Tuesday, March 24, 2015

outside office work

As I've moved into more analysis/inside technical work, I've occasionally had to work long hours inside. Whenever I need to do this, I'm reminded of how much more draining office work is. Sure, in the field I'll work 10-11 hour days with no ill effects, but a lot of that time is running around, collecting measurements, taking notes, and watching contractors.

I fit the extra office-type work in the office. I'm not the sort of person who can work well at home - I prefer to have a clean break from whatever is stressing me out. Even in grad school, where my setup for my apartment and my office at school was essentially the same, I would still make the trek in to do my homework. That means that in a pinch, I'll haul myself all the way to the office on a weekend to work. And because I'm a morning person, and if I'm stressed/under deadline, I will tend to go to bed early in an attempt to get more sleep and then wake up extremely early, I do all my extra office work before hours. By the time close of business rolls around, I may have already put in 10 hours and am wiped out.

I have coworkers who prefer to work extremely late, and ones who prefer to hide out at home to avoid distractions. I also used to work with someone who would take his stuff to a local bar to catch up on work. Of course, the best alternative would be to have a reasonable schedule and not have to work a ton of hours to catch up, but with project-based work, we rarely have the luxury of spreading out the workload.

Monday, March 16, 2015

paying speakers

Thee was some grumbling last week in the comments for this AAM post regarding payment to speakers. Some people were upset that the original poster was trying to get free speakers, and implied that this was similar to not paying interns.

I've been both a free speaker, and the person trying to arrange other free presentations. Here's the thing: in both situations, at least in my line of work, the speaker is getting paid, just not by the organization they're presenting to. A technical presentation is a form of marketing, and is usually budgeted as such.

My vendors love to give sales pitches presentations, and I'm ok with that, as long as the presentation has some reasonable technical meat. Making it a "lunch presentation" and having the vendor spring for pizza also works.

Because I'm on the consulting side of things, I'm not usually selling a particular product in my presentations. But if I've worked on a cool project and learned something useful, and I share it in some sort of public forum, I'm educating others and also keep my name out there as a smart person who does interesting stuff. Sometimes I present at conferences, and sometimes a big client will request a presentation for their own technical staff. I'm paid for my time (more or less) by my organization, and I may get a conference discount, but I'm not getting anything more.

Of course, sometimes I do volunteer. Maybe it's for a science career fair at the nearby high school, or they're short a speaker for the local branch of a geological/environmental society meeting. But it's not something that's keeping me from my paying job.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

a rough project...

I haven't told any nightmare field stories in a while...

I was in charge of a big field project that was just a big mess. Budget, politics, technical requirements, personality conflicts... everything was hard. And on top of that, we had epically bad luck. Things broke that nobody knew could even break. If there was a utility line located anywhere on the property line, we would find it the hard way. Maybe not by drilling (because soon I was utterly paranoid and had the drillers hand digging to 5 feet), but by driving over it, running into it - you name it, it got damaged.

Sometimes projects are lousy. But this project was not only terrible, but it dragged on and on. The core field people (those who were in the project for the duration), who had a combined 80+ years of field experience, all responded differently to the stress.

One person slowly built up a bottomless pit of rage, to the point at which he started pacing and muttering incoherently. He never actually released it (he did that on the next project), but he got so bad, with anger just radiating out of him, that even the client representative and regulators were afraid to approach him. Another broke in a different way: he got so sick of stupid interruptions and changes in direction that his repressed sarcasm boiled over and he got booted off site (permanently) for insubordination. When I heard about that, I yelled at him, "you were supposed to direct them to me when they're being ridiculous! It's my job to debase myself and agree to outrageous demands so that we can keep this job moving forward and end it!"

Me, I became The Girl who Cries in the Trailer.

I would get screamed at, or I'd have to referee a fight between subcontractors, or something would break, or the oversight person would announce that we had broken another of a million little rules and the job was shut down until I could fix it, and I would go into crisis management mode at the scene. Then, I would drive off to the trailer, start the incident report or the updated schedule or the work plan modification, and I would cry over my paperwork. Or, I'd close the door behind whoever had just made my life miserable and bury my face in my hands for a few minutes.

We survived, Mr. Insubordinate and Mr. Rage and me. We went on to do other difficult and technically challenging jobs. But we all agreed that we would not work on another project as bad as that one again.

Friday, March 6, 2015

too much review/little review?

I was reading a simple long-term monitoring report by another consultant, and the level of review/non-review was...odd.

I don't expect much from a long-term monitoring report. It's a lot of boilerplate and "yep, nothing much is changing, just like the last 17 reports", and that's fine. But I came across a report that was decorated with four review signatures, including signatures of some high-level staff. And the report had a collection of typos, weird formatting (tables ending up illegible because they'd been shrunken down to the equivalent of 6-point font), and lousy interpretations of things like water level and contaminant contours.

Did any of the reviewers actually review the thing? I mean, sure, contour interpretations aren't earth-shattering, and I can just eyeball the numbers they're based on and mentally create my own if they're bogus. But illegible tables? Super-obvious typos? They're the sort of thing that it would take a reviewer (well, me anyway) about 5 minutes to scan through and flag for revision.

Reports that the one of the corporate officers and two technical experts is signing off on should at least look respectable to someone who glances through it.

Monday, March 2, 2015


Field folks/road warriors, when you're going out on a multi-day trip, what do you bring?

I use one of two suitcases: one is small, for just a couple days in the field in the summer or for a conference. The other is reasonably large (but not gigantic). Both are a color that's relatively popular, but they're not black and I never have a problem recognizing them at the baggage claim.

Many of my coworkers tend to use giant duffel bags. I will bring along a smaller duffel in the winter for the multitude of clothing I may need (sweater, fleece, jacket, coveralls, mittens, etc). But for the stuff I'll change into or out of at the hotel, I much prefer a suitcase, because it has a lot more "top space" to rummage around. Also, I can add a laptop or other heavy stuff and wheel it around.

The worst of both worlds is the rolling duffel. I used to cart around a gigantic, rigid-bottomed duffel with two wheels, and it was impossible to wheel around and the wheel/bottom made it less suitable for stuffing and tended to whack you painfully when hoisted. Now it sits on the floor of a closet and is used only as out of season storage.

I got my two-suitcase set about 5 years ago, and it's a "rugged" soft-top line of a pretty good brand (Samsonite), but both suitcases have seen a lot of hard usage. Say, 100 flights? And then they've been chucked in and out of various vehicles for probably 100 weeks of non-airline travel. The open bed of a pickup truck in the rain/snow? Check. Crammed into a car with pointy, metal equipment? Check. So they're starting to show their age. Nothing catastrophic, but lots of frayed bits and chewed-up edges and iffy wheels.

I'll keep my luggage going for a while (another few years at least), but maybe the problem is that I'm picking luggage that isn't rugged enough? Is it worth paying more for bulletproof luggage, or is it better just to get reasonably cheap stuff and expect to replace it on a regular basis?