Monday, April 11, 2016

Starting a new job? Oh, just show up and roll with it.

In rummaging around for post topics, I cam across a fairly innocuous piece on Forbes on how to start out in a new job. The list provided anodyne, and I have nothing anodynasty to add to it. Yet it did get me thinking about my first days on the many jobs I held over the years. Oddly, despite the fact that I have a pretty good memory, I don’t recall all that much about my first days, other than that, in most cases, no one and nothing was really prepared for my arrival.

My first post-B-school job, at Dynamics Associates, a small Cambridge tech-ish consulting firm (among other things, we developed econometric and financial models for unsuspecting clients), I showed up at 8 a.m. No one had bothered to tell me what starting time was, and I hadn’t thought to ask. 8 a.m. seemed reasonable. Only it wasn’t. So I sat on the floor outside the glass doors until the receptionist showed up 9-ish and let me in.

I remember little about the intake, other than I was shown to my (shared) office, and told that I’d need to fill in time sheets. Until I started working on projects, I would have to list my hours as “GNA”. I had no idea what “GNA” stood for, but for the first couple of works or so, until I got billable, I wrote my hours and “GNA” on my time sheets. No one told me that what I should have been writing was “G and A” for “General and Administrative.” I finally figured it out for myself. (This was pre-Internet. You couldn’t just google it.)

While on my way to billability, I was asked to pitch in on a project for Libbey Owens Ford. We had done some modeling work for them, and were now delivering a bunch of report templates that they would be running off every month. The reports were all variations on a theme and, although I had no training in the mainframe report writer (which was a programming language, nothing wysiwyg or object oriented or intuitive or anything like that), I was able to make good headway through the pile of reports I’d been asked to create. At the end of the day, Charlie – they guy I was on loan to – swung by the spot in the “terminal room” (where we worked on dumb terminals connected to the mainframe), admired how much work I’d gotten through, and asked me what my naming convention was for the reports.

Naming convention? Huh? I’d called them all LOF, meaning that, each time I’d saved a report template, I’d written over the previous one. I have no idea what I assumed. That they were all append to one another? That the mainframe would recognize that each report was unique, based on the contents?

Bottom line: at the end of the day, I had one report completed


The next interesting thing happened when I asked where Allen B was.

After all, Allen B was a fellow Sloan grad, and someone I had interviewed with.

“Allen?” one of my new colleagues responded, “They fired him so they could hire you.”

Hmmm. So that’s what my boss meant when he called to tell me that they’d found money in the budget to hire me.

I guess it worked out okay. I stayed there five years before decamping to Wang Labs.

What I remember most about Day One – other than being assigned my employee number: 53614, making me Wang’s 53614th employee -  was that, if my PC had worked – we were now out of the mainframe world and into the mini and PC era – I would have typed up a resignation letter on the spot.

On the way home from Day One, I stopped in Lechmere Sales to buy a Walkman so that I wouldn’t have to listen to the paging system with the speaker just over my head, eternally paging Dr. Wang to his office, or some foreman on the shop floor.

Since my PC didn’t work, I ended up staying, but there wasn’t much to do those first couple of weeks. My boss was away on a trip to Russia (?), and had left me little by way of instruction on what he wanted me to accomplish. I got to know my techies and my products and, since a big part of my job was going to be acting as liaison to an entity in NYC that Wang had acquired, I thought I’d go to NYC and start liaising. That’s when I found out that even a senior product manager couldn’t go on a day trip without getting the signatures of her boss, his boss, the VP over him, and the signature of Horace T, who reported to Dr. Wang.

After a couple of years at Wang, I found my way to Softbridge – which was going to be “the next billion dollar software company,” at a time when a billion dollars meant something.

When I got there, I had an office, a phone with no cord, and no PC. Not to mention nothing to work on, as they’d decided not to adventure into the product area where I was going to be the lead product person.

I brought in a phone cord, so I could make a call, and commandeered the PC from the office of a sales VP who’d just been fired.

I scrounged around for something to do and surfaced demand for writing and researching. Eventually, I ended up the VP of Marketing. But it took a while. An unpredictable while, based on my “on boarding” experience.

Where did I go from there?

To Genuity, where, it seemed, no on was expecting me. Until they were able to find an appropriately large director-level office, I camped out in what was supposed to be a communal phone office shared by those who worked in cubicles. Sorry. Mine. At least it had a phone. And, after a couple of days, a laptop. So I could get work done. I can’t remember exactly what work I was supposed to get done, but I was told to ‘build a team’, which I did.

Even by the crazy standards I had, Genuity was crazy place to work but, as with all of my other jobs, I enjoyed myself, met wonderful people, and learned plenty.

But on Day One, you’d never have known that anything was going to work out.

If only I’d had some anodyne advice…




No comments: