Not Exactly Fair Warning

One of my clients sends me files of objective STEM questions to review for grammar and punctuation. I don’t have to check any of the subject matter, thankfully, although I will occasionally find the ridiculous goof up. Although those are really the sort of things that anyone would catch.

For example, one of the questions was written out in a true or false format, although worded differently. And the answer options were ridiculously extrapolated to fit the 4-option format. So the 4 choices were: 1) Yes. 2) No. 3) Both yes and no. 4) Neither yes or no.

I mean, come on.

Another example. Today, I was editing maths papers, and the question read something like: which of the points, A, B, C, or D, are closest to this certain point on the number line? And there was an accompanying diagram. The answer choices were: A) A. B) D. C) C. D) B.

Wonderful. Unnecessarily confusing. Or some idiot teacher thinking that they would catch out a hapless student for not paying complete attention? I don’t know. But it was stupid.

However, the character that makes all this quite interesting is the chap who coordinates the work on the client’s side. He sends me files regularly, and then calls me up to tell me about the work. I presume this is in case I haven’t seen the email. I have his number saved, oh for the last year at least.

So I find it amusing that I will answer his call with: “Hi Tushar.” and his response will invariably be: “Hi ma’am, Tushar here.” Someone’s clearly on autopilot.

Tushar, I have since learned, is not great with catching on to nuance. He is a very literal person, so when he sent me a bunch of files last week, saying: “Ma’am, please find the files for review. Please try to share a few files every day.” I panicked.

I thought there were a huge number of files, each with lots of questions. I opened the folder and heaved one sigh of relief, because there were 10 files. Quite a few, but manageable overall. Then I opened a file, and saw 1 question.

Huh?

Next file: 3 questions. Next: 5 questions. Next: 2 questions. There were a total of 47 questions, and it took me approximately half an hour to wade through them.

And then yesterday he sends me another folder, with no such message. I thought that the workload was normal to light. Nope. 7 files, each with about 36 questions. It took me the whole day to wade through that lot.

Thanks for the warning, Tushar. Handy.

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Eggjackly

There were many occasions in ParserPile, where I found myself desperately biting my tongue to stop from laughing. This is one of them.

One fine day, I was working with one of the growth hackers. I didn’t think much of her intelligence or ability to do anything, but the founder thought she could sprout rainbows because she was formerly an engineer at Apple. And he was a worshipper of the deity, Steve Jobs, and Apple Inc. was essentially his idea of hallowed temple precincts. [I know enough about software and hardware engineering, and marketing, to realise that Apple is quite a lot of hype. They weren’t even the ones who first made smartphones; just the ones who first made smartphones sexy.]

Anyway, one evening, we had a meeting with the founder. Somehow, the two of them started talking about exercise and healthy eating. She was into fitness and ran marathons and did krav maga, but still was an idiot. He was a former fat person. I came into this meeting a little later, and had to immediately pull on the most wooden expression I could muster because:

She: “Eggs are a great source of protein, but <her husband> thinks they are non-vegetarian, so he doesn’t like me to eat them.”
He: “He *thinks* they are non-veg? They are, aren’t they?”
She: “Karishma told me they aren’t.”

Oh brother. Here we go.

Both swivel to look at me.

He: “Karishma! Aren’t eggs non-veg?”
Me: “Not all. It depends on their source. Typically, poultry farm eggs are unfertilised, so those are veg. Free range ones could potentially be non-veg, if a rooster is around.”

Laughter all around. Disbelieving laughter, I might add.

He: “That sounds crazy!”
She: “I know, right?!”
Me *sighs*: “A hen will lay an egg, regardless of whether a rooster has been around. That’s the way their reproductive system works.”

Minds blown. Jeez.

He: “Ok, so is that why brown eggs are healthier? Because they are fertilised?”
She: “Oh no, those are healthier because they are organic.”
Me *groans*: “Um no. Brown eggs are laid by brown-coloured hens, while white eggs are laid by white-coloured hens. They are nutritionally more or less the same. The difference in colour is due to the fact that they are laid by difference species of chickens.”

Utter silence. All this information is visibly swirling in their brains.

She *to him*: “Karishma reads a LOT.”
He *laughs*: “I’m going to call her the chicken expert from now on.”

Ye Gods.

Hi. I’m Content.

I usually recount this story during interviews with people, to explain the different hats I wore during my tenure at ParserPile. Officially, my job title was technical content writer, but as time wore on I got sucked into various aspects of the company. By the time I left, anything communication-related was run by me at least once.

This was the time I was working with one of the product managers, whose perennial project was the pricing page. Arguably the most important page on the website, after 8 months, he was rapidly tiring of researching and implementing minor fixes to the page. There must have been a million different optimisations, and some of those fell within the domain of content. At those times, I got seconded to him, much to his relief.

ParserPile had been through one payment processor, and was currently on their second. There were no complaints with the second service provider, so changing to another wasn’t on the cards. So when a third company sent a sales rep [from their Singapore office] to make a cold call, the founder couldn’t be bothered to actually listen to his pitch.

So he sent in, in his stead, the product manager [because of the pricing page], a relatively new CFO [both the person and the position were new], and me. Ideally, someone from each of the sales, support, and frontend teams should also have been there, since this affected them all. But they weren’t, and I was, much to my complete confusion.

We entered the meeting room, and the product manager introduced himself. So did the CFO. Then the very polite young man from Singapore turned to me, and I said with the straightest face I could muster: “Hi. I’m Karishma, from Content.”

Credit to him, he didn’t react too much. He looked utterly flummoxed though, even though he didn’t say anything. So I laughed and said: “Yeah, I don’t know why I am here either.”

When I narrate this story, it invariably gets a chuckle. But I understood only later that, because I had worked with almost every team in the company, I had an almost 360 degree perspective that the others didn’t have. For instance, I knew we were moving from being a B2C company to a B2B one. I knew why our previous payments processor had to be dumped. I knew the ease of filing paperwork with the current one. I asked about how long integration into our frontend would take. I knew to ask how quickly disputes are handled. And so on.

On leaving the meeting, the CFO turned to me and asked me to sit with him for a while for a chat, so he could get a handle on the company. I was surprised, and laughed again. I suggested he sit with one of the engineers, because they knew the product from its bowels.

But I leave that part of the story out of the retelling.

Grey Area

Last week, a college classmate contacted me, asking whether I still did technical writing. I said yes, obviously, and he told me he wanted to commission articles around a list of IT domains, for publication to LinkedIn. He felt he would be unable to do it, and thus wanted to know if I would be interested in taking on the work. I said yes, and so far so good. He needed 2 articles over the course of 6 months. Not strenuous by any means. And I figured they would be on the heavier side, taking me many weeks to iron out the facts into prose.

When I was asked about this commission, I was under the impression that the articles were a part of his work, and that he was subcontracting the task to me. This is fairly common, and not remotely morally questionable, insofar as his workplace is aware that this is happening. Ghost writing is very much a stalwart of the writing industry after all.

Then I got my first surprise: the word count per article was to be about 300 words. That’s.. not a lot. Most of my blog posts here are longer than that! It is just enough to write a short introduction, make 3-5 points very briefly, and wrap up with a short conclusion. Ok. Why do I need 6 months to churn out these piddly articles?

Next, he was very vague on the the actual topics he wanted to write about, and just told me the domains: cloud, AI, etc. At first, I was a little flabbergasted, because I hadn’t realised that finding topics was also part of my commission. Anyway, having gotten into the habit of spoonfeeding all my customers with thorough research that ideally they should do, I drew up a questionnaire: audience, tone, thrust, etc. I also cobbled together a list of 30-odd topics currently doing the rounds of publications.

He highlighted 5 of the topics on that list. And added a comment at the end: “To start with.”

Hm.

By this point, my head was awhirl. He said he wanted 2 articles, but had now upped his commission to 5. Next, he wanted the articles to go up soon. As in, immediately. And finally, once I had accepted the work, he told me that these articles were intended to go up on his personal LinkedIn, in order to get a better appraisals, and to impress a few hiring managers he had recently added.

Bloody hell.

I don’t know what to make of all of this, to be honest. If he had written the article himself, and had me edit it, would that have made this seem less morally dubious? I stuck to my timelines, but he still followed up with me regularly, and published the first article hours after I sent it to him.

I just.. don’t know what to think.

Food Harassment

For a while, I was rather taken up with the Answer this question thing on Facebook, because it was like a mini writing prompt. One of them was:

Not because I particularly love cake, but because of my predilection for baking. I wanted to bake because my mother wasn’t a fan. Growing up, very few of my friends’ mothers baked, but those that did made the most amazing stuff. [In retrospect, it wasn’t that hard. My mother just doesn’t have the yen for it. Fair play.]

Then the whole cake fairy nonsense erupted at work, and I was repeatedly harangued for food. The demands moved from cake to just about anything that my mom or I cooked, because cake became too specific for many.

The food harassment, as I like to call it, took on some hilarious proportions. There was a time set aside for this machinations to take place: my lunch time. The way the office worked is that people could go have lunch in the office cafe any time they wanted, so that was logically the best time to corner me. There were scouts posted [well, those who worked near the cafe] who were meant to send off alerts to the main perpetrators when I went in for my meal.

In the beginning – the first 2 days at the most – this was protocol. After that, it was largely scattershot. Having said that, after spending an hour AFTER I had finished eating, literally cornered by 3 boys, I started sneaking in to have my lunch.

The cafe was in the shape of an L, and the large part of the L was visible from the pantry area. The little part though was not, so if I sat there, no one could see me, unless they walked the full length of the L first. There was more security this way, so people in the pantry wouldn’t suddenly spot me, and make the most of the opportunity.

This plan, for the most part, worked very well. It did mean that I ate my lunch alone, but I had podcasts to keep me company, and I could come and go in peace.

Until one fine day, when the founders came to the cafe for their lunch, and they decided to pick the table at the end of the cafe. Yup, the only place you could see me from, and the way the tables were placed? It meant that although we were at different tables, they were sitting right next to me.

I groaned inwardly because, knowing them, they would attempt to converse with me out of courtesy. But at least, I could make good my escape when I was done eating.

However, the first question out of their mouths was: “Hey! Why are you eating here on your own?” and the second, before I could reply to the first, was: “Are you hiding?”

Now, I was known for being a bit of a cartoon with a sarcastic tongue. The founder I reported to – my boss – knew this, but his counterpart didn’t interact with me on a day-to-day basis. Basically, I should have chosen the words of my response more carefully. Because my reply was: *smiled* “Yeah, I’m hiding from AP, DG, and RP. Last week, they kept me here an extra hour till I promised to bring them cake!”

In my defence, I laughed a little, and shrugged. It was not something to be taken seriously. However, not in my defence, I should have noted the widened eyes that followed my remark. My boss laughed too, and I assumed that was the end of that.

Um. No.

The next day, I got called in for a meeting with the head of HR. I had no idea what the meeting was about, because there are many times I’ve been asked to edit policies and generally support their function. In no way did I connect my lunchtime conversation of the previous day to this.

Hooboy.

She sat me down gently, and asked me whether I needed water and how I was feeling. Now this in itself took me by surprise, because I have been at the office longer than her. I know where the water is. I said I was fine, and then it occurred to me to ask what the meeting was about.

“Oh, the conversation you had with Nakul (the other founder) yesterday. He said that 3 of the engineers are harassing you, and I should sort it out. I also had a word with the guys about it.”

After blinking in astonishment for about 20 seconds, I burst into peals of incredulous laughter. I only stopped laughing long enough to explain the utter ludicrousness of the situation, where I would complain to a co-founder about my petty bickering with 3 of my office FRIENDS. Not colleagues, friends!

The HR was relieved too, although she was slightly miffed about the misunderstanding. I calmed down finally, and explained that she knew the equation that existed between me and the engineers. We bantered and fought, but it wasn’t ever serious. She agreed, and suggested I have a word with Nakul to lay the issue to rest. I acquiesced and the meeting ended.

I looked for Nakul, and found him next to one of the guys, DG. And without preamble, because this needed sorting out, I launched into a short speech: “Hey Nakul. You know what I said about food harassment yesterday? I was kidding! They do harass me, but it is just a bit of fun. I wasn’t upset or anything!”

To his credit, Nakul accepted that he misunderstood, but I see that he was just making sure everything was on the up and up in the office. I can appreciate that. However the other 3? Still haven’t let me live down my “complaint to management and HR”.

Bloody idiots.

Shrunken Head

I usually reserve my rants about my clients to an audience of one: my mother. But this particular client deserves a post all her own. THAT’S how clueless she is.

I signed on to handle the website development for her fledgling company, where I do content, project management, and client liaison, and I have 2 developers and 1 designer doing their shtick. UX also falls into my bucket, even though I am a total noob at it. Thankfully, a static information site requires very little in terms of UX.

All of this is fine, except I’ve landed a client who needs a shrink more than a website developer. She hasn’t the tiniest concept of agile project development, no matter which single-syllable words I use to explain it, and cannot comprehend why she has to make decisions for work to move forward. One day, last year, I get an irate conference call from her an her hapless husband about how things are just not moving forward. This is after sending her multiple reminders to check content and wireframes.

At that moment, I was forced into a corner, and I got verbal confirmation from her that I would make all the calls, but she wouldn’t be able to change much thereafter. Because once pages are designed, it is difficult to move elements around. Once they are developed though? The engineers will draw and quarter me. So that’s how in a few weeks’ time, we had a functioning website up and running.

Of course, since then I have become Heroine & Saviour. So now I get calls about stuff where she wants my opinion on stuff that has the most fleeting connection to the website. I sit through the calls patiently enough, because I don’t actually have to say anything. She needs a listener, and yours truly has drawn that particular straw.

But last month really took the cake.

I asked her to consult a lawyer for the legal notices necessary to include on the website: terms of use, privacy policy, and so on. Not being an advocate myself, I cannot possibly write up those documents. It would be unethical and irresponsible, and goes totally against my grain. Anyway, she called a family friend, and he promised to get back to her.

I was pleasantly surprised when he did, fairly promptly I might add, but both the feelings of pleasantness and surprise faded considerably, when I saw that he had sent her documents for a completely different business. Because, of course.

I sent them right back to her, and told her to do better. I cannot possibly hire a lawyer on her behalf, and I suspect she was half hoping I would. Trying to explain how that would be completely impossible was also beyond my scope. Of sanity.

Finally, she got hold of someone who does this work, and organised a meeting with him. I was also asked to attend, even though, again, it is well out of the scope of my work. I attended the meeting yesterday, and was supremely relieved to meet someone who was clearly a professional and more importantly, SANE.

Still, nursed a headache all evening as a result. I will need therapy after I am done with this lady, if she ever lets me bow out of her project.

Whew.

Beware of Girl

When I interviewed at ParserPile, I was oblivious to the gender mix of the organisation. I walked into an open office, and registered that there were about 30 people there. Give or take. Nothing else. I was too nervous and highly strung, and frankly it didn’t even occur to me to check for fellow females.

During my first week, I was taken into a conference room a few times by one of the founders. It was for orientation, and he explained the products, the company ethos, the different teams, and the policies to me in brief. A lot of it went over my head at the time, because I was new and nervous again. But one thing stuck.

He: “So, as you may have noticed, you are the only girl in the office.”
Me: “I hadn’t actually. It’s my third day, and I figured that there could be some people on leave.”
He: “Nope. I am a little nervous about having you here amongst all these guys. But please be assured, if you feel the slightest discomfort at all, you must come to us.”
Me: “Thank you I will.”
He: “No I really mean it. Anything at all. This is a safe office environment.”
Me: “I believe you, and I will. But judging by the people I have interacted thus far, they are more inclined to be wary of a female in their midst, than the other way around.”
He: *smiled*

End of topic.

Cut to 2 years later, and the HR had come up with this idea of telling stories about ParserPile in a big company bonding session. I had initially backed out of speaking, because I couldn’t think of anything to say. But I got hauled up in front of everyone, as the first female employee and was impelled to speak.

There were a number of anecdotes that sprang to mind then, because I am surprisingly [to my own shock] good at extempo speaking. [Previous experience has not led me to this impression.] And one of my anecdotes was partially the one above. Except, it now had an ending.

Me: *at the gathering* “.. The funny thing is that I recounted this conversation I had with the co-founder to some of the others, after we became better acquainted. And one of them retorts with: ‘Oh he gave you a warning about us?! He should have warned us about you!’ And that, my friends, is how I have a full circle in this organisation.”