Monday, February 16, 2009

A workplace is a world, until it isn't: planets get demoted to moons


One thing I’ve noticed in my seven-plus years since the formal end of my conventional IT career (at age 58 then) is how I perceive the “work universe.”

Even though, for the last four-plus years at my last employer in IT my life had changed with the publication of a personal-political book in 1997, the intricacies of the workplace still occupied my attention a lot. I saw most things through the veneer of individualism and absolute personal responsibility for results. I had been an individual contributor my whole career, or at least almost. Yet, the place of employment, with all the “politics” surrounding elevations, support, the technical infrastructure (like replication, a data access layer for the midtier, and a customer service GUI), and even the weird wrinkles that TPX created for test platform elevations – and, most of all, the two mergers I lived through, did seem like “a world.”

How it gets different when you retire. Yes, you take interim jobs (after all, I was part-time at the Minnesota Orchestra for fourteen months, and in different times that would have gone somewhere) and they become, well, not quite fill worlds or planets, but like moons (Titan or Europa are good enough). The same could be said about substitute teaching, but that was getting closer to a real problem – how the rest of the world lives. Personal manipulation, role modeling, authority, and lead development – all these things are taken for granted in most of the “real world” but not very much in I.T., except a bit in formal technical sales.

I do remember well the split personality of the work world even in my days as a site rep for Univac (1972-1974). I was a “systems analyst” and barely allowed to remain an introvert. But in those days of “management by objectives” a lead SA could be expected to achieve something like, get the customer “on rent” within 120 days. A benchmark SA would have to do things more mundane, like get disc drives partitioned. But the formal salesmen wore IBM suits (even then, we didn’t quite have to – my first day there, I wore a chartreuse suit) and schmoozed appropriately.

So today I resist the careers that require the leads of “herd members” to be led off of cliffs. Somebody has to look at the Truth first.

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