Monday, June 4, 2012

Delicate Balance

Whenever I’m actually tasked with getting something done at work, there are conflicting impulses which I have to straighten out as part of the overall process. On the one hand, there are a number of factors which might induce me to jump in and knock out the request as soon as possible; fighting off boredom, to taking advantage of every opportunity to pad out my weekly accomplishments report, to wanting to be regarded by my colleagues (and especially my managers) as a valued member of the team, &c. But on the other hand, I’m constantly trying to maintain the illusion that I’m busier than I truly am, so that no one looks too closely at how much idle time I’m logging, because they all assume I’m usually occupied with something. So while getting things done which I can point to in the context of my personal achievements is a good thing, getting things done within mere minutes of being asked is really counterproductive because it shatters the illusion that there was more on my plate to begin with than the new task I just turned around immediately. And in a similar vein, people generally assume that similar tasks should only ever take as long as the shortest time on record the task has ever taken. Get something done in five minutes once, and people expect it to be done in five minutes every time; get people used to waiting longer, and when the situation calls for great haste you can deliver it without expending any extra effort. As a great engineer once put it, “How else to maintain my reputation as a miracle worker?”


So when I’m asked to make a minor, routine tweak that amounts to nothing more than data entry, I force myself to wait at least fifteen minutes from the timestamp on the request before fulfilling it. For bigger system adjustments that constitute actual development, I give myself 24 hours, by which I mean I think about how I’m going to do it right away and map out most of it in my head, then do the actual coding the following day. It’s a silly little game, but all in all it makes my life easier. (Easier than some theoretically more difficult version, that is, since I’ve been doing things this way from day one of my current gig.)

Of course, every now and then it doesn’t work out exactly as it’s designed to. We are several weeks into the new security configurations at my office, but we have yet to complete the transition whereby they install terminals connected to the classified network at our workaday cubicles. So I’m still forced to shuffle down eight floors every now and then to log in and see if anyone has sent me a classified email asking me to do some classified work. Those requests are even more rare than the requests to do non-classified work, so I tend not to spend much time down there in the hermetic room at all. I was informed a while ago that only people who log onto the classified network at least 2 or 3 times a week will be given terminals at their desk when the transition goes down, so that’s exactly what I’ve been doing. Monday and Wednesday or Tuesday and Thursday, I go down, log in, verify that my sites are up and running, check my email, log out. But in the past couple of weeks, I’ve actually gotten tripped up by this because I went down on Thursday, had no e-mails, received an e-mail on Friday but didn’t see it, and only caught up the following Monday/Tuesday. Twice this has happened, and both times the requests were of the simple data entry variety that I could have resolved inside of two minutes, but instead took two or three business days. Nobody has been screaming for my head over it, but it’s annoying to me personally.

And speaking of annoying me personally (and also highly unprofessionally), there seem to have been some changes afoot somewhere between my work computer and teh interwebs at large. It could be the network firewall, or it could be newly deployed code on the websites themselves, but there are a few regular destinations and online hangouts which are favorites of mine which now load very slowly, if at all, here in the gray cubicle confines. One just happens to be Blogger, and that of course puts a severe crimp in my blogging-during-downtime-at-work process. So far I’m putting up with the geologically slow performance, but it’s all I can do to write a post offline and then slap it into the Blogger editor and post it before the site becomes unresponsive and I have to exit my browser. So little things like going back through my older posts to see if I’ve already talked about something, or cross-linking posts, and so on? Those are kind of indefinitely on hold because at present they are way too taxing on my GFE system and my patience. As always, there are rumors we will be getting hardware and software upgrade soon, and that would no doubt relieve a lot of the grief. But until then, if posts seem a bit poorly integrated, or drop out altogether, consider this a bit of context explaining why.

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