Last we spoke, I had just accepted a job for which I felt highly unqualified. They still wanted me for some reason though and against all logic, I accepted. That was in January. I was hired along with a more experienced counterpart and together, we took on the task of rebuilding some external sites for a national retailer and its five brands, simultaneously. It was a tall order and we are frequently frustrated, to tell you the truth. We battle old ways of thinking, fear of change, and lack of true leadership that will lay the hammer down on problem children. I am not yet at the point of throwing my hands up and allowing the frustration to color all my days, I’m still learning and being part of a solution is why they brought us on. But sometimes, you have to look beyond your immediate situation at whatever might be coming at you from the side, front, behind, or beneath. Cover your tush, girl.
“I’m sure these are growing pains”, or “I’m sure this will get better”, are mantras we repeat daily, sometimes hourly, when things seem like they’re going in circles or not at all. At some point, that mantra can shift to a darker, more cynical, “This place sucks”, or “…Typical”, depending on how far you go.
My counterpart, let’s call him A, is more experienced than I am in the mighty ways of UX Architecture, this much has been clear from the beginning. He has the lingo down pat, he seems to know exactly what the next steps are in any situation and moreover, knows precisely how everyone is failing at success and he is not shy to point it out. Being somewhat new in this branch of UX, I cannot help but be impacted by the verbal shrapnel his criticisms fling in all directions. I began to see the company we work for as confused, floundering, barely run effectively, and full of idiots. Except for us, of course.
I did not like feeling this way and began to resent going to the office every day and seeing him sitting there, apparently just waiting for me to show up so he had someone to complain to. I found myself wondering why he’d stay, we’re contractors after all and it’s not like the people who put us in our jobs want someone who is miserable, to stay there. It reflects poorly on their choices of candidates and hinders their abilities to place more people in the future. They’d rather work with the unhappy worker and find them something new than allow them to stay on, potentially poisoning a well.
A month ago or so, after I found myself nodding through gritted teeth at yet another gripe session, I pitched the idea to our boss that we split up and work independently. Not only would it keep stakeholders happy to see us working on their projects at twice the pace, but in theory it would give me a break from this constant complainer, who was beginning to deeply affect how I felt about the employer too. I wasn’t ready to be bitter and resigned, I needed something to work for and take joy in.
My boss agreed and split us up to do work on a project or two each at the same time, and while that worked well for a month or so, it wasn’t long before we were back at the same desks or offices together, every day, complaints flying. Eventually I looked at A and asked if he was job seeking elsewhere. He seemed momentarily startled and glanced over his shoulder to see who might have overheard the question (no one, I made sure before asking).
The floodgates opened. Yes, he said, he had been looking but it turned out that “no one can afford” him and the cost of living in our city, he felt, was too high (it is not, I assured him, I just moved from a city with disproportionate COL:income), so a pay cut isn’t an option.
I began to notice a pattern with A. He talked a very, very good game but mostly, I realized, he’s full of crap. I figure that he has everyone snowed, convinced that he is deeply needed, very important in the UX scene, and knows more than anyone in the room (or anyone he works for). I took a step back and looked at the work he was doing, his bad relationships with our stakeholders, and then saw something I had been too intimidated by his touted experience to see previously: I can do the work he’s doing just as well, if not better, and people like working with me.
This revelation brought about two things. One, a new sense of confidence that I was no longer phoning it in or secretly faking it until I made it, because I was making it, and two, the company doesn’t actually need two people to do this job. We could do it with one UX Architect to work with the stakeholders in discovery and ideation sessions, and one dedicated UI designer to handle the wireframes and prototypes. With that team, maybe we could finally embrace an Agile system instead of waterfall, where we currently hope and pray things fall into place as we go.
On day last week I had lunch with a friend who works at our office and who also happened to work previously with A. I explained to him my frustrations working with A and his constant negativity, and told my friend about an idea I was rolling around: If A left the position like he’s been threatening to do, and they took it down to one Architect, it would save the company money while also eliminating a presence that is becoming increasingly cancerous to the process.
My friend encouraged me to speak to my boss. I told him it felt underhanded and a little sabotage-y but he replied that A is not shy about how unhappy he is, the problems he sees with the company as being unfixable, he comes in late daily, and expresses frequently his frustration with stakeholders through passive aggressive comments and eye rolls. The writing is on the wall for those willing to see it. So after lunch, I went to my boss’s office and said that if, and I don’t know anything for sure or have any concrete evidence, but if A would not renew his contract when it expires in July, that I feel the UX Architecture part of our team could be handled by me and a dedicated UI designer. I explained that having a designer would free me up to work with the stakeholders, which is all they really want, and would push Agile into a potential reality. That’s it. He didn’t ask for more information or proof, he nodded, looked intrigued, and left me with… I would describe it as… an optimistic “alright”.
Was it the right thing to do? Was I throwing my hat into a non-existent ring? Would they take my idea seriously and let me do it myself or would they get a more seasoned Architect in there to co-work? I have no idea. I can say that the company does not excel at stellar financial decision-making and they tend to think spending money is a failsafe against failure. But I know that I have my boss’s support in most anything that I do, and in spite of my own misgivings about the company’s future as a whole, I know that I can do the job and do it well. I will rise to the challenges and forge ahead with the solid and promising stakeholder relationships that I’m building.
I do keep my eye on the job boards, for my contract also expires in July and it would be unwise to presume anything about anything, but it feels better having made what some might consider a “power play” than simply waiting to see what might be around the corner. If nothing else, it has set me apart from my coworker, who only ever seems to be about the complaints where as I want to be part of a solution.