Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Whoa, where did today go? I’m so glad I asked. There have been some new hires in my department (both govvies and contractors to my team) as I’ve alluded to recently as an external force that may end up claiming my cubicle-squatter’s rights and exile me to a corporate desk somewhere (my govvie supervisor told me yesterday it would probably be resolved “in about a month”). So I spent a huge chunk of today with one of my new team members, showing her how the various websites I’m responsible for work.

The hilarious thing, of course, is that I barely know how they work. And I’m not referring to my usual estimation of my own webmastering skills as semi-fraudulent. As the webmaster, I can open up the code for any given page of the website and pretty reliably determine where the moving parts are, how it’s supposed to function, how to fix it if it’s broken and how to improve it or change it along the lines of someone else’s requests. But the bigger picture questions, like what overall purpose the site serves, or how an average user would actually interface with it, etc? Those are beyond the scope of my job description, as they say. I’m like a reclusive old auto-mechanic who has never actually gotten behind the wheel and driven down the road.

However, if there’s one thing I have learned in my Quest To Maintain My Lifestyle In The Manner To Which I Am Accustomed By Riding Out This Job Thing Until I Retire In Thirty More Years Or So I Mean Come On How Hard Can It Be, it’s that when my boss asks me to do something I should always say “You bet, happy to do it” and thus perpetuate my standing as a team player and all-around good guy. Hence, ask me to show someone how to use the websites I program, and I will give it my best shot. The even more hilarious thing is that it seemed to work, and my new colleague (I am not such a team player that I’ve actually committed her name to memory yet) seemed appreciative of all the knowledge I was dropping.

5318008 huhhuh huhhuh
It reminded me of my job a few years ago as a software instructor, which was kind of one big yearlong joke. In theory I was supposed to teach people how to best use office applications like PowerPoint and Excel, and sometimes I was paid to teach classes and other times I was paid to prep for classes, but except for the getting paid part it didn’t always work out that way (and the salary was an insulting pittance but the best I could do after the dot-com bubble burst, so, you know, the whole thing was a rat’s nest of deceit). Instead of teaching people how best to use the software, I was usually at one of the extreme ends of the knowledge-gap spectrum:
The Alpha End: I was expected to teach a one-day class to a room full of people who were so computer illiterate that when I tried to show them shortcuts that involved a right-click menu, they thought I was saying “Write ‘click menu’” and would begin hunt-and-pecking C … L … I …

The Omega End: I was expected to teach a one-day class to people who used the software every single day of their lives, whereas I was given exactly one work day to prep. So basically eight hours of fielding questions from legal secretaries about why, exactly, Microsoft Word didn’t do this particularly awesome thing exactly the same way WordPerfect did it, or from accountants about pivot table data aggregation. And that was on the software I knew well; sometimes I was given one day to prep on software I had never seen in my life, like LotusNotes or MS Access, and then expected to teach it. So basically eight hours of sheer panic-driven winging it.

I suppose in retrospect, by the tail end of that job experience I didn’t panic as much (mainly because I really no longer cared, about the job or much of anything; 2002 was some dark days, people!) and I’ve at least managed to carry some of that panic-free devil-may-care attitude forward. It turns out I’m pretty good at faking like I know what I’m talking about, and at the very least killing time by talking, so that spending a couple hours test-driving a website I’m passingly familiar with for an unsuspecting audience is really not a big deal.

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