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.)
So, suffice it to say that we held all the changes we’d made from the end of October through December 6. All those updates went live at the same time, late in the afternoon of release night.
How many are we talking about? Well, for reference, we normally publish 100 or so pages on a release night. On a big night, we’d publish 200 pages. We have to check every one of those pages: What were the changes, and did the changes make it into production? This is not as easy as it sounds, because we have ways of excluding content, and it’s surprisingly easy to inadvertently exclude — or not exclude — content that gets published to production. Hence the diligent checking.
This release, we published 1,080 pages
Imagine two people trying to diligently check over 1,000 pages.
We spent the entire week running up to the release pre-checking pages, even working from home to keep on pre-checking. But even just spot-checking 1,080 pages takes a long time. We anticipated leaving work very, very late.
Fortunately, the company buys dinner for everyone who has to stay late for releases, including us! This time, a different person was responsible for organizing the dinner. She opted to do a group order from Cheesecake Factory.
Have you looked at their menu lately? It’s really just different ways to combine grease, carbs, and sugar. This from me, and I love grease, carbs, and sugar! But reading the menu, I could just imagine what a gut-bomb any of those meals would be once I’d consumed all 1,500+ calories.
But it’s the Cheesecake Factory. Naturally, the menu includes tons of cheesecakes. I opted to take the road less traveled (by which I mean totally untraveled; nobody else did this) and I ordered an entire cheesecake for dinner. Just the cheesecake.
Here it is, in all its release-night glory, my 7″ lemon-raspberry cheesecake:
To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t sure the people organizing dinner would let me order an entire cheesecake. I thought somebody would stop me. But no; it went right through and arrived along with everyone else’s gut-bombs.
That’s not to say I didn’t get many comments along the lines of, “You ordered an entire cheesecake?!” to which I gave the only possible answer: “Yes. Yes, I did.”
I took some to save for later, and I took as much as I wanted for the evening (one moderate slice), and then I put the rest out to share. Locusts descended and gleefully partook. It lasted a grand total of maybe five minutes after I made it widely available, and all takers greatly enjoyed the fruits of my audacity.
It was the best release night dinner I’ve ever had. Delightful.
I hope they let us order Cheesecake Factory again. I’m keen to try one of the chocolate cheesecakes this time.
Oh…yes, in case you’re wondering, I did actually provide myself with a real dinner.
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.
People sometimes come by my desk just to see the joke board. A hiring manager walks prospective employees by in a tour of the office, pointing it out specifically. For me, the greatest enjoyment comes from watching people read and react to the day’s joke, usually with a huge groan. It keeps me looking for jokes even on days when nothing’s funny.
Oddly, I’m not actually very good at making up puns myself. But I feel I can appreciate puns, and I’m never afraid of sharing them and looking stupid.
All along I’ve been taking pictures of joke boards that stood out as particularly amusing or well-participated. I’ve collected all these photos into a Flickr album that I’m enjoying, and I hope y’all do, too. I’ll try to keep it fairly fresh.
Here are a few picks.
If those tickled your funny bone, there’s lots more in that vein in the Flickr Joke Board album.
Note: I keep the joke board 100% clean. No dirty jokes, no innuendo, no bad language. It’s rare, but the company President occasionally walks through, and HR is stationed not too far away. That’s too bad, because sometimes I come across a slightly off-color joke I really just love, such as…
What did the bra say to the hat?
-“You go on ahead, I’m gonna give these two a lift.”
I’ll try to share those occasionally as I run across ’em, too.
The last few weeks have been tough. It really started around the my epic PII fail, followed by Benji’s having a fever for six days and the attendant canceling of his much-anticipated California trip. This necessitated my taking some extra time off work, and the timing proved unfortunate: I had a release this Thursday, the 22nd, and quite a lot of documentation to write for that. The result was that I worked from home on Monday, which was a holiday (although I also got in a delightfully sunny bike ride, too), and followed that start off with three days of super long workdays.
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.
- Unfortunately, it snowed Wednesday night and overnight the temperatures got into the low 20s, guaranteeing that everything froze solid.
- Fortunately, snow is pretty, and there wasn’t that much of it.
- Unfortunately, I can’t ride to the bus when ice coats the entire road.
- Fortunately, Ian and Benji were able to drop me off at the bus on Thursday morning.
- Unfortunately, I forgot my bike lights and my work badge.
- Fortunately, I remembered my wallet and ORCA card and my lunch.
- Unfortunately, forgetting my badge meant I also couldn’t get into the usual secure bike parking; and to access my office, you have to swipe a card on the elevator, so I couldn’t go directly to my office.
- Fortunately, I was able to get in touch with a coworker who was already in the office, and he agreed to meet me in the lobby and do the elevator card-swiping for me.
- Unfortunately, when I got to my office, a security guard stopped me in the lobby and said I couldn’t take my bike in the main elevators because it was for business people not bikes.
- Fortunately, he said I could take the freight elevator.
- Unfortunately, I didn’t know where that was, and when he described it, it was clearly going to take a lot of extra time.
- Also unfortunately, when I got down there, I was feeling so overwhelmed after everything that when the security guard in the loading dock asked “Do you do this regularly?” I yelled at him, “NO *&^!!@#^&&^%%##@, I DON’T!” –and then proceeded to explain, not at all calmly, about forgetting my badge.
- Fortunately, the security guard was really kind and calm, and told me where to go from there and wrote me a pass to ride the elevator.
- Unfortunately, between me and the elevator was a door that was held closed with all the suction of the entire Columbia Center–I couldn’t open it while holding my bike.
- Fortunately, another guy came along and opened the door for me. Also fortunately, the freight elevator was waiting and there was a guy inside (!) whose whole job it was to punch in what floor you’re going to and then write down what company you work for on a pad of paper.
- Unfortunately I had an infinite amount of work to get through before the afternoon and I was still feeling extremely unsettled and had a hard time getting down to work.
- Fortunately, I eventually got through all the stuff I had to finish, although it took all day.
- Unfortunately, that meant that we started our deploy later in the day than we wanted, and building took a long time because of all the changes. The result was that we weren’t able to start actually checking live pages until very late in the afternoon.
- Also unfortunately, I had a little over 70 pages to check. This isn’t just a quick skim for many of them to look for minor things like updating a screenshot. This time I deployed a lot of entirely new pages, which involves comprehensively checking every link to make sure each one really goes to the right place.
- And, most unfortunately, due to some things I don’t want to get into right now, I have to do everything twice. Literally. We are maintaining two different Help Centers right now, and that means every bit of work I do in one has to be done in the other, and then I have to check extra-carefully to make sure they both match. That means my 70 pages to check was actually 140 pages.
- Fortunately, the manager of the e-Learning group was hanging around to check some video stuff, and while he waited, he helped check some of my links. It was super helpful and he caught a number of places I’d made minor formatting mistakes, so hooray!
- Also fortunately, my work buys dinner for everyone who has to hang around late for the release. I got tofu pad Thai, which was delicious. I love Thai food.
- Unfortunately, by the time I finished, it was 6:40 pm and the last 311 bus comes at 6:45.
- Fortunately, my bike was parked next to my cube, so I grabbed it and zipped downstairs (in the regular elevator) and out the lobby to the street ASAP.
- Unfortunately, when I got to the bus stop, there was no bus.
- Fortunately, I checked the bus app and found the bus was scheduled to arrive right then. I looked up and there was a 311! I jumped on it in a flurry.
- Unfortunately, the bus turned down a different way from the 311, and I realized it was a 312X. I hadn’t noticed the last wrong digit.
- Fortunately, the 312X goes to Bothell, and I had my bike, so I figured I’d just ride the couple miles back home. It was pretty cold, but the streets in Seattle were clear and dry, so I figured the ice and snow would be gone.
- Unfortunately, this particular 312X ends in Kenmore, not Bothell, several miles farther from home than I was expecting.
- Fortunately, I had my bike and I knew how to get home. And fortunately I had my helmet equipped with a headlight and small taillight, so I could see and (somewhat) be seen.
- Unfortunately, the way home involved the bike path, which was shady and cold all day, meaning it had long patches of ice and snow that I had to slowly and cautiously creep across. It took me 22 minutes to ride just under 5 miles, including having to get off and slip my way on foot across some unavoidable and wide patches of ice.
- Fortunately, I got home safely (albeit miserably), just a little before 8:00 pm and immediately went to bed. Benji was spending the night at Mom and Dad’s house, for which I was deeply thankful.
And, most of all, fortunately I’d already cleared working from home with my boss. So I got to work from home on Friday, and I still put in 10 hours of work, mostly fixing minor defects and then checking them.
I’m looking forward to a new week.
When Benji takes a spelling test and misses one spelling word, he says he’s failed. When he tries to draw a picture and makes a mistake, he crumples up the entire sheet, no matter how long he’s spent on it up to that point, and throws it away. When he does something that requires a consequence, when the consequence is done, he sometimes says he should have more consequence because it makes him feel better. When I told him, “Nobody’s perfect,” he said, “But we can get really close.”
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?
- I went into a little phone booth room and cried. A lot. Because it was only 7:15 am, and nobody else was around. Although, I’ll be honest, I cried again later after my boss talked with me. That wasn’t the funnest experience I’ve had. I tried to be normal the rest of the day, but I wasn’t. It was tough to work. But I did keep reminding myself that it was a mistake, my value doesn’t change because of it.
- I ate, even though I didn’t feel like it.
- I did what I could to fix the mistake. Which wasn’t much.
- I will not make that mistake again. I imagine that next week we’ll have a meeting to talk about how we, as a writing team, can change our processes to catch these kinds of mistakes in the future.
- I went to bed at 7:15 pm.
Ultimately, I don’t feel I did a great job with my response. But I’m going to let the guilt, shame, and recriminations go and keep doing my job to the best of my ability.
One of the things I’ve been doing at work, besides working, is running the Joke Board. This started out as a totally random thing: We had a small white board, and it tended to be propped up in a high-traffic area in our section. We would sometimes use it to share food with a note like “Please enjoy these homemade cookies!” Like this:
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.
I haven’t mentioned my job recently, and that’s partly because it’s been going pretty swimmingly. I like my team, I like my boss, and I really like my actual duties. It’s as close to the perfect job as I could imagine.
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…