Two months into new job. I'm not sure...but I think I might hate it

Back in May I got laid off from a job I really liked due to COVID-19. Surprisingly, it only took me a few months to land my current job for more money and a better title at a rapidly growing company (basically a very senior technology engagement manager). So yea.

So after not even a month of doing my actual job, I’m pretty sure I hate it. Maybe “hate” isn’t the right word. Thinking of a job in terms of “like” and “hate” feels kind of frivolous. More like, from what I’ve seen, the way my boss manages our group and the company appears to run it’s business is not sustainable or compatible with where I am in my life at this point. I mean, aside from the part of my life that needs to be employed.

And this is factoring the additional complexities of COVID-19 and everyone working from home. I have never met any of my coworkers face to face, but I’ve managed to successfully lead multiple teams remotely for years.

Basically without going into too much detail, the place seems to be a culture where everyone is constantly double-booked for back to back meetings. I’ve already been assigned to lead two intensely demanding projects simultaneously, with no training or orientation to the company besides several weeks of learning how to use our software platform. My direct manager seems to have an attitude that “we do everything 300mph” and “we’re a startup”. Apparently engagement managers like me are the ones “responsible” for everything, so I’m sure I will immediately start catching shit as soon as anyone involved in my projects makes a mistake. By the time a project gets to me, I’ve had zero impact in discussing the budget, staffing, timeline or any other decisions that affect the success of a project. In fact it is already happening.

So far, what this feels like is that my role is the lynchpin a broken machine that links the people who do the actual work with the layers of salespeople and paper-pushers who do nothing but build Powerpoint decks. And I don’t want that job because I know how it goes. I’m going to spend months frustrated because I can’t get the resources I need to get the job done, while simultaneously having to eat shit from every salesperson, account manager, VP of bullshit or whoever who needs a convenient scapegoat to point to when whatever crazy dream they sold their client doesn’t come true.

To paraphrase Tommy Lee Jones from Under Siege, basically at this point in my career I’m tired of coming up with last-minute desperate solutions to impossible problems created by other fucking people.

I lived through that though at a much smaller operation than you are.

Assuming you’ve diagnosed things correctly, it’s time to run, not walk, the other way. As you suspect. “Designated fall guy” is a sucky job even if it pays serious loot.

Staying sane through it probably means getting fired from it when “your” project crashes from their contradictions. In some smaller cities with known toxic companies with known toxic cultures, being fired from one is a campaign ribbon lots of other locals already have and so it’s not a black mark. That might not be true where you are.

I know you know this, but connecting with your fellow engagement managers is about all you can do to get smarter about the real reality, not the play reality your manager chain is selling you.

If you get trustworthy intel that despite all the hurry-up, somehow non-delivery at the end just means the schedule slips, the sales weasels lie to the customers and the customers keep falling for it, you can continue working a tolerable pace while letting the BS roll off your back.

At my startup we eventually ate all the rounds of seed money. The CEO was genuinely surprised when he couldn’t do the old razzmatazz to his angels one more time. He was that reality-challenged. We hit the wall pedal to the metal. I was relaxed all through the impending collision.

OTOH, if your grandboss truly believes his BS, but is able to learn, and the business isn’t old enough yet that reality has showed him the folly of his current ignorance, then you will be the one to pay the price for his education. Best to be in the next county with a different colored paycheck when that happens.

Good luck!

I think what’s more concerning is that my boss isn’t feeding me “bullshit”. He’s just telling me this…

I’ve been “fired” from lots of jobs for basically that reason. Doesn’t seem to hurt me from finding a new one. But that’s kind of the point. I don’t want another job where I’m one missed milestone away from getting on my bosses shit list.

The good news is that after two weeks of me (and my lead architect) killing ourselves on two simultaneous projects, my boss reassigned us to just one. The downside is that we are now on separate projects so Project A doesn’t have a PM and Project B doesn’t have a lead architect. So that’s nice. But the problem is my boss seems to have done so begrudgingly. Apparently he is concerned that it might indicate a lack of ability (to come in off the street and just kick off two complex projects at the same time).

I figure this week I’ll just focus on the one big project and see if his mood changes. Otherwise I guess I’ll just start looking for a new job.

I don’t have any useful advice but I’m in the same boat. Got a job where upper management made a lot of stupid decisions (released multiple forms of software updates nationwide w/o properly beta testing them first to get the bugs worked out), which resulted in a lot of stress and additional workload for those of us at the bottom. I worry its going to be like this constantly at this company.

For both of you guys, do you think things would be better if not for the pandemic situation? I’m just curious, not that it would matter much to either one of you at this point because you’d probably like to get a better start somewhere else no matter what.

Given the current economy (I just got laid off myself partially due to covid), I say you should keep the job but start looking again right away. Go ahead and contact your old company and say you would like to work there again rather than maintain your current position. Be prepared for a pay cut. But now you know. I’ve been in fall-guy positions and disliked it enough to scare myself back to lower-paying but more satisfying jobs. Network like crazy. Let your old job club know you are looking for leads again. Paychecks are necessary, but this one isn’t worth the stress you are feeling.

@msmith537: I recall you talking about how involved the recruitment process was for this job. Not that it matters much now, but looking back do you think the hoops you had to jump through were an indicator of how unrealistic expectations might be or the kind of pressure you’d be under? I ask because it’s been my experience that the more complex and extensive the recruiting process I had to go though (Microsoft was one) the less I found myself interested in the job.

I think the recruitment process was pretty typical for this sort of job. I think I’m just sick of doing this sort of work. Period. I just can’t get excited anymore about working at some company rolling out so new-fangled platform for letting banks and insurance companies replace whatever old-fangled platform they installed to run their operations.

I’m sure COVID-19 isn’t helping the situation.

So I read this and I’m surprised at your later comments. You are in a very senior position and you talk about being held responsible if someone on your project makes a mistake. That’s what being in a senior position means. You have a rapidly growing company, but you’re surprised everything is going 300 mph. You talk about a “better title” and more money. That usually means a more responsible job. Titles (usually) aren’t put in place to make people feel good, but to make people understand what they are responsible for. I think you weren’t ready for the job.

Speaking from experience:

There’s a difference between a high performance company that has high productivity standards and expectations and that provides an environment where succeeding at that stuff is possible.

And the far more numerous psychotic companies run by delusional and unqualified idiots that think making the demands of the people is all that’s needed and any semblance of providing the needed resources, or capable leadership, or even a consistent target simply never happens. Because there’s no management awareness that those too are necessary ingredients for the individual or the corporation to succeed.

Which is the OP dealing with? Sounds closer to door #2 than door #1 to me. But I admit I’m biased.

I know what you mean. After a while it’s all just the same fucking circus act under a different tent. Even the monkeys are predictably the same.

Not. At. All.

It sounds like Door #2 to me, also.

If it helps, I’ve finally after 10 years come to realize that business analysis just isn’t a good fit for me either. “On paper” it seemed like a perfect transition from software engineering to something ostensibly easier/less technical while still utilizing a technical background. And it sort of is. But it also has some aspects that I’m just terrible at or have zero tolerance for. Things like having my work (documents) reviewed by everybody and their dog, numerous times before they’re deemed ready or having the patience to update documents over and over and over and over and… I’ve also finally realized that the work just isn’t as mentally absorbing as programming used to be so it doesn’t serve as a countweight to the BS aspects of the job. In other words, I can’t hide in my work as a mental escape from BS like I could in programming.

I feel it may be a sign that this high-paying job with a good title was available in the current economy. The OP’s satisfaction with his previous job may have insulated him from what was common knowledge in the field.

Have you talked to any former employees, or looked up the company on Glassdoor or similar? Hopefully that would at least be cathartic. It might also give you a sense of how much of this could change if you moved within the company, how much is the result of the pandemic, and how much is just the immutable company culture.

I’d say it’s somewhere in the middle. There seems to be few, if any, “standards”.

The job itself isn’t anything new to me. And culturally, everyone sort of has the same background as I do (a mix of working for large consulting firms, tech companies, and big Wall Street firms all from the same schools). It’s also ranked very highly on Glassdoor and is considered a “best place to work”. On paper it seemed like a good fit.

That might be the problem. Hiring too many ex-management consultants. A lot of people good at making really pretty Powerpoints that don’t go into enough detail to actually build anything.

I don’t think the “bullshit” is really that much different from any other place I worked. I think the difference might be my boss. That was the one red flag I saw during the interview. Not that he seems like a bad guy. More like he seemed like the sort of boss you would never hear from until you did something wrong. My last boss seemed a lot more interested in making sure his people were successful. Our group was a lot more organized too.

Boy, have I been in your shoes. What kept me sane was a co-worker who I could unload on (I’d breeze into her office, close the door, and immediately one of us would ask “Is it just me, or…” usually followed by “…is what just happened really insane?”)

I ended up hanging in there for 7 years… til I had kids (and, realizing I’d never get to know them, thanks to the 60+ hr weeks, got a teaching job).

I had to get very zen, and tell myself: “I’m going to do the best I can, and when craziness happens because of others’ neuroses, well, it happens and I’ll deal with it, but I won’t get tied in knots.”

Oh, and: “And I won’t worry about getting fired, because that’d be a gift from the universe…”

Now we’re (you’re) getting somewhere. The last sentence is really huge. A disorganized group can’t produce good work in your field. But it sits well with the disorganized mind of a bad boss. Whether said boss evil or just incompetent, the end result is the same. The game becomes unplayable.

A boss who assumes any failure is your personal failing, and treats any requests for resources, consistent policy, a clear spec with sanely controlled changes, etc., as just a weakling whiner whining, is going to make your job and your projects’ success impossible while making your life hell.

The fact you’re in what other experts in your field label a best company to work for give you hope for 2 things: 1) an internal transfer to another immediate boss, or 2) your immediate boss’s firing when his projects (surely more numerous than yours) all turn to shite and he’s fingered as the common factor.

Sadly, just as the market can remain irrational longer than you can remain solvent, a good enough BS artist / politician / lying scumbag can remain in place long past the point he’s destroying his boss’s bonus too. And your sanity.

Time to gather intel and look for that internal job.

It would be hard to transfer after just a few weeks in a new job (which feels like a hell of a lot longer). Particularly if I don’t impress my current boss. Most likely It would just be “he didn’t work out”.

I’m also finding that a lot of people don’t seem to know their job as well as they think they do. Or our roles are so poorly defined and ad-hoc with so much overlap.

Thinks have actually calmed down now that I am officially running one project instead of two. Although (to my bosses delight) I still pop in from time to time on the other project make sure things are going smoothly. Although now I’m finding that the client and salespeople committed to a lot of shit that neither of them really understood. Which is surprising, since somebody put a lot of work into prepping the 20 hours of Powerpoint meetings we had last week.

And yet, I’m getting questions from the client that tells me that they fundamentally don’t understand what our software does. So that’s someone’s miss. Not mine (I think).

I mean we had the same shit at my last job. It’s the nature of the work to a certain extent. But what was nice that every week all us engagement leaders and our boss would get together to go over stuff like staffing and project pipeline to help alleviate some of this stuff.

This company, me and the other directors have a standing meeting where we debate for an hour what the “R” and “A” actually means in a RACI chart (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed).

I don’t

Clearly these folks don’t have a clue how to run a company. You might, as the two-eyed man among the mostly blind, be able to play this for vast yucks and maybe even vast bucks.

The critical thing is to begin to document the dumbnesses for your own knowledge, not necessarily to share with others for resolution. And to quit caring about results; the point is simply to play the game of pretending to make software and pretending to run a business. That sounds like the game everyone else is playing. You can too.

They’re fleecing the customers, wittingly or not. The upper-mid management above you is fleecing the shareholders / angels, wittingly or not. So join in the fun at whatever scale you can achieve.

The Peter Principal posits a skew distribution of skill-excess-to-requirements. There’s a bell-curve shaped phenomenon lurking nearby: the LSLGuy Peerset Principal. It holds that you can’t succeed if you’re much better, or much worse, than your “Peerset” = set of quasi-peers = specifically your peers (your immediate bosses’ direct reports), your immediate boss, and his/her peers.

The employees who win the game are within 1/2, maybe 1/3rd sigma of the mean competence / diligence / honesty of their Peerset. By “honesty” I don’t mean outright fraud, embezzlement, etc. I mean intellectual (dis-)honesty, believing the business of business is products and profits on the one hand versus valuing internal politics, massively rose-colored PowerPoints, and making your bonus threshold by hook or crook, etc., on the other hand.

So debate RACI for an hour a day. It’s what your Peerset thinks is “productive work”. If you can’t beat 'em, join 'em. The alternative is insanity and a flat forehead from pounding it on your desk. And maybe a booze problem if you’re not careful.

Good Luck!!

Yeah, but we’re a startup!

And now my client is freaking out because I’m asking them for the requirements we agreed to several weeks ago.
Client: “Wait! Why we have to get all hat to you by that date?!”
Me: “Yes”
Client: “Why?!!”
Me: “So the development team knows what they are building.”
Client: “But we still have a lot of decisions to make!”
Me: “You should probably make those decisions before we start developing.”
Client: “But we are AGILE!”
Me: “Agile does not mean “make it all up as you go along”. And unless you are shouting, it’s spelled “Agile”. It’s not an acronym.”
Client: “Can you give us a starting point?”
Me: “I’m going to go with ‘the beginning’.”
Client: “I mean do you have ‘modules’ that can get us started? Industry best practices? Something we can build on!”
Me: “Oh, you mean like an Insurance Client Ingestion Module with a set of fields and workflows that can be configured for your specific business requirements?”
Client: “Yes! Exactly that!”
Me: “No. This isn’t SAP. Not like that would help in this particular case.”
Client: “…”
Me: “I feel like there might have been a miscommunication between you and Account Management.”

I talked to my colleague on my old project. Basically he got stuck with the Hindenburg and I got stuck with the Titanic. IOW he gets to steer a flaming wreck careening towards the ground while I get to just relax and enjoy the cool night’s air while the crippled boat slowly and irrevocably fills with water.

Oh no. It’s only 30 minutes a week. And it’s not always a RACI. Today we debated the new “competency model” for determining “career progression”. I mean like what does it fucking matter? We’ve all been here like 5 minutes and we’re all “directors”? The only real, non-title bump “next step” is our bosses job as “Head of Professional Services”, which we all can’t be, and then “CEO”.