Corporate Then versus Corporate Now

In June, a New York Times article said there were fewer complaints about cubicles from job seekers. It seems people are now less likely to worry about whether their workspace is equipped with walls, doors and Herman Miller chairs.

Well, Duh. As the market pendulum has swung from seekers to employers, it’s not a stretch to say people are so thankful to even have a job, they’re less concerned with petty luxuries. Today, I’m going to reflect upon the “then” (when George Bush was in office) and “now” (with George Bush in office).

Basic hiring:
Then: I was among two dozen optimistic and nubile college grads hired primarily based on grade point average and school reputation. We were extended jobs and salaries, but the actual positions would be determined in the next few weeks as we met with different groups and figured out what we wanted to do. This was so cool.

Now: O, the commoditization in my industry! It started with Novell certifcation, then Microsoft’s MCSE (Microsoft Certified System Engineer). Now there’s PMP (project management professional). It will only be a year or two before product managers are certified. You won’t, however, see anything certifying Chief Executive Officers. (The coursework could be fun, though: Creative Compensation, Outlaw Accounting, Caribbean Tax Shelters, etc.)

Even more ominous is how frequently position descriptions are written with the undertone that a company is really hiring based on knowledge of that company’s computing infrastructure.
For example:

“Demonstrated proficiency with the binary language of moisture vaporators, J2EE/C/C++ programming. Require fluency in Bocce. Familiarity with SAS and SPSS a plus. Modeling tools such as COSMO/MOM highly desired.”

Then: During the two week orientation, we were put up in a local hotel (so we’d “bond”), learned all the products, socialized, interviewed, found apartments, and drank heavily. Towards the end got to meet CEO Himself. I asked if I could drive his Ferrari. He declined. (He’d later take up yachting and flying jets.)

Now: Orientation consisted of a mandatory seminar on insider trading and a film on sexual harassment. I’m expected to
know what to do. I do, but what I really need is a primer on the organizational politics and the names of the Vice Presidents of Vesting In Their Remaining Options Whose Opinions I Can Safely Disregard.

Office environment:
Then: I had a diskless workstation — the second of at least four rounds of that computing “fad” (younger readers might know this better as “the network computer”) — waiting for me. Email was based on the vendor’s own commercial product, and was set up. One login worked everywhere. I don’t remember why, but we weren’t permitted to access the Internet directly. There was, however, a bank of dial-out phone lines and all of us connected via our old university accounts. The web didn’t exist then, but USENET and FTP did.

And yes, though I had been using the Internet since the changeover to
the “.COM/.NET/.ORG/.EDU” naming convention, it didn’t occur to me that it would ever be so important. (Bad Luddite!)

My phone was set up and there were business cards waiting. They set up a mentor, but the person gave notice the next day. Strangely, this would happen two more times in my career.

Working remotely was encouraged, but since this was before days of cheap computers, I used a vt100 equivalent terminal from a previous employer’s bake sale. (Cost: $.05 plus $.01 sales tax.)

Now: I had a desktop computer until my notebook computer, on order, arrived. It would eventually take 12 weeks, badgering of the IT department, repeated pleading with my manager, and VP reapproval to get the blessed thing.

Email is based on the Microsoft Exchange product, and was set up.
The company is anal about security, without concern how it affected
productivity. I have to specifically request access to any resource I need, and it has to be approved by my manager. Fine, but my manager
had no clue what I needed access to. For the first six months it was:

  1. Stumble upon resource I need access to.
  2. Log support ticket/request
  3. Wait
  4. Get impatient, badger IT
  5. Get access.
  6. Rinse hands and repeat.

The worst part is the systems don’t all talk with each other. So, while I may be prompted to reset my Unix network password, I have to separately reset Windows, and the four other systems that aren’t connected. Each of these uses a specialized, but slightly different password verification algorithm. For example, Windows might allow you to reuse a password, but once you change the password, you can’t reset it for a few days. Unix, on the other hand, forbids previous passwords. Changes take four hours to propagate, and if you make a mistake you end up with a mishmash of access for the rest of the week.
If Unix is pickier, you now have two passwords to remember, one slightly different than the other. Confused? Yes. A side effect is chosing passwords like Th1SF**k1ng$ucks — until you need to change the one on the system forbidding anything over eight characters.

Everything’s self-service. If I want business cards, I have to place an order with the online internal site. They arrive in two weeks. I don’t do travel in this job, so it’s not a big deal.

The trick to survival is knowing the proper Remedy category to log the request to.

Then: When we went over the benefits, it was like:

blah blah healthcare forms. Blah blah blah blah. Blah, blah blah blah bike
401(k). Blah blah blah blah. And we don’t allow Internet access
directly, but you can use the bank of modems to dial out. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Any blah?

I was in my 20s, invincible, and without wee-uns. What was important to me then is a lot different than what is important now. There were no employee stock options — not that I would have known to ask — but there were numerous perks like: subsidized kitchen (it kept employees from spending too long at lunch, but the food was gourmet quality); a company-owned fitness facility on site (the CEO liked swimming), and bike lockers.

I cleaned out my study this weekend and was shocked at how good the benefits were, and at no cost to me.

Now:, in my late 30s, creaky joints, and two princesses reigning the house, the conversation was quite different:

HR: There are three healthcare plans, an EPO, a PPO, and a pre-paid employee savings.
J: What’s the co-payment, annual stop loss rate, monthly rate, deductible, family deductible, which doctors are in plan…?
HR: I… I… don’t know (auuuuuuuugh.)

(Just kidding about that last quote. The HR person gave me the phone number of the company subcontracted to administer oversight of our benefits. That person’s answering service referred me to the web site, which I needed special access to. It’s just another trouble ticket.)

4 thoughts on “Corporate Then versus Corporate Now”

  1. I’m just playing devil’s advocate, but didn’t you leave the place with the great training, bonding, benefits, etc. voluntarally?

    I did the same with my first job, which – looking back – wasn’t so bad, although I hated the place at the time. I guess we just value things differently in hindsight, or as we reach different stages in life. Right now, I do miss things like the bennies and the team I worked with in my first job, but there *are* things I have now I didn’t have then like more autonomy and the ability to crush those that oppose me.

  2. >didn’t you leave the place with the great training,
    >bonding, benefits, etc. voluntarally?

    Yes. Despite the training, bonding and benefits, the job was a Dilbert cartoon and I hated it. A contributing facxtor was the prohibitive cost of living in northern CA. An opportunity came up to move to Austin, and I fared much better.

    But even then, life needs change. I occasionally kick myself for leaving a wonderful employer in early 2000 thinking I would do “just one more dot com.”

  3. “They set up a mentor, but the person gave notice the next day. Strangely, this would happen two more times in my career.”

    That’s the kind of thing that’ll make ya sniff your armpits. 😉

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