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Tales from the Dog House

Dear Reader,

I don’t often allow guest bloggers to post on Postcards (Actually, I’ve never allowed it) but this one is special. What follows is a narrative written by wife 1.23, the lovely and talented Kathy. Until recently, she worked at a local design house named Digital Dog. What follows is not a disgruntled employee screed but more of a narrative on the wackiness that she has witnessed and lived through the past 15 months. Some of it is funny, some of it is sad, to the best of our knowledge, all of it is true.

Without further adieu, I present to you “Tales from the Dog House”.

=C=

A little more than a year ago, my company of over 20 years needed to let me go due to financial struggles. So I did what any mother of two with a big mortgage does, I sought out new employment. I interviewed here and there with a couple of web design agencies in the area. One interview was at a long-established firm (for web design) which had quite an impressive client list. I was excited at the possibility of working for a “real”agency. The interview went well. At one end of the table sat a smiling bald man who asked me several pertinent question about HTML/CSS and web design in general, I liked him immediately. Across from me sat the CEO of the company. He talked fast and constantly. He filled me in on all the great work his company had done and how they were moving into multimedia on the web. My instincts said “used car salesman.” I walked out of the interview feeling I had done well.

Later the offer came… why don’t you come work for us for a couple of days to see how it works out? Well I actually still had a job at the time and wasn’t going to quit just to “see” how things work out. So I turned down the offer and figured that was the end of that. But, I was called back for another interview. This time the offer was different. They wanted me for the job and wanted a decision by 4 PM. I’m not one for making rash (or even quick) decisions but I called back with an “I’ll take it.” What was to follow was 14 months of pure insanity.

First day was pretty crazy, not like first days are supposed to be. I spent 3 hours with a very harried art director who ran me through the basics of PhotoShop/Dreamweaver web design. I had previously used Fireworks for slicing and hand coded in Homesite. Then I was immediately given a job and dove right in to work.

It didn’t take long to become indoctrinated with the odd atmosphere of the office or become familiar with the company’s history. Nothing was organized. There was little or no documentation for projects. The computers were sub-par. The network barely functioned. And if you answered the phone more than twice you knew the company had trouble paying its bills. But the biggest revelation was the company turn-over rate. This place went through people like sand through a donut hole.

I had to wonder. What is the inherit problem that runs deep in this organization? The people, other than being in a constant state of anxiety, were competent. The firm had existed for over a decade. They’d worked with some of the biggest companies in Nashville and even had scored some awards. The office had a prestigious location and was one of the bigger offices in the building. All indicators, arrows and fingers pointed directly to the CEO. Was he incompetent? Not really. Was he just stupid or naïve? No. Simple… he’s a lunatic.

Now I didn’t write this to start a bunch of name calling. That approach has been taken (and immediately threatened with a lawsuit). No the word’s definition: “wildly foolish” is properly used in this context because the behavior of this individual was beyond explanation, understanding or even common sense. With any good thesis, I need to back up this statement with fact. Henceforth the long dissertation that follows:

Equipment:
The CEO handles all of the set-up of individual computers himself. He left the network to outside contractors who I saw no more than twice. No one within the office really knew or understood the network so it stayed in a constant unstable state. As a matter of fact we worked on anywhere from 10-60 projects at a time and had only a 70GB hard drive in the server. It got to the point where the server crashed weekly because the disk was full. Finally, when we were preparing the burial arrangements for the current server the CEO came through with a “new” server. Well I use the word “server” lightly. Basically he took one of the desktop computers, installed a 300GB hard disk and plugged it in into the network. Needless to say, this solution didn’t create a stable system either.

The first computer I was given had at least 10 user profiles. The hard disk was full of miscellaneous files created by those 10 users. I had about 5G to work with. Luckily I used the server (to get the sentence’s sarcasm… refer to paragraph above). When this started crashing, I was given a laptop, also passed down from a variety of miscellaneous users (never re-formatted). I was immediately told I was not to put any personal touches to the computer, including changing the wallpaper because I would be taking it to meetings where clients would see it. Number of meetings attended with laptop…. 1.

I did inherit a good machine through company turnover. I was fortunate as this machine actually worked and had the software I needed. Others weren’t as fortunate. One designer went to work offsite with a client. He was given a laptop to take along (again a recycled computer). Upon his return it was discovered that no one knew the administrative password and they could not connect him to the network. The CEO didn’t feel it was necessary to for the designer to be connected to the network. What followed were several weeks of burning CDs just to share PhotoShop files. One day the laptop stopped functioning all together… the lesser talked about but more infamous “black” screen. After several attempts to revive it the CEO declared it dead and sent the designer home for the day… without pay. Due to a knowledgeable employee I believe we recovered the data. Employees often bring in their own equipment because they know they will not get what they need to do their job. One programmer bought a keyboard because the keys on his laptop were falling off. Many other such stories exist but there’s not enough disk space on the net to store them all.

Software:
Who knows if this company is in compliance or not. I’ve been told that the MSDN license has been violated repeatedly but I do not have proof. What I do know is that the disks are never seen. They aren’t kept at the office. If you need something your computer “goes away” and comes back with the new program. No two designers have the same configuration of software or software versions. One may have Dreamweaver 8 another MX. This is something that makes it hard to work with one another’s files. I had to load some of my own software as have others. We often felt like the Jewish slaves laboring under their Egyptian masters. We were forced to make the same number of bricks with an ever decreasing supply of straw.

During the Great Server Debacle the over-riding answer to our disk space problem was “just archive some stuff onto the external drives.” Although I was told we couldn’t afford a new hard drive for the server, we did have three brand-new external hard-drives. By the time of the Great Server Debacle one of these drives had crashed and one had been sold to a client. Needless to say by the time the new “server” was installed a variety of files were stored on this drive and finding anything became an instant hassle as we all passed the drive around copying files to and from it. So much time and effort could have been saved if we’d used the money to buy a new drive.

Other Supplies:
In a company whose business was partially graphic design there were no tools; no X-acto knives, no CD cases, no large envelopes for mailing, we often ran out of paper as well as toner for the printer and were left that way for days maybe weeks.

Company “Benefits”
Understanding this was a small company, I did not expect fully paid medical benefits or instant access to 3 weeks paid vacation, but I did expect benefits fitting a highly skilled technical position. It was the Wednesday before Thanksgiving that I was told I wouldn’t get paid for the holidays. We don’t get holiday pay until we’ve been there 90 days. Luckily Monday December 26th (our Christmas Holiday) was my 90th day. It was the day I woke up with a pounding head-ache which incapacitated me that I discovered we had no sick days. To get paid I had to claim a vacation day. It was the day one employee took his sick son to go to the doctor that he found out his company health insurance premium hadn’t been paid and he had no coverage. On two occasions employees were given permission to work from home by their managers, just to have the CEO refuse to pay them for the day. Payday was Friday, by check because he would not get direct deposit, and not handed out until after 4:30 pm. If Friday was a holiday (as in the Thanksgiving holidays) check were given out on Monday. After 4:30 of course.

Fringe “Benefits”
If the official benefits were poor the fringe benefits were basically non-existent. We did have a coffee maker in the office. In the 14 months I was there the “company” purchased two 1lb tins of coffee. The first (purchased by the CEO’s then fiancé) was that “premium” Kroger brand. The second was purchased by the administrative assistant while the CEO was on vacation. At least it was Maxwell house. The fridge was stocked with bottles of water. They sat in drawers marked “clients only’. Although on more than one occasion water I brought in was given to clients. The microwave sat precariously on top of the fridge. The cleaning service was fired. I think the office was cleaned 4 or 5 times after that. We did have a Christmas bonus…. a variety of $25 gift certificates handed out via a drawing. Speaking of Christmas, although several gift boxes were received from various clients, vendors and friends not a tin of popcorn or box of chocolate was shared with the employees. What happened to all of these scrumptious delights, we believe they were re-gifted to clients. Oh, wait, we did get one French caramel each from a box sent to the office. The rest were boxed back up and given to a client.

Employees
Probably the most disturbing aspect of this company was the turn over of people. Little known to me the company has a horrible reputation amongst the recruiters and employment agencies in town. In the 14 months I worked there the company housed consistently around 10-12 employees. I’ve worked with 30 different people (so the company has had 31 employees including me in that time). Of those 30: 10 were there when I started (3 of those people are still there); 14 quit; 5 were fired; 1 had hours reduced and then quit; 2 have had their hours cut; 12 came and went; 11 are there now; longest stay 5 years (1 employee); shortest stay 2 days; we’ve had 3 administrative assistants; 2 VPs; 2 business development managers; 2 art directors; 4 designers; 10 programmers; and 5 project managers. And this isn’t all that surprising until you find out this is what happens every approximately 14 months. Then you understand why at least 13 of these employees came from out of state.

Tirad!
This consistent turn-over is understandable not just because of the poor quality of the working conditions or benefits but also because of the irrational unpredictable actions of the CEO. One day he’s bouncing through the office visiting each office and excitingly telling each employee about the new project or new position they needed to fill. The next he has a project manager in tears because she said something he didn’t like in a meeting; berating someone for using a Mac laptop (their own machine) or telling the administrative assistant that they don’t know how to do their job. (More likely he didn’t understand what they did). The employees are always on edge when he comes in because they don’t know what they’re going to be dealing with… the salesman or the angry psycho. And it was always work at the end/beginning of each month because that’s when billing was done. Lucky for me I was low-profile enough that I did not suffer any of his wrath. I only know the shared stories of those who did and will leave it to them to tell.

Why write this? Yeah, I’m a disgruntled employee, one of dozens. If I can save one individual from making the mistake of going to work at this company and suffering the fate so many other unsuspecting people who just want to be part of a great web design/development team have suffered, then it’s worth the effort, bandwidth and hosting fees.

Kathy

23 thoughts on “Tales from the Dog House

  1. Hello Kathy…

    I know this story well…from what I heard I think you were hired for my position after I quite DDI (read my story here: http://findway.blogspot.com/2006_07_01_findway_archive.html). You are most definetly alone. In my last year there we turned over at least 26 if not more…I lost count. I’m glad you managed to escape from there, seemingly intact :). You are now one of a giant club of former DDI employees. I hope you have found a much better (and saner) place to land.

    Misty

  2. Opps, “You are most definetly alone.” was supposed to be You are most definetly not alone. (I’m just waking up, forgive me please :) ) – Misty

  3. As a 3-year vet still suffering from some DDI induced shell-shock, I have to say, thank God I landed at MMA Creative. We get time to go on vacation, sick time, cool digs, and the CEO lets us eat all the candy/chocolate that comes in from clients. Plus, there is usually an overflowing amount of water to drink.

    I’ve been gone for over a year and a half now and don’t feel the uncontrolled need to curl into the fetal position everything time something doesn’t go as planned. My ass has almost completely heeled up, and my ego has never been better.

  4. Misty & Jaques,

    I had heard of both of you. Misty I did take your place. I’m glad to see one can recover from working at the dog. At least I made a lot of friends there. I think it gives us all an unspoken bond. : )

    Kathy

  5. Larry Blankenship. What a great boss…….for me to poop on.

    Keep your chin up Kathy. Trust me, you CAN recover from that place. It was a pleasure working there with you (and several other victims) but that’s where the highlights stop. Good luck to you!!!

  6. Kathy, as you know, it all went horribly wrong almost from the start. I was one of the “lucky” few to have had a laptop handed down to me as well. I was never told to NOT to reload it, so I did and what had been a slow pile of dung actuially turned out to be fairly stable. I also rebuilt that “Server” for you loading a real server OS on it instead of misusing Windows XP. With completed, I thought that the server woes were over…only to have you layed off within a week. The Server was loaded with an MSDN copy of Windows 2003 and properly joined to the domain. Unfortunately, the network card that LB had put in the machine to start with hadn’t been supported since 1999 by the vendor and 2000 from M$. To resolve this issue, I pulled one of my trusty 3com cards out of one of my own development servers to get his back up and running reliably.

    The following week my Duaghter and I were both out sick for a solid week from eating at Taco Bell (remember that?), which resulted in two visits to the emergency room, which will not be covered due to LB’s stupidity. I was supposed to have insurance starting Dec 1 and deliberately waited until then to seek medical attention for my Daughter. Had I known that LB hadn’t done as he told me, I would have taken her to the ER much sooner!

    I came back to work on Tuesday, was terminated on Wednesday (“for not being there for me” LB). After I left, it only took 2 requests and one final DEMAND email to re-acquire my own property, and 25 days to receive my final pay check, which I was shafted on much like you mentioned above. My manager asked me to work from home while my daughter was still ill and LB decided not to pay me for it.

    The good news is that I had another great position by the following Monday and started on the Wed before Christmas. I have real benefits, great pay (direct deposited of course) and had the opportunity, along with several others to start our own company. It started out with the sole purpose of a MAJOR gripe session regarding DDI and LB in particular…its sole purpose was to drive that lunatic / heretic / apostate out of business. Of course as more distance was gained from the situation, we realized that we needed to focus on business and the rest would take care of itself, eventually.

    The number of “employees” is down to 6 FT, 1 PT (Had her hours cut)employees and one minority stock holder whom no one ever sees anyway. Two of the Full timers have been there less than 2 months, so I hope that they are forwarned. Being a minority owner of DDI is like being a minority owner in the TITANIC. I don’t think it will be long before the seams fall apart and someone lands on his kiester, hopefully with a splat loud enough to hear in Jersey.

    We few, we merry few can and will do much better in the future. I for one, have used the DDI fiasco as a learning experience in how NOT to operate a business. It really isn’t LIE, CHEAT, STEAL and BAMBOOZLE your clients and employees. It is taking care of your employees needs and desires, who in turn will take care of the clients needs and desires. The business community will reward those who avoid the errors of LB. Ask yourself what would LB do in this situation…then do the opposite. It is OK to take a loss on one project if it keeps the client happy and brings in more business.

    You know that all of us at FDT wish you well Kathy, in your future endeavors.

  7. How is it that larryblankenshipisanidiot.com is still available for purchase? No one has the $8 and (in the spirit of DDI) a pirated copy of Dreamweaver?

  8. Hey Kathy, I just happened upon this by chance surfing a few local blogs. Your insights are interesting to read — in the three weeks I was there last spring, I gathered many similar impressions. My experience and my ultimate decision to leave centered almost entirely around Larry and our inability to see eye-to-eye. This followed being told by a recruiter I’d been working with that he had several resumes sitting on his desk at that very moment for ex-DDI employees who left in disgust. I don’t know what to think about it, but luckily I’ve stopped caring. Here’s hoping for much better things for you in your future!

  9. Sorry for the length, but I stumbled upon this posting while searching for former addresses of the organism known as Larry Blankenship (I’ve decided it’s demeaning to pigs, dogs, and asses to compare them to LB. Slime molds are about as far up the food chain as I’m willing to go.) Anyway, I’m moving back to Nashville and saw a house for sale on the street where he used to live. Needless to say, I’d rather live in the Amityville house with Dr. Mengele than buy a home with that f*cker’s karmic stench on it.

    I joined Digital Dog 10/99 as a project manager. In Jan. of 2000 his wife/business partner left the marriage and company (Lovely woman. The definition of self-restraint. Watching her tune out when you knew darn well she wanted to plunge one of those decorative dogs into his jugular was really a sight to behold). A few days later, the only other person who knew what was going on in the company resigned as well. I was instantly promoted to Vice President and told to completely reorganize operations. Even though I had 26 active accounts (and not small ones – all the Thomas Nelson divisions, Vandy Children’s…), I was tasked with whipping the place into shape.

    When that didn’t happen in the 12.5 seconds I presume he allotted, I was told I had to take a step back from the trees and look at the forest. I responded that without my managing those accounts/trees, he didn’t have a forest. His behavior became even more erratic, if you can believe that. I was eventually told that I wasn’t committed enough to my role… that I didn’t work enough hours. When I said that I regularly worked 70 hour weeks, he said that a 90 hour week was really what he expected of me. I swear I’m not making this up.

    Because I was the VP and a few years older than a lot of the staff, I felt it was my responsibility to attempt to deflect his tirades from the “puppies”. The best way I can describe it is like I was the eldest child in the most dysfunctional, alcoholic family you’ve ever seen. I was constantly trying to run interference and save everyone from his craziness.

    You speak of the turnover rate. When I was there he got in trouble for not paying his unemployment taxes (shock that, eh?) and I had to straighten it out. I found something like in the previous 18 months, he’d burned through 72 employees. (Sidenote – check your Social Security statement next time it comes. He didn’t report my earnings to the SSA and I’m still trying to get it fixed.)

    I’ve seen him tell the receptionist not interrupt him for any reason, only to reduce her to tears when she didn’t interrupt him to take a call. I’ve seen him fire people on their first day because they just didn’t “get it”. I knew he was crazy, but I don’t think it really hit me full force until a meeting with senior staff (at the Flyer Saucer, because what’s a meeting without charging a few honey lagers to your small business AmEx, right?). He told us how exhausted he was and that we really needed to take some of the responsibility for sales and getting new clients (the slime mold wouldn’t let anyone talk to prospective clients about pricing, etc. Any queries had to go through him). So, we were supposed to take the initiative and start giving quotes. When we asked for some guidelines on how he wanted this done, he said that he was really the only one who could do it, as there was an art to it and we were incapable of pricing sites and giving proposals properly. In one breath, this idiot was telling us that we absolutely had to start selling and that under no circumstances should we ever, ever sell. And he seemed blissfully unaware of the contradiction. I started looking for other work immediately.

    I lasted all of eight months. I don’t know how some of you lasted as long as you did.

    Over the years, as my white hot hate has cooled to a comfortable, long-term loathing I have to admit a morbid sense of curiosity. I mean, exactly what does it take to make a thing as utterly, monumentally screwed up as Larry Sinkingship? I’ve seen people who’ve escaped death camps or been chained to radiators for years that are far healthier than this f*ck. Maybe he just *is*… like Ted Bundy, or jock itch, or intestinal parasites.

    I’m also stunned that the Digital Dog house of cards hasn’t imploded long before now. I keep expected to hear he’s stuck his head in the oven or something, and yet he survives. I suppose when they drop the Big One, he and the cockroaches will still be around, clutching their copies of Fast Company and living on soap scum. He’s already a mutant, so nobody’ll know the difference. Maybe our post-Apocalyptic overlords will need a refreshing bottle of water and a sales pitch about synergies and turnkey solutions…

  10. I have to laugh at this…I was one of Joy’s first hires in her new role of VP and when I started, Joy did tell me that it could be insane at times…Joy and I had worked for another micro-manager, so I thought most of it was just prepping me for a different version of the same theme to which we had been accustomed. In any case, the same song and dance ensued…GREAT opportunity to grow a company, management-track, yada yada…Then reality sets in…you spend 60 hours/week cleaning up the messes of an owner who CLEARLY is only suited to running a one-man shop.

    We had a 250% turnover rate in the NINE months that I managed to stay with the company…the only positive outcome was that you do make long-lasting friendships with those who suffered under the same insanity.

    So, I raise a Jack & Ginger to the hundreds (possibly thousands) of former DDI employees who deserve a Medal of Honor!

  11. I am yet another member of the secret order of ex-DDI’ers. I managed to escape relatively unscathed, but I was only there for 5 months. I could read the writing on the wall, so I got out while the gettin’ was good. My two favorite stories (other than the aforementioned server space chaos) are 1) the day that I had to untangle the 4′ by 4′ giant ball of chords shoved in a giant box next to the refrigerator to find a network cable that would work and 2) the fact that as a designer I never was able to have dual monitors because we lacked an adapter and I was told “I went into CompUSA to buy one, but I just couldn’t bring myself to pay TWELVE DOLLARS.” Oh, and I got my health insurance card the day I gave my two weeks notice. But, I did get to work with 6 or 7 amazingly talented individuals that I am happy to call friends – including Kathy.

  12. Hello all (or anyone out there who might get this message),

    I had a friend send this to me, as I have recently applied for employment at said business, as a PM.

    If anyone’s still out there. HELP!

  13. I havent thought about Digital Dog in years. I worked there as an intern for a summer in 2001. I tried to design a project management and billing system for DD. Barknet. Does anyone know if they still use it?

  14. Holy Cow, I had an interview with this guy today…and it went what seemed really well. But man, I am glad I did some research on this place. Thank you for warning me…now I know not to take this job, even if I am a poor college student.

  15. Dawn,

    Dont do it, girl. Or if you do tell Scarry Larry that you will work for $85K min because you’ve heard the work enviromint is so kooky and you think you will have to sock away some money for therapy/rehab after you quit. Or…ask to intervew other members of the ‘dog house’ and ask them if they like working their. betcha he woulnt let that happen.

    it is one of the craziest companies i’ve ever been invoved with and it’s obvious that others feel the same. i dont know how DD keep their clients. in my personal opinion Scarry has ADD and/or some other psych issues that prevent him from managing people in any real way.

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