Thursday, July 20, 2006

The best intentions

(In which I write about work and hope it doesn't get me fired. Hey, I work for the feds, what am I worried about?)

The plan for Wednesday was to drive directly from Herndon to rowing. As I wended my way slowly down the Dulles toll road, and then I-66, in a car where the air-conditioning barely worked, I started to lose my will. I wasn't sure if I would make it in time for practice. Even if I did, I wouldn't be able to catch my breath before starting. I thought, "if I make in time, I'll go. If I don't, then I'll go straight home."

I could have made it, barely, but when I had to choose to go to the boathouse, or take the road home, I went home.

This week feels like it's been five days already.

I'm spending a week at the offices of "the contractor who makes me want to cry" (TCW for short). It's an intense, tiring process of surveyor training.

TCW is very hard to deal with. For example, we had this exchange on Tuesday while going through the items on the survey instrument:

Jamy: This question is confusing.
TCW: No it's not.
Jamy: Well, I think it's confusing.
TCW: It doesn't matter what you think, since you won't be doing the surveying!
Jamy: (shaking my head and smiling, ruefully) I can't believe you just said that to me!

Mind you, this exchange took place in front all the survey trainees. Way to show respect TCW! Later, I told Pele about it and she was amazed. I said, "I'm not fucking around! This is serious business."

"I know!"

"If I say I'm confused, there is a reason. One of the survey guys had said he was confused and I was making sure TCW addressed his concern. You know, I'm not just saying this stuff for my health! Goddamn it! Does he not know that if I tell his boss to take him off this project, he's off!" That last statement is surprising but true and not something I plan to do (for lots of reasons).

Wednesday morning, I showed up a little late (8:30 instead of 8—this drive time is killing me). The group was continuing to go through the survey instrument question-by-question (a painful but necessary process). I sat down and after five minutes, I asked a question. TCW was not there, but his colleague was. The colleague said, "That is not a problem."

"I'm sorry, it doesn't make sense to me."

Then he started talking about something that you were supposed to know that was not part of the text of the question. Survey design frowns on questions that call for "hidden" knowledge. I tried to point that out, since I am the only person in the room who knows ANYTHING about survey design or methodology, but I'm still shot down. Grrr.

TCW shows up and says it's time to go for our field trip—we're doing a test run of the survey off-site. I'm fuming in a small way because my question was not answered and my concern was dismissed. (Note: they DID change the question eventually because they realized that it MADE NO SENSE. Like I said, I'm not fucking around.) .

It's very, very bad that all of these issues were not resolved earlier, and I feel that I am to blame, but at least we are resolving them now, which is something. (I am not to blame in some sense because I've told the contractor over and over what I expect from the survey and I've edited the survey myself, a couple of times. My suggestions are not always followed, BUT, I could have been more on top of it.)

Anyway, I'm standing there, outside the conference room, a big ball of frustration, and one of the bosses of the company comes by while I'm talking to one of the junior staff, who is trying to explain something to me that I completely understand and not understanding my problem with the question. The big boss listens in and tries to get me to explain the issue to him.

While I'm talking to them, I look up and everyone is gone—the surveyors, TCW, all of them. Where did they go? I start walking down the hall and the big boss follows me. He can tell I'm frustrated and he asks me what's going on. "TCW just left, I don't know where they are!"

We get outside. No one is around. The big boss says, "What is the problem?"

"I don't know, I don't know. Where did they go? Five days with TCW is a lot! I can't take it!"

"If there is a problem, I want to resolve it."

"No, it's fine. It's fine. We always have this problem. We don't communicate well."

Then TCW appeared, all the surveyors trailing behind him, and we went on our way.

On the car ride, I talked about non-work stuff with TCW and the junior staff member. By the end of the day, I was smiling and calm. I needed to say something to someone and getting it out of my system helped, even though I immediately felt foolish.

The situation is crazy—TCW doesn't seem to respect me at all (though I did get an "I'm tired" from him the other day, which I later realized was an apology)—but other staff members fall all over themselves to compliment me. One guy says, "you are a seasoned professional" (what seasoning, I wonder?) and insists on calling me "Dr. Barab." The big bosses say, "We appreciate very much your work on this project. Your input is very valuable. We know how important your time is." Heh, sure you do. But it's times like this that I know why they pay me the big bucks. I feel like I'm earning my keep. Despite my minor break down, I am confident that I know what I'm doing. Too many years of grad school, and as many years in this job, will do that for you.

But I was exhausted. So I skipped practice, came straight home and put my feet up. I ate cherries and crackers. I checked my email and caught up on my blog reading. I got propositioned online by a 21-year-old (what is that about?) and watched some tv.

I'm ready to go back to Herndon. And practice. I promise.

Grateful for: dealing.

Drop me a line.

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