What do you want to be when you grow up?

When I Grow Up (Pussycat Dolls song)

When I Grow Up (Pussycat Dolls song) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After I filled in the questionnaire, the computer considered my future. After a short pause, the printer chugged into life and rattled out line after line of career suggestions on green and white piano paper. Once the clattering came to a halt, the careers officer ripped off the two feet or so of suggested vocations. As he checked the printout to make sure it was OK, he asked me what I thought I wanted to do.

As a young child, it was obvious. I wanted to be a train driver first. Then I decided that I would have much more fun as an astronaut. No, maybe a scientist or a spy. As I went through school, I dismissed such fanciful ideas and came to terms with the fact that I had no clue what I wanted to do in the future.

I scanned down the piano paper at the list of jobs. I could not see any common thread connecting them. They looked like a random list of careers plucked from a hat. Some of the selections made sense and I noted with some amusement that most of the fanciful posts I’d whimsied about as a small boy were present and correct – with the notable exception of spy.

The careers officer said to think about which entries on the list appealed and told me there was an upcoming careers evening where I could find out more. I went home baffled. How do you decide what you would like to do from a list of things you’ve never experienced.

During careers evening, I wandered from booth to booth to see what they had to say. A GP told me all about his job. You study hard for seven years and then you get to sit behind a desk whilst sick people visit you. Hmmm – no thanks. Someone told me about a career in education, but I didn’t really want to stay at school even if I would be on the other side of the desk. The only job that floated my boat was on offer by the navy, ironically enough.

Their offering was a life on the ocean waves as an engineering artificer. During a five-year apprenticeship, you learned about maintaining all the military technology they had at their disposal and all while sailing around the world. It sounded adventurous. I often think about how different my life would be if I chose to take that apprenticeship.

So what do I want to be when I grow up?  I’ll let you know closer to the time.

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I hate my job!

"Hate" cartoon, "Comics Rock!&q...

“Hate” cartoon, “Comics Rock!” Fantagraphics Bookstore, Seattle, 12/16/06 (Photo credit: photophonic)

Most people spend around about a quarter of their entire lives working, so it always piques my interest when I hear someone say “I hate my job!” The reasons for such vitriol are legion but for many people, they simply say they’re bored. Working usually involves people, so it’s no surprise that some people say they don’t get on with their boss or their colleagues. For some, they are unhappy with their remuneration or their commute. In a lot of cases, the lack of prospects is enough to turn people off their employment.

When I hear that people hate their jobs, I am intrigued to know what action they have taken. After all, I wouldn’t want to be spending that much of my life doing something I didn’t enjoy. The question catches some people off guard which suggests to me that they don’t really hate what they do (or certainly not enough). At the very least, I would expect them to be actively looking for an alternative.

Maybe they have their hearts set on a role, but there are barriers to entry. In which case, I would have expected them to have started looking into what’s involved in overcoming those barriers. If qualifications are needed for the role, then have they looked into what would be involved in studying for those qualifications. We are lucky in this country to have lots of options for part time study into all sorts of subjects at almost every level.

A requirement for experience often feels like catch 22. How can you gain experience if you can’t get on the ladder in the first place? There are often ways to gain similar experience in tangential roles or volunteer work. If you can show that you have made an effort to acquire the right experience, particularly if it’s on your own time, it is bound to strike a chord with a sympathetic employer.

Speaking of sympathetic employers, it’s well worth talking to your current employer about the reasons for your itchy feet. Most employers don’t particularly want to go through the pain of recruiting a replacement, so most will at least listen. It may be that something can be changed about your current role to make it less onerous or maybe they have a role that’s more in line with your aspirations.

Having worked for only three employers, there have been thankfully few times I have hated my job. The first company I worked for was a blue chip establishment. I stayed there for a total of 8 years, so it can’t have been all bad. I have a lot to be grateful for. They paid for me to study part time for 6 years. So why did I leave? Firstly, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was such a small cog in such a big machine, I began to wonder if it made a difference whether I turned up or not. In addition, I wanted a career in software development. When I joined the company, they had hundreds of people in such roles. When I left, there were less than 3 dozen.

My next employer was akin to a start up. With less than 20 employees and only 7 software developers, there were no concerns about making a difference. There was a very tangible link between your actions and the success of the company. The assignments were varied and a huge amount of fun. Why did I leave them? Unfortunately, the work ran out and I could see the writing on the wall.

So that leaves my current employer. I have been with them for over 12 years. It’s fair to say, it’s my most challenging role so far and I love the variety and the people. It’s also small enough to feel like you make a difference. Is it a perfect employer ?-Not in the slightest! I think I have had a handful of pay rises in the whole time I have been there. The hours are long and I have to travel a lot. The thing that keeps me is that anything is possible and that’s an intoxicating feeling.

The only thing that might tear me away is if a writing career opened up…

Mr Finch, you swine sir, I salute you!

Telex machine Svenska: Telexmaskin

They say that you should love what you do, so my introduction to employment was a dream come true. I was a despatch assistant, which is code for an internal postman. I worked for BP Oil and my job involved listening to the radio with colleagues around a table, drinking tea and reading the paper. Oh yes – and occasionally, we had to get up and sort and deliver mail. But there was a lot of waiting around. The only thing to disturb the peace and harmony was the telex alarm. That meant that someone had to run up to the telex room, grab the telex and run to the addressee and hand deliver it. If you were really lucky (or unlucky depending on your point of view) the telex was a price change, which meant dashing to each one of the 14 floors to deliver the news.

The post room was full of temps and junior employees (like me). It was your introduction to the company, and you were expected to only be there for a short period before you were promoted to the upper floors in a “proper” job. So it was little surprise that 6 months later, I found myself on the 8th floor, newly promoted to Accounts Assistant. At first, it was a culture shock. They expected you to work all the time! No sitting there listening to the radio and no reading the paper, but I soon got used to it.

A very nice lady called Maggie showed me the ropes. She explained that the job was very important. Lots of high-up people relied on the role I was taking on. Of course, it was all new – so I listened intently. At the time, I thought I was the most important person in the world. The job consisted of heading to the print room early in the morning with a trolley and picking up a 2 foot tall stack of A4 paper. The pile of paper was always nice and warm and had a vaguely mechanical smell to it. I was to waste no time and get this stack of paper back to my desk.

On my desk, there was an A4 binder covered in sellotape. On the binder, there was a label with the word “BIBLE” written with a thick marker. Inside were a number of sheets which described in excruciating detail how to split the 2 foot pile of paper into various different reports for various different bigwigs. It seems faintly ridiculous now in these days of PCs on every desk and email, but this is what kept the wheels of industry turning in the 80s.

There was more to my job. There was the maintenance of customer records (which is shorthand for taking a load of printouts from one system and manually typing them into another). The only vaguely interesting part of the job was dealing with customer queries. This involved fathoming out how our interminably complicated system had priced some quantity of oil for a customer and why it was wrong. Where it was wrong, we had to do what we called a “Retro”, a retroactive adjustment.

These had to be handwritten on a special form, batched up and taken down to the typing pool. A trip to the typing pool could strike terror into the heart of a fragile 17 year old. Any woman who has ever walked past a building site to the sound of wolf whistles and cat calls would know exactly what I mean. I think they deliberately placed the in tray at the end of the room so that they could enjoy your embarrassment as you ran the gauntlet past all the lascivious ladies. Looking back on it, I should have lapped it up, but at the time I used to dread it.

I soon became bored with the sheer routine. Every day was the same cycle. There were little or no surprises and there were very few opportunities for development. Because I was bored and because I was the youngest in the office by far, I regularly found myself on the wrong side of Mr Finch. He was the department head and had an office in the corner. It seemed like every other week, I was in Mr Finch’s office for some transgression or another.

Things started to improve when out of sheer tedium, I read the HR manual – no mean feet seeing as it’s 6 inches thick! In there I found a section on study and was overjoyed to read that BP would sponsor employees in further and higher education. I grabbed this with both hands and happily undertook what was to become six years at college.

As if things could not get any better, I learnt of an initiative to automate the “Retro” system, and I was asked to work on it. This meant talking to the systems people from the 9th floor. It was fantastic – a complete break from the humdrum routine explaining to the analysts exactly how the retro system worked. Unfortunately, I enjoyed it so much that I neglected the humdrum routine and my work piled up. Cue another visit to Mr Finch’s office.

I enjoyed the project so much that I found myself spending a lot of time with the systems guys understanding what they did and how they constructed the system. It was fascinating, and again my work suffered and yet again I found myself in front of Mr Finch. Worse was yet to come, because what I didn’t realise was that the systems guys were all filling in their timesheets against Mr Finch’s project code so Mr Finch got a very large bill. He really gave me the hairdryer treatment over that!

You might think that I bear Mr Finch some ill will, but no. This story does have a happy ending. Whether he did it to save his budget or whether he did it to help me out we will never know, but he was the one who got me into the Information Systems Division.

Mr Finch, you are a gentleman sir, and I salute you (you bastard).