May 5, 2008

Working at a Three Letter Firm

So I had been working as an intern at local consulting company for almost two years when it got acquired by certain three letter firm this past winter. My boss went through a hell of a lot of effort to help me maintain my job and I greatly appreciate his effort. I'm now an employee of a big three letter firm with job security to spare. Still, I'm beginning to wonder if he should have bothered.

When we first started transitioning to the larger institution it seemed like it might a little 'fun.' We would have access to better equipment and billions of dollars of resources from some of the most advanced technological department around the world. This much proved true. My new Thinkpad T61p is top of the line and beats the hell out of that fie year old Dell POS I had been using previously. We also now get free downloads of advanced new software that would cost us thousands to purchase otherwise, a free on-line repository of technical books and direct contact via email to some of the most brilliant minds in the industry. It's really quite spectacular to work for a company that makes over three billion a year on patent claims.

However, there is a dark side and this dark side can be summed up in one word: "bureaucracy." That's right, this place is unbearably bureaucratic. I don't just mean that you have to wait in lines. I mean that EVERYTHING is bureaucratic, from HR to IT, even the software is bureaucratic. To give you an idea of how this works, I'll give you an example:

This firm, of course, suffers greatly from the 'not-invented-here' mentality. This, of course, I expected, licensing issues can be a problem and anyway, you have more control over that which you produce yourself. So, naturally, any non-internal solution (read software) that you want included in your project, must be approved by a central committee. This committee likes to take its time, no surprise. This is easy to deal with, just use as little external software as possible. This shouldn't be a problem, being a huge international firm, we have homegrown versions of everything. We rarely ever need to use the foreign version.

Unfortunately, there is a little snag. The homegrown versions don't work. Or they do, but they work poorly, or they just don't work in the want we want them to. Non of this is surprising, though perhaps it should be. Really, since the solutions don't work, all we have to do is submit bug reports and let the projects fix themselves. This is where it begins to get hairy.

Instead of a traditional bug reporting system, we, the this three letter firm, are required to fill out a PMR. Thats right, a paid maintenance request. Every sub organization in this firm is required to pay every other sub-organization for internal support. Again, this is not surprising, clearly it helps management and finance get a clearer picture of how resources are being allocated. What is the problem is the sheer number of steps required to submit this PMR. Let me recount them:

1. Naively send an email asking the other department for help in using their software after reading their intranet page which clearly requested that you email them for support.

2. Receive a curt reply three days later asking that you fill out a PMR anyway.

3. Research for two days in the company intranet how to do this.

4. Dial a number based on the information you find and find out that you need a special internal customer number. The guy on the phone gives you an address to request the number from.

5. Send a request for an internal customer number to the address given to you.

6. Receive a reply telling you that in fact, this was not the correct method for requesting a number. Instead, you are supposed to download a special application, which gives you a sheet to fill out with information about your line of business and sends itself to a guy in South America is isn't actually an employee of the three letter firm.

7. Spend two days downloading and installing the application and figuring out how it works and what information to input.

8. Accidentally send you're application to some guy in corporate who has absolutely no connection with your line of business.

9. Send the application to the correct guy and wait three days to approve your request and send you a number which you can use.

10. Fill out a request form for internal customer support.

11. I don't know, I haven't gotten this far yet. Step 10 was last week.

Seriously, it took me two weeks for me to get my department a number so that we could purchase internal support. Seriously, this is something that should have happened before transfer of trade ever occurred and should have been handled by individuals much further up the tree that myself. This is ridiculous. It should not be so complicated to just get basic work done. We've literally had to delay key features to later releases because of fiasco. With kind of inefficiency, it's amazing that they stay in business. I am seriously considering just dropping out and starting a competing firm based. With just three other guys, I could probably provide a more efficient service that this three letter firm. Or, maybe I'm just naive, or disgruntled, or something. Not that it really matters. I have a meeting with my boss today about my prospects here at the three letter firm. They had better be good.

Edit: I have since gotten through to the engineers on the other side. It seems that during the time I spent attempting to get through, the engineers managed to fix the problem. After about two minutes of back and forth with the tech, I managed to resolve the issue by simply downloading the latest build.



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