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Awards You Cannot Display

August 18, 2021

This is a project shirt. It’s a shirt that everyone on the project team was awarded after the project was over. It was a really important project. We spent two years and logged thousands of miles. The core team was about 12 people.

We called the project the “3P VOIP” project. It was a terrible name. 3P indicated that we were “third party.” We weren’t USAA employees. VoIP is an acronym for “Voice over IP.” Basically, it means using the internet to make phone calls. Most office phone systems are ALREADY using the VoIP protocol.

Our project was to switch over from a VoIP hard phone to a VoIP softphone. A hard phone is a physical device that sits on your desk. It has a handset, a keypad, typically a headphone jack. You pick up the handset and you near a dial tone.

A softphone is a piece of software that runs on your computer. Zoom has softphone capabilities. Our “VOIP project” converted our 2000 agents from a hard phone to a softphone.

Anyway, I didn’t get to name the project. I would probably have named it after a mountain range or something.

Anyway, it was a very high profile project with A LOT of risk. And we nailed it. The project came in on time and on budget.

And we got a t-shirt. Okay, it’s a polo shirt, not a t-shirt. But, software has a long history of t-shirts to commemorate successful project launches and teams. This was my first team at Microsoft. I’m not sure why I even still have it.

And the VOIP Project shirts are not your generic $5 t-shirts. These are nice shirts with embroidered logos.

We couldn’t wear them. . .ever.

See, my company, Teleperformance, had a contract with our client, USAA. The contract specifically forbade employees from identifying the relationship with USAA IN ANY WAY. Our buildings, often dedicated to USAA business, had no markings identifying them as such. Even inside, until you went through the full-sized metal turnstiles, you were not allowed to show USAA logos. We were even forbidden to have lanyards that said USAA on them, because when our agents went outside to their cars, someone might see the lanyard.

This sounds silly, I know. But, it was deadly serious. All of this was written into the contracts. Violations were dealt with pretty severely. Like, you get fired if you break the rules.

And now, I had a beautiful new shirt that I was contractually forbidden to wear. It made me think about the wall at CIA headquarters in Langley, VA. Fallen agents are commemorated by a star. No names. No dates. Just a star to remember.

Now, my project IN NO WAY was comparable to the work that our agents and soldiers have to go through. But, just as they sometimes cannot be recognized for the work they do, neither could we.

So, why now? Why am I wearing the shirt today? And writing about it on the internet?

Well, I did not have an NDA and they laid me off back in May. I’m not going to share trade secrets. (And I still know a few.) And, I have nothing but the highest respect for both companies. It was a privilege to work at Teleperformance on the USAA account.

I’m just happy I can finally talk about it.

Stay safe

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.

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(c) 2021 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

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