In the mid 1990’s I was a construction worker. And a musician. And a teacher. And an erotic male dancer. OK I’m joking about the teacher part. I mean the dancer part.
There were a couple of years when I doubt I saw a week that didn’t involve 70-80 hours of work. To be fair, the musician part didn’t feel like work, even though it took an incredible amount of hours and dedication. I was making quite a bit of money for a twenty something with a high school education. But that kind of schedule is a puddle of gas waiting on a match. More and more, I’d wake up unhappy and unmotivated to go out in the cold, or the heat, and listen to hammers and saws all day, bucking piles of lumber and plywood thru the mud. By the time I started dating my wife, I was utterly and completely fed up with life on a framing crew.
At the age of 28 and with her support I made the decision to leave my construction job and go to Lincoln Land to begin pursuing a career in computer science. I was starting from ground zero with no experience or knowledge other than checking email on an AOL account. But the opportunities looked good in those days, and I was willing to try. I signed up for a Networking Certificate class and started my classes. Simultaneously, I made a list of every computer store in town. I planned to just walk into each one and ask for a job. The very first place I visited was a tiny shop called Illini Software. They did computer repairs and sold various software. I walked in and introduced myself to the owner and explained that I wanted to get into the computer business, was taking classes at the local college, and wanted to get some basic experience.
“I’ll work for free” I said.
“You’re hired” she replied.
Thus began my career in the IT industry. I spent a couple of months there learning the basics, and learning to hold down the fort when the owner needed to be away.
It was on one of those days when she was away when a guy walked in the front door, looked me up and down, squinting over the rim of his glasses and said, “Who are you?”
I chuckled and explained who I was and why I was there. He was a friend of the owner. His name was Dave.
“I’m starting a new computer store building custom computers and networks and doing repairs. I’ll teach you everything I know and pay you minimum wage”.
A smile spread across my face. Deal!
I had my first paying job. A year at his shop and after passing a couple of basic certification courses and I was becoming much more knowledgeable, and employable. I had gained enough confidence to take the next step. I began watching the want ads and applied for a part time networking position at a local manufacturing company. The guys at my current job were very cool, very supportive, and very helpful. They let me switch to part time so I could keep moving up the employment ladder. I continued learning, improving my skills, and working hard.
About a year into that job I felt I was ready to take it to the next level and I really wanted a job with some benefits. Again, I began watching the want ads and looking around town.
Eventually I happened on a likely looking position, network support for a local accounting firm, who happened to be a well known name in my home town. I submitted my resume and was given a chance for an interview. I met with one of the firms partners, who seemed an incredibly friendly and nice guy and the interview went very well.
I was told they were looking for someone to assist the current tech, a lady who supported their network and also took on other customers for the firm, helping design and support network solutions for other businesses. It sounded like a good fit for me and a chance to gain knowledge and skills. To my great joy, I was offered the job, with benefits, and an hourly pay rate double what I was making currently. I was one happy camper!
I was given the name of the lady who would be my boss and told to show up in a week to begin.
It was a little sad for me to leave my current job, the people I worked with were great, including my direct boss and the GM of the operation. But they both understood and were supportive in my decision.
On my first day I arrived, over dressed and nervous. I was directed a to a room with a few computers in it and told to wait till the boss lady arrived. An hour and a half passed without a peep from anyone. I was just sitting alone in a room wondering what the heck was happening. Finally, a middle aged women walked in and glanced at me. She set a tool bag down and walked out. A couple minutes later she came back in and started gathering up some equipment. I took the opportunity to introduce myself.
Hi, I’m Shane. I’m the new computer tech. Are you Katty? (Not her real name).
She looked at me. “Yes”.
Great! I was wondering what I can do to get started. Anything I can help with?
She stared at me without a hint of a smile, or even neutral politeness.
“You can fill out some paper work”. She left the room and came back with the tax forms needed for my employment. She set the papers down and said “I have to go to a job now” and began to walk out.
I was flustered after sitting for two hours alone with nothing to do and said “OK, is there anything I can work on while you’re gone?”
She looked annoyed. “Hold on”. She walked out of the room and came back a couple minutes later. “You can build a database. That PC has Microsoft Access on it.”
She turned to leave.
“OK, but what’s it for? The database. What will it be used for?” It seemed a relevant question.
“Oh just something to track customers and hardware”. And with that, she turned and left.
This had officially turned into the weirdest first day on a job I had ever had. I spent the rest of the day setting up a simple access database with whatever information seemed useful and went home.
That night, I told my wife about my day, and expressed my concerns with the weirdness of it all. She agreed it seemed strange, but just encouraged me to give it a chance and said maybe new boss lady was just busy or having a bad day.
Day Two. No sign of Katty. It was a small office and there were only the partners and a secretary. I spent an entire day working on a database that I wasn’t really sure had a purpose.
Day Three. Katty made an appearance. More unfriendliness and she responded to any question I asked with annoyance and even mild hostility. She made some snide remarks about my database design and left. I was dumbfounded.
That night, I made the decision to go to one of the partners the next day and ask about my purpose there.
Day Four. I arrived to work, no sign of Katty. I asked the secretary if it would be possible to meet with the partner who’d hired me today. She told me she’d check and let me know. An hour later I was invited in to his office. I sat down and he smiled at me.
“How’s it going Shane? Are you getting into the swing of things around here”?
I reluctantly began explaining what had happened that week. I was diplomatic in my description of my interactions with Katty, but explained that I really had done about a half an hour of actual work and was left clueless what I was supposed to be doing. I asked what the companies actual plan was for me, because so far I hadn’t been told anything.
He seemed confused and began explaining that I was supposed to be working with Katty, taking on more customers and helping in the field and whatever support the office needed. I reiterated that Katty had not assigned me much to do, and had never provided any information about what we would be doing.
The one positive that came out of that day was he said he would talk to Katty, and I was given a phone to answer when support calls came in.
Day Five. Katty made a short appearance and disappeared. This was getting old. However, a customer called with a problem with their network in Sherman. I told them I would be over to help and got the address. I was tired of this charade. It was time to DO something, even if it was wrong. I drove out to the customers site and solved their problem within an hour. I took my time heading back to the office and when I returned I documented everything I had done in the database I had built. No sign of Katty. Oh well. It was Friday. Time to go home for the weekend.
Day Six, Monday. Katty showed up. Shock. She actually seemed to be planning to be in the office today. She even began interacting with me. I had a feeling the partner had talked to her. I told her about Friday and the problem in Sherman. She was not happy.
“Who told you to do that? You’re not to go to a customer without permission!” I told her I did not have any way to contact her and basically had nothing else to do and it seemed on task with the mission as I had been told by our boss. Regardless, I had made the customer happy. This seemed to anger her, but she said little. She did spend some time with me discussing the database I had built and was a bit more specific about what it would be used for. She left for lunch and didn’t come back until half an hour before quitting time. When she returned she was carrying a server. I asked her about it and she mentioned that she had been trying to add an extra disc drive to it for a customer but was unable to because of hardware issues. I inquired about the issues and to my surprise she actually talked to me about it. The issue was something I had dealt with many times in my experience in the repair shops and I asked if I could take a look at it. 15 minutes later, I had the drive installed and working as intended. I’m not sure what I expected, but when I told her about having it fixed and installed, she seemed unappreciative and said something along the lines of ‘I guess you’re not completely worthless. Too bad this isn’t something that matters’. I was floored. She had been unable to figure it out, but was a total jerk when I did. I went home angry, hurt, confused and feeling beat down. I told my wife that night about everything that had happened and expressed the feeling I would not be able to keep this job much longer. She tried her best to encourage me to stick it out but I knew deep down inside that if this continued, I was going to walk out, or snap.
All these years later I don’t remember exactly what happened over the next few days but suffice to say, it was more of the same. The following week on Monday I showed up for work as usual, and the same routine played out. By Wednesday, I’d had enough. I left on my lunch hour and went back to my former employer and asked to talk to the GM. I gave her a quick rundown of the situation and said, “I know this is unusual, but can I have my job back?” To my endless gratitude, she took me back.
I had lasted two and a half weeks. I spent the next couple of months nursing a hatred for Katty, and wondering why no one had stuck up for me. It all just felt so STUPID. I was also ashamed of myself for quitting the best paying job I’d ever had, one that had seemed perfect from the outside. At least I wasn’t unemployed! I think the fact that I made sure and get my old job back before walking out made it less of a blow for my wife. She understood but I know she was as disappointed as I was.
A few months later I got an opportunity to take a contractual position with the state police and was eventually hired and spent a year there, which set me up for my eventual long term employment at my final IT job.
I have to say, it was a long time before I let go of my anger at Katty, and I definitely played quite a few revenge fantasies in my head over a year or two. (definitely one of my weaknesses…, but age has mellowed me).
In retrospect, it was a lesson I needed to learn. Often, the right thing is the hardest thing. Walking away from that job was the right thing to do, but seemed soul crushing at the time. Had I stayed, or even if things had gone well, I may have missed a better opportunity that came later, and the even bigger and better one that followed.
My big takeaway? Don’t let failure or bad experiences convince you that nothing better will come along. Don’t accept a crappy situation. Fight back. And for goodness sake, DO NOT stay in a toxic work environment even if it means some temporary discomfort. Talk to your boss or go over their head if necessary. What do you have to lose? If no one will help you, do whatever it takes to get out. Do anything else to get you by. Deliver pizza or work at McDonald’s, drive Uber. ANYTHING AT ALL is better than letting someone try to break your spirit on a daily basis.
The world is full of crappy bosses. Give them the middle finger and move on. (Figuratively of course!) You’ll thank yourself later.
I’ll never understand why that lady treated me the way she did. My only theory is she felt threatened and didn’t want anyone else on her turf. It’s all I can come up with.
I suppose in retrospect I should thank Katty for diverting me to the path I eventually followed to a successful career.
But I won’t.
Instead, I’ll thank myself for having the guts to walk away from the best job I ever hated.
Got a crappy boss story? Leave a comment, I’d love to hear it!