Saturday, November 8, 2014

Titles Tell

Engineer: a person who designs, builds, or maintains engines, machines, or public works.
Technician: a person employed to look after technical equipment or do practical work in a laboratory

It was over in an instant; "Walter, would you come into my office, please?" my manager asked.

I was a graduate of Marquette University's School of Engineering; I had a Master Degree. I was recently promoted to Engineering Project Manager of the team that would develop the next generation computer for the Navy. I was in on the ground floor of the quality renaissance the division executive had initiated and was a respected member of the internal training team; about my role in this quality renaissance, one employee said to me, 'You are the conscience of the division;' I led several successful problem-solving teams, some of which, with only a different leader, had failed miserably.

I had a lot of latitude. As long as I'd put in forty productive hours a week, it didn't matter too much which hours they were. I was able to integrate my work for the Quality Team without getting special permission from anyone. I attended and called meetings as necessary to get the work done. I could take coffee ( cigarette ) breaks when I needed them. If I wanted to leave the premises for a longer than usual lunch, no problem.

The meeting into which my manager called me was a one on one. These were usually pleasant: a quick follow-up, a question, a request. "This is a bad day," she began, "a really bad day for me."

Truth be told, I don't remember anything else either one of us said. I do remember this: she was laying off three project managers. When I left the meeting I had thirty more days of employment.

Eventually, after doing some consulting work with an ex-colleague, I landed the job from which I retired thirteen years later. The work was staffing a Help Desk, aiding callers with their Personal Computer Software issues.

Beyond the significant pay reduction, I quickly learned how different from my previous full-time job my new job was. I didn't have any business cards; I didn't need them. I didn't so much have work to do as I had a shift to cover. My shift was rigidly defined as 7:30 to 4:00, unless, of course, I was on the phone at the end, then I had to stay until the call was completed. I was allocated two fifteen minutes breaks per day, at specific times, morning and afternoon. Lunch, too, was rigidly scheduled. Talking to a colleague to get help ( or offer it ) was hit-and-miss, as the telephone could ring at any time, for either one of us, and we had to answer such calls.

My manager focused this with a remark he made: "I will have one of my technicians look into that for you."

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