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This Stresses Me Out

, , , , , , , | Working | June 14, 2021

I’m working for a multinational company that employs tens of thousands of staff; our site alone has about 700 employees. One afternoon, as I am merrily doing some design work, I get an email from someone at the corporate office. It’s completely blank and has been sent to everyone. I figure that someone accidentally sent this to everyone, hit delete, and go to get back to my work.

Then, a little message pops up.

Message: “[Email Sender] has requested a read receipt when the email has been read. Do you wish to send? Yes/No.”

Oh, dear. I hit no, figuring the sender probably wouldn’t appreciate a reminder of what they did. I also wonder how many people have their settings to automatically send the receipt without prompting. I manage about twenty seconds more work when I get another email alert. It’s a reply to the original email.

Reply #1: “?”

Someone has decided that the best response to a blank email was responding with a single question mark. But the “best” way of doing this was to hit Reply To All. I hit delete.

Message: “[Reply Sender] has requested a read receipt when the email has been read. Do you wish to send? Yes/No.”

The reply had inherited the Read Receipt request. I imagine the IT departments across various sites not being very happy as the email server starts to fill. I imagine their collective moods worsening when the next message appears.

Reply #2: “??”

This is followed shortly by…

Reply #3: “???”


Reply #4: “????”

…as a few people decided that this is funny. I guess it is, to a point. I and a few of my nearby colleagues laugh at the stupidity of these people and how they are going to get some grief for clogging the mail servers. All of these want Read Receipts, too. I think we reach “????????” before the emails start to change.

Reply #5: “Please remove me from this email chain.”

This is sent to everyone, of course; there are a few of those.

Reply #6: “Please stop using Reply To All as you are making the problem worse!”

The odd thing is that it wasn’t one person who sends that message; there are several. And they aren’t doing it independently. Each email includes all the text from previous emails, and I can see the previous warnings there.

Reply #7: “You’ve just hit Reply To All to send the message; don’t do that!”

…and so on. I have no idea if those who are adding their warnings are trying to be funny or helpful or are just desperate to be the one who gets everyone to shut up by having the last word. In any case, the last word comes through a few minutes later with a site-wide email from our IT manager.

IT Manager Email: “Please stop responding to the email that was sent in error. These responses are clogging the servers. The email network will be down for a period while we remove these emails”

This email does not request a read receipt. 

A day or so later, I see one of the IT staff and ask him about the events of that afternoon. He visibly deflates as the memories come back.

IT Guy: “We had to disconnect our server from the global network to stop anything else getting through and then go through the servers and strip out every single one. It took hours!”

Me: “What started it all?”

IT Guy: “One of the accountants at corporate was trying to test something and accidentally managed to send a blank message to everyone. You know the rest.”

Me: “What about all those who responded? I noticed that there were a couple of senior directors from this site who joined in the, uh… fun.”

IT Guy: “They were all spoken to. They were told in great detail about server space, exacerbating problems, and exponential growth!”

CAD And Mouse

, , , | Working | March 8, 2021

I’m midway in my career as an engineer and am the manager for a design and drafting department of about twenty engineers, designers, and drafters. I came up in the drafting board era and my drafters still work on drafting boards, but it is the mid-1980s when PCs and Computer Aided Design are emerging. I have enough budget authority that I can purchase a couple of PCs and basic CAD software without my boss’s approval. I can’t afford to send any of my people to formal training, but I’ve got some very sharp and motivated designers and drafters who are able to get the basics from tutorials — hard copy books back in those days.

Everything is going well until my boss finds out about what we are doing. He is a generation before me and is very skeptical of computers and CAD. He demands that I keep the drafters “on the boards” and have the designers and engineers share two PCs.

We play a cat and mouse game over the next couple of years of me building up my group’s CAD capability while having my boss still think the drafters are doing most of their work at drafting tables. In reality, we have gone almost exclusively to CAD. A couple of the older drafters still prefer pencils and drafting machines. This actually works to my advantage as my boss sees drafters doing manual drafting and he thinks he has won.

Then, my boss’s grandson starts engineering school. Manual drafting is not even offered as a subject. Everything is computers and CAD. Suddenly, CAD is the best thing since sliced bread. My boss authorizes PCs for everybody, CAD training for everybody, and a demand that we phase out manual drafting as soon as possible.

I never met the grandson, but it was fine with me. He accomplished in one year more than I was able to demonstrate by actual example in over three years. We put the drafting tables in storage, rearranged the work area so everyone had a dedicated PC, sent every designer and drafter to formal CAD training, and sent productivity through the roof.

My boss took credit for “pushing the designers and drafters into the modern age.” Whatever works.

You Have To Spend Money To Make Money… But Not Like That

, , , , , , | Working | February 15, 2021

I start at a new company in a quality role. They tell me that they have a good system of processes and procedures working, and they just need someone to manage the day-to-day activities, but I should make the odd improvement suggestion where I can find one.

I start and I can see the cracks a mile away. Everything looks good on the surface, and the monthly reports are all green with very few mistakes being reported, but out of the window, the repair guy has a pile of work taller than him. Customer complaints are low, but there are hundreds of boxes of duplicate parts that get rushed out in case of mistakes. Sometimes the replacements that are sent out to replace the replacement parts also need replacing.

Every time I look into an issue or open a cupboard, more thinly-covered cracks begin to show. I find out why when I propose a series of simple cheap improvements that would definitely improve, if not solve, many of the issues.

Senior Manager: “I’m sorry, but there is no money in the budget. If you can save some money somewhere else, I could possibly allow you to spend that.”

Me: “But I can prove that this will save money overall. You would save double what I spend in a year’s time.”

Senior Manager: “Yes, that does look good, but there is no money to spend now. Let me know how you get on. I have another meeting, I’m afraid.”

He was dressed very smartly, so I assumed he was off to some high-level customer meeting. I left the issue for now. I later found out that he was actually going to a black-tie event costing the company tens of thousands of pounds. It wasn’t even anything to do with the company.

This is a man who was earning a six-figure salary, solely employed to save the company money and improve the production process! I ended up lasting six months, but I felt I was talking to a brick wall every day and left for a better job that wanted me to help.

It’s All About Who You Know

, , , , , , | Working | November 13, 2020

After several years at my first professional job after college, I’m promoted to supervisor of a small group of engineers doing design and analysis of power plant equipment. I supervise the group’s daily activities but have almost no say in who is hired for or assigned to the group.

One Monday morning, I’m called into my manager’s office to be introduced to a new hire engineer assigned to my group. He’s right out of college but seems well qualified.

After about six months, he starts finding excuses for not getting his work done. He’s married with a child on the way, and it seems he needs the job. We discuss his productivity, but things just keep getting worse.

After nine months, he comes in, tells me he’s quitting, and starts gathering up his personal belongings into a briefcase that I have not seen before. The briefcase has a name tag with his name and the title “Vice President of Research” for a company with “[Family Name] Engineering” in a city about a hundred miles away. Turns out his father was the company founder and gave him the vice president job upon graduation, pending working a year in the industry.

Apparently, nine months was good enough for the father. His salary was going to be about double what I was making at that time. The idea was for him to eventually take over the company. We never heard from him again. I hope he worked for his father’s company better than he did for us.

This story is part of our Best Of November 2020 roundup!

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Open-Source Stupidity

, , , , , | Working | August 19, 2020

I am an industrial automation technician in a manufacturing plant and, as such, I write programs for our different systems. We have one of those “know it all” engineers who loves to tell me how to do my job but doesn’t have a clue what it’s about.

As an analogy, he’s a biology engineer and doesn’t know how to use a hammer, but because he adds windshield washer himself in his car, he figures he can tell a mechanic how to repair the transmission.

We get a new machine. It comes all assembled with its own control computer with the program/software they developed. We’re talking a half-million-dollar machine.

The engineer comes to me while the supplier is installing the machine.

Engineer: “Go with them and see how the program is made. It might be helpful.”

Me: “Why? It won’t be of any help. It’s their program and it’s locked. I can’t do anything to it.”

Engineer: “Yes, you can. We bought it.”

Me: “What you bought is the user’s license for it.”

Engineer: “Yes. We have the license, which means that you can modify the program in it.”

Me: “When you get Windows or any other OS, you buy a license. Does it gives you the right to alter it?”

Engineer: “Well… yes, when I install Word or something else, I’m modifying it. We have other machines of the same brand and you program them. Just go and look up their software to get how they program it so you will be able to modify it.”

Me: “That’s not the same. I can’t modify their program because it’s locked, write-protected. I can’t open it without the proper password. It’s their intellectual property. Their copyright. I have no right and no way to even access it. I can install Word but I can’t modify it.”

Engineer: “Yes, you can; we bought the license.”

Me: “The operation license. Not the source code.”

It took me close to half an hour of arguing to make him understand the difference between a proprietary software and an open-source one, or a machine you buy blank and program the way you want to. Even then…

Engineer: “I’ll ask them. Come with me. They’ll tell you.”

Me: “You go on. I have something to finish here first.”

I didn’t follow, and he never talked to me again about it. I guess “they told him.”