She’s just been on the job a month ago, and her facade is unravelling quite a bit. We hired Madame X (my favorite pseudonym) as a “program assistant”, a catch-all term for a receptionist/administrative assistant. She seemed quite overqualified for the job, but several of the applicants did. She was one of two applicants with a Masters in Library Science. She owned a small business. She called herself an “expert” in MS Access. “I’ve built my own databases for my company.” She said. She was confident she could do whatever we needed.
We hired her because she was a good schmoozer, much better than the other MLS applicant (who also had a BS in electrical engineering, and who I voted for, but was outvoted due to the schmooze factor). And she IS very good at that; she’s very good on the phone and with in-person customers, even though she hasn’t been here long enough to have a lot of answers to give them. I could tell she had a talent as I heard her describing the courses we offer, providing “information” about our classes that I’d never heard before, and I’ve been there a year to her 2 days. She can weave a tale. One of her constant refrains is, “Maybe I’m weird, but I LOVE databases, and organizing information.”
But her MS Access expertise… is a pretty complete sham. To be more generous, she may have believed she was an expert, because she never had to work on a system created by someone else. Did I mention she’s somehow made it to age 34 without ever holding a full-time job?
A while back, I created a small Access database to track deposits, which we don’t send to a bank, but elsewhere in the hospital. The whole database is just 2 linked tables and about a dozen data fields. All it does is sum up the individual transactions (cash, checks and credit card slips) and assigns the money to about a half dozen revenue categories. The other office decides it needs the details, rather than just the summary, of our revenue categories. So yesterday I ask her to make a copy of the deposit log report, and put the details back in. I remembered when I created the report with the friggin’ Wizard, it was kind of hard to get the details OUT of the report. Within ten minutes she’s told me she can’t do this, because the way the report is written makes no sense. Okay, just create a new report from scratch, and use the Wizard, I say. Another half-hour, and she’s saying, “I know a lot more about queries than reports,” she says. Fine, I sez, make it a query. Another hour goes buy, and she actually produces a query that works for about half a dozen checks and credit cards she input, and then she shuts it down and puts it away. This morning, for the other user, her query simply operated as an endless loop prompting for today’s date. Because she gave it almost zero testing.
Also this morning, my boss and I talk about the need for another database to track our purchases, and billing. (Yes, it boggles my mind too that neither our finance department nor our IS department can provide us, a department in a HOSPITAL, for Christ’s sake!, purpose built tools for these jobs, but then again we’re not involved in patient care.) The present system is ENTIRELY paper based, onion skin check requests, purchase order requests, and invoices. How to we track expenses? We sort our copies of these forms in folders and add up the amounts with a calculator, and throw those numbers onto a spreadsheet for storage. Rrrrrrrrrr…. we need some serious modernization.
And I say, Liz, let’s just put Madame X on it. She doesn’t have much on her plate yet, this is just the kind of thing she’s been asking for (which she has). So I little later I lay out the general parameters of the database we need, these tables, those reports, etc. She listens intently and asks some questions, reasonable ones.
Another half hour goes by and she comes up to me and says, “I don’t want you to think I was misrepresenting myself. I can make up a really nice marketing database,
but a financial database is out of my range of capability.” Marketing database?.., I think, oh… she can print out mailing labels! But she can’t add up numbers.
What bothers me most is that she gave up so quickly. She had an “Access Step by Step” training manual to refer to, which is pretty crappy but does have loads of code in it relevant to the kind of basic programming we need. Nobody gave her a deadline. We wouldn’t have expected any usable results for weeks and weeks. Given the work load on us, I wouldn’t have been surprised if it took two or three months to get something just ready to try out, let alone switch over to. I figure it would take at least that long for ME to do it, and I consider myself a fairly half-assed Access programmer.
But now Madame X is kind of freaking out. “Guys, I’m really overstressed. It’s been a really bad day, my husband’s out of town, and I’m really tired. I really need to take tomorrow or Thursday off if that’s ok.” Privately she said to me, “Jim, I’m really concerned that you might feel I misrepresented my knowledge of Access (which I do feel).” Now she knows that I know that she doesn’t know much at all about her self-proclaimed specialty, and I think this is contributing substantially to her feeling of unease.
I suppose I need to talk this over with my boss, in that I am (on paper) Madame X’s supervisor, though I not even sure Madame X knows that, and my boss and I had already agreed to put Madame X to work on this task. Madame X may now actually be fearing for her job, as she’s till on probation.
That will be my boss’s call, but I won’t recommend getting rid of Madame X. She wasn’t, after all, hired as a computer specialist, but as a customer service specialist. The other was, in our minds, just gravy. I had just really hoped that we would have a better programmer than ME around, ‘cause I pretty much suck, and we have so FAR to go in modernizing our office systems.
Since I’m reasonably sure that my boss wouldn’t get rid of Madame X unless her coworkers and I really pushed for it, how to I pass the message along to her that though she either lied, or deluded herself, about her computer expertise, her job is not in the balance over this?
Should I pass that word? I don’t want her taking time off because she feels threatened and stressed.