Friday, July 12, 2013


I had only met Derek once before. I was working on a project at the time that involved a massive amount of printing. I went through box after box of paper, oddly all part of making the office paperless. Derek had been upgrading the office’s printers and copiers. Our department was using a shiny new printer as a result of his efforts. He and my boss’s boss arrived at my cube to inquire as to its awesomeness. I assured them that the machine was fabulous. 

Derek mentioned that the new machine had four paper trays. I corrected him (it had three). He chuckled and pointed out that he had personally ordered all the machines and he should know what he bought. I led them both around the corner to the machine and showed them it had three trays. The conversation moved on.

This new project was signing up people for computer-skills classes. The office was switching over to a new version of Microsoft Office and was offering classes in the updated versions of Excel, Word and Outlook. Each class had several sections and was offered multiple times over the course of a couple of weeks. I was really excited. 

I’d heard about the wonderful opportunities for self-improvement in the form of classes that would be available to me in my government job, but in the year I’d been there all I’d heard about was one on stretching and another on ergonomics. I take that back. There had been a series of classes on something useful (can’t remember what) but they had awarded the two open slots via a random drawing and I had not won. 

Higher-ups were offered their pick of computer classes first, then the classes were opened up to other groups in order of perceived importance. I was in charge of signing up the various groups in my department. Derek sent me a spreadsheet showing a number of available slots and then I went about signing people up. It should have been simple: Here’s an empty box that holds ten things. Put ten things in it. Stop. 

Except the box wasn’t really empty, and wasn’t even necessarily limited to ten things. Because Derek wasn’t giving me all the information. He was adding and deleting people all the time in his personal copy of the spreadsheet, and not updating me until later. So I would sign someone up, only to have him call me a day later to tell me that that class was full. I would consult the spreadsheet and argue that there were still several open seats. Then he would send me a new spreadsheet.

At some point, we settled on him sending me a “locked-down” version of the spreadsheet in the morning that I could work with, except it wasn’t really locked-down because he would call me throughout the day to tell me he’d made changes. I made the case that this really was a one-person job and that he should just direct inquiries from his department (which was supposed to be all signed-up already) to me, but he insisted we do it his way.

It would have been better to put a sheet of paper on the wall and tack a string/pencil to it.

On the bright side, I got into almost every class I wanted, and they were very good and useful classes. I learned about using graphics, charts, pivot tables and mail filters (take that potluck announcements!). I even got some really useful reference materials to keep.

After the project was over, I saw Derek from time to time but never had to dodge the pleasure of working with him again. I saw him in the elevator once in a large group of people. He said hi and then commented loudly about how hard it was scheduling the entire office for all those classes. The conversation went something like this: 

me: “Oh my God, that was awful.”
Derek: “Well, come on now, it wasn’t that bad.”
me: “No, it really was a mess.”
Derek: silence.
me: “But the classes were great.”

Then it got a little quiet and uncomfortable.