// Internet Duct Tape

Life in the Trenches – Getting Out Alive (by guest blogger AJ Valliant)

Posted in Technology, Workhacks and High Tech Life by Guest Blogger on October 13, 2006

This post is by a guest blogger.

This is my first guest column by friend and fellow blogger AJ Valliant. AJ is a regular writer at Beats Entropy. I wasn’t expecting something of this quality, and I’m sure you will enjoy it.

In an inexplicably poor lapse of judgment (ET — one of many), engtech has recruited me to write a column relating my experience as a former arts student trying to make a living in the cold, heartless and geeky IT world. I can only assume this is a misplaced gesture of friendship, or some repressed blogocidal urge; either way I agreed and will attempt to drop some knowledge. I do internal technical support and problem co-ordination for one of the largest corporations in the world with no background other than a B.A. in psychology.

Life in the Trenches – Getting Out Alive

I am the least qualified person ever hired at my work. Were I to be hired at your work, I would almost certainly be the least qualified person in that given environment. There are children who grew up in the slums of Mumbai that are more qualified for my job than me; self-educated through tattered scraps of Wired magazine, and overheard conversations while seeking warmth in call centre crawl spaces. Sounds rough I know, but surprisingly irrelevant to my job performance.

It turns out that unless you are designing or programming something the only requirements to excel at mid to entry level IT jobs are literacy, a modicum of cleverness, basic critical thinking, and effective communication skills. I am sure you guys know the requirements to excel at my job better than I do. What I do know, however, is how to succeed at my job without it turning me into a bland, stressed, deeply compromised, office drone (ET — tell me what you really think of me).

So here is my guide for getting out alive.

If it’s Not Funny don’t Laugh

Nothing erodes the soul quicker than fake, patronizing, laughter. Letting them think they’re funny is a disservice to joke teller, and it conditions you to act in a pathetic, insincere manner. In similar vein don’t talk about things no one cares about to create to illusion of conversation. IE: weather, new office policies, how your kids are doing in school. Engaging in insipid contentless small talk is the first step toward becoming that rambling boring guy nobody invites to parties (ET — tell me what you really think of me).

Angry People are Angry People

I am constantly confronted by hostile, rude, irrationally angry clients. They are not calling because they want their problem addressed. They are calling because they are deeply unhappy and feel the need to lash out. I can give some fantastic tech support but it doesn’t make their childhoods less painful, restore their potency, or compel their wife to stop running around. I do what I can, refusing to buy into a rage that has nothing to do with me, and let them have there childish tantrums. Getting drawn into their frustration just poisons my own mood.

Office Politics

Let’s get this straight: if you are a backstabbing and manipulative snitch of a punk at work, then that is all you are anywhere. You don’t get to selectively apply Character when it’s convenient; if you would sell out your co-workers you would sell out your friends, it’s just a matter of the price is right. No amount of money, prestige, or accomplishment replaces being a quality human being. Think about what you are throwing away before you decide to be self serving prick.

Stand Up for Yourself

Don’t ever just sit there and absorb verbal bullying, snide emasculating jokes, or any sort personal attack from co-worker or superior. I’m not saying turn their lights out, but , it will turn into the ugliest kind of self hate and frustration if you just swallow it without comment, and take that ball of poisonous contempt home with you. Keep it civil and controlled, but call them out on what an unprofessional asshole they are being. Shame them with respectful professionalism, and be willing to accept whatever consequences result from it.

This is a huge one. If you get into the habit of rolling over to bullies it will destroy your self esteem and make you powerless in every area of your life. No job, no career even, is worth that kind of sacrifice.

Have Some Perspective

If you are reading this at work you will never be able to justify having a “bad” job. It may be difficult, demanding, and stressful, sure. But in the larger scheme of things it’s soft and likely well compensated.

You think your job sucks? Take a day off and hang out with a dishwasher, or roofer, or some guy that fishes nickels out of the sewer for living. Spend some time with someone who work a sixteen hour day, comes home exhausted and wracked with pain, just so he can make one third of what you do (if he’s lucky).

Don’t whine, not only does it make you look like an ungrateful pussy, it annoys all the people around you. Most office workers fail to realize how close they are to getting brutally murdered by the janitorial staff.

Define Success

More than the magazines, more than my colleagues, more than the standards of society, I know what I need to consider my life a successful one. Would I be happier if my pay was tripled and I was promoted to the director level tomorrow? Not if it meant working 12 hour days and being chained to a pager; narrowing my life to one thing I can, at best, tolerate. I can always get cheaper hobbies and slightly crappier apartment. I can’t manufacture more time or restore a squandered youth. Wealth and prestige have a very marginal happiness utility that doesn’t really scale up; expirence and relationships have near unlimited potential for reward.

Ultimately I consider my biggest workplace success being able to maintain who I am through every phase of my day. I same person when I wake up that I am work, that I am with my friends, and that I am with my enemies. I fight to create and maintain my identity every moment, of every day, and success of this battle is the only measure that means anything.

AJ regularly writes for Beats Entropy. B.E. features his writing and the Passive Depressive web comic by Kenji Toyooka and Phil Steinersen. Thanks for the guest post AJ. I really enjoyed it. — engtech


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33 Responses

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  1. Genie said, on October 14, 2006 at 12:29 am

    Wow…the perspective piece…how right you are.

    Good post — thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    Genie
    The Inadvertent Gardener

  2. engtech said, on October 14, 2006 at 3:29 am

    Thanks for the comment, Genie. I checked out your blog and I really like it.

    Thanks for being one of the early adopters of the the WordPress.com post voting site.

  3. The Rooster said, on October 14, 2006 at 4:15 am

    ET – Cool to see you are the top blog on WordPress today.

    Cool post. Dude have you changed your feeds from full to partial?

  4. A.J. Valliant said, on October 14, 2006 at 4:54 am

    “Good post — thanks for sharing your thoughts!”

    Thank you for reading them.

  5. [...] Life in the Trenches Part 1 – Getting Out Alive It turns out that unless you are designing or programming something the only requirements to excel at mid to entry level IT jobs are literacy, a modicum of cleverness, basic critical thinking, and effective communication skills. I am sure you guys know the requirements to excel at my job better than I do. What I do know, however, is how to succeed at my job without it turning me into a bland, stressed, deeply compromised, office drone. [...]

  6. [...] Office Space is one of my top-10 movies, despite the (harsh) language at times.  A decade or so ago I was a temp. hire working for 3 different temp. agencies at the same time (that way I always had an appointment/position lined up, gotta get paid!)  Having done so I can commiserate with those still in that office setting, and thus found THIS POST really instructive/insightful.  For those of you (my few devoted fans) that are still (and may evermore be) in the rat-race of office life you might find it also insightful and entertaining as I did.  [...]

  7. britgirl said, on October 14, 2006 at 8:16 am

    Engtech.. pity you missed my fun movie quiz :-) Office Space is one of my favourite films and imo underrated. Wonder if you can spot the quotes from that film?

    I believe that succcess, whether in a job or anything else is very much down to the person’s own definition of success. And much of what contributes to whether you (used generally) like your job or not is all a question of attitude. You can make almost any job a success, by your attitude.And I mean any job. Of course it has to be the right job for you or at least one that you have made up your mind to enjoy and do your best at.

    But I believe that if a person doesn’t love their job, they should leave and get one that they do or do something else.. Want to get paid more? update your skills, sell your worth and get a higher paying job. Want recognition? do something that the decision makers in your organization will notice – and tell them repeatedly.Is there a position you think you could do if given the chance? Find a way to prove it.. get a mentor or find someone to assist you. Don’t like working for someone else? Why aren’t you running your own business, calling the shots?? If where you are doesn’t give you what you want (not what people say you should have, but what you want) then why are you there?

    I have worked in jobs where I didn’t like the work that I did, but I used them as stepping stones to get to what I did want. Nothing original there, I watched how others did it and copied their successes – and read books! Work has its ups and downs as does anything, but I spend too much time at work to not at least enjoy what I do…

  8. roy said, on October 14, 2006 at 8:45 am

    I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen office space. Everybody in my office has seen it. Great post, you summed things up well. After working about 6 years in an office, I’ve personally experienced every “heading” you described.

    I also agree above commenter (britgirl), every crappy job I’ve ever had, I’ve learned something from it. There is value in everthing. Even though I’m an Engineer and have an office job, I’ve worked as a dishwasher, busboy, farm hand (hard work), garage sweeper, paper boy … all them not exactly glamour jobs, but you learn how to deal with people, how to manage your time, how to earn respect, etc.

    At the end of the day, if you don’t respect people in your office, that will reciprocate back to you. Never look down on anybody within your office, even if they are lower ranked. I find that does not help your professional relationship at all, and after all, you’re spending the majority of your life at work, so after work, they’re usually your friends as well.

    It’s so nice to work with people that you know always have your back in case shit happens.

  9. Mikey D said, on October 14, 2006 at 9:24 am

    The perspective part was my favorite. I work 12 hour days in a warehouse while studying for my A+ and Network+. Real Physical Work. Then I get to have the IT guys tell me that they’re the ones with the hard job.

  10. engtech said, on October 14, 2006 at 2:44 pm

    Cool post. Dude have you changed your feeds from full to partial?

    I have my feeds on full, but what I do is after a post has been live for 1-2 days (or if it is image heavy like this one), I put in the MORE tag so that the front page, search results and category listings don’t get bogged down.

  11. Life in the Trenches « Beats Entropy said, on October 14, 2006 at 3:10 pm

    [...] Life in the Trenches Part 1 – Getting Out AliveIceWeasel – Why proprietary software will always win outWordpress.com needs a community blog post voting systemInternet bought the video star (Google buys YouTube)Developers versus Programmers [...]

  12. inadvertentgardener said, on October 14, 2006 at 9:46 pm

    Engtech, thanks — I’m enjoying the WordPress Spot immensely — it’s definitely helping expose me to some other blogs I might not have found otherwise. Thanks for getting that set up!

    Genie
    The Inadvertent Gardener

  13. Britgirl said, on October 15, 2006 at 3:48 am

    2 roy “Never look down on anybody within your office, even if they are lower ranked. I find that does not help your professional relationship at all, and after all, you’re spending the majority of your life at work, so after work, they’re usually your friends as well”.

    This is so true.In my organization the most important way to get ahead is getting along with people and work relationships, could be as part of a team or just as a co-worker. Often your peers and those a few levels below you are just as important as managerment, and often have more power to help or hinder your progress than you realise.

    Whenever it comes to review time a good manager will usually ask many people you’ve worked with for feedback..(in our organization this they must do this, it’s called 360 degree feedback) so if you’ve treated someone poorly, beware – it will usually affect the feedback the give on you. I find many people work hard to impress managers, but do nothing to cultivate relationships with peers and non-managers – not a good move.

  14. engtech said, on October 15, 2006 at 5:37 am

    At work the IT guys are always the #1 people I try to have a good relationship with (not that it’s hard, nerds of a feather flock together).

    Having them *want* to help you when you have a problem, or want to get something done, makes the bad times so much easier.

  15. A.J. Valliant said, on October 15, 2006 at 7:54 am

    I was taught along time ago that how you treat, and speak of, others, says more about you than it does about them. If you can’t behave civilly and respectful, towards someone who holds no power over you, then you have failed as a human being. It’s a shame our society has moved away from the ideal that class and character are ends unto themselves.

  16. engtech said, on October 15, 2006 at 10:39 am

    brit: I saw your movie quiz, looked like fun. I would have liked to have joined in.

  17. Barney said, on October 18, 2006 at 8:31 pm

    “It’s a shame our society has moved away from the ideal that class and character are ends unto themselves.”

    It’s my impression, from reading books about the middle ages, 1700s, 1800s, etc. that we have LESS predjudice concerning class now than ever. I’m almost finished “Quicksilver” and it seems horrible to have lived in those times (late 1700s, early 1800s in America and western Europe). In India the “untouchables” are getting into society, in some Muslim countries (such as Turkey) women are being allowed most rights and in England the predjudice in favor of royalty is less than it ever was. People are people but in many places things are better than they were. And that includes office life and relationships with managers, compared with 50 years ago in the US (yes, I WAS there).

  18. engtech said, on October 18, 2006 at 9:04 pm

    Hi Barney,

    I think he meant “class” as in: elegance in dress or behavior; “she has a lot of class”, not: people having the same social or economic status; “the working class”; “an emerging professional class”

    Good comment though. :)

  19. [...] AJ – Writer from Beats Entropy, guest blogger from last week. [...]

  20. Comments « //engtech said, on October 23, 2006 at 7:48 pm

    [...] AJ writes an essay as my first guest blogger and it is well received. [...]

  21. Mr Angry said, on October 25, 2006 at 9:26 am

    I’ve been meaning to read this post for ages (since it was published basically) but I’ve been all sorts of stupid busy. Now I’ve read it. God-DAMN that is some good writing. Good job AJ and nice selection of guest blogger ET!

  22. engtech said, on October 25, 2006 at 5:28 pm

    Thanks, Mr. Angry

  23. Tech talk with engtech « Beats Entropy said, on October 30, 2006 at 8:15 am

    [...] AJ wrote a great (serious) article on working in high tech from the point of view of a non-techie. Over the Thanksgiving Holiday, my sister shared with my her fears that her tenant is a potential terrorist. I think not. For those who never quite understood it, you can find out more about what I do for a living. I found a great article on how to screen candidates with phone interviews (good read no matter what side of the interview process you are on). Paul Graham did a good essay explaining why startups fail. It’s hard to act as the middle man between the techies and the customers. [...]

  24. [...] Loosely related to Life in the Trenches Posted by jaybird Filed in Video [...]

  25. Carol said, on December 12, 2006 at 9:43 am

    Love it. Great advice. Makes me realize I should stop complaining and be pretty damn happy I’m working in a high tech job instead of walking the factory floor with the rest of my siblings. I remember when my brother came to visit my cubicle he said enthusiastically, “you have air conditioning!!!”

  26. engtech said, on December 12, 2006 at 7:17 pm

    What I wouldn’t give for air conditioning.

  27. [...] Since I only know like eights things, I figure I’ll start at the top of the pile and help you folks with the old biological imperative: [...]

  28. A.J. Valliant said, on January 16, 2007 at 2:12 am

    Thanks alot Mr Angry. That is an odd sentance.

  29. [...] I’m looking for some guest bloggers. I’ve only had one guest-blogged post so far and it did around 10,000 hits. This can be a great opportunity to reach a wider audience, [...]

  30. [...] for the moment I’d like to direct you to a post by my first guest blogger, my friend AJ. This entry was written by engtech and posted on 2007/04/6 at and filed under [...]

  31. Patent Guy said, on April 13, 2007 at 8:47 pm

    Wow… amazing. This should be a requirement for all college kids to read before heading out to the real world. Where is part 2? If it isn’t out yet… when will it be?

  32. [...] Life in the Trenches – Getting Out of High Tech Alive [...]

  33. blog-thing : Digest for October 2007 said, on November 24, 2007 at 12:12 pm

    [...] Life in the Trenches – Getting Out Alive (by guest blogger AJ Valliant) [...]


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