What follows is an actual email I recently sent to Mr. Tien Wong, CEO of Tech2000, Inc. I present it here, in all its glitchy glory. Enjoy!
Dear Mr. Wong,
Please allow me to introduce myself.
I was an independent contractor until recently, at Tech2000 Inc.
I produced all the engineering deliverables I was required to, on time, and commensurate with industry-wide quality standards.
However, my contract was terminated in a manner that I feel was wrongful. So I will present a list of my grievances to you, in the hopes that I may get justice, from 天.
Achtung: Yes, I am obnoxious! No, you probably won't like me!
1. The Name, "Tech2000": The name evokes the year 2000.
This company was founded in the 1990's, if I am not mistaken.
In the 1900's, the name sounded futuristic. "Tech2000" represented the fond wish of its founders to survive, at least until the year 2000, which was an admirably ambitious goal at inception. Around the year 2000, I imagine the name evoked a mixed message in the public mind. Now that it is the year 2013 (?), the year of somebody's "lord", "Tech2000" has taken on a whole new set of connotations. "Tech2000" is retro, and cool, to some extent. It is a badge of honor to have a company named "Tech2000", which has actually managed to survive to the year 2000, and beyond. It hints at the humble origins, and the deep roots that this company has.
On the flip side, it basically says, "We are a technology company with the limited vision of actually surviving till the year 2000. We made it, and we see no reason to change our ways now. We are retro & cool. We have deep roots in technology. Buy our services, and we will deliver you technology from the year 2000. How cool is that?"
Quite bluntly, consider re-branding! Shed that legacy!
Philosophical Aside: Bringing up these topics understandably raises hackles of those with egos vested in the status quo.
The provoked ego can reveal one's true self, and bring out some interestingly hostile reactions.
"Shooting the messenger" is one such ego defense for coping with this cognitive dissonance.
Perhaps we should let go of clinging to these notions of permanence, about ourselves, and about our creations.
2. The Mission Statement: http://www.t2000inc.com/about-
"Tech 2000 is a change agent that strives to efficiently and effectively educate others."
2.1 "educate others" : Why should we focus on educating others, while ignoring our own education? Can we even "educate others", "efficiently and effectively", unless we educate ourselves first?To quote Sir Winston Churchill, "I am always ready to learn, although I do not always like being taught."2.2 "a change agent" : How exactly is Tech2000 a "change agent" ? I personally encountered massive resistance to change within Tech2000. Perhaps Tech2000 is "a change agent", by offering an opposing force to change. This is indeed a subtly elegant way of being "a change agent". Somehow, I doubt that this is the intention.Please, allow me to illustrate what I mean.2.2.1 Use Crypto: Tech2000 uses contracts that are "printed" on "paper", and "physically signed". In today's world, the only valid signatures are cryptographic in nature. Using dead trees is inefficient for business, and detrimental to the environment. Eliminate paper and make some money. Or stay inefficient and stupid -- your choice!2.2.2 Use the Cloud: When I returned my signed contract with Tech2000, the person responsible for processing it, replied that she was unable to process the contract unless I returned the contract as a set of files attached to an electronic mail message. The problem, as I was told, was technical. You see, I had shared the document using Google Drive. This "Technical Resource Manager" did not have enough technology education to be able to correctly use a document shared via Google Drive, in 2013.
Philosophical Aside: There is such poetic beauty in this ironic encounter with oneself, that one's heart breaks, while one's mind is inflamed. There is a Hindi phrase: "दिया तले अँधेरा" ( darkness below the lamp ). How Zen, then, that an organization whose mission it is to educate others, is itself ignorant about technology!
2.2.3 Use Trello: Myself, and an independent contractor entity labelled "PMO Studio", and retained by Tech2000, discussed using a gratis tool called "Trello", to communicate among ourselves. I have been using Trello for some time now, and find it very useful. A Tech2000 manager intervened, saying that we could not use this tool for Tech2000-related work. This request is in violation of contract law. Tech2000 may not determine what tools independent contractors use in order to produce the end results they are obligated to produce.
Why should there be such a massive resistance?Resistance to learning?Resistance to looking into a new technology which hand-picked people like?
Resistance to changing a process?
Resistance to adapting to a changing world?
Is it just an ego coping with the cognitive dissonance brought on by rapid change?
2.2.4 Do not use Spreadsheets as Timesheets: It is 2013, and we make people email around spreadsheets to communicate their work hours? How can you keep a straight face, and look me in the eye, and call yourself "a change agent" ?Using spreadsheets as timesheets:
- wastes human time ( precious life, which an alive person would use creatively, but which is wasted on corporate zombies )
- wastes network bandwidth
- wastes disk space
- harms the environment
- is clunky and error-prone
- is on the whole, expensive to business
Not wishing to be called an idle complainer, I suggested not one, but TWO alternatives to rectify this situation:
1. Use a free ( as in speech and pizza ) timesheet tool.
2. Build a timesheet tool to suit our needs.
This tool could be built using Ruby on Rails, MongoDB, and Backbone.
Some Tech2000 members would get together for an informal hackathon, and create a solution as a team of teams. It could be a wonderful team-building exercise! Done over Google Hangouts, and using screenshare, it would quickly disseminate some technology skills to people within the company. We could partition the overall tasks, using modern day collaborative technologies. Smaller teams could take on specialized responsibilities. Teams would periodically confer, to make sure the pieces fit. Within a few hours, we would be a more cohesive and more informed team.As a side-effect, we would have developed a web application where everyone could enter their time, selecting projects from dropdown menus. On the backend, we would get analytics charts out of the common database where all this timesheet data would be stored.
Also, we would have developed an application which could potentially be used by others, outside of Tech2000.
There are those within Tech2000, who privately confided in me, that they see merit in streamlining the timesheet system. The existing engineering process is too onerous. Engineers need to be set free to pursue engineering excellence, and to produce delightful results. Having to record and provide time-tracking statistics, granular to 15 minute intervals, is a soul-sucking bureaucratic exercise that distracts from the real goals.
The suggestion to streamline timesheets was shot down.
2.2.3 Do not ask independent contractors to fill timesheets:
"Contractors who earn 1099 income do not need to submit timesheets. In fact, companies that require 1099 contractors to fill out timesheets might be violating contractor laws. According to the IRS, a worker is an independent contractor only if the company controls the end product or service, without determining when, where or how the contractor completes his work. If a business has the legal right to control or monitor specific hours, then the contractor is likely an employee."
2.2.3 Booking sheets are unnecessary overhead: It is entirely unclear what the purpose of a booking sheet is. Engineering requirements are well understood by all concerned, and recorded unambiguously in the Engineering wiki. The wiki is the shared artifact, and the common reference point. Yet, we require that a booking sheet be generated, printed, signed, scanned, emailed, printed, signed, scanned, emailed, and archived. All this time is essentially overhead. Two people's time ( which they bill Tech2000 for ), and wasted paper that harms the environment.
2.2.4 Be willing to learn new skills on the fly: When I sent in my first timesheets ( illegally, since as an independent contractor, I am not obligated to ), the person from Accounts Payable refused to accept them.
The reason? The timesheets were not attached as spreadsheet files. Rather, they were shared as spreadsheets via Google Docs. There was a slightly different procedure to access the data, and this person was not adaptable enough.In 2013, this office worker responsible for receiving and processing timesheets did not know how to use Google Documents. How poorly trained is the workforce at Tech2000?
To add insult to injury, a Tech2000 manager defended this lack of skills, saying that the process could not be changed without having to re-train a lot of people. Am I to understand then, that Tech2000 employees are so lacking in autonomy, flexibility, initiative, and basic skills, that they cannot learn anything on their own? Is the use of every industry-standard tool, such as Google Docs, imparted to Tech2000 employees via formal training? How much training is provided to employees, anyway?
In 2013, people are expected to learn things on their own, to get the job done. If your employees are so drone-like, that they object to opening a Google Doc, for lack of training, then it does not bode well for them, or for your organization.
2.3 "Be a part of infinite innovation." : Tech2000 claims to be an innovative company. This is perhaps the biggest lie of all! When asked to write the functional specification for a project called Appnetics, I took it upon myself to provide an alternative, improved implementation approach. I took a day to write an article discussing the advantages and disadvantages of both approaches. I posted this article to the Tech2000 wiki, inviting criticism from the team. I was told by a Tech2000 manager that I would not be paid for the time I took to write this article, since it was beyond the scope of the project, and beyond what I was asked to do. Since I am not being paid for that time, Tech2000 does not own that article. Please be aware that I will be posting this article ( which is my "intellectual property", produced on my time) to my blog, and inviting feedback from the Internet at large.Innovation, by its very definition, deals with the Unknown, and hence, cannot fit within any project plan. Innovators are not merely AI's for converting informal text ( requirements document ) to formal text ( source code ). Innovation happens when an engineer does something beyond what they were asked to do. If you punish people for going the extra mile for the sake of producing good results, that's your prerogative. You should then drop all pretense of being "innovative" and just be honest slave-drivers!
Your team members need to be empowered, and fearless in speaking their minds. We need to allow time and space for reasoned discourses, in which people debate the merits and demerits of alternative approaches.
A hurt ego screamed at me for offering to teach people, "That's not your job!" I sympathize dearly. It is only because one feels limited in one's job function, exploited, browbeaten, bullied into silent submission, that such anger is provoked. One cannot bear to see someone else being so free.
“Arrogance on the part of the meritorious is even more offensive to us than the arrogance of those without merit: for merit itself is offensive.”― Friedrich Nietzsche
Being an agent provocateur is nobody's job. It is a thankless job, that one does for free. No good deed goes unpunished. So this person is willing to take the punishment that speaking his truth brings.
"Tech2000" is either a massive hoax, or else, it deserves to be exposed as a massive hoax, and killed, for the sake of everyone concerned.
Here is how I propose to do it.
First, I will make this email public.
Then, I will open media channels, complete with NerdCore videos exhorting Anonymous Engineers to join forces in mocking inefficient, bureaucratic organizations, rigid in their ways, inefficient, harmful to the environment, wasteful of human creativity, slow to adapt.
Please rest assured, that I will abide by all our legal contracts. No confidential information will be leaked.
I know how to laugh at myself. Do you know how to laugh at yourself? Soon, the world will be laughing!
Thank you for your time and attention. In return, I would like to buy you a gift subscription to this industry publication. I am quite sure you have never heard of it. In fact, I feel reasonably confident, that you have never even put these two words together, and contemplated their joint meaning. The name of this publication is, "Fast Company". What a concept, right?
Put that in your pipe, and smoke it!