Monday, May 16, 2011


Part One

So I’ve been back to work for a week now and in many ways (new geographic location of the office notwithstanding) it’s like I never left. There was no backlog of work waiting for me to dive into once I had settled and regained my bearings. As usual, I find myself looking for things to do.

A job ago, which now seems like a lifetime ago but was really only four years back, I had developed a certain working style which was appropriate to that corporate environment. My employer was eternally in start-up mode, taking on impossibly daunting amounts of work just to prove it and dumping a lot of that work on my department. Anything assigned to me had to get done yesterday if not sooner: “yesterday” because that’s when the deliverable had been promised to our newest, golden-egg client; “if not sooner” because it was always a good idea to keep things hustling on forward to make room for the next herculean task that was no doubt right around the corner.

Brute force and ignorance gets the job done!
So I learned how to do things as fast as possible, which was not always synonymous with efficiency. I cut everything extraneous out of my work process, including things like taking notes or following a system, which would have only slowed me down at the time (even if they would have made subsequent stabs at doing similar work a little easier in the long run). I never even spared the time to think about how I could have been doing things differently, to be honest. That’s the kind of thing that only occurs to me now.

Because now, much more important (to me, at least) than getting all of my assigned work done is finding a way to look busy all the time, and I’ve discovered that I can succeed in that regard by approaching each task with what would strike circa-2005 me as insane amounts of extraneous business. I now maintain documents and spreadsheets aplenty which track what I need to be working on, what progress I’ve made, how I did what I did, where to find additional information related to the projects, and so on. So instead of, for example, trying to tear through a custom database update as fast as I can bash through the code assembly for it, I can (and do!) diagram what needs to happen, outline the steps I’m going to take to make sure I don’t miss anything or set off any unintended consequences, double-check every element, and then finally pull the trigger. And after that I compose a permanent record of what I did and why, and notify my bosses, and update my folder organization schema both on the computer and in my paper filing cabinet so I can put all those artifacts in their proper place.

I know a lot of people go to similar CYA lengths all the time, but I tend to think of those as situations where a person needs to be able to defend themselves if someone questions what they did. I, on the other hand, am trying to pre-emptively deflect criticism for what I don’t do, which is much work at all. Having a spreadsheet open looks more like legit work than having a web browser open, even if all I’m doing with the spreadsheet is expanding my list of things I need to write down that I did the day before. Who knows, it might even all pay off someday, down the road, if people around here ever figure out how to make better use of my time.

Part Two

But while I’m on the subject of efficiency, I also need to report that, sad to say, my honeymoon with the VRE seems to be over. I got to the station a little early this morning and realized that was a lucky thing because it’s Monday and I needed to go through the purchasing process for my weekly ticket. Unfortunately the automated ticket vending kiosks were all in validate-only mode, with a message on their screens saying purchase of tickets was not available. Here’s the thing, though: the automated kiosks are the only way you can buy tickets at the station. It’s not as though there’s a human being working at the window who is supplemented by an automated machine, and it’s the customer’s choice which method to use. I suppose that kind of redundancy would be pretty inefficient, but when the ticket-vending system goes down, there’s no backup.

The last thing in the world I wanted to do this morning (or any morning ever again) was drive on 66 and take the Metro, so I took a shot at going to the next nearest VRE station instead. Not that I knew exactly where that station was, but I knew I had seen signs for it when driving around, and I optimistically assumed I could follow them and find it. That turned out to be true, fortunately. I also knew the station I was trying to find was the terminus for that line of the VRE, which conveniently means that trains hang out there for quite a while until the time arrives for them to leave on schedule, as opposed to stations along the line where the train pulls in, loads up, and rolls on. More to the point, conductors hang out at that terminus platform as well. So when it turned out the kiosks at that station weren’t selling tickets, either, I at least could immediately ask an authoritative source what I was supposed to do. (As it turned out, the conductor just shrugged, which put me right on the trembling verge of apoplexy until he followed it up with “Just get on” and waved me toward the train.)

The kiosks here in Crystal City weren’t working this morning, either, but I consoled myself that once I got to my desk at the office I could check the VRE website and get some more info on how long they’d be down. You’d think, right? If the kiosks weren’t working at three different stations, they probably were down all along the line. Yet the website made absolutely no mention of the service outage. In fact, the whole website is pretty opaque once you get past finding the schedules and fares.

I guess at this point I’m not so much calling the VRE inefficient so much as ineffectual, in terms of its ticketing system and its online communication (or lack thereof in either case). Which is disappointing and disillusioning, but still doesn’t change the fact that it’s far and away the best commuting option I’ve got right now. Hopefully by the time I try to head home this evening everything will be back to normal.

No comments:

Post a Comment