Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Most Unpopular Guy in the Room

I haven’t written anything about this particular topic, because I didn’t want the wrong people to see it. But it’s reached the point where I can talk about it.

About a month ago, I got a phone call from an internal recruiter for a very large bank headquartered in New York City. During the five months I was unemployed, I must have fired off two or three hundred resumes, and one of them had finally percolated down through the layers of bureaucracy at this particular institution. The wheels turn very slowly in banks, despite the efforts of bankers to stop them completely.

The recruiter told me that they’ve opened up an office near where I live, intended to house portions of their business that don’t need to be in New York. He described the position they had available, which would be a radical departure from the work I’ve been doing for over 30 years. Since the 1970’s, I’ve been a Technical Writer, producing thousands of pages of user’s manuals for software and electronics products. In other words, I write books that nobody reads.

In this new job, I would be documenting banking policies and procedures, not products. The purpose of this documentation is to satisfy government regulatory agencies, who are under fire from government lawmakers for failing to properly regulate banking activities in the past decade. Ironically, this is the primary reason that millions of people around the world, including me, were out of work in the first place.

The regulatory agencies will review the documents I write to verify that the bank practices are in accordance with federal laws and regulations. In the banking industry, this is known by the term “compliance,” and it’s a deadly serious business. The Compliance department at a bank is equivalent to the Internal Affairs department at police headquarters. As one of the managers who interviewed me said, “You’ll be the most unpopular guy in the room.” No problem, I’m used to that.

I interviewed with a total of four people over several weeks. This particular bank is what’s known as a “custodian bank.” That’s a bank that provides services to other banks. They’re profitable whether the economy is doing well or doing poorly, because they make their money on transactions, whether the money is coming in or going out.

They made me a verbal offer that was $15,000 a year more than I make now. I don't know what came over me, but in the middle of a terrible recession, I turned it down and demanded $20,000. Three days later, which is positively warp speed for a bank, they agreed - but with the condition that I interview with two additional senior managers, who apparently wanted to meet The Man With Brass Balls. Those interviews went well, and they sent me the formal offer.

So today I gave my notice at my current job, which I’ve only held for six months. I was hired as a Technical Writer, but the job is actually something I call “Software Paleontology.” This is where a software product has been around for a long time, undergone dozens of revisions, and nobody has kept track of anything.

There are features in the software that no one knows how to use, because the developer that wrote the code is long gone, and there are no specifications or documentation of any kind. Nobody is using these features, but management can’t spare software engineers to remove them from the product – they’re too busy working on new features for which there are no specifications. I spend most of my day digging for tidbits of information that will enable me to formulate plausible descriptions of product features that nobody uses. It’s unfulfilling, and people cringe when they see me coming. I’m the most unpopular guy in the room.

No comments: