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I Know A Guy

January 12, 2015

Did you hear that Roger went to work for W E England as a PM?

Really? That’s seems an odd switch.

Not when you consider that Robert is the new VP of Technology at W. E. England.

You see it all the time, right? Someone gets a job not because they’re qualified for the job, but because they knew someone. I was that guy once. I was the one who got a job “because I knew someone.”

I started at Microsoft Corp in their support department. My product was Microsoft Mail Gateways. I enjoyed it. I was thrilled to work for Microsoft. But, support has a pretty high burnout rate. Every call is a mini-crisis. No one calls support to say, “Everything is working great, just thought you’d like to know.”

The beauty of the job was that you got REALLY good at what you did. Either that, or you went to do something else.

If you want to know how a program is supposed to work, ask a programmer.

If you want to know how a program actually works, ask a tester.

If you want to know how people are actually using a program, ask a support engineer.

But, support is not a long term career. And after a year or so, you start looking elsewhere within the company. A position came open in training; an instructional designer. Those are the people who create training courses. I had helped create a software course prior to coming to Microsoft. I’d also written numerous whitepapers.

The interview went better than well. I brought in the course manual for my previous course. It had definitely been a collaborative effort but I could speak to every aspect of the course creation and give examples from teaching the course. The guy doing the interview had to finally say,

I got it Rodney. You don’t have to show me anything about the course your wrote.

So, why am I saying I was “that guy”? Because of my good friend Jerry White. Jerry and I had worked together in Support when I first started. Jerry was in charge of the Microsoft Exchange course development. He had the final say on who was hired. Jerry liked me. We were friends.

I got the job.

This might not have been noteworthy if it weren’t for Shawn. Shawn also worked in support. Shawn was interested in moving to training. Shawn actually burst into my interview because we went too long. Shawn really wanted the job. Shawn wasn’t friends with Jerry.

Shawn didn’t get the job.

Support is a pretty tight-nit group. Shawn knew that Jerry and I were friends. Shawn felt he was more qualified for the position. He never got over it. He told anyone who would listen that I only got the job because of Jerry.

Fast forward a couple years. Shawn is still in Support. I’m still in the Training Department. I wrote a course called “Microsoft Exchange Advanced Topics.” It was a course that taught experienced Support folks to troubleshoot network communication between a Microsoft Exchange Server and client. Despite it’s weak name, it was the most popular course ever created for Microsoft Exchange, and probably for any Microsoft technology. We taught the course to all our Support engineers, both at Microsoft and at vendor locations.

Eventually the day came that Shawn was in my class. I wasn’t a fulltime trainer, but I still got to do a lot of training. Shawn didn’t sabotage the class, but he was less than enthused.

After the 3 day we asked the trainees to voluntarily complete an anonymous survey. And for your security experts, Yes, it was truly anonymous. It was paper based. my job wasn’t dependent on the survey scores the way our fulltime trainers’ reviews were. But, I still liked to collect the survey’s, especially on the Advanced Topics course. The scores were consistently high tfor this course. 3-4 on a 4 point scale, with an occasional 5 written in to the right of the printed responses.

As I collected the survey’s after class it became obvious which one was Shawn’s. He rated the material barely a 3 and the instructor as a 2. His handwritten comment was,

Obviously all Rodney did was copy the work of Geoff, the escalation engineer who came up with the material in the first place.

What would you do? I went to my manager and explained the situation.

So, Staci, what would you recommend I do?

Can see the survey he filled out?

Here you go.

And with that, she tossed the survey paper into the trash. I started to laugh.

I could have done that. You’re supposed to wait until I leave your office before doing that.

As far as I know, Shawn never left support. And to the day I left the company, he was convinced that I didn’t deserve the position I had in training.

The next time you are convinced that someone got a position simply because they knew a guy, realize that sometimes, people really are qualified for a position and just happen to know a guy.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and one grandchild.

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