This is part two of a four-part series, detailing the last year at my old software job. I was a front-line guy, I answered the phone, did most of the tech support, as well as sales, implementation, and commiserating when it all went wrong and the customer had no one else who really understood their pain.
We did good software, I still maintain that it was super powerful stuff, but it suffered from a development staff in another country (OverseasLand) who didn’t really care about our little offshoot office in Australia, and who didn’t really understand the benefit of making the software better unless that specific bit of improvement was being paid for. Doing good for the sake of it was against policy over there, while over here we created an environment that made the customer’s life easier whenever possible. There’s also a support staff in a low-wages Foreign Country, a wholly owned subsidiary of Head Office, who have recently been brought online.
The relevant staff: me, the support guy, and the boss. And now there’s the new Manager, from OverseasLand. He’s only just moved to Australia, temporarily at this point.
All names are changed, of course. They’re not innocent but I’m sure they’re wrathful. 😉
Jump to parts one, three, four, final update.
Here we go.
October 26, 2011
Head office is taking over our Australian operations, in six days. They’ve signed a lease in a building 40 minutes away from the current one, meaning I get to deal with rush hour traffic twice a day, and pay up to $180/month in tolls.
I asked them if they were going to pay for the toll charges I’d incur. They said they don’t pay for expenses, but that they’d work the tolls into my new wage.
Then they said my new wage would be lower, but that I could make that up on commissions.
My job currently is fairly unspecific. I do whatever needs to be done – answer phones, front line support, sales, product demos, dealer assistance, maintain the servers, handle all the web work, etc. I do it all.
My new job is Sales. That’s it. They’re going to make me do cold-calls, hassling people who’ve never heard of us, and my target will be 50 calls a day. They tell me it should take two and a half hours, not sure what I’ll do with the rest of the day, since they’re actively discouraging any attempts to function in other capacities. Sales staff don’t do support, we don’t answer the phones, we don’t help the customers we’ve been dealing directly with for 15 years.
They’re going to hire 3-7 more people, even though we’re currently disastrously overstaffed already. We’re still weeks away from a working phone system, and we haven’t seen the new employment contracts. There’s no internet at the new location yet, they don’t know if our current bookkeeper will be retained, there’s no replacement lined up.
They’re doing all their hiring based on LinkedIn, which has zero presence in Australia, because that’s what works in OverseasLand.
They’ll be recording all our calls.
This is an awful lot of grief just to keep selling the same amateur-hour software.
October 27, 2011
We got our new employment contracts last night, and we’re all looking at 10-15% pay cuts, plus a new commute. For everyone at the old office, we’re looking at an extra hour’s commute every day, and $300/month in gas and tolls.
There’s no mention of our old customers, support for existing projects, and no mention of any of the previous discussions regarding commissions for existing customers, etc.
Basically they strode into town, saw a local lawyer, drafted a by-the-book contract that failed to take into account any previous discussions, and lobbed it into our inboxes in the middle of the night. Never mind my 6 years here, never mind the tech’s 10 or the boss’ 28. “Here’s your contract, take the pay cut, now toe the line.”
Office morale is low this morning. =)
October 28, 2011
Our software is so awesome. I just got a call from a girl who works for one of our larger customers. She’s one of the front line staff, not management or anything, and is trying to close the system at the end of the day.
Our software is asking her to complete a security audit. To be specific, this is a PCI security audit that asks specific questions about the storage of credit card numbers, threatening massive fines for insecure storage, and refusing to allow her to finish her day until the audit completes successfully.
She’s a sweet girl, nothing’s ever too hard for her, but she’s at the end of her rope. She called me, desperate for help, and the upshot is this:
They don’t store credit card numbers. They don’t do pre-authorizations that require a credit card to remain open. She answers NO to these questions, but our software’s still forcing her, a junior staffer, to answer detailed security questions about exactly how secure the credit cards they don’t store are. She has to change passwords for users who have never logged in to satisfy a security process that doesn’t exist in this country.
And with my help we do all of this, change all the passwords, check all the boxes, delete all the non-existent information, truncate empty databases and verify unused security keys, all of it completely unnecessary ’cause PCI isn’t a requirement in Australia.
And it doesn’t work. She can’t finish the process, for no obvious reason it simply won’t let her finish.
Fuck yeah I’m proud.
UPDATE: Our after-hours support staff in Foreign Country have been trying for half an hour to figure out how to make an international phone call.
October 31, 2011
The boss sent an email to our programmers asking for help. The manager of the programming and support department replied to him. It was pretty clear that they didn’t read his email very closely before asking followup questions.
Boss asked: We’re running 64 bit Windows Server 2003, using remote desktop to connect clients.
Head office asked: Are they using remote desktop?
Boss said: When sending email, we get “Error sending mail.”
Head office said: You didn’t tell me the actual error.
Boss said: The error log is attached.
Head office asked: Which of these 547 errors is the relevant one?
…Isn’t it your job, as programmer, to know what the errors mean!?
The same day, the boss sends in a pricing request (Which goes to a different department). “How much for 5 new user licenses?”
The reply including pricing for a database upgrade, no new licenses.
Our software is made of quality.
If for any reason it pops up a file-find dialogue, and you change to any other program while this dialogue is open, you can’t get back to our software. The file-find window will never reappear, and you have to kill our app with the Task Manager, and start over.
When Windows 7 came out, a lot of desktop interface changes were made, and our software needed some fixing. For example, if you minimized the program, you couldn’t get it back by clicking the taskbar icon, or alt-tabbing to it, like every other program. You had to shift-right-click the taskbar icon, and select Restore. Head Office said “Oh, well no one uses Windows 7 here, so we can’t test it.” The problem remained unfixed for several months.
We had similar problems with Windows 7 themes. When they started doing a visual upgrade to fix some Windows 7 rendering issues, a lot of things started disappearing. Highlighted text was white on white, some fonts were too small to be read, separating lines were so faint you could barely see them, and so on. The excuse was the same: No one’s running Windows 7 here, we can’t test it.
Win7 had been out for a year and a half by this time. Apparently it never crossed their minds that they should buy one for these purposes. This problem has, to date, not been resolved.
November 1, 2011
A long time ago head office company made an e-commerce product, but the guy who wrote it quit, and he didn’t leave any source code behind. It was a closed box, and they couldn’t fix anything or make changes. Rather than stop and rewrite it, they kept on selling it, and our customers suffered. We literally put one lady out of business when it took a month – during the Christmas rush – to set up the 10% GST for her website. It didn’t work, the documentation (such as it was, which wasn’t much) was wrong, and because of the time difference we basically made tiny increments every day.
Our office wiki is loaded with bugs and complaints and tales of rubbish support for the Head Office e-commerce system, but the biggest problem was this closed-source foundation. Our customers couldn’t change the site in significant ways, couldn’t add functionality, or integrate it meaningfully with their own websites. It had to run on Head Office servers, and their customisation options were limited to a small number of template tweaks.
A few short months later all the customers who signed up for it had given up. Head Office kept working on their solution, but we started making plug-n-play modules for popular e-commerce systems so our customers – especially those with existing websites – could use the platform of their choice and still use our software in-store. It was simple, it was fast, it was reliable. We sold a stack of them.
And now, years later, our head office is taking over and we can’t sell our wonderful interface products anymore, ’cause they want to promote the e-commerce system they wrote. Unlike our competition, we’ll be charging more based on the number of items customers have on their site. It costs as much for two years of this ugly inflexible e-commerce as it does for a fully customized design and system from a local web company.
So you can buy ours and do all the work yourself and get a product that’s relatively inflexible, or pay someone else and get one designed the way you want it.
It’s as if they decided there was money to be made, if only they could offer a product, overcharge for it, and pretend there was no competition.
Ah yeah, that’s the SOP around here.
The Big Boss from head Office in OverseasLand is in town. Yesterday he was telling us about government grants they applied for to get parts of the program re-written. Apparently the grant was for overcoming problems, and since the intern who did a lot of the work nailed it the first try, they didn’t qualify for the grant. The intern didn’t slam out half-baked spaghetti-logic code, there were no problems, so no grant money.
I suggested they fire all their useless programmers and run solely on interns.
He glared at me.
I asked him then why, if writing shitty software was the key to government money, they weren’t rolling in grants.
He glared at me.
Today I’m working till 5:30, an extra half hour ’cause that’s the way they do it in OverseasLand, even though our phone stops ringing at 4. The last time it rang today was around 2:40, and it was a telemarketer. I’m BORED. I want to GO HOME.
The glaring goes both ways.
November 2, 2011
Head office’s takeover is progressing. My morning so far is one meeting after another telling me since I’ve worked here so long I don’t need to be taught the following: and then they teach me.
Them: “We love the wiki, it does this and that and this…”
Me: “yeah, it was my idea.”
Me: “The CEO called and raged at me for suggesting it, accused me of trying to subvert the existing system, then a year later someone else called, and asked me how to set one up.”
Them: “So, uh, what do you think about our wiki now?”
Me: “I’ve never seen it. After they asked me how to set it up, they never gave me access.”
<really long silence>
During one of the speeches I was subjected to, I learned a lot of company vocabulary. Some of the words they use that I need to learn:
Rules of Engagement
None of these things mean what I thought they meant.
I’m really not sure what this job entails anymore.
November 3, 2011
Head Office runs on a different date format than Australia. Now that we’re running a unified system, all our invoices for Australian customers are in the OverseasLand date format.
The official word is that no attempts will be made to make us look less retarded, apparently our customers will just have to learn that our invoices are special.
Oh, they’ll learn a lot of things about this company quite soon, I think.
OverseasLand uses 2-letter abbreviations for states and provinces. Australia uses both 2- and 3-letter abbreviations. Unfortunately all our Tasmania customers are now TS instead of TAS, and New South Wales customers are SW instead of NSW.
But it’s OK, ’cause we won’t run accounts and won’t send bills, from now on everyone pays in advance for everything. So it doesn’t matter if they never get mail from us again.
For as long as I’ve worked here, this is the level of professionalism we offer in our printouts:
To solve the problem, they put in blank spacers as a design element. They don’t work. Column widths are ignored, the program just makes its own decisions.
How can I maintain any level of pride in my work? Seriously. I’d like to know.
November 5, 2011
Finally, weeks after the problem started, we resolved that little problem our dealer had with a new customer’s installation.
In order to turn off the broken feature, we had to have our programmers in OverseasLand download a backup of their data, tweak four database files, and have the dealer put them back in the customer’s dataset. Presto, the feature’s off. It worked in testing in OverseasLand, it worked for me, it worked for the dealer, but it didn’t work for the customer.
You see, our software locked the user out after they got their password wrong three times after being forced to change it after enabling this feature that didn’t work and couldn’t be turned off.
So to recap, the hugely annoying problem was made trivial when the system locked them out entirely. The same program and data worked on the dealer’s machine, mine, and our programmer’s. We tried a dozen different things, including uninstalling and reinstalling our software, moving it around, and even throwing away weeks of data entry work and starting from scratch, but the program would always fail when a password was entered – even if you were creating it for the first time.
The ultimate solution, throwing away not just weeks of invoices and customer details and on and on, was to format and reinstall Windows. The entire machine had to be reinstalled.
I asked, but the programmers don’t even have a guess for the reason for the failure.
November 8, 2011
It’s actually sort of impressive that something insane happens so often down at ye olde workplace. Yesterday our support guy was told to start billing his time against customer support plans in the database, but they hadn’t brought over the customer support plan details yet… So he’s creating empty invoices ’cause that’s all he can do.
And he was only able to do that after head office took three days to actually work out why we couldn’t create invoices at all.
I can’t do my sales job very well ’cause they want me to, you know, talk to people about the value of our software and how much it’ll cost. But I’ve had a new pricelist across my desk more or less every day for the last two weeks.
Our calendar and appointment scheduler does not work across timezones. I am asked to perform the mental math every time I want to schedule an appointment where 4pm here comes out to 11pm the day before in our software.
All of our customers already exist in the head office database, but their taxes are all set to OverseasLand (’cause until now no one envisioned a need to sell directly to them, this Australian office was always the intermediary). So we have many hundreds of customers that require a bunch of toggles and tweaks made on their account, and we have to do it manually.
I made an invoice yesterday, and while I was still working on it I received two pop-up warnings that someone was messing with the Australian tax setup and the invoice needed to be re-priced.
We’ll be using Paypal for credit card processing ’cause head office doesn’t want to jump through the hoops the Australian banks require. I can’t actually blame them for that, banks here hate every company that doesn’t dig stuff out of the ground.
November 9, 2011
I’m being fairly strongly encouraged to get on the phone and start making sales, and my complaints about changing prices and broken systems aren’t meeting much sympathy.
Apparently it’s not really important that I can’t print invoices, I can just fake ’em or something.
Since the takeover we’ve had to switch from some things we designed and know intimately to head-office products that we know little about. I’m told it doesn’t really matter, and that any time a customer asks a question I don’t know the answer to, it’s OK to say I don’t know. Presumably I can find out, somehow, eventually, and relay the answer later.
Never mind that the reason I can’t find the answer NOW is because there’s no one to ask and no documentation on the product. How I’ll find out LATER is a mystery to me.
Can you imagine this sales conversation?
Customer: It’ll do X, right?
Me: I don’t know.
Customer: Does it do Y?
Me: I don’t know.
Customer: Well, how much is it?
Me: Yesterday it was this price…
Customer: Yesterday? What about today?
Me: I’m not really sure.
Customer: Well, when can you find out?
Me: I don’t know.
This is how it’s done in the big leagues, apparently.
Meanwhile we’re all having trouble working out what day it is, because the system says it’s yesterday but the dates are reversed. We’re pretty sure it’s still November, not September, but it’s tricky.
We used to give prices including tax, like everyone else in Australia, but now the system excludes tax, doesn’t add it for us, and we need to do our own math every time. We still can’t print anything, nor print to files and email them to ourselves, and our access to our system is very much restricted.
Yesterday we spent three hours trying to resolve a five minute tweak to a printer template. Call the guy here, he calls the guy in OverseasLand, the tweak is made, it’s relayed back to us, and repeated. It’s like Chinese whispers FFS.
And for the last few days the phone system in Head Office has been sporadically unable to accept incoming calls. At all. So we can’t call ’em, customers can’t call ’em, no one can.
November 9, 2011
Trying to write this down before I forget. I’m shaking with anger and adrenaline after shouting at the new management.
Our local methods won’t scale, he said, and I’m inclined to agree with him. We have pursued a system of support over sales and, after a while, the lack of sales came back to hurt us. Head Office pushes for sales over all, and they’re adamant that rigid walls must be built between every department.
My sales must increase, and quickly, money must be brought in as fast as possible, but when I complained I was unable to sell things to customers asking for updates ’cause I didn’t know their rules and their system didn’t work, I was told that supporting existing customers wasn’t my job. New customers only.
So bring in money, unless it’s a certain kind of sale, then pass it off to someone else, who can’t sell it any more easily than I can. The new roles don’t have anyone else to do sales, except the new manager, who’s never here ’cause he’s trying to get the new office outfitted and ready for us to move into.
So who’s going to do it if not me!? And WHEN!?
I asked why the Foreign Country support department was unable to call any Australian customers back after 2pm. As far as I was concerned, they’re staffed, any OverseasLand customers are closed for the night, and the Foreign Country support department should have plenty of staff sitting around with nothing to do but support Australia.
You know what? You don’t have to worry about that anymore. It’s not your job. Stop answering the phones, stop helping people. Start selling.
Dammit, I like my customers and you fuckers aren’t able or willing to help them!
I told him I gave a shit, and I wanted to support my customers. I was told in no uncertain terms that it was no longer my job to take care of people, and that if I had a problem selling to customers because I wasn’t confident they’d be supported in the future, I didn’t have to keep working here. And, he said, “I don’t care one way or the other.”
I told him these rigidly defined roles were part of their corporate problems, and he said he didn’t care. Throughout the conversation he said “I don’t give a fuck” at least three times in response to several concerns.
I’m not really happy.