Just some red flags. No big deal. Just ignore them (2020)

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Onboarding at a new company can be a weird thing. Besides the very
corporate-sounding name itself (that makes some of us think
“waterboarding”), there are some odd ways they try to “teach” the new

Here’s a situation: you’re in a conference room with about a dozen
other new people. You’re handed a touch bar Macbook Pro in a backpack.
It’s the first such model you’ve ever used, and you’re discovering that
your natural typing position overhangs the top row of numbers, and is
triggering the “meta” functions which typically live there: brightness
up/down, volume up/down, and whatever else might be there from the
context of the program you’re in.

Also, the keyboard is the infamous “butterfly” one, and this is your
first time on one of them. You’ve heard about it but this is your first
tango with this particular thing. It turns out to not be very nice.
You’re making lots of mistakes, despite having decades of typing
experience at relatively high speeds. You start feeling very old.

They have you do a bunch of random crap to get signed in to things.
They have a half-assed “single sign on” system that really isn’t, and
there are a bunch of vendors which require their own authorization
stuff. You have to install a bunch of apps on your (personal!) phone to
do the two-factor auth and other security stuff: there’s Duo, then the
Google app, and then Lastpass. You also get to sign in to all of this
stuff on the laptop itself, making typing errors galore along the way,
and triggering things on the touch bar.

Anyway, at some point, you get this going, and now it’s time to start
“installing” the dev environment. You run a bunch of arcane commands,
including something where you “curl” something from a provided URL, and
pipe it into a shell, thus letting it do whatever it wants to do. There
is not a proper installer per se.

This starts downloading multiple gigabytes of data. You and the other
dozen-or-so people are all doing this at the same time, in the same
enclosed space, on the same wireless network. Most of you are sitting
in the middle of the room and thus are not next to a wall with power
outlets. Your laptop heats up, and the fan ramps up. The battery
starts ticking down.

Then they ask you to minimize that, because it’s time for the next
thing. Let it finish in the background, they said. It has to run for a
long time and this way we can move on to the next stage.

Yes, someone’s here to try to teach the group how to use the internal
systems. Everyone is to go out to this survey company’s web site and
type in a password they’ve written on the marker board. You know those
surveys where companies ask if you liked their service at your last
transaction? It’s that kind of thing.

You’re supposed to go dive into the internal tooling to look at the
directory of employees. You’re supposed to find your manager’s name
and type it in, followed by their title. Then you’re supposed to find
out the name of the person who has a specific title somewhere else in
the company.

You HAVE to type it in correctly. Until you do, it won’t let you click
[next]. They tell you not to click back or reload or anything like
that, since “you may screw it up”.

Did I mention there’s a timer ticking down during all of this? It
starts at maybe 2 minutes and it’s just there, going 1:59, 1:58, 1:57,
1:56, … and so on the whole time.

This is basically the perfect environment for creating stress and
general hatred of terrible systems. One of the questions was “name a
dog”, because, well, the company directory included pets. I couldn’t
find one quickly. You were supposed to just click around the org chart
until you found one.

Now, when I run into a thing like this, I start getting snarky and
bitchy and start thinking laterally. Like, okay, watch me not use your
stupid system but get the answer anyway. Case in point: there had been
a dog in the room the day before. I just called out to the room: “Hey,
what was the name of the dog that was in here before? Sensor? Morsel?
Six letters?” … and the answer came back: “Nugget”. I typed it in
and it worked. “Thanks!”

It went on like this, asking more idiotic questions and sending me on
wild goose chases through their stupid tools. Finally, it said “stop
here until the next part” and noted that I had done only 30% of it so
far. Yes, there was much more to go, plus who knows how many other
modules were going to be executed this way. GROAN.

Another part had you pair up with someone else. You both had laptops,
but one was purposely ignored for this, so you had to hand the one back
and forth (or slide it on the table, whatever). Your failings were now
someone else’s problem. More stress and hatred of a terrible process.

It gets better, too: they had claimed (and lied) that “your manager will
be able to see the results of this”. First of all, I doubt that was
true. Second, my manager wouldn’t give a rat’s ass what the results of
it would be. Third, I’ve been doing this long enough that I don’t care
even if they could find out that I hate their terrible
“intranet” tools and moronic timed treasure hunt for dog names and
people’s titles and did poorly at it.

They say stuff like that to scare the junior folks. It’s bullshit. I
know it and treat it as such, but they don’t, and probably worry.
Seeing it happen told me that they treat everyone like children, even
their brand new software people. Bad sign.

After another hour of this, I had enough. I told my table-mate (the one
with the other laptop) “well, see you around”. He asked if I was “done
for the day” and I just said “yep”. Then I got up and quietly exited.
I never went back to any of the water^H^H^H^H^Honboarding classes. It
turned out to not matter.

I was pretty bummed, and got on the train to go home.

The next day, I went in and just avoided the onboarding area. I should
mention that nobody had requested or set up a desk for me, so I wound
up camped like a refugee in some common space that was set up like a
restaurant booth. Some friends who had already been at the company
reached out and provided their own take on how to get started, and I
went from that. I got my footing and started doing mildly useful things
as a self-driven starter project.

If not for them reaching out and helping me, I probably would have just
called it done right there and walked. Instead, they supported me. Of
course, that just meant I got to stick around for the rest of the
insanity that was my 2019, and wound up leaving anyway a year later.

Epilogue: while sitting there sans desk one day, by total chance, my
manager walked by, spotted me for the first time since I had started,
and asked if I was going to “the fireside chat” with some new incoming
upper management type. I had no idea it even was a thing, but he said
I should go, and so up I went with him.

We were a little early and people were standing around. I wound up
being introduced to someone and I said hello. He found out it was now
my third day at the company and he asked “do you have a desk yet”, and I
said I did not. It was funny, right, being asked that with my new boss
right there. But hey, honest questions get honest answers, and that’s
what he got.

I later found out the person asking the question was the CEO. Awesome.
Maybe he meant it as a joke, but I was dead serious: I had no desk.

As for why I didn’t recognize the CEO: I had just started, and it’s not
like I memorize names and faces of these people. Hello, stalker-ville
or ass-kisser-ville, and I am neither. I’ll learn them as I need to
learn them, and indeed, in due time, picked up the names and faces as
it came up.

In retrospect, there were many red flags. Well, pink flags. Whatever.

May 23, 2020: This post has an update.

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