The life of a nomadic technical mercenary – you get to work with a lot of people, in a lot of different working environments.
Each morning, when I get ready for work, I try to put on my "game face." As I step in to a client’s office, I am as professional as I can be. When I’m there, everyone is delightfully witty, interesting, and their children’s pictures are attractive, and I’m super productive. After all, I’m a consultant, and it’s just a temporary job — I can handle anything with a smile.
However, I thought I would recap some of things that I have seen my coworkers do during my career, which made me laugh, cringe, or just plain annoyed me.
I am simply shocked at how some people behave at work.
What is the The Equation of Joke
One of the funniest moments I can remember was when a coworker (with a PhD no less) wrote on a whiteboard in permanent marker. He filled up the whiteboard before anyone noticed it. I still chuckle about this one.
Topless at Work
At another gig, the company owners turned off the air conditioning after hours to save money (and I got paid extra to figure out why the servers were shutting down. Hint: thermal overload). One of the contractors was older gentleman that would take his shirt off when he was hot and "getting sweaty." On the weekends he would wear shorts and take off his shirt.
He was not particularly fit and it really bothered the impish 20-something female software engineer who had to sit next to him, especially when he started to tell her about his sexual conquests. Even I was disgusted. It was the first time that I have ever had to tell someone a lot older than myself that their behavior was simply not acceptable. The female employee spoke up and he got canned. We were all happy to see him go.
Smell the Knowledge Transfer
By far, the worst one I can remember was working closely with an overseas employee for hours who simply smelled terrible. Strong odors or body odor don’t bother me. However, this employee I had to do a “knowledge transfer” with, well he smelled simply god awful. He smelled like greasy rotten potato chips, wet fart, and burnt tires all mixed together into an overpowering stench. I never said anything to him, but the smell was so powerful it would trigger a migraine and make me nauseas for hours afterward.
At the end of our sessions, he would put on his leather coat and leave in a cloud. Worse yet, other coworkers would come to my desk to ask technical questions, their face would invariably twist up in a confused expression while they tried to remember why they came to my desk. The smell was assaulting their senses so hard it was jamming their neural pathways.
Finally, one of the other programmers asked, “What is that stench?” I looked innocently back and said, “what do you mean?” I knew the other programmer was scheduled for multiple two hour knowledge transfer sessions with the overseas employee. Soon enough he would find out for himself.
Another cubicle-mate was a heavy mouth breather, where each breath would be punctuated by a slight snore. Frequently, he would emit gurgling burps. He also brought in his own telephone headset, and he would call his wife at least two times a day and have rambling conversations about what he was doing.
I don’t mean to be Nosey
A cubicle-mate that would blow his nose constantly, even when he was eating. He would also pick his nose. Out of the corner of my eye, I swear, I saw him eat one.
A Death in the Family
Before I continue, let me say that there are two things that make me uncomfortable: germs and grown men who cry.
I was working at a gig where I was stuffed into a cubicle with an older engineer. He was personable, very talkative, and likable. The only problem I saw was his coffee cup.
He had a coffee cup that he would drink out of, but never would rinse it out or wash it. As the water evaporated it would leave a ring of sediment on the side wall of the cup. Over years of abuse, the coffee cup had become stained, leaving brown-grey striations much like you would see on the side of the Grand Canyon. I would sometime lay awake at night plotting a reason to steal the cup and wash it, but I didn’t want to touch it. I would wipe down my side of the desk with cleaning solution, much to the amusement of the project manager.
A few months later, the engineer fell in love via a dating site, and decided it was time to get married/remarried. He took a week off to visit his new fiancé. When he finally showed up, his lips were covered in sores, and he kept inferring he had a great time *wink* *wink*.
I started wiping down my phone, desk, and computer more often, using alcohol.
For the most part, things began to get back to normal until his dog died. As he tearfully explained, the dog didn’t die of natural causes. The dog bit his new girl friend, and had to be put down. He actually cried and had tearful phone conversations about his dog to friends and family. The mourning and depression lasted almost a month. He still had a picture of his dog as his windows desktop background. He would strike up conversations and steer it to his dog and he would start to cry. Older men who cry make me uncomfortable.
Sometimes, You Aren’t Alone
One Saturday, I was working on a hot project. Another consultant came into the deserted office, dialed the phone, and started crying and sniveling to his soon to be ex-wife. As the sorted details of his personal life spilled over the cubicle wall (she was cheating on him), I felt like I was watching a human train wreck unfold in slow motion before me. I couldn’t escape, because I would have to walk past his desk on the way to the exit. After an hour on the phone, he left (I don’t think he knew I was working several cubicles away). While I felt bad for him, It was awkward for me to look at him in the face after that.
Stupidity Doesn’t Have a Postal Address, So Let Me Use Yours
At one job, I worked with an eccentric consultant who had a federal firearms dealer permit. One day he ordered a book and ten thousand (10,000) rounds of ammunition, which was delivered to work.
He swore it was just a mistake, the ammunition was supposed to be delivered to his home, and the book was supposed to be delivered to work. Nevertheless he was fired on the spot (and walked out accompanied by no less than three security guards).
Porn at Night
At one company, someone was detected surfing porn sites at night. They placed a security camera to catch the culprit—whom they assumed would be someone on the night cleaning crew. They caught a lot more than they wanted. The employee not only viewed the pornography on his office computer, but started to pleasure himself. When they fired him, he started to angrily protest… until they slapped the VHS movie on the table. He got up and left without saying a word.
Engineering or Sales? How About Both?
I had a manager periodically quiz me about when I came in and where I was during the day. At the time I had a habit of writing down my hours and accomplishments in a paper Day-Timer planner, so I had no problems telling exactly what I did on a given day, months ago. He kept asking, “are you sure?”
I was insulted, a little embarrassed, and confused. I immediately started wondering if someone was trying to get me fired. I told him he should have access to the security door access logs and we could look at the data together. He suddenly smiled and quickly left.
Nonetheless, I thought it was odd. I asked some of the other consultants about it and one of the other consultants let out a gut-laugh and explained.
The manager had previously trusted his employees and contractors to be professional and honest when it comes to their time card. That ended after he hired a Vietnamese coder that spent most of his time on the phone speaking rapid-fire Vietnamese. Half the time he didn’t show up. Towards the end, he only showed up on paydays to collect his check.
One day the manager came looking for him, and grew agitated when he was informed he hadn’t been there for several days. Since then, he constantly monitored and watched his employees.
Worse yet, one of the other Vietnamese coders told everyone why he was one the phone all day — he was selling Amway.
Outsourcing is So Great, I’ll Do It Myself
At one gig in the Northeastern US, they found out a consultant outsourced his own job to China. He had difficulty in finishing the assignments he was given, and he had even more difficulty in explaining why he coded the way he did. At first they thought it was a language problem, but it was soon discovered that he was sending and receiving source code and company specifications over unencrypted e-mail zip files to his cohorts in China.
And those are only a few of the stories I could share.