tell us about it!

If George Clooney was in IT they’d put him in the basement too.


The plight of the poor IT professional.  Thirty years ago there were no IT people.  They all worked at IBM and other software companies.  They were the cutting edge of a cool, sci-fi, Tron-like world where there was no doubt they would own those people who once made fun of their amped up graphing calculators and mastery of their joysticks.  For a wonderful moment in time there was a binary bubble.  Then Apple and Microsoft decided to put a computer in everybody’s home…and car…and phone.

These computers are just a fad! I’ll be on TV foreva!

In the 1980s everybody’s dad was Tony Danza pulling out the old ball glove pretending they could still play.  In the 1990s they gave up on that crap.  Now they could be a hero to the family if they brought in a PC.  Now everybody knows about computers – even old people!  But where has all of this knowledge gotten us to?  It’s kind of like when you give your dog peanut butter.  He likes peanut butter, but you really think it’s just funny to watch him smack his lips and shake his head back and forth.  We like our computers, but the real entertainment is when people can’t figure out how to use them.

Enter Donna Double Click.  She’s the nice woman you work with who, just has no luck with computers.  It doesn’t really make any sense because she’s had a PC in her house for years, but you ask her send out a meeting request and she says ‘I know you’ve shown me this before, but can you show me how to do that again?’ You suck in a deep breath and say ‘Of course I can because you’re a nice woman.’  Later on, of course, somebody is steamed about something and exclaims, ‘God, she’s such a dope!’  Then the Donna stories come out.  How she called IT when she couldn’t get rid of the lines in Microsoft Word and they had to explain to her that she was in Excel.  How IT got stuck there for an afternoon as there were 178 automatic updates that hadn’t run on her computer because she didn’t realize that turning off the monitor didn’t actually turn off the computer.  And the seemingly daily struggle of the demons within her computer making the icons either far too small or Super Mario big.

Donna’s not even that old.  You can’t blame people who had worked for twenty years before a computer even landed on their desk to be a little slow on the uptake, but it doesn’t seem to be that – there are just some people who don’t get it.  Then there’s five accountants huddled around a computer trying to figure out why the screen won’t move up and down.

It’s tedious at times (especially for IT), but at least Donna asks for help.  Kevin Keyboard Shortcut never asks for help until the Blue Screen of Death hits.  Then you get ‘Dammit, this computer sucks.  My last one was so much better.  What’s IT’s number?’  IT comes up and grabs the computer and then you see neither IT nor Kevin for the rest of the day.  The problem is that Kevin knows how to do stuff on the computer.  He’s got like 15 printer options because he can add one without prompts.  He’s accessing networks that aren’t really his.  Yeah, he gets error messages, but most of them are just warnings; they’re not critical or anything.  Then IT asks him what happened and he’s suddenly pretending to be as oblivious as Donna Double Click. ‘I don’t know.  It just kinda popped up.’

IT should really just monitor some of these people’s screens all day.  They might if they weren’t stuck running to the planning meeting only to find out one of three things:

  1. The presenter figured out the fix to his problem which probably means something else will soon be screwed up.  For every check box clicked there is an equal and opposite critical error message to be dealt with
  2. The solution to the problem was so dumb that it had to be a practical joke because no one who is potty trained or can tie their shoes should have missed it.
  3. The network is actually screwed up in which case there is a shitstorm brewing in emails.  Sitting here and pretending to try to fix this, while people keep telling me how yesterday their computer wasn’t working either, might be the best thing I can do for my own sanity.

Yes, most IT people didn’t seek it out as a profession, but getting blown around from company to company like dandelion feathers wasn’t cutting it as a programmer.  Or the company they working for blew up and this is a job.  There are two rules in the job as IT professional:

  1. Like a magician you can tell people what you’re doing, but never teach them how to do anything.  It saves you and your buddy’s jobs in the basement plus teaching is for training.  IT only trains their own.
  2. You are a data collector.  Sure, figuring out diagnostics and solving problems is cool, but really you just need stories to share.

Sales conferences, at times, are like the movie Bachelor Party, you know with Tom Hanks before he got all Saving Private Ryan on us.

“God, the owner was freakin’ ancient with like mummy breath.  You know like the mix of dentures and that Robitussin you can only get in Canada.  He’s been jerking us around for three years.  I finally just said to him flat out.  ‘You could have had us at $20 a unit two years ago.  What the hell are you waiting for?  For us to throw in a pack of Tic Tacs for you and your wife? OK $35 a unit and one pack of Tic Tacs.’  I actually wrote the Tic Tacs right on the sheet.”

“No, you didn’t do that, Barney!”

“I most certainly did and he took it!”

I imagine IT conferences are a little more subdued

“Yeah, I was trying to fix this guy’s network connection and I jumped on the phone for a couple minutes and suddenly a screen saver pops up and it’s a naked woman…who might just have been his manager.  I hit the mouse and we pretended like nothing happened.”

“Was she hot?”

“Not bad.”

“You should have said, A little pre-meeting scouting?”

“Yeah, I shoulda said that – damn.”

Poor IT personnel, their stories will make you frightened to ever turn on your computer, but they can’t tell anybody.  They just fix your little hiccups and go back to their basement cubicle monastery in the shadows of the junked computer parts closet.

Screw national administrative assistant day (OK, that’s a good idea too), but IT needs a pat on the back once in a while too.  Who would play a good IT pro in a movie?  Are you the IT Hall Monitor on your floor helping to fix everybody’s computer issues before calling in the big guns or are you the saboteur who uses a broken computer as an excuse to leave early?  IT has a dossier on everybody – what does yours say?

Nobody invited Emily Post to their meeting. I wonder why.


Hi, I’m your IT professional.  You might remember me from such roles as the guy who ended your embarrassing Blue Screen of Death problem, the person who sat awkwardly at your desk while you tried to busy yourself when the network stalled during a ‘routine’ download of Adobe.  Or perhaps it was my finest achievement to date, retrieving your lost Powerpoint on the fly during your last quarterly meeting.  By the way, handy-dandy tip: sweating on your keyboard will not prolong the life of the keyboard.

Everybody has meetings.  They are unavoidable and, at times, actually productive.  But they can also go rotten milk bad real fast leaving us all with nothing more than cautionary tales.  There should be etiquette and when codification was brought up in a recent meeting twelve people volunteered to create Meeting Etiquette Standards.  Somehow it hasn’t gotten done.


If I don’t know why I’m in your meeting I’m going to set out to destroy your meeting.  Not intentionally, of course, but you’re stealing time out of my productive workday to not be productive and I will comply.  It’s OK to check your phone once in a while.  You know, to make sure you voted for American Idle or to see what the weather is in Auckland, but it does get contagious.  The wise veteran presenters tell folks to leave their cellphones in their cubes, but then you’ve got yawning, elbow leaning, and pen cap chewing.  You could set up a table like the kids table at Christmas for the unimportant people or you could just not invite them.


If you don’t tell me what this meeting is about in reasonable detail I’m going to use it as a forum to complain.  Are the complaints going to be reasonable? No! We’ll talk about Sue’s squeaky shoes.  We’ll spend ten minutes discussing why some people can work from home, but others can’t.  There will be rollicking argument over font size in memos.  Eventually we’ll come around to the fact that there is no meeting agenda.  What was this meeting supposed to be about again?


I had a meeting once at my desk.  It was a web conference that we were forced to attend, but at least I had my office chair and could check Facebook on my cell phone if I needed a diversion.  Web conferences are the best for reaching a lot of people who are in all different locations, but when something goes wrong it becomes a mutiny.  There are people who are good web conference presenters.  We did not have one of those folks that day.  Our presenter decided not to mute all of the phone lines.  Let’s just say there are people who work less hours and make more money than you do who are not smart enough to mute their own line during a live telephone conference.  These people also listen to weird Euro Techno music, have dogs that berate them when they are on the phone, babies that they leave unattended, and evidently unsettling stomach reflux.  It must have been a full moon because it was happening all at once.  Oh, I forgot the cackler who was laughing at something we ordinary humans were just not privy to.  The presenter, bless their heart, would get through a couple sentences and ask for people to mute their lines, but the laughter and the techno music could not be defeated.  It was Pink Floyd song in my telephone colored by the little blips of people dropping off the call.

The moral of the story is: once a meeting starts to go bad stop the meeting.  Don’t try to resuscitate it.  If your conference room projector isn’t working and you’ve called in the IT professional they might be able to fix it, but you’ve got your MacGruber time bomb ticking.  If you have to call in IT you don’t have to cancel the meeting, but don’t make me sit there and watch.  To paraphrase Englebert Humperdinck’s lyrics to  Release Me, this meeting’s screwed and I need some coffee.


The time you choose for your meeting is critical.  If it’s right after lunch I want a laser show.  If it’s first thing in the morning I want a laser show.  OK, just kidding.  If your meeting is before 9:00, between 12:00 and 1:00 or after 6:00 you would be wise to have food because kids are starving in Africa and, apparently, professionals are starving in your meeting.  If your meeting is over three hours long (good luck with that) there should also be some sort of sustenance or, at least, a parting gift.

Making a meeting request for a meeting of more than four people, while giving the group less than four hours notice, is a definite no no too, Daffy.  Today was the day I planned to take a two hour lunch and now you’ve screwed it with your meeting request! Follow this simple rule that I just completely made up: for every meeting attendant give one extra hour of notice.  Four people in your meeting means giving the group four hours of notice.  Three people in your group makes three hours of notice comfortable, etc.

When we worked in public accounting we used to get what I termed ‘4:45s.’  Those are clients who show up at around five with a box of receipts and suddenly your early departure evening is now a rush out the door at 7:15.  Unless it’s an emergency or you are really invested in brown-nosing your boss by proving how late you can work, don’t set up a meeting after 4:00


Why are we having this meeting? Because Joe doesn’t write well enough to explain his three points in a five minute email.

It’s 10:05, why have we not started?  Because Barbara didn’t shut the door and we’ve got refugees somewhere between the kitchen and the copy room.

Why does Phil’s meeting agenda look fall foliage?  Because Phil’s one ‘tryout’ at Giggles has led him to believe he could be a standup and just start winging it when the meeting gets off topic.  Plus a fall foliage background is relaxing.

Why do we always order pizza from Brothers’? You do realize there are kids starving in Africa who don’t get free pizza?

There’s always going to be complaints so do yourself a favor.  In those meetings that you were invited to that you really didn’t need to be at, sit there and think about what you would do to make the meeting better or risk it and just don’t go.


How many meetings do you get stuck in each day?  How do you leave one and sneak into another?  How do you rate your workplace meeting etiquette?  Do meetings run smoothly or is it like the wild west?  Have you ever fallen asleep in a meeting?  We all have meeting stories, tell us yours.