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”.
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 â€œrealâ€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 â€œused car salesman.â€ I walked out of the interview feeling I had done well.
Later the offer cameâ€¦ why donâ€™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 wasnâ€™t going to quit just to â€œseeâ€ 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. Iâ€™m not one for making rash (or even quick) decisions but I called back with an â€œIâ€™ll take it.â€ 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 didnâ€™t take long to become indoctrinated with the odd atmosphere of the office or become familiar with the companyâ€™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. Theyâ€™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 naÃ¯ve? No. Simpleâ€¦ heâ€™s a lunatic.
Now I didnâ€™t write this to start a bunch of name calling. That approach has been taken (and immediately threatened with a lawsuit). No the wordâ€™s definition: â€œwildly foolishâ€ 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:
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 â€œnewâ€ server. Well I use the word â€œserverâ€ 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 didnâ€™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 sentenceâ€™s sarcasmâ€¦ 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 laptopâ€¦. 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 werenâ€™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 didnâ€™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 togetherâ€¦ the lesser talked about but more infamous â€œblackâ€ screen. After several attempts to revive it the CEO declared it dead and sent the designer home for the dayâ€¦ 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 thereâ€™s not enough disk space on the net to store them all.
Who knows if this company is in compliance or not. Iâ€™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 arenâ€™t kept at the office. If you need something your computer â€œgoes awayâ€ 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 anotherâ€™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 â€œjust archive some stuff onto the external drives.â€ Although I was told we couldnâ€™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 â€œserverâ€ 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 weâ€™d used the money to buy a new drive.
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.
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 wouldnâ€™t get paid for the holidays. We donâ€™t get holiday pay until weâ€™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 hadnâ€™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.
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 â€œcompanyâ€ purchased two 1lb tins of coffee. The first (purchased by the CEOâ€™s then fiancÃ©) was that â€œpremiumâ€ 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 â€œclients onlyâ€™. 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 bonusâ€¦. 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.
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. Iâ€™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; weâ€™ve had 3 administrative assistants; 2 VPs; 2 business development managers; 2 art directors; 4 designers; 10 programmers; and 5 project managers. And this isnâ€™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.
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 heâ€™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 didnâ€™t like in a meeting; berating someone for using a Mac laptop (their own machine) or telling the administrative assistant that they donâ€™t know how to do their job. (More likely he didnâ€™t understand what they did). The employees are always on edge when he comes in because they donâ€™t know what theyâ€™re going to be dealing withâ€¦ the salesman or the angry psycho. And it was always work at the end/beginning of each month because thatâ€™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, Iâ€™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 itâ€™s worth the effort, bandwidth and hosting fees.