This is part three 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. 😉
Here we go.
November 10, 2011
When creating an appointment in our calendar, you can enter 24-hour time. The system’s smart enough to recognize it… Almost: 15:00 becomes 3:00, as it should.
But it’s always AM.
They’re changing the prices on me. Again.
I was told this morning that, since no one else is technically any sort of salesman, that I should handle the selling of upgrades and other stuff to existing customers. You remember yesterday of course, when they told me not to do this as it wasn’t my department.
Well today it sort of is again. Except of course we can’t print from the new system and are aren’t supposed to use the old one, so I can’t send out quotes or invoices.
Yesterday a customer asked if he’d need to update part of the system if he was upgrading his server to a newer OS. Usually this isn’t required, but his software was old, so I asked around. No one in my office knew, the vendor’s website didn’t say, and so I dashed off an email to the guy in Head Office who handles this stuff.
Then the new Australian manager comes in, and I ask him about it.
“Oh, I don’t know. Sell it anyway.”
…You really want me to sell a thousand dollars worth of software to a customer who might not need it?
Meanwhile, 24 hours later, no one in Head Office replied to my email about this issue, so no one knows (still) if he needs it or not.
In fact, no one’s replied to any of my emails for 2-3 days.
UPDATE: I finally heard back from Head Office about this question. The definitive answer: I think so. I’ll find out tomorrow.
Head Office demanded to know why my boss in Australia hasn’t been attending the online meetings. Apparently they changed their schedule and set up late meetings so he could attend.
It’d probably have helped if they told him about it.
So they asked if he could please attend the Friday meeting.
He told them “No.”
“No!? Why not?”
“Because that’s Saturday in Australia.”
November 11, 2011
As of yesterday, two of the overseas support staff have quit. Response time for non-critical support is now 2 days instead of one. Can you imagine what this is like for customers? I mean, it’s not at all unusual to have a one-day-a-week bookkeeper for many of our them.
Customer: The accountant is in today to help us sort out the bills, but we’re getting an error.
Us: No problem. We’ll have someone call you within 48 hours.
This is more or less how it worked when our Australian office needed help too. Because of the time difference, we had only two hours (three sometimes ’cause of daylight savings) to talk to anyone in OverseasLand Head Office. If it was a complicated question, or they were on the phone, or in a meeting, we might not get a response before they knock off for the night.
And it’s definitely corporate policy not to spend any time in the office after 5pm, I tell you. The place must set off the fire alarms as every staff member disappears in a puff of smoke at the same time.
We can’t really count the number of times we’ve been in the middle of a customer problem in our morning only to find, while we’re waiting for a reply via messenger or email or phone, that everyone’s GONE. I imagine phones dangling off desks, emails half typed, coffees steaming and chairs slowly spinning.
So we make an inch of progress in that 2 hour window, they come to work the next day, and only pay attention to us at the end of their day again. They reply to our emails, if they do so at all, right before they go home. Whether because they’re all swamped with work or because it’s a real effort to wait until it’s too late to do anything in the hopes they can go home without actually dealing with us I don’t know. I suspect, but I don’t know.
So what is a half hour job might take two days, or three. Customers waiting for relatively simple answers don’t hear from us because we don’t hear from Head Office because that two hour window of attention slams shut with a definite finality every goddamned day.
History: We give temporary licenses to new customers to get the software installed. Usually after we get a deposit, but not always, and especially with our dealers, we offer the temp so they can get started on customer installs. Then later, when they get paid, we get paid, and a permanent license is created.
We’ve done it this way forever, it greases the wheels, makes people happy, lets us get shit done while payments are getting sorted. These licenses are good for a max of 30 days. They expire and the program dies, so if we don’t get the rest of the money, the customer loses their deposit and all their hard work. It’s a good process.
I just called the new manager and asked how I can get a temp now, as it’ll be 3-4 days before I get one from our Head Office in OverseasLand, ’cause of their long weekend.
me: How can I get a temp for our dealer? He’d like to get some work done for a new customer over the weekend.
manager: Have they paid yet?
me: No, it’s a new customer.
manager: We don’t do temps. Cash only, no temps. Never have.
me: That’s going to cause a bit of havoc with our dealers when their policies are different.
manager: I don’t give a shit!
me: OK, thanks. <click>
I was polite throughout. I may have been curt at the end of the call, but I didn’t argue, I didn’t complain, I didn’t even suggest that I thought it was a batshit stupid policy.
He calls back a few mins later and I didn’t want to talk to him, so I let the old boss here take the call. I overheard him say things like we’ve always done it and OverseasLand staff were making them for us as recently as last month and so on. At one point I heard him say don’t take it personally, this is how we’ve always done it. and a rule change is fine, but we need to know about it. If we don’t know and ask the question we only need to be told ‘no more’. Which is, as far as I can tell, exactly what happened.
When the call ended, I got the summary version:
No more discussions. When a new rule comes down, we just do what we’re told. This is not a democracy.
And apparently, if a customer has any complaints to make and it sounds like they got any ideas from staff here, then that staff member is fired.
November 14, 2011
After that last phone call the new manager did talk to me, and it was a little bit surreal.
It was as if he thought his I don’t give a shit outburst was a completely rational way to respond to my suggestion that maybe the new no-temp-licenses rule might be troublesome.
He wanted to know what he and I could do to find some peaceable common ground where we could continue to get work done.
I told him that I wanted to at least get a sense that he was listening, instead of just slamming down the new rules with an iron fist.
He seemed genuinely surprised, and asked when he’d ever given me the impression he wasn’t listening. I told him he had a lot of baggage to shed, ’cause “You’re from head office, and no one in Head Office listens to us.”
He insisted that he was listening, but that he wasn’t always able to have a discussion about policies. He stressed that he was always available to answer questions, call him on the mobile any time.
To which I replied “Yeah, ’cause that worked so well for me last time.”
Few things really piss off management, in that deeply resentful internalized rage sort of way, like being thrust face-first into the cold hard truth.
November 16, 2011
Head Office just asked me to submit immediately all the passwords to our Australian website, ’cause we make reference to the cool stuff we were doing down here instead of the internally developed solutions they prefer.
It’s all hosted on their server, they meddle with it all the time, they don’t need our passwords.
The minimum call charge for any customer, to answer any question or issue, is more now than we used to charge for an hour. They get one issue, with up to fifty minutes to solve it, but there’s no two minute call anymore. Pay for an hour every time you call.
First thing our new manager asks when he calls is “How has your day been?”
I made the mistake of thinking he means “how has your day been” when, in fact, he actually means “how much money have you brought in today?”
All answers except a dollar amount are rebuffed.
I still can’t print invoices. Windows’ remote desktop system works brilliantly well, transparently allowing me to print to local or remote printers, and connect drives from one computer to another so that I can do work in OverseasLand and save the output to my local computer.
Except when I connect to our Head Office server to try and get work done, where none of these things actually happen. I can’t print to the local printer, it doesn’t exist. I can’t use a pretty PDF printer, ’cause it crashes our software hard when I try, so I’m stuck using an antiquated and decidedly ugly PDF application which at least works, and saves files on the OverseasLand server.
…And then I can’t get them from there to here, ’cause my drives aren’t connected.
No one seems to be in a hurry to solve this, but they’re still asking how many sales I’ve made, as if people will just give me money for no fucking reason at all.
Our state is still QL instead of QLD, and if I try to type over it in our software, the country automatically changes from Australia to OverseasLand, and if I change the country back the state is blanked out.
You know how, when you highlight any chunk of text and press any key, the text is replaced with whatever you just typed? It works everywhere, basically, and has since like 1984.
Except in our program, where you highlight text, press a key, and the key is added to the end of the text.
When we ask why, we’re told it’s because it’s a live searching field, and it can’t be done any other way.
Except that there are other parts of the program where it works fine. Not to mention that a million other software products do this just fine.
November 17, 2011
The main server in OverseasLand Head Office has died, it has totally ceased to function, and we don’t have any email, instant messaging, bugzilla etc etc.
Not only that, but none of our company domain names resolve anymore.
This double-blow action is sort of the internet equivalent of gutting your house with a backhoe and then removing your address from the white pages just to be sure.
This, three weeks after they ruthlessly criticized us for having a server die.
Yesterday I finally got an invoice out to a customer. The process is simple:
1. Log in to Head Office server
2. Create invoice
3. Print invoice using internal PDF driver
4. Call boss
5. Boss logs in to Head Office server
6. Boss prints invoice again ’cause he can’t see my files
7. Boss emails invoices to me
8. I retrieve and display PDF invoices
9. I re-enter entire invoice, copy/pasta comments and everything, in our old database
10. I print a good-looking invoice using the good PDF driver
11. I email it to the customer
Fuck yes, efficiency.
Our OverseasLand Head Office admin team have trouble with Australian accents.
A company called BHST called, and it took our staff more than three minutes before they finally confessed “We don’t have a listing for a company called ‘Beehives’”.
Another called, Davis Tyres. The call that reached my desk was from Davis Colours.
November 19, 2011
It seems that whatever parts of the company aren’t actively sabotaging themselves are being devastated by incompetence.
The OverseasLand main server, which hosts all the customer emails and websites (for those who sign up for their bullshit internal solutions instead of the ones we made in Australia which give the customer freedom to host their own shit) has died. This was a year old server, a brute of a thing apparently, running a big old RAID array.
Well the RAID controller failed in a somewhat spectacular fashion. The guy responsible for the this server’s visiting family for two weeks at the other end of the country. He’s literally as far away from the server as you can get in OverseasLand.
I’ve been getting periodic updates about the situation. Apparently they had the previous server back up and running in a matter of hours. Like, 24 of them. For reasons unknown to me, this old server was soonafter yanked and the new one slapped back in place again, presumably with a new fancy RAID array, and the latest backup.
The most recent backup date was a full year old.
A. Full. Year.
Because, and stop me if you’ve heard this before, backups were unnecessary because RAID array. The idea that this array could ever corrupt the shit out of itself when the controller failed never occurred to anyone. Except, you know, me and everyone in our Australian office.
Now, this is somewhat depressing. I have resisted posting this for a couple of days because it’s sort of a whole step beyond the tragicomedy that is my workplace these days. This is full blown upsetting.
And, honestly I don’t think anyone in Head Office is in the mood to hear my flippant giggling at their misfortune.
But come on, you guys. No backups? For a year!?
For fuck’s sake.
November 23, 2011
Head Office is big on security. After spending six figures building PCI compliance into our software, because we were told it was the only way to continue working with banks and payment systems, we ended up with software so secure we can’t even use it.
My company-wide password is 9 characters long, has upper and lower case letters, numbers, and a symbol. It’s so convoluted I, and everyone else in the office, programmed a keyboard macro to type it for us. So, that’s not secure.
We give the password out to anyone in our company who asks because there are so many things breaking and needing to be rebuilt that someone’s entering it in all the time. So, that’s not secure.
The same password works on my email, my server login, my software login, my wiki, ftp and web portal logins. That’s a lot of places where it can be revealed. Are we secure yet?
They’re convinced that everything they do needs to be their own technology. That’s why our printing engine has sucked since our first Windows version back in the mid nineties. Occasionally they’ll buy someone else’s tech, like the bullshit PDF engine they bought many years ago, which sucked mighty ass then and doesn’t seem to have ever received an update.
They’re so terrified of using someone else’s stuff that they steadfastly refuse to even look at our competitors’ products. They won’t look, they won’t listen, and they change the subject like their line is tapped every time we start talking about the amazing features our competitors have.
Their rationale: They don’t want to be tied to someone else’s product, forced to make changes when someone else changes their software. The idea of demarcation,of drawing a line in the sand saying “We work with Product X, Version Y only” is somehow anathema to them. They want to avoid being responsible for anything at all.
But they’re fucking schizophrenic about it! They developed their own hosted-in-their-office E-commerce system ’cause they didn’t want to use the actually almost excellent data import/export facility that’s always been a standard feature of our software.
In Australia, we developed a link using this facility to automatically upload information to any webserver, and automatically retrieve and import completed invoices.
In OverseasLandthey wrote their own web system, from scratch.
When our Australian server goes down, none of our customers hear about it. Why would they?
When the OverseasLand server goes down, every customer dumb enough to use our E-commerce system loses their website. And, hilariously, everything they’ve put on it for 12 months.
tl;dr: if your goal is to avoid responsibility, you don’t start by forcing every single thing to run only on your own servers.
November 24, 2011
When connecting to the Head Office server, where I am supposed to be creating all new invoices, I can not share our local printer, nor can I share my local drives. But finally, after two weeks of not being able to create any sort of invoice, they happily told me I can now print delicious PDFs!
And when I asked them how I was to get these PDFs from OverseasLand to Australia, I was answered only with silence.
Head Office is taking our entire customer list, and passing them to a department that will call every single one of them, introduce themselves, and try to sell them something. Company policy says everyone gets called once a year, no matter what.
No matter if they’re a customer who spent tens of thousands of dollars only to find that they were so hopelessly unable to communicate their needs when buying it, that the software was totally unsuitable and they gave up after a month.
No matter if they spent tens of thousands only to threaten lawsuits when we wouldn’t refund their money.
No matter if they’re satellite companies under strict instructions not to talk to us directly, but only through their head office.
Well, go ahead fuckers, don’t listen to us. I mean, why start now? But if you wake any sleeping dragons it’s on your heads, not ours.
The new manager, back in Overseas Land to collect his shit and move here permanently, called recently to ask why there’s still no new money in the Australian bank account.
Well, maybe because the bank details you gave us, that we passed on to our customers, were fucking wrong. People have been paying into non-existent accounts.
The new manager messaged me today, asking for a detailed picture of the Australian money situation. So I told him everything I knew. He asked for details, so I repeated myself.
Fifteen minutes later, he calls, and asks for a detailed picture of the Australian money situation, so I told him what I knew, followed by “as I said in our messenger chat.”
Then he asks me to email it to him, as if writing it down twice and confirming it verbally wasn’t enough.
They’re still asking for our server passwords. For their server. Which they control. To get access to files which, they’ve proven several times in the past, they can access without our intervention any time.
Seriously you guys? No one knows how your server works!? What do you want from me!?
But we’re not the only idiots, not by any stretch.
A customer of ours wanted to put together an E-Commerce site. We recommended a web developer for them, someone we’ve worked with before, who has done great, quick and reasonably priced work for a handful of our customers.
She paid him six grand for their custom shopping cart, tailored to their needs, and when it was done they needed me to set it all up. No problem. I sent an email to the customer and said “Call me when you’re ready.”
I even sent the config file so it’d take like 30 seconds to install and test.
Weeks go by, the web dev calls me to see what’s up. I call the customer. “We’re really busy…”
Months go by, and the process repeats: web dev, already paid for their work, is waiting to get the process started, and I’m waiting for the customer to spare five lousy minutes to get it all going.
Finally, seven months later, she calls. She’s ready. I log in, check the config, and she says “Oh, but we’re working with a different web dev now. Did they call you?”
Say what? No, they didn’t call. WTF, nothing that I’ve done so far is any good now, what’s going on?
Turns out this customer noticed one day that their website displayed a nice little “Coming Soon” and not much else. Outraged, she canceled the development, and contacted a new company, and is starting over.
Then the new developer finally calls me, days after they promised, and they’re utterly hopeless. They’re using an off-the-shelf cart system that we have worked with before and know damned well doesn’t work.
I’m.. I mean, I just… What the HELL. Who does that?
November 25, 2011
Our Head Office is in OverseasLand, and we have a call center in one of those Foreign Countries with lower wages. This call center is an office of ours, not a generic call center, and everyone there works for us. They do good work, mostly, but like our Head Office, they’re having a lot of trouble coming to grips with the accents here in Australia.
Customers are starting to complain. They have a hard time getting through, they’re not understood. It takes far too long to even get the person’s name, never mind parse the request and get it to the right target.
The old manager here in Australia is Bill. The Foreign Country support staff don’t know who Bill is, despite several attempts to tell them. Bill can’t get put through to anyone in OverseasLand Head Office because they don’t understand his name, and don’t know that he, as management, should have some priority. When we think we’re finally making headway, it turns out they don’t understand ‘Bill’ at all.
Calls to Bill are delayed while staff try and figure out the accent. I didn’t think it was a tricky name, but apparently…. Bills wife couldn’t get through to Bill for several minutes yesterday, by the time she got to our office she was fuming.
Customers are complaining about it frequently. Dave from Peter Street calls, and I’m told Peter’s on the line. Most of the time they just give up trying to get the company name, and I’m starting to think the customer’s name is pulled from a hat.
Yesterday, the new manager calls and asks me about two large payments in the bank that he couldn’t identify. Both of them were identical matches for the amounts I gave him three times that morning.
The title for this dreadful saga will be Cavalcade of Clusterfuckery.
A large part of the OverseasLand servers are offline again.
I asked the boss if we were soaring like eagles yet.
He replied “We might be, if we could get these concrete blocks off our feet.”
November 29, 2011
Today it’s all about the phones, which still don’t work right at the new office, and we’re still working out of the mostly empty old office.
I had an appointment before work this morning, and was going to be an hour or so late to work. I told the boss in advance and all was cool.
Then he calls me shortly after the normal start time, says Head Office is on the phone, wondering if they could expect the pleasure of my company for the morning sales meeting. You know, the one they re-scheduled specifically for me, on Australian time.
The one they didn’t tell me about.
I said no.
The new manager, still in OverseasLand, emails me and tells me they’ll be having another meeting next week, and here’s how to connect to it. He follows this email up with “If you have any questions, come see me.”
Dude. You’re a ten hour flight from here. You come see me.
A customer emailed me a short while ago, he’s unable to get through to our office, because the Australian phone number doesn’t work. So I tried it, and sure enough, it doesn’t work. It just goes “Boop!” and disconnects.
So I told the boss, and he says “It’ll be a nice quiet day today.”
So I called our new manager, who’s still in OverseasLand, and got his voicemail, which says he’s in Australia, and lists a local number. I’m sure if I called it it’d ring through to our office, go “boop!” and disconnect me.
So I called our central switchboard and asked if they’d been getting any Australian calls, and they said no… I told them the phones appeared to be dead, and she said she got an email 12 hours ago saying that the phones were dead.
No one sent the email to us in Australia, of course. It’s only OverseasLand and the Foreign Country call center that know about it.
Of course. Why would we need to know?
I asked switchboard to put me through to Dave, ’cause the new manager Ron (not their real names, duh) wasn’t around. She put me through to Ron’s voicemail. I hung up.
She called me back, and cheerfully informed me that there appears to be a problem with the phones.
Really? You think so?
I received a call from the switchboard. I answered it, and could hear ringing, as if I was dialing someone, and at the same time I could hear switchboard’s voicemail. What kind of phone system is this anyway?
Our tech couldn’t get any files from the Head Office FTP server. Files would go up, but we couldn’t download anything, because our permissions were insufficient. Now, if you know anything about FTP, this is a simple permissions problem on the server end.
Head Office said the problem was on our end.
Boss asked me to quickly head over to the new office, because the plasterer needed to get in and prepare for a job we wanted done.
So, in 35C+ heat, blazing sun and wind, I get my black leather riding gear on and hop on the motorbike and ride across the whole of Brisbane. Total time: 45 mins, in the heat. It was exhausting.
I get there, greet the guy, go inside, and after about sixty seconds he says “OK thanks, I’ll see you tomorrow.”
I told him I did not like this job nearly enough to do this again, and he was on his own.
November 30, 2011
Making an invoice now on the Head Office server is still fiendishly complicated, because our software never really designed to operate internationally to this extent.
On our Australian system I’d just start an invoice, add items, change the price where appropriate, and issue it to the customer.
The new procedure involves manually calculating pre-tax prices, manually calculating discounts, and issuing several invoices instead of just one.
And that’s assuming I can actually print the fucking thing.
Then I have to email it to myself, and re-email it to the customer. Though, they say this has been fixed, I don’t really care enough to try it.
This company basically never sells into the UK, but they’re adding code to cope with the official British postal address scheme with all of its 12 lines, even though after 15 years and several hundred customers in Australia they still haven’t made the changes all of our customers need.
And the Australian states are still wrong. It’s a fucking config file, it’d take five seconds to fix.
Back in July one of our existing customers, Sea Gear, created a new company called SG Supplies. I ordered their license from Head Office, and got back something for Sea Gear Supplies.
I called and told them SG Supplies wasn’t shorthand, and I need a license for SG Supplies, and they fixed it for me.
2 weeks ago we told them they still had “Sea Gear Supplies” in the system, for some reason, and this company definitely did not exist.
Today I was told the add-ons I ordered for SG Supplies could not be processed ’cause there was no such company. Did I mean Sea Gear Supplies?
No, you fuckwits, I did not. Get your shit together.
A year or so ago we outfitted our office with IP phones, cheap little units with lots of flexibility and options and the conversion went very smoothly.
We did cop some flak from Head Office who told us in no uncertain terms that we were wasting money buying rubbish gear that would never be compatible with their expensive Cisco system.
Well, they’re ordering a bunch of new phones, and they’re not Cisco. In fact, they’re the same as the ones we bought.
But I’m sure we still suck.