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My Collected Business Wisdom

The other day at work, between projects, I was ruminating on the fact that on-the-job training is often more valuable than any amount of classroom instruction. Because they never teach you what you really need to know in The Real World™ when you're in school. And what is it that you learn most about at work? Why, business, of course! I mean, who better to teach about business than successful businesspeople? I've worked for seven different...business entities1 over the years. I've learned different things from different places. And I want to share what I have learned so that you--and most of you are younger than I am--can benefit from my years of experience. Because I'm a helpful guy.

There is, in fact, so much wisdom to impart that I feel compelled to put it behind a cut, so as not to clutter your friends page very much (see "helpful guy" above). But you know you want to click. You know you do. Come on...

University of Alabama Testing Service (Programmer)

Never use the office as a place to study for finals. Even at night.
Clarification: Pizza delivery people find it very strange when asked to deliver to "the front steps of the Administration building." At midnight. On a Friday.

Corollary: Cockroaches can fucking fly.
When you work in an office staffed entirely with women...<make your own joke here>.

Never print out anything...off-color if all printouts are delivered to your boss and not you.

University of Alabama Computer Science Department (Graduate Teaching Assistant)

Students are stupider than users.

If there is a way for a student to cheat, they'll cheat.
Corollary 1: If you think you are stopping them, you aren't.
Corollary 2: Really.
The only form of university life lower on the food chain than a GTA is a grader.

When it's time for reviews, the only good reviews will come from the A students.

No student has ever or will ever believe that he or she is responsible for his or her own grades.

Never ask a student whose last name is "Fok" how to pronounce it. Especially in a packed classroom. Trust me.

Get an unlisted, unpublished telephone number.

University of Alabama Plant Operations and Maintenance (Programmer)

If the boss is a raging paranoiac, there's nothing you can do to please her. Just stop trying.

If the boss is a raging paranoiac, never shut down a program right when she walks into the room, even if by accident.

If the boss is a raging paranoiac, never try to improve the operation of the code without explicit permission. Even if the code assumes that all odd-numbered months have 31 days and all even ones have 30. Just. Leave. It. Alone.

If the boss is a raging paranoiac who thinks she knows enough COBOL to read your code, never make unscheduled changes to code so that leap-year is handled properly.

When you work in an office staffed entirely with women and the boss is a raging paranoiac...<make your own joke here>.

Tuscaloosa Steel (Programmer / Analyst --> Software Engineer --> Senior Computer Systems Specialist)

No matter how incompetent you think your boss is, the guy above him is worse.
Corollary 1: If your boss is competent, the one above him will be twice as incompetent to compensate.

Corollary 2: If your boss is competent, he will be fired, demoted, or moved laterally to a position in which he will be incompetent.
Never call the president of the company a "fucking imbecile" in a meeting.

Managers is managers, regardless of their degree, so it's perfectly reasonable to take the manager of purchasing and put them over plant operations, or the manager of human resources and put them over information systems.

It's best to put all the most dangerously incompetent people in the company in one department under the most incompetent VP so there's less chance of them hurting anyone but themselves. Because, you know...firing the dangerously incompetent is unacceptable.

When asked to write a job description for your job, make sure you're actually qualified before you turn it in to HR.

Never drill into a 13KV electrical line.

If your title contains the word 'engineer,' and that means they should pay you more, they will change your title to something meaningless (see "Senior Computer Systems Specialist" above) instead of paying you what the industry deems acceptable.

Computers, unlike all other electronic equipment, never need maintenance or upgrading because, unlike all other electronic equipment, they run on magic and have no moving parts.

When a supervisor says, "I have no intention of leaving. I'll always be over this department," he'll be gone in two weeks.

When the company is making money, they will find a way to make it look like it isn't, so they don't have to pay profit sharing.
Corollary: When the company is not making money, they find ways to
  1. make it your fault so that you're supposed to feel guilty and work longer and harder, or

  2. make it look as though it IS making money so they don't get a visit from the parent company's auditors.
Any system put in place to control spending by forcing managers to micromanage purchase requisitions is doomed to fail within two weeks.

The only acceptable explanation for why something is not as expected by management is, "It was entirely my fault."

One incompetent team member makes the entire team incompetent in the eyes of the rest of the company.

One unbelievable prick on the team makes the entire team unbelievable pricks in the eyes of the rest of the company.

When a company officer starts a statement with, "Don't take this personally, but..." it will be an insultingly personal attack.

"Micromanage" is a verb. An action verb.

When the president of the company is an ex-sniper who keeps a gun in his desk, it's probably best not to piss him off.

Never put someone whose nickname is "Sparky" in charge of the electrical department.

If you are an unbelievable prick, don't be surprised if your own son attacks and beats you severely with a baseball bat in the parking lot.

Management is incapable of admitting when they have made a mistake. They'll spend millions of dollars to avoid admitting that the purchase of a $20,000 computer system was a mistake.

Using a firearm to dislodge a stuck piece of equipment is a very bad idea.

Cutting through a $10,000 nut to free a dime-a-dozen bolt is not a good decision.

The most dangerous substance on site is not table salt, no matter how many times the safety manager claims that.

If you're the married purchasing director, never get caught in flagrante delicto with your married secretary at the beach in a condo paid for by a vendor.

If you're the purchasing director, never get caught red-handed making improvements to your house using company funds.

If you're the married president of the company, never get caught in flagrante delicto with your married secretary in your office.

If you're the janitor and you want to move up quickly, catch the president and his secretary in flagrante delicto in his office.

Be nice to the janitor; he may be your boss tomorrow.

Never get caught having sex during work time on work property with one of your subordinates.

When the president and most of the other high-up managers chain smoke, any non-smoking rules in the office will be followed about as much as the speed limit.

Never trust anyone who has conversations with inanimate objects.

If you think the affair you're having is secret...you're very mistaken.

When having an illicit office affair, make sure your clothes are buttoned right and your hair is still presentable when you emerge from the empty office where you "had lunch" with your paramour.

Never leave your workstation unlocked if you're away from your desk.

When the specs say a flatbed truck will only hold 40 tons, don't put 46 tons on it. Believe it or not, a truck can break in half.

Never drop a 20-ton slab of steel end-on into the bottom of an empty barge. (Glub glub glub!)

That temporary fix you wrote to get the company back into production during an emergency will be vitally important and irreplaceable thereafter, and can never be replaced.

Porn is not appropriate at work.
Corollary 1: Never assume that no one is able to access your home directory or email.

Corollary 2: Just because you change the name of your porn to something like 'Daily Report.doc' doesn't mean it's not still identifiable from file size and content.

Corollary 3: If the IS department deletes your porn, warns you that it's inappropriate, and hints that they're watching you, don't be surprised when you get reprimanded or fired when you put it back on your hard drive.

Corollary 4: If the company makes it crystal clear that porn and/or inappropriate humor being emailed to coworkers using the company email system is not acceptable, don't be surprised when you find yourself fired on the spot for sending a joke that starts "Two fags were fuckin' a dead owl..." to a coworker.
Never assume that the unbelievable prick in the IS department isn't spying on you by invisibly taking over your workstation using SMS just for his own sick, twisted jollies.

Be careful who you piss off. Years later, they may be reviewing your resume at a different company.
Corollary: Never lie outright on a resume; you never know if the person reviewing it has intimate knowledge of your background.
It's never a good sign when your new boss says "I have a bit of a problem with racism, so I'm only interviewing black candidates." Run, do not walk, to update your resume.

When your boss makes your raise contingent on you completing a project that is not possible, run, do not walk, to update your resume.

When the software you use to fill out time sheets has a category for filling out time sheets, run, do not walk, to update your resume.

When the boss tells you point blank that the new guy he's hiring has less experience and you have to train him, but he'll be making half again what you're making and that you will never make that much, run, do not walk, to update your resume.

If you're ever given the responsibility for the success of a project but zero power to make it happen, run, do not walk, to update your resume.

Nice guys don't finish last: they don't finish at all.

Just because someone doesn't like you doesn't mean they don't like you because of the color of your skin.

Without fail, the person at the company with the least brains of any living vertebrate will end up being able to tell you what to do, and you have to do it. The sooner you get used to this, the better.

If you leave after the boss does, he doesn't know you've worked late. Make sure you send email or something that lets them know you didn't leave two minutes after they did.

No matter how angry you are at your VP and how busy you might be, don't boycott his silly little office Christmas party.

If the company will pay for it, take any training you can get, even if it has nothing to do with your current position.

That ditzy secretary? She secretly runs the company and she's nowhere near as ditzy as she wants you to think. Make friends with her, and never, ever piss her off. Ever.

Never reprimand people under you in front of people. It breeds only resentment and it will come back to bite you in the ass later.

Never send out mass emails to the entire company that solicit for non-business-related charities, churches, or causes.

Treat secretaries like you would treat their boss. They expect it, and so does their boss.

When a VP asks for your opinion, the very last thing he wants is your opinion. He wants his opinion, regurgitated back to him. In as obsequious a tone as you can manage. Followed by "Sir." Or "Ma'am," as appropriate. And very possibly an obeisance or a kiss on their ring.

Your boss is not fighting for your raises, etc. with upper management, no matter what he says. His only interest is his own butt.

During a sexual harrassment awareness meeting, it's never a good idea to sexually harrass a fellow employee.

When having buttons made to promote the "NO LEMONS" quality management program, make sure someone checks the quality of the buttons so you don't end up with ones that say "NO QUALITY" instead.
Corollary: "Whoops" is never an acceptable response.
When you have the on-call pager, the likelihood of being paged is directly proportionate to the importance to you of the activity you're engaged in.
Corollary 1: The likelihood of the page being for a legitimate reason is inversely proportionate to the importance of what you're doing.

Corollary 2: The likelihood of the page being for a legitimate reason is inversely proportionate to the amount of sleep you've had.
The single most important thing I learned about business at Tuscaloosa Steel is: NEVER piss off the woman who is in charge of your pay check, especially if she's known to be vindictive and have an evil sense of humor.

Ivex (Software Engineer)

Pay attention. When the company officers start having secret meetings and answering questions in a dodgy way, run, do not walk, to update your resume.

Never refuse to do team-building exercises even if there are sound medical reasons not to.

Hiring managers will promise you anything (H1B visas, for instance); believe nothing they say.

When the design of the company logo is more important than the design of the product, run, do not walk, to update your resume.

Did it compile? SHIP IT!

QA is important, but not important enough to have a fully staffed department. Better to hire the teenaged daughters of one of the sales managers to do it after school.

CareerBuilder (Web Developer --> Software Engineer II)

You can be a competent worker who gets along with everyone and still get fired.

QA is overrated and unnecessary.

NDCHealth (Contractor)

Never get too attached to your code. They can cancel a project even after you spend several days completing it.

It takes longer to write the documentation than it did to design and write the code.

QA is vitally important.

I'd like to finish this by just saying that I sincerely wish I were making any of this up, but...I'm just not. These are real things I've learned on the job in the last 19 years.

Oh, and craftsman, feel free to add your own about the three places we've worked together. sifu_lewis, that goes for you, as well, for the two we've shared. And adsmguy, feel free to add yours to TSC. And telleestmavie, feel free to add your thoughts about being a GTA at the UofA. :) Share the pain knowledge!
1  I say it this way because three of them were at the University of Alabama, but were completely different departments.

Atheists Are People, Too  Antispam  


( 19 hisses — Hiss at me! )
Aug. 21st, 2005 11:32 am (UTC)
Using a firearm to dislodge a stuck piece of equipment is a very bad idea.

Cutting through a $10,000 nut to free a dime-a-dozen bolt is not a good decision.

I'd really, really, REALLY like to hear the story on those two, if you ever feel like relating it.

That ditzy secretary? She secretly runs the company and she's nowhere near as ditzy as she wants you to think. Make friends with her, and never, ever piss her off. Ever.

Treat secretaries like you would treat their boss. They expect it, and so does their boss.

Having been a secretary to many important and powerful men in many companies for the past 11 years, I can personally attest to this one. Another good thing to note - if the secretary ever calls you to talk over a particularly angry and inappropriate voicemail that you left for your boss, and sincerely promises to speak with him to resolve the issue, but advises you not to leave another voicemail like that and to consider apologizing for being rude after you've calmed down - listen to her. The odds that she can resolve it are 80-90%. The odds of you being fired if you ignore her are 100%.
Aug. 21st, 2005 12:38 pm (UTC)
And that in itself sounds like there's a good story behind it, as well. :)

As for the firearm...it's very simple. The mill was run mostly be rednecks. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, mind you, but still and all, rednecks tend to go around...well-armed. This particular 'neck was trying to resolve a problem involving a stuck piece of equipment that was way up off the ground. I'm sure it was a brilliant-seeming thought when he had it. "I'll go git mah gun and shewt tha dang thang off!" It resulted in a ban on all firearms on plant site. Except for the president's, of course. :) craftsman could tell you more aobut the exact incident, but this is the jist.

And the nut/bolt thing: Again, rednecks. Again, trying to be helpful. There was a brass nut that was threaded onto what I'm guessing was a steel bolt wrong. These things are huge, keep in mind. So he got the bright idea that he could fix it quick by just cutting the nut off the bolt and getting another nut. Problem was, after he cut the misthreaded nut off, he found out that the now-ruined nut was worth about 100 times what the bolt was worth. He was in the doghouse for a while, I'm sure. Once more, craftsman could give more thorough details. :)

Secretaries/executive assistants are the oil that keeps the machine running smoothely. A disgruntled/upset secretary is like sand in the works. It's always best to get on their good side than on their bad side. I also know this first-hand. :)
Aug. 21st, 2005 01:13 pm (UTC)
For $10,000, I was thinking it was a prosthetic nut...
Aug. 21st, 2005 01:36 pm (UTC)
*rimshot* He'll be here all week, folks!
Aug. 22nd, 2005 03:28 pm (UTC)
The story really is as simple as it sounds, and yet - still mind boggling. Putting my story in my LJ!
(Deleted comment)
Aug. 21st, 2005 01:40 pm (UTC)
And if you had not shown up for work one day, the place would have fallen into ruin. It's the way secretaries control everything. Make yourself indispensible to the boss, and he can't AFFORD to lose you. :)
Aug. 21st, 2005 01:20 pm (UTC)
it cant have been you who did all these things, right?

13kV line seems pretty unforgiving...
Aug. 21st, 2005 01:39 pm (UTC)
Oh, dear GOD, no. :) I learn from others' mistakes as well as my own. Mr. 13KV line was also the guy I mentioned later. See "Sparky." It's why he got the nickname.

He lived, obviously, but I think it did something to him. I mean other than turn him into a complete dick, I mean. That may have been a pre-existing condition. :)
Aug. 21st, 2005 08:55 pm (UTC)
I dropped a stell plate on a 220 line, when I was cleaning the trucking company shop, my first job.

Quit that day.
Aug. 21st, 2005 02:46 pm (UTC)
For the record, I was never a GTA -- I took the easy/fun route and did a project while co-op'ing during grad school.

I'm in full agreement with making friends with the secretaries/administrative assistants. You always get what you need, when you need it, and they've got the best supply of office intel around. :)

My only addition to this list is:

Never piss off the computer admins. They have 1000 perfectly legitimate ways to drag their feet, making you idle and unproductive for as long as they deem necessary.
Aug. 21st, 2005 03:11 pm (UTC)
Oh, that's right. You were one of those. You got to get real-world experience while the rest of us slaved away for $666.66/month. :) Haunted by repetitions of "Aneeeeeeeeeen" and "Rah?" in our dreams.... *shudder*
Aug. 21st, 2005 04:29 pm (UTC)
Since you practically begged me to comment, I will.

First, all of those are real. I remember them VIVIDLY. I was even responsible for one or two of the things. Remember, this was my first Real Job(tm).

The firearm incident was to clear some stuck refractory (think firebrick lining) in an exhaust flue (chimney or "chimbley" as it was pronounced by the mill-billies). The real problem was that the mill was in a suburban-type area and bullets will come down somewhere nearby.

The nut was actually about $40K and the bolt was about $10K. And the shift supervisor was explicitly told to leave it alone. I believe the bolt was somewhere between 18 and 24 inches in diameter.

The 13KV power feed has a ground fault detector, as does the entire system. That saved "Sparky's" life. It false tripped about twice a year. Every time, "Sparky" was asked/ordered to remove it. Each time he told them that they would have to get his replacement to do that. Since three-quarters of the electricians that worked there were his cousins/nephews, firing him meant ALL of them would walk off. Sort of like a mini-union.

Here are a few additions:


All production records are set during night shift. All major disasters happen during night shift. This is NOT a coincidence.

If a co-worker will leave his wife for you when you are younger and prettier, do not be surprised when he trades you in for a younger and prettier model a few years later.

Sometimes, if the practical joke is good enough, the president of the company will be a willing accomplice.

Stupidity is inheritable.

The best safety lecture is having two senior engineering types suddenly start discussing improvements in artificial feet when you walk out in the mill without steel-toed shoes.


Moral cowardice is common among management. Do not expect any different unless you have a long-term personal relationship outside of work.

Moral cowardice is also common amongst co-workers. Do not expect any different unless you have a long-term personal relationship outside of work.

Meeting the management team that laid you off in the unemployment weeks later is morally satisfying but it still sucks being unemployed.


If the top boss seems like a nice guy but your manager is an asshole, the top boss wants you to see things that way.

If everyone that gets promoted or gets a raise just happens to originate from the same geographic area and practices the same "Religion of Peace" as the supervisor, you are not being paranoid when you notice.

When you get a "performance warning" or a zero or token annual pay raise, run, do not walk, to update your resume.

Smart rats leave first.


Unless your name is on the front door, the business is NOT run for your personal benefit. If your name IS on the front door, the business IS run for your personal benefit. Bear that in mind when dealing with the named person's offspring, especially if said offspring is currently working on the loading dock.

When the company hires a consultant to "evaluate" the performance, purpose, and structure of your department, run, do not walk, to update your resume. This person did not get known as a "chainsaw" consultant by accident.

Final rounds of layoffs aren't.

Aug. 21st, 2005 04:35 pm (UTC)
The only one I'm not sure who it's about is the "Stupidity is inheritable" one. Of course, it could apply to almost the entire mill, thanks to nepotism.
Aug. 21st, 2005 09:33 pm (UTC)
This is from the purchasing agent who worked at one-quarter speed because he used a "Paper Computer" instead of a real PC. After all, his "PC" worked on the two days a year when the system was down due to power outages, thus making up for the lack of productivity during the rest of the year. Remember, his son got fired for harassing a new black guy AFTER the son was warned that an investigator was watching. The son was even told WHICH DAYS the investigator would be on site.
Aug. 21st, 2005 11:39 pm (UTC)
Oh, right! I had forgotten about the son! I almost mentioned the father myself, but decided not to.

If I'm not mistaken, the son then got recruited by the union organizers to be one of the ones to come on-site to try to get the union started, but it backfired because he was no longer allowed on plant-site because of the severity of what he had done to get fired, so they had to stick to hovering outside the gates, harrassing people as they tried to drive home.
Aug. 21st, 2005 04:53 pm (UTC)
Wow. Great advice, too bad I'll never be able to use any of it. :)
Aug. 23rd, 2005 08:52 pm (UTC)
That's what you think.

More of this is univerally applicable than it appears.
Aug. 23rd, 2005 04:54 pm (UTC)
I definitely agree on the secretaries. Most of the ones I've found in school situations actually run the school. Not so much here. And janitors. I don't know how it works in other work environments but in schools, if you need something taken care of you'd better be friendly with the janitor or maintenance people. The janitors around here are impossible.
( 19 hisses — Hiss at me! )

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