Friday, January 10, 2003

Engineer Baby-sitter

It would be silly to pretend I have some great job. I don't. I work for a company that gives me kick-ass benefits, the like of which I've really only seen enviously peering at Sean. But the job? It's your typical clerical hell job. It's not the first one I've had, it's just the first one I can truly say that I'm wicked overqualified for. (As a matter of fact, when my boss submitted my resume to HR while I was still a lowly temp, it came back with a notation saying as much. "Hey, this girl is wicked overqualified. She's going to leave the second she gets a better offer." But hey, that was part of the job offer in the first place, so she cared not.)

Back when I lived in Mary-land, I had a gig as a receptionist for quite awhile. It was for a high-technology government contractor; which pretty much describes the majority of companies in southern Maryland. It's really this very strange little dynamic in the area I'm from--a mishmash of old-school rural farmers and a bunch of techies with shiny new VA Tech degrees. Needless to say, it makes for some interesting times.

The company was a great one to work for--if you weren't overhead. The techies all lived the life of Riley--long sushi lunches, frequent office parties, a huge sense of comraderie, and a giant year-end bonus. I used to want to move up desperately--not to work in HR or accounting like most of my receptionist cronies had moved on to do, but to be in one of the NOT overhead departments--namely, to be some sort of techie.

In the meantime, they took ridiculous advantage of my naivete. At the time I left, I was working as a receptionist, working in procurement, working in HR, and doing a bunch of conference planning. Yeah, they had a 7-buck an hour person entertaining their potential million dollar clients. And I was Great. Mostly because I could bail the techies out of trouble half the time. The copier's out of toner? My PhD education never covered what to do when that happens! My client wants a suggestion for a place to go for a fun time tonight? I'm too socially inept to even know! My PDF's I need for a presentation won't open? HELP!!! I was a certified Engineer Baby-sitter. And I said as much when people asked what I did.

The best phone calls that came in where those that asked what the company "did". How do you explain to people not from the area, or not familiar with the industry? The token answer was "We design software and computer systems to aid in government mission planning. Our largest clients are the U.S. Navy, the Australian Air Force, and Iraq." (Well, we didn't actually say the Iraq part, but it was true....) But what did we actually do? Hell, I didn't know for certain. My security clearance didn't allow me to know that much. I could have told them about our B-2 lab (as in, B-2 Bomber?) that was downstairs and that employees had to go through a 6-12 month security investigation before working in; or about how after a strange plane crash in Italy, 3 of our VP's and higher-up's rushed out to flights that day; or that we all had to go through daylong anti-espionage training. But, I didn't volunteer this information. It was probably more than the salespeople wanted to know.

I finally stopped feeling a desire to climb their techie corporate ladder, or any of their corporate ladders for that matter, one year when I was picking out holiday cards to send to all of our clients. My favorite cards are always those that say "Peace On Earth", so I was looking for a nice one with this message--until I was suddenly struck by the realization that, if there was peace on earth, as defense contractors we'd all be out of a job.

I learned a lot from my 2 years and change there. How to shmooze, what I didn't want to be as a manager, that being cute and liked by management will get you farther than creativity and good ideas, and most importantly--that clerical jobs suck.

And, here I am again. But I'm keeping the ideas to myself, in favor of being sweet to the management. And so far, they've begged me to stay, offered to overpay me, and somehow not noticed how much time I spend not working.

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