My first ghostwritten piece for my job came out recently at Wealth management.com. To read every scintillating word, check out page 34 in this thrilling compendium. (Warning: The e-reader may be the worst you’ve ever seen. I recommend downloading the PDF.)
I work for a software company. The thing about software companies is they’re always making improvements to their software. And so periodically — typically every 60 days or so — we release those changes out into the wild. When that happens, the other technical writer and I have to make sure the Help Center is all up to date and reflecting those changes.
But the previous release, scheduled for early November, was canceled. I guess the devs needed more time for the new features. Unfortunately, I’d already made changes to the Help Center, and it would’ve been a huge waste of time and effort to try to roll it back. (Don’t ask why.)
I don’t think of myself as a leader or an innovator. I don’t come up with big ideas to drive the future of a field. People don’t look to me for guidance for, well, anything (especially my son, who recently learned the phrase, “You’re not the boss of me.” Wanna bet?!)
But one thing I’ve done that I’m actually proud of, that came out of my own head, is the joke board at work.
The premise of the joke board is simple: Every morning when I get in to the office, I spend a few minutes scouring the Interwebs for the best, freshest, punniest dad-style joke and I write it up on a small whiteboard I’ve appropriated for the task. (Lately I’ve also posted it to a dedicated room on the company’s internal chat service.) If people have additions or further puns, they write or post them. Then we do it all again the next day.
Meanwhile, I’m very thankful that Benji got much better, because this week was also midwinter break. Since he got better, both grandmas split the week up, for which we were most grateful. On Wednesday, my Uncle Gerard flew up from San Francisco and he’s spent the last few days hanging out with Mom and Benji while I worked.
Boy did I work: Wednesday I got in at 6:20 and left a little before 6:00, a much longer day than usual. Thursday… we’ll get to it.
Uncle Gerard commented that he hadn’t seen snow falling from the sky for at least seven or eight years, but he got to see it twice in the four days he was here. Wednesday night it snowed a tiny bit and then froze. It was just enough precipitation to ice everything over. That’s where our fortunately/unfortunately starts.
In short: Our kid is a budding perfectionist. This worries me, because I know very well the pain and suffering that comes from expecting perfection from yourself.
On Thursday evening, while Benji spent the night at my parents’ house, Ian and I spent some time talking about our strategy for what to say or do when these episodes arise. I hope we can help Benji learn to accept his imperfections before he spends an entire school career, let alone the rest of his life, seeking after an impossible standard.
So you know how people use the word “ironic” wrong constantly? Well, I’ve got a case of real irony for y’all.
On work nights when Benji does a sleepover somewhere else, I usually get up at my normal time and catch a very early bus. Think 5:50 am. I get to work about 6:20 am, a commute about 50% faster than when I catch the 7:15 bus. I like getting to work that early because it’s quiet (there’s actually one other lady there, who also takes that same bus) and I can get a lot done in the couple hours before the majority of people arrive.
That’s what I did Friday morning. Unfortunately, I had some technical slowdowns (you can’t rush those Microsoft updates), but just about the time I was getting ready to actually start doing some work, my boss called my cell phone. It was about 7:00.
Long story short, the release notes I wrote that we deployed to production the previous night contained a screenshot that included personally identifying information (PII)–in this case, most of several account numbers, client names, and transaction information. This information appeared in a sample screenshot I’d taken from the technical specifications written by the Project Manager.
Well, &*&^#*%$#@. That’s what I call a big mistake.
In fact, it’s close to the worst thing I, personally, could do in my current job capacity.
It came to our attention because the firm whose client data that was saw it and flipped their lid. Understandable. This information went to… well, pretty much everyone in management at the company. The Managing Director of our division was already talking to my boss, who’s the VP of User Education, and my boss was now calling me.
Delightful. Now the Managing Director, who presumably didn’t know I existed before today, not only knows I exist but knows I really screwed up bad.
My boss had already logged on and deleted the screenshot from the server, so anyone opening the release notes would just see a broken picture icon rather than the image. There then followed a very long period of first me, then my senior technical writer coworker, then my boss scrambling around trying to solve some related issues.
I won’t get into any more of the details, but I got to really decide: What do I do when I make a mistake? Because that’s exactly what we’ve been wanting to help Benji deal with, and now I get to apply that very stuff in a grownup situation.
What did I do?
One day I had a joke that I thought was funny, so I wrote it on the white board to share with people walking by. Several people, walking by, read it and chuckled, or at least shook their heads as they walked away. I started writing jokes up on the board every few days, maybe two or three jokes a week.
I’ve been doing this for several months, and people like it. I know because occasionally with a really good joke, I’d see people taking pictures with their phones, presumably to share with friends. Sometimes people would write up an alternative answer if they came up with a good one, or leave other comments (one time someone gave a +1 to an answer, an amusingly analog version of a digital kudos). A few times other people have even put up their own jokes:
What do you call a bear that’s gotten stuck in the rain? A drizzly bear. OR, alternative answer offered: A drown bear.
Why are there no knock knock jokes about America? Because freedom rings.
Several people have told me that they bring the jokes home and share them with family members. I know that I inflict these jokes on my biking buddies, eliciting many groans of dismay (but I know it’s happy dismay). At least two people have told me they specifically walk by every day to check the joke board for the next joke. And of course at work I see many people pause, read the joke, and walk away shaking their heads–the ultimate sign of a successful joke.
All my jokes are either puns or dad jokes. There’s not enough room to write an elaborate joke; they really have to be one-liners or a question and answer. Thanks to the Internet, I have ample jokes to keep the board going, but I now have more pressure than ever to find good jokes!
So we were humming along happily for a while, and the joke board was getting its own following.
Then, oh no! A new guy got hired and chose to sit in the empty spot occupied by the Joke Board. But when God closes a door, He opens a window (or so I’ve heard), so I took the opportunity to have the Joke Board officially hung up on the wall near our area.
By the way, getting the board hung up was no joke. I had to contact our receptionist and I asked him to put in a work order with the building management company. They sent a handyman with his little cart of hooks and screws and a level, and this guy hung it up. Alas, he hung it slightly off-center from where we asked, but oh well, now it’s up and it’s official!
I was out sick for a couple days last week, and when I got back there was a new joke up. One of my team members had written a new one, and they told me that they’d even had another joke up in the interim, which elicited several participatory alternative punchlines.
I’m about to do my six-month employee assessment. One of the questions is: “What are some of your accomplishments from the last 6 months?” I’m absolutely putting the joke board in that list.
The last couple weeks, we had something happen that, at first, shook my trust in the company. I was afraid that it would turn out that my company was less scrupulous than I thought. But, just as I was feeling really disappointed, my boss showed some real integrity and completely redeemed the situation (from my perspective). I was deeply impressed at the way my boss ultimately handled the whole situation.
I mention this because it made an impression on me. I talked with my boss about my concerns, and he listened and took action. This may be the first time I have ever had that happen at a job. Having my voice listened to and respected made a huge impact.
So, it remains true: I feel like I have landed at my perfect job. I’m thankful every day to have the opportunity to do it. Most of all, I’m deeply grateful that we went out on a limb and decided for me to apply when I saw the job opening last fall.
Now, if only I could get a desk away from where everyone who walks by can see my screens…