Corporate Culture Shock

Since I began my new job, work has been an interesting rollercoaster of extremes. I keep wavering between feeling anxious and feeling bored, the two opposing sides on either side of the flow channel. This is rather frustrating. Half the time I’m not being productive because I am trying to make sense of something I very obviously don’t understand and don’t have any reliable resources from which to learn about the thing, and the other half of the time I’m not entirely sure if I what I’m doing is correct because it seems like such a little amount of work (because it’s easy to do).

That said, I have been learning a lot lately. I’ve gotten to put my hands on software I’d never have otherwise gotten to touch (like Solaris 9 and Red Hat Enterprise Linux), I’ve learned more about Subversion and how to use it than I thought I would have in the little time I’ve used it, and my practical networking knowledge with regards to things like VPN routing have been substantially increased. Even more interesting than all of this new technical skill, however, is all that I’ve experienced on a cultural level.

I am now certain that what I am experiencing is intense culture shock. Let me explain.

The first thing people notice when you move to another country is probably the way people speak. Specifically, the two things people most often comment on is the language being spoken, and how it sounds (accent, common sounds, etc.). Similarly, the first thing I noticed when I got hired was the way people spoke, and what they were saying. The heavy use of acronyms are not new to me, but at the amount of company-specific technical jargon is hard to decipher when there is no Wikipedia to search. And farbeit for there to be a single, updated glossary that is easy to reference, either, or have someone offer to expand an acronym without you asking for them to do so.

Even more bewildering than the array of new acronyms, however, was the use of what I have come to call businessese. This is a language whose apparent sole purpose is to make whatever you are saying sound very important and hard to accomplish. An example would help clarify this.

The other day I was asked to review a written document. It was written by a colleague of mine. Our mutual boss, probably wanting me to get familiar with the look and feel of the documentation, sent it to me and said something like this in an email:

Meitar, here is [document X]. Please ensure it is ready for delivery to the client.

What he actually meant was something like this:

Meitar, here is [document X]. Please proofread this for any errors and then let us know so we can pass it along to the client.

My lesson from this experience, and from numerous similar experiences lately, is that people in the corporate business world don’t tend to actually say in plain English what they want you to do.

Another interesting point of fact I’ve encountered lately is the incredible difference it makes in the technical arena when you communicate with precision. This is difficult to do, because there is often an unacceptable latency if you speak with too much precision. This is why acronyms are so useful, if you know what they mean. In other words, if you already know what a web browser is, there’s no need for me to specifically name your web browser when I tell you to go to a particular web page. But if you didn’t know what a web browser was, then I would more likely get my message successfully delivered to you if I told you to type a certain string into the address bar of a particular program, say Firefox, instead of saying “go to this web address in your browser.”

This is also nothing new to me, but this week I am working with two colleagues who are utter opposites of each other in this respect. One colleague, whom I’ll call Descriptive, speaks slowly and clearly when he talks and assumes just enough technical familiarity with the subject to speak somewhat concisely, without sounding condescending. He is also quick to offer expansions for acronyms or further explanations of specific sequences of actions when he senses they are needed, as well as omitting them when he notices the listener is loosing focus. It’s very obviously a skill.

The other colleague, whom I’ll call Snappy, speaks so quickly I can’t tell when he’s taking a breath (if at all). He absolutely never expands acronyms, nor does he provide any sort of context for what he’s saying, such as a window’s title or an a filesystem location. He reminds me more of the character Nick Burns from the SNL skits of “Your Company’s Computer Guy” than anything else. I don’t doubt his technical ability at all (he’s very obviously quite skilled), but after mere days, I find myself dreading the prospect of working with him in the future.

There are thus two ultimate conclusions I can draw from these obervations (at least right now). Since I know that I am far too much in love with precision and clarity (and usability) to tolerate any confusing imperfections in what I create, I have the potential to become very well-liked for my helpful nature if I learn enough that I can actually answer questions when they arise. This bodes well for me.

Concerning, however, is the possibility that all this businessese nonsense will ultimately get to me. I truly, truly despise it and try hard not to cringe whenever it rears its head. I can’t understand for the life of me why my bosses don’t talk like humans nor can I understand why the majority of amazingly bright people (many of whom are more technically adept than myself) can’t be bothered to make the slightest effort to think more than one or two steps ahead of themselves. There are, of course, exceptions, but the fact remains that these are exceptions and not the rule.

I am notorious for conjuring up utopian visions in my head and then not settling for anything less. Here we go again.

One reply on “Corporate Culture Shock”

  1. Daniel Goleman (Emotional Intelligence) researched extensively exactly what you are writing about. He wrote “Working with Emotional Intelligence” with the purpose of applying his approach to the work environment. This book is as fascinating as his first, and every bit as concise. I learned from his books more than from any other source. Ever.

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