I mention pretty often that I’ve worked for a lot of companies big and small. Most of them have been amazing experiences, but not all of them have been pleasant. The worst experience by far still bothers the shit out of me to this today. There were so many wrong things happening it upsets me I stuck around as long as I did. A month and a half. What a weird experience from start to end. I found this advert looking for someone to do part-time IT work on Craigslist, and it all went downhill from there.
I was working for myself at the time as a freelance IT guy, which was a lot of fun for a while. I went to lots of peoples homes and helped them with their computer issues. Still, I was getting tired of driving all over the place as well as all the other hassles of freelance life. I wanted to find something more consistent and local. So a part-time IT job seemed like a nice way to receive some consistent income without having to run around all over the map.
They liked my resume and called me in for an interview. I interviewed with the owner of the company. It was a business that did a lot of work in the area. Their company logo was all over the region because of the type of industry they were in. I remember thinking “oh cool, I’ve seen this company before. This should be fun”. As fun as missing the head of a nail and wacking yourself with a hammer, as it turned out.
The same day of the interview I got another call about the job. They’d like me to start next week. Awesome!
The following week arrives and I show up. It’s a fairly small office with about ten other people working there. The owner brought me around to meet everyone and immediately something felt off. Besides a couple of key people close to the owner, everyone felt very… cold. Not in a rude way, but no one seemed excited or happy. At all. There was a sense of looming death in the air and I couldn’t figure it out. But hey it’s Monday so whatever. Who is happy on a Monday? I’m sure things will get better. Wrong again bucko!
After I met everyone I was taken to my desk and shown my computer. It didn’t work. I was told once I get it working I can start using it. Well, that’s what I’m here for so okay. Someone crimped the ethernet cable wrong. They had the materials and tools to make a new cable so I went ahead and made one. A few minutes later and I finally had internet access to get my emails. Everyone had like Hotmail accounts or something using POP3 with outlook express.
I had never seen an office in such technical disarray. The owner’s office had a really nice brand new looking PC. Everyone else in the office had what looked like recycled machines of various brands and operating systems. Some with Windows XP (professional & home), Windows 2000. and Windows Vista (professional & home). If that alone doesn’t hurt you to read then consider yourself fortunate. I almost cried. They had a single “server” which acted as a file store. People accessed files through manually mapped drives from their client machines to shares on the “server”, as well as manually mapped drives to each other’s computers. There was no central management whatsoever. The server didn’t even run server software. It was a bunch of terminals jerry-rigged together. Oh no…
As the IT guy, part of my job there was to go around and help everyone with issues they had with their computers. I would come in that day and see what problems people had in my inbox then go around and help them. This is where I realized how bad things were, and why everyone was so cold from the onset. It wasn’t that they weren’t excited to see me. They all hated the owner and his presence killed any emotion in the room. He was a psychopath and they all feared him. That’s exactly how he liked it.
It was really interesting because the owner trusted me much more so than other employees. We spent a lot of time together while I was helping him with tasks. I was his personal technology assistant. He would take me to BestBuy to help him look at TVs. Not for the office of course. This was for his home. He had no clue whatsoever about tech, and so any opportunity he could leverage my experience he did. During these moments he would try to share little “life lessons” with me that started to reveal how horrible of a person he really was. More on that later.
As time went on and I got to know individuals they began opening up with me about different office happenings. Do you know how weird it is to work with people and they’re all telling you various things about each other? “Don’t trust this person”. Then that persons tells you to watch out for another person. Holy crap the people there were really on edge. I’m just here to get your file share working again yo. I’m nodding my head and people are getting deep into their beefs. I’m trying to figure out why a Windows XP machine keeps losing the connection to a Vista machine. Short answer - Windows Vista was a huge piece of shit. Here’s a heavy helping of drama to go along with the technical issues. Lucky me. It was obviously not a healthy place for anyone there. I felt really bad.
The one person they all talked about though was the owner, and how terrible he was. The workers were assets, not people. They were treated as such. If people were caught socializing for even a moment they were admonished with boorish remarks lobbed from across the office. Everyone was to be at their desks working at all times. I think that’s partially why people opened up and chatted with me so much. I was their only opportunity for basic human contact through much of the day. There was no concept of “team” in this place. Everyone seemed to fend for themselves in one way or another.
He had some employees whose job was clearly to bully others and act as “the muscle” to enforce these parameters while he was away. One of these enforcers was your typical knucklehead. Big guy. Liked to chew tobacco and spit it right into his trash for everyone else to enjoy the aroma. Would not shut the fuck up about how popular he was in high school. Everyone feared him as much as he feared the owner himself. Everything around this place was structured around fear. Ugh…
So many moments that are comically moviesque I still can’t even believe it sometimes.
There was a day when I was down on the floor working on someone’s computer in her office. We were talking about her and where she’s from. Light stuff. Unprovoked she started making some comments about how not to trust certain people. I’m not even going to repeat exactly what she was saying because it was pretty bad. Once again, I’m just trying to figure out why your phone doesn’t have a dial tone and this discussion is starting to turn dark. But as she continues to talk I realized that “people” was really a description of the owner. It was wild how many people tried to clue me into this stuff. Really. It was like they were all prisoners trying to tell me to get out as soon as possible. I tried to steer things in a more positive direction and we continued to chat. A few moments later I turn around and the owner is looming over us in the doorway of her office. I have no clue how long he was standing there, but he was definitely taking advantage of us being unaware. “What are you doing?”… he asked. “I’m fixing the phone…”, I replied. “Sounds like a lot of talking and not working”. We didn’t say anything as he walked away.
Their chief accountant was a typical sleazy money guy. I remember one day he started yelling on the phone at someone loud enough for everyone to hear. “Well, he’s not my business partner any more because he stole $10,000 from me!” before slamming the phone down. This, apparently an issue related to his own personal business. Good to see the kind of company these people keep. And the kind of people the company keeps. He and the owner seemed like best buddies. Obviously, you gotta treat the guy who manages all your money well. One day the CA tasked me with going to McDonald’s and told me to get some free food. He wanted to test my negotiating skills. I was given $20 and tasked to negotiate. At McDonald’s. I did not do that. Ugh…
There was a time that the owner wanted to buy a projector so he could do presentations in one of the rooms. We had a big debate on what impacts the size of the projection. The available distance from the wall is important, and I wasn’t sure the room was big enough. He disagreed that distance had any relevance to the size of the projection. It was the first time we really butted heads on something. I had to call up a retail store and put them on speakerphone and pretend I didn’t know anything about projectors so they would explain all the important details to me. Eventually, I asserted his opinion on the subject and the retail employee was quick to correct me. The debate stopped immediately after I hung up and he asked me to buy whatever projector I thought would work best.
One event really bothered me. I came to his office to help him with something. He had a stack of checks on his desk that he was signing. Out of nowhere, he began ranting about how it makes him physically sick that he has to give all this money away. These were for employees and contractors that did very difficult laborious work for him. He considered paying people for their efforts giving money away. That made me physically sick.
I should have left by this point. Unfortunately, my car broke down during my employment there. I had to stop servicing my personal clients and now I REALLY needed the money if I ever wanted that car to work again. I wasn’t exactly livin’ it up at this point so this was a huge blower for me. Now I’m stuck here. Thankfully the walk to work was only about twenty-five minutes and It was summer time. So at least I could continue this until I got my car situation figured out.
The tipping point arrived not too long after all this though. He had a buddy who owned another company in the area. I’m guessing his buddy was talking about all of his cool tech equipment and offered to give the owner some extra stuff he had. We both went to visit his buddies company to pick up the equipment. It was like night and day. This guy obviously spent boatloads on his IT infrastructure. They had a proper server room with a rack. Everything was wired up clean around the building. It was amazing. Really. The whole setup was impressive. The type of business environment I was used to working in.
His buddy gave him a hardware internet filter. It didn’t work for some reason, but the owner was okay with that. “It’s okay if it doesn’t work. As long as people THINK I know what they’re doing they’ll be scared. Can you wire it so it looks connected?”. Ugh….. At one point his buddy mentioned something that they do there, and the owner asked me to set that up as well. I don’t remember what it was. I told him we can’t do it because we don’t have an Exchange Server. His buddy jumps in with “What? You don’t have an Exchange Server? You’re missing out!”. The owner had no idea what an Exchange Server was, but now he had to have one. I figured this was finally a chance to get the guy to spend some money revamping his IT infrastructure. If only I could still be so young an optimistic.
At the time Microsoft had an offering called Small Business Server. It was a bundle with Microsoft Server 2003 that had Active Directory, Exchange, and some other cool things in a pricing model targeted for smaller companies. It was perfect. He could host everything using his existing “server” hardware. Though most of the terminals would have to be wiped and reinstalled with a professional license for windows.
I did all the due diligence for pricing of the software and terminals that would need to be updated to work with the new system. I put it all in a document and shared it with him.
He almost had a heart attack.
To be fair, it was not chump change but that was the cost of the setup. He wanted everything his buddy had without spending any of the money. This is where things turned even worse.
He found out through a friend that by being an authorized Microsoft software distributor you can buy all the software we needed at a huge discount. He excitedly told me to go sign us up to the program online. “uhh that program is for companies that provide IT and software services. We don’t do any of that here”, I said. That wasn’t a problem. “If you tell them we sell software then we’re a software seller”. I told him that I didn’t think that’s how the program worked. Then he sent his CA to further convince me it would fine. There wasn’t any problem at all and I was being ridiculous. This is where they became really pushy. They wanted me to sign up as the contact to register the company as a software distributor so we could buy the software we needed at a huge discount and use it. They weren’t giving up.
I really needed this job. I wasn’t having success finding anything else I could walk to.
I went into his office and quit the next day.
I told them I would finish out the week, but I wouldn’t be able to continue after that. They were floored, and couldn’t understand why I wanted to go. Maybe it’s because I don’t want to commit fraud on your behalf and then have y’all throw me under the bus when you inevitably get caught? I just told them the position wasn’t for me.
The final days there were really strange. I did my best to tie off some loose ends and advise some of the more technical employees how to fix common issues that came up. Many of them knew and understood why I was leaving. It was a small office and everyone talked when the bullies weren’t parading around squashing morale. A couple people even asked for my contact info so they could recommend me to places their friends or significant others worked. They even called me back a few weeks later to come back.