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Tags: work add neurodivergent chronicpain discrimination frustration
I was thinking last night about my jobs over the years, and how frustrating it has been to stay employed.
It occurred to me that I'd been separated from every single one of them for being neurodivergent, or disabled. I wish this was a joke, but it most certainly isn't.
Here's some history (with one still-run business's name partially obscured (you will know who it is if you know me even vaguely)).
See what you think.
- Dates: 2003-2004
- Job: Warehouse clerk (shipping, receiving)
- Status: Resigned
My direct supervisor started out okay, but after a few months he kept asking me to "stay late". He repeatedly harassed me in private where no one else could see or hear. His complaints were always some combination of me, "not being fast enough", "thinking too slowly", or "needing to improve so I don't have to fire you". These harassment sessions grew more frequent in number, and the language comprising them became dirtier and more accusatory almost every time.
I knew by the second month of this that it was never going to stop. My performance was on-par with, if not better than at least half of my co-workers.
After a particularly rough session where the insults had become more personal in nature, and I felt both threatened and terrified, I broke down. I walked in tears to the front office and made an appointment to speak with HR the next day.
While I waited for my appointment, and thus my chance to voice my frustration, I worried. When I spoke to them at the end of my next shift, and they quite literally said, "we're not touching him, his numbers are good and he makes us look great. Whatever he's doing in the warehouse is his business, and we're not interfering", I knew immediately that I should have seen that exact response coming.
I quit on the spot. They seemed unsurprised as I walked out.
I never even got to say goodbye to my co-workers. I was too terrified to set foot in the warehouse again.
- Dates: 2002-2007
- Job: Quality Assurance
- Status: Left position laterally (due to chronic pain and lack of work)
I liked this job and the environment. It was repetitive, but enjoyable.
It became more stressful as time went on, as I survived round after round of budget-cut layoffs. Fellow QA employees were excised slowly from the floor around me as the company moved buildings to cut corners on rent over and over. The waves of anticipation eventually took on an organic, even expectant feeling. The rising and falling stress eventually plateaued, staying at a fever pitch for everyone still remaining on staff in development and QA.
By the time the company came to rest at a comfortable payroll we had gone from several hundred employees to about 20.
Eventually I moved laterally from QA to IT as it was becoming more and more apparent that my QA skills were soon to be less desirable to the company and their single big contract-holder. This proved a wise decision in the long-run, but also let me in for an even longer stint there, and additional -- much worse -- stress.
When the big contract holder eventually decided to jump ship, I wished fervently I had been laid off with the others. The pressure to be at all times useful and needed was overwhelming and pernicious.
- Dates: 2007-2010
- Job: IT/Systems Administrator
- Status: Trained replacement, re-tasked, laid off
My official title was never changed. I never received any change in pay for my lateral shift. I learned most of what I needed to know on my own, in off-hours at home in a desperate attempt to remain relevant. Java, Asterisk, VoIP, Wordpress and Drupal site maintenance and security. MySQL administration, Perl and modules, XHTML and PHP.
It was a lot. My ADD made it rougher than ever to digest information I had no interest in learning, but for the knowing of which I might hold out some glimmer of a hope at remaining employed.
Eventually, they hired someone with a similar, but more advanced skill-set who could also program (far better than I ever have), and the company began not-so-subtly shifting every one of my responsibilities to the new hire. I liked the new person, and we had become working friends in no time, so it was not only painful for me to continue teaching them what they needed to know to replace me, but also deeply frustrating. I still resent being made to do this to this day, and am extraordinarily sensitive to the notion of this happening to me again.
At long last they had extracted what they needed from me, and management "loaned" me to a nearby company called A---t A--------t on a full-time basis. I had worked with one of their developers for a time at Lunar Logic, and he interviewed me and recommended I be hired after one brief exchange, having seen how I worked.
I didn't find out until later than they charged the company quite a bit more than I made, and pocketed the difference.
After my contract with the loan-out was nearly over, I came back to meet with the CEO for a brief chat. I knew I didn't particularly want to come back, and I could tell by the way he spoke he was never going to take me regardless. I left feeling defeated and used.
Fortunately for me the new company liked my willingness to be on-call and fix server issues in the middle of the night. Little did they know I had few options.
Little did I know I had passed off one stressful environment for an entirely new brand of discomfort.
- Dates: 2012-2014
- Job: IT Operations Specialist (Systems Administration), On-Call
- Status: Resigned due to workplace harassment
A---t was even more stressful than Lunar Logic.
As it turned out, it too suffered massive down-sizing culls shortly after my hire. Fortunately, these were more short-lived. Being in IT I avoided direct repercussions, but the side-effect was getting to watch others fall apart or lose their jobs.
I learned a bit, but mostly suffered the same toxic oppression the other IT and development members did. We were expected to lead by example, but given no latitude or authority with which to do so: the C-level management continually ducked our attempts to assess their needs and equipment, or even manage their assets. They were happier to spend money from our budget like water, then complain when service agreements weren't payable or there was no money for other needs.
We were also hampered by poor IT management choices at every turn. The then-CEO wielded nepotism like a fountain pen, handing high-paying positions to his friends and relatives, literally printing them money. Meanwhile, CTOs came and went like seasons, unable to reign in the chaos.
The person in charge of IT between CTOs was not capable of leading such teams, and floundered with basic technology terminology on a daily basis.
We chewed through three CTOs in the time I was there. The last one, and only one I had any difficulties with, was the software company equivalent of a well-dressed but conniving used car salesman.
The new CTO decided within weeks of starting he didn't like me -- likely because I saw through his hypocrisy, I'll never know for sure -- and decided to harass me at every turn for every tiny mistake I made.
One in particular involved him approaching me for the wifi password when I was flat-out exhausted and running six things at once. He became flustered when what I had written on a sticky note didn't work (it was a 25-odd character password and I was harried as it was). Instead of letting me email it to him, as I had suggested in the first place (it was for a secondary device), he asked me repeatedly to re-write the phrase. Each time he got more and more passive aggressive about it until I asked him dryly if he wished me to come type it on his device myself.
To his credit, I had written it wrong twice, but when you approach me when I'm multitasking and ask me to split my attention even further when there are two others in the department perfectly capable of handling your request then you're going to get exactly the kind of quality I can give, regardless of my intent. Had I not been nose-deep in production server work, I could have paid him more attention, but the buck definitely stops with live products. We could not make money with them down, and he was impeding me from keeping them running smoothly.
He reminded me about this password snafu -- in front of others, in meetings, whenever he felt like it -- no less than weekly. I was subjected to this for months. Eventually my direct manager even commented to me in private that, "it's really disturbing how he won't let that drop!" All I could do was agree and shrug. There was nothing I could do.
I finally broke down when he found a second nit to pick on a semi-weekly basis. I broke a production product after a nearly sleepless 60-hour week of drowning in work. It's hard not to make mistakes when one is on-call 24/7 and basically anyone can call and wake one up for any reason at all.
Around this same time he started complaining about people working remotely when they were not feeling well. By this time my neck and back issues were so severe I was barely sleeping, and being told my reprieve days were "not conducive to synergism" was a tipping point. I struggled internally with the decision overnight, then tendered my resignation in the morning.
No one seemed in the least surprised when I cited the CTO's unprofessionalism and haranguing as the reason.
- Dates: 2015-2018
- Job: It Operations Specialist (Systems Administrator), IT Helpdesk (internal support)
- Status: Laid off for refusing to do work not in my job description (which they had agreed I would not do in the first place)
My second stint here was after more churn had robbed the entire company of their core development and architecture team -- including the fellow who had gotten me the job in the first place -- and the CTO above had separated from the company. His glitzy, lofty schemes for carrying the product forward had come to naught. The off-shore development team he'd hired and given high-paying busy work for a year had squandered precious money the company needed to stay afloat. Since his plans were grandiose and unfulfillable, they had yielded no concrete assets. I'm not privy to the actual details of why they decided to part ways, but heard it had happened through acquaintances in the field while I was still looking for work.
The owner of the company had taken a firmer role in running the day-to-day company, and he was a reasonable person. So it was with little thought that I answered when the lead developer phoned me. He asked if I had found work, and asked me to consider coming back, since they were in a tight spot. (It came to light only weeks later that he, too, had found greener pastures.)
After a time I agreed to take the position with the understanding that I would never have to do client support (particularly on the phone), and could work part-time and co-locate from home when needed for my chronic pain. The senior developer was holding down IT himself, and desperate for help, so he had no problems with either condition. Sadly, he never codified them with management in any way before making his own hasty departure.
After the senior developer left, I was the entire IT department, and was being paid exactly what I had been as a junior Ops person at my previous stint there. All while filling the roles of an entire three-person IT team.
Only months later I was being asked to provide support to irate, unhappy clients while trying to hold a company with aging, failing computer equipment together with bailing twine and hopes. There was no budget for anything. Our server infrastructure was all far past retirement age. Even our VoIP phone system was dying.
The company was barely paying rent, let alone payroll, and both servers and services were disintegrating rapidly. I spent an entire weekend trying to rebuild our Shoretel VoIP when the RAID controller abruptly died, leaving us without means of voice communication -- vital for our business model.
I eventually had to admit defeat rebuilding the RAID array, but we had phones back again within half a week, thanks to my quick thinking and a local VoIP contractor's fast footwork. I was then berated for the quality of this offering no less than weekly, despite all the time and effort I'd put into resolving someone else's negligence.
I did the best I could to hold things together, hoping the company would begin to turn a profit and things would improve.
Sadly, by the time the better times came, it was apparent that my conditions for having accepted the job were no longer something to which they cared to adhere. This all came to a head when I was asked not only to pick up the client support slack more heavily, but also to work more hours. Both of these were things I had been firm on when taking the job, and with which I was unwilling to budge.
I came out as transgender shortly after, and was "laid off" exactly 30 days after that.
I leave it as read that I was not fired for coming out as LGBTQ+ at work, but I really don't know for certain.
Was I laid off for being unwilling to do things that made me uncomfortable? I was already in considerable and constant pain due to a bulging disk in my neck. They wanted me to work more, making this excruciating pain -- and the commensurate insomnia and disability that came with it -- worse. I had doctors notes to back this up.
They also wanted me to lie to customers about refunds, and support them at unreasonable hours by phone. As a neurodivergent person with severe phone trauma, I found the lying reprehensible on its face. But the insistence I push myself past that trauma to hold down a toxic job was utterly ridiculous, and so when I was eventually called in "for the talk", I leaped at the opportunity to find out why.
They laid everything out, and stated repeatedly that, "you know this isn't because you're transgender, right?" I readily accepted being laid off when it was offered. I simply wanted out at this point.
I had no interest in working for a company willing to reinforce employee trauma on a daily basis for the company's benefit. Leaving my morals and their willingness to require me to entirely bypass mine completely aside, they were asking far too much.
I have left a lot out of these, and been as vague as possible given I am in no position to fend off legal entanglements.
My phone traumas have been continual throughout my life, and I have no way to divest myself of the difficulty I have dealing with phones, or even hearing them ring. This is just part of my life, and unfortunately isn't easy to describe. (People who do not suffer from this kind of insidious PTSD would not even comprehend the depths to which it can affect one, so I will understand if this seems strange or unbelievable.)
I can't undo any of the mistakes I've made in the past, but every single one of these companies could have tried harder to be more inclusive and tolerant. They chose instead to side with profit, as is their unfortunate choice to make.
For myself, I choose people over profit at every opportunity, and will continue to do exactly that. To do less is to devalue human beings, and I can't accept that as a valid choice in any context.