Category: Life Lessons

How to confuse children well into adulthood.

I wasn’t always the best behaved child. I’d occasionally get caught, and (rightly!) get in trouble for it. Sometimes though, we get in trouble, and the punishment is just … odd.

One instance that comes to mind is at junior school (I think I was somewhere between 6 and 8 years old). There were two play grounds, one for the smaller children, and one for the bigger. So, you’d have two adults on ‘playground duty’. I was on the larger playground, and the lady on duty had the surname ‘Sergeant’. I can’t remember the conversation that led up to this instance. Thinking back to my younger self, there probably wasn’t a conversation that led up to it. Regardless, I went up to her, smartly saluted, and shouted ‘Aye aye, Sergeant!’.

She did not take it well. Her face went bright red, and she gave me a rather sound telling off. In retrospect, it was probably a ‘joke’ that she’d heard all her life, so I can see why she’d be pretty fed up of it. The telling off was all fair enough – I’d been pretty disrespectful to her. I got that, so I owed her an apology.

However, her telling off finished with an instruction to apologise to the other teacher on duty – not to her. I clearly remember toddling off in a rather confused state to the other playground to apologise to the teacher there for what I’d done. He looked a bit confused as well, but accepted by apology.

The only reason I remember this incident so well is that I was so confused about the punishment. I still am. Surely I should have apologised to her?

I’m not even sure what the underlying message of this post should even be. Don’t give children confusing punishments that will still confuse them over a couple of decades later?

I still don’t get it, even today.

Britishism – The Tea Queue

I got chatting with a Hungarian colleague at work whilst in the very small kitchen my department shares. This kitchen is small enough that you can only barely squeeze two people into it at once. At certain times of the day, you will find people queuing up outside, awaiting their turn at the kettle. I termed this the ‘Tea Queue’, and my colleague commented that those two words together summed up everything British.

Now, my colleague hasn’t been living in the UK all that long – and she told me a story about her own experience of British Rage when she inadvertently jumped a queue. I felt kind of bad for her – she hadn’t been here long, and had been in a rush to not miss her bus. The bus station is very busy, and the stops quite close together. She hadn’t realised that the long queue she ran past had been the queue for the bus she was aiming to catch. This resulted in a woman in the queue giving her a massive scolding, which has stuck with my colleague even now.

Here’s the thing. In the UK, we’re conditioned to honour the queue. Queue jumping is one of the biggest faux pas you can commit. Seeing queue jumping in action will incite us to fury. However – the majority of people do not mean to be rude, I find. Sometimes, they make an honest mistake. Queuing may not be such a huge thing where they come from. In all the times someone has queue jumped in front of me, I generally find that a polite ‘Excuse me, I think you missed the queue here!’ usually results in the queue jumper looking a bit embarrassed at their mistake and taking their proper place in the queue.

Granted, swallowing your rage can be difficult – especially on a bad day. But I find it pretty sad that all too often, people will let loose their rage without realising that people sometimes have just missed the fact that there is a queue. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t give someone a bloody good telling off if they are unrepentant of their rudeness when you attempt to politely correct them. Still. I wish that the woman who told off my colleague had been a bit nicer. I fear that my colleagues first impression of Britishism may be tarnished somewhat by this experience, and that makes me sad.

Above all, the main Britishism should be politeness first, and fury at impoliteness second.

How to be an arsehole – flat tenant edition

I live in a flat. There are 11 flats in total here that share both the car park, and the two bins that are emptied every monday by the council. The bins are quite large, so there is not usually a problem beyond the council ‘forgetting’ to empty the bins over the summer months.

Here’s the fun bit. Every time one of the tenants opts to leave for pastures new, they seem to think that it’s totally fine to fill up the bins with all their offcast junk on their leaving day.

Today, a new low was reached. I’ve opted to write an open letter, since I seem to have few other options.

Dear arsehole,

I know who you are. Sadly, I no longer know where you live. Hence this open letter. Thank you for filling up both of the rather large bins on a Wednesday with all your rubbish. Those of us still living here are incredibly grateful for yet another week of binbags being ripped open by the local wildlife because we can’t fit them in the bin.

2015-11-25 16.51.14
We have 2 of these rather large bins.

In particular, I am most impressed with your decision to offload your rather large collection of polystyrene balls without bagging them first. This was a stroke of genius. Not only do we* have the pleasure of cleaning up the additional mess caused by people being forced to leave their bin bags out, but we now have the additional joy of putting up with a faux snow-storm in the car park every time there is a slight breeze. How christmassy! Such a shame you won’t get to enjoy it, given that you have left for a home that is likely free of polystyrene balls.

This begs the question – where did you get all these polystyrene balls?!?

You sir, are a wanker of the highest order. Enjoy your new home.

* aka: me, because as you noted last time this happened – it’s awfully nice of me to sort out the rubbish that has been left out to rot by the bin men as they refuse to take anything unless it is in said actual bins (‘elf and safety, see), and also left there to rot by the other awesome flat tenants here, who seem to think that cleaning up their mess is not their problem.

UPDATE 26/11/15

So, myself and another neighbour teamed up to try and clear up as much as possible. We loaded up 12 bin bags with polystyrene balls. I came out this morning to find that the neighbour had been back at some point, and abandoned all his other unwanted stuff by the bins to! So, my car is now loaded up with bin bags, an electric radiator, a bin, a mop, and a bucket. Off to the skip I go on my lunch break tomorrow. Thankfully, the landlady has promised to arrange an extra bin collection, so we should get to a point where we can actually put our rubbish in the bins again. Hoorah?

The Perils of Gossip in the Workplace

It seems pretty harmless at first. A small rant about a co-worker by the water cooler. A sarcastic remark behind someone’s back. Most of us have been guilty of it at some point. I’m certainly no saint. It doesn’t take much for it to get out of hand, though. I have in the past had first hand experience of this that at the time was incredibly hurtful.

This happened a while ago. I’ve mentioned before how I’ve been prone to making mistakes, which is why I have a healthy respect for any QA team who has picked them up before it got dangerous. I’ll quite happily hold my hand up to that, and accept that as a mere human, I’ll continue to make mistakes whether I’d like it to or not. Whilst, of course, trying to get better.

So, it started off quite simple. I was making mistakes, and it was being discussed in derogatory fashion behind my back by a very small group of peers. While I would have preferred to have had it raised to my face, not everyone has the backbone to give that kind of criticism. Anyways, as is the case with most gossip – I found out what was being said. Word has a way of getting around, be it through over-hearing a conversation, or someone ‘letting you in’ on what is being said.

So, how to react to this? Well, the complaints were fair, in the context. I opted to say nothing, and to work harder on taking more care with my work. Unfortunately, perfection does not come overnight. This is still an area that I am constantly attempting to improve on. I ended up at a point where I could freely state that I still had a lot of work to do in this area, but I could also point out that I had actually improved – and prove it with my results.

Sadly, the talk continued. With some added embellishment. In addition, everything I was doing was being nitpicked to death just to find a problem. Which astonished me, as surely there was enough there to talk about already, without exaggerating it? Plus, nitpick anything closely enough, and you will find some kind of fault. It was like these people were looking for something to bitch about me for, given that I was slowly giving them less ammunition to work with. It was unfair, in my mind. I chose to deal with it by having a polite chat with the people involved (and even those not involved), hoping that would help. I even asked for help and advice on how to improve.

It turns out that I was being somewhat naive in my approach to the issue. Over the course of a couple of years, this kind of thing continued. The help and advice I’d asked for was not forthcoming from the people involved. All throughout, I was aware of what was being said, and getting more irritated. Not so irritated that I felt it worth making a scene though – in my performance reviews, it was always noted that I was improving, with an acknowledgement of there being room to continue to improve. I never scored badly on any of my performance reviews, so I wrongly assumed that this would be held up in the face of any derogatory comment about me if it ever got to that point.

The situation was irritating, but not hurtful – yet. I’d already acknowledged to myself by this point that these people weren’t interested in helping me (or any of the people they were discussing, as I certainly wasn’t the only person on the receiving end of this treatment) to fix what they perceived as a problem. They just wanted to bitch about someone. I wasn’t too concerned, as this kind of talk had been going on for around three years, and I hadn’t been so much as put on a performance review because of it.

Shortly after being given an asked for pay-rise (I couldn’t have been as terrible at my job as I was being made to feel, with this being the case), the political landscape changed, and things got much nastier. I was also having my own issues with depression, which didn’t help. My usual rock-coated skin disappeared at around the time the gossip turned to outright untruths about myself. The stuff being said – and believed by others – had me in tears on the way to and from the office. In addition to other things going on, it was a perfect storm to drive me to the brink.

Here’s the thing – by the time it had gotten to this stage, it was too late to put in a complaint about the people talking about me like this. The atmosphere was flat out toxic for a whole host of reasons at this point, and the stuff being said had already floated up to the upper levels of the management by the time I became aware of just how nasty things had gotten. It was common knowledge that I was depressed, so anything I said to try and report the issue with an aim of having it dealt with was treated with an attitude that I was taking things the wrong way because of my depression. I confronted some of the people involved with varying degrees of success. It didn’t solve the problem by any means, but it did make me feel more in control of what was going on. Strangely enough, that helped. Ultimately, I accepted I was in a fight I had no hope of winning – and fled to a much healthier environment.

So there you have it. I’m past the whole thing enough now that I am finally able to write this post about (hopefully) coming across as too bitter about what happened. Something that started off as a fair criticism turned incredibly nasty. It would be remiss of me to go through something that, at the time, was flat out horrible, without taking – and sharing – the lessons from it.

All throughout this, I wrongly assumed that my results would speak for themselves. In trying to think the best of the people who were involved in the situation, I also failed to confront the issue as aggressively as I should have done. Sadly, left unchecked, dishonest gossip will adversely affect the perception others have of you. Ignoring the issue won’t make it go away – it will just get to the point where it’s not even worth salvaging it.

Above all, the lessons learnt here come back to things I have said before – you can’t change people, you can only change how you react to people. Most of all, you are in charge of your own situation. I attempted to fight what was happening at the expense of my own mental health. I didn’t start getting better until I got out.

As for not being bitter – well, I wouldn’t be the person I want to be if I was still letting this get to me. I don’t think badly of the people involved – it’s just not worth the mental energy. If I let myself be consumed by bad feeling about this, that would affect my ability to examine the situation logically, meaning that I would lose sight of any lessons to be learned. In addition, this post would have been a rant instead of an attempt to share some (hopefully useful) lessons.

So, to sum up on how I’ve learnt to deal with office gossip:

  • Gossip never fixes anything. Don’t get dragged into gossiping about co-workers. If you have a real complaint, take it through the proper channels. Bear in mind that the people talking like this will probably have no issue talking about you in similar fashion. Stay clear of them, lest you be tarred with the same brush. Say nothing that you wouldn’t say to the face of the person being discussed.
  • If the gossip is about you, talk to the people involved – see if they actually have a point, and act on it. Bear in mind that some people just don’t have the backbone to be upfront about things. Don’t be a pushover, though. Let this be their only chance. See below.
  • If that fails, let the people higher up the food chain know what is going on. You’ve attempted to address the gossiping with the people involved already. It’s apparent at this point that the issue has less to do with your work, and more to do with their personal dislike of you. That kind of thing has no place in a workplace.
  • If that still fails, get out and don’t look back – because odds are you are in a toxic work environment, and nothing is going to get better any time soon. The only person who can ultimately look after you is you.

Money Talks – Know your worth

This is a topic that seems to pop up fairly regularly in various media – how much you get paid.

Some companies out there publish this information, to demonstrate how fairly they are paying their staff. Others don’t, and occasionally, the employees will start discussing this amongst themselves.

Both the above approaches always lead to the inevitable – people comparing how much they earn to how much their co-workers are (possibly) earning. One thing I have seen when this plays out is that someone always seems to decide that they’re being shafted, and they let jealousy take over. Things can often go downhill from there, depending on the personality involved.

I am of the school of thought that says I do not tell my co-workers how much I earn under any circumstances. While I may tell them how much I was getting paid in a previous job, my current salary is my own business, and no one elses. When co-workers start discussing their current salary in front of me, I keep my mouth firmly shut and attempt to evade the discussion. Even when it becomes apparent that they are being vastly underpaid.

That probably seems quite unsociable or even unfeeling of me. But here’s the thing – what I earn has no bearing on what anyone else earns. Just like what they earn has no bearing on what I earn, for one simple reason – I am in charge of my own situation. I can’t say I have ever found myself staying too long in a role where I feel undervalued. I keep an eye on the market rates in the area for my chosen profession, and I have no problem with asking for a raise if I feel it warranted. If the raise is not forthcoming, I choose to take myself – and my pay negotiations – elsewhere.

At no point in this process have I ever looked at my pay in comparison to someone else’s and thought ‘That person is being paid more than me, and I don’t think they’re worth it’. Again, this comes down to an acknowledgement that people are in charge of their own situation. If someone is actually being paid more than me, my first thought is that they made a better job of negotiating their salary than I did – in which case, good for them.

In my not so recent history, I found out that some co-workers were discussing my salary with a view to envy. I found out the figure that was being bounced about, and found it amusing that it was quite a bit lower than what my salary actually was. If the figure had actually been correct, then I would have been concerned how that number became public knowledge, since my salary is between me and the entity paying it. And as mentioned before, I don’t share my salary with co-workers (much like I don’t share my plate of food).

So, here are some lessons I’ve picked up about this kind of thing over the years that I’d like to share:

  • Just because you don’t discuss your salary with co-workers, that doesn’t mean that they won’t discuss it – and probably have it wrong. The office politics around this kind of thing can get very intense, but it’s not really something you can control. Accept that, and try to not get sucked in. I’d say the rule here is to keep out of it – joining the fray will not help you to take control of this. If you’re approached or confronted by people who are unsatisfied with their own lot, point out how they can always ask for a raise.
  • Know your worth before entering any salary negotiation – be it for a new or existing job. There are so many websites where you can check out the market rate for your role and position in your area. Don’t undervalue yourself when it comes to this. Be sure to check out this information at least once a year. This will help you to figure out the ballpark figure that you want to ask for, and shouldn’t be used as a hard and fast figure that must not be deviated from.
  • Don’t be afraid to move on to a place where you will be fairly valued. As mentioned in this post, you know how much you are worth. If you really are being undervalued, no company worth their salt is going to say no to a reasonable request to be compensated fairly.
  • Bear in mind that what your co-workers earn has no bearing on your own situation, and more importantly – is none of your business. Envy and jealousy are not healthy. For anyone. One of the worst things you can do here is try to justify your pay raise based upon what a colleague is apparently earning. Leave that kind of thing out of any salary negotiation.
  • Companies are there to make money. Which means they will go for the best deal to cut their own costs. It’s a pretty rare case that you will be given a significant raise without actually asking for it. If they can get your services for cheap, they’ll more often than not keep being cheap. After all, the reward for digging an awesome big hole is a bigger shovel, and very rarely a bigger bag of money. If you don’t ask, you don’t get. Simples.

The main lesson here, however, is something I’m sure I have mentioned before – you are responsible for your own situation. Don’t like your situation? Then take control and change it, or get into a new situation. If you choose to bleat about how unfair everything is without doing anything about it, then you’ll find that any sympathy you were getting will slowly disappear. And at the end of it, you’ll still be miserable.

Bad advice?

I came across an article (3 Key Steps to Building a Powerful Personal Brand)* on Inc.com the other day, which had some – what I think is – rather dubious advice. It made me actually cringe to read it. Here’s the excerpt:

Being self-aware helps a lot here. If you think you might have blind spots, do this:

Write down a list of a list of 10 adjectives that describe you.
Now go have lunch with the five people who know you best.
Ask them to make the same list about you.
Compare the lists and look for common descriptors.

And later …

For further insight, try the same exercise with colleagues and acquaintances that barely know you.

Really? Grab 5 people, and take up their most valuable resource – their time – to write or talk all about *you*?!? That’s kind of self indulgent, really. In addition, depending on the honesty of the people involved, and resulting list would very likely contain the following descriptors: Self obsessed, needy, narcissistic. Maybe I’m reading it wrong. I don’t feel the rest of the advice in the article is bad. But that part about getting people to write a list like that just sets my teeth on edge.

Has anyone actually managed to do this kind of thing seriously? Or been asked to do this kind of thing?

Maybe I’m just taking it for granted that I have people in my life who will often flat out tell me their unvarnished opinion, even if they know I probably won’t like to hear it. I don’t see the need to do the above – which possibly means I actually need to the do the above exercise because I am suffering a self awareness fail. Who knows?

* Guilty pleasure – I occasionally indulge in reading click bait articles along the lines of ’10 things you must do now!!!’. Some of these articles are common sense, whilst many are so off the wall that they make me snigger. The latter are the more entertaining for me, as I enjoy the smug feeling I get from being able to tell my computer screen (and the internet at large) that it is wrong.

The Presentation – how it went

The other day, I mentioned that I was preparing for a presentation.

The aim was to – as a minimum – get people to follow the existing process. The ultimate aim was to try and get buy-in for following a full out Test Driven Development methodology (TDD).

My previous post about this generated some awesome advice – some mentioned that I should pin point a case study of where a process wasn’t followed. A former manager suggested I avoid death by power-point, and instead cover a live example of how TDD can speed up the development process. Others suggested that I follow a four point rule.

It’s just sods law that I woke up in the morning with a cracking headache and feeling sick. Awesome. I dragged myself into work, regardless – I’d put far too much thought and effort into this to call in sick on the day.

I think I managed to incorporate elements of all the advice I received. I opened up with a brief section on ‘when things go very, very wrong’, to establish that I’d already had a trial by fire for this kind of thing. I then demonstrated how time can be saved and pit falls avoided using TDD. I closed off with my suggestions that we adopt a TDD-like methodology, or at the very least follow the process we already have across the board, with no excuses. All issues were condensed down to a maximum of 4 points each, to avoid information overload. I then opened up the room for discussion.

Unfortunately, the management were unable to attend the meeting, which meant that I was really working from the ground up. It turns out that the most powerful tool in my arsenal was the fact that the product recall notice (the price of not doing this right) is still on the internet. The twitter posts are still there as well. It’s hard to argue against that.

Overall – I don’t have full buy-in of TDD yet. However, there is an agreement that the process as it currently exists will be followed more stringently. The value of unit testing was accepted as common sense, but the same old arguments reared their heads – resources and time. It was agreed that we would need more drive from a management level to get resources dedicated to setting up a proper nightly build system, and that is still the main issue with what I’m trying to get in place.

After the presentation, my manager asked me to send him and the other managers a summary of the results of the presentation, which has given me the opportunity to not only give feedback, but to also push for giving the presentation to the management.

So, the battle isn’t over yet. I haven’t been shouted down, meaning I have plenty of room to keep the argument for this going. I feel I have managed to move things forward a small step, which as the new girl in the office, I don’t think is bad going. There is still a long way to go, and I’ll no doubt be blogging about it as I continue pushing for it.

I’d like to once more give a huge thanks to all the people who gave up their time to give me advice on how to proceed with this presentation – it’s very much appreciated, and I don’t think I would have gotten a team to agree to follow the process more closely without following your advice! You’re all awesome!