Jul 102012

To say that I was dissatisfied with my previous job is like saying that the surface of the sun is slightly warm. When I resigned, I resisted the urge to blog about it right away, figuring it would be much better to take some time and reflect on it first. A year sounded like a reasonable amount of time, and I left there in May of 2011. Over the past year, some of my feelings mellowed while others didn’t, but I’m still every bit as grateful to have gotten out of there. If you’re in management, lead a team, or are considering that path, here’s a few things I recommend you avoid doing:

Prevent candidates from interviewing with their potential team.
I smelled something funny from the very beginning, but didn’t act on it as much as I should have. My interview there wasn’t technical at all. It was held with one person, a director who started off by saying they knew next to nothing about SQL Server, though they were an Access developer many years ago. They said my resume looked very impressive, and basically just asked me to elaborate on a few of the projects I had worked on. Not a single technical question. Even with all the questions I asked them on things like training opportunities, my community involvement, twitter, speaking, and my upcoming wedding, I distinctly remember being out of there in about 45 minutes.  I was completely dumbfounded when HR called to offer me the position the next day. I reached out to the community asking for guidance as to if this was normal or not, and Jen McCown (blog | @JenniferMcCown) was kind enough to do an informal poll on her blog about it which yielded a wide range of results. After that I went back and asked if there was any way I could sit down with potential co-workers, but they said it wasn’t necessary. “<Director> is a great judge of who will fit in here, so you’ll be fine”. I still was torn, but accepted the job anyway. I don’t regret it because it led me to where I am now, but I don’t consider it to be one of the best decisions I’ve made either.

Don’t talk to your team.
My team was highly distributed, with my manager and a majority of the members in Eastern Europe. There was one fellow DBA who worked in the Chicago office with me, though. One might think this would mean I’d get some good one-on-one time and instruction from the only co-worker on my team in the office, but not the case. The best way to describe this guy’s personality is to compare him to a jar of mayonnaise. He would say “hi” when he walked in, I’d say “bye” when I left, and there was maybe an hour’s worth of conversation between us the entire year I worked there, no matter how hard I tried. Whenever I came to him with questions about a process or how something was set up, I’d usually get one-word answers, or the occasional four-word “go read the document”, and then be emailed a Word file full of screenshots with little to no descriptions. There are a few friends from there from different teams that I still speak with, but in general I never thought it possible to feel so alone in an office full of people.

Don’t listen to your team.
Part of the company’s “database standard” was that every query was required to use the NOLOCK hint. Every query. No matter what. The irony here is that some queries were returning bad data and nobody could figure out why. When the official error report came out with instructions for reproducing the issue, it was evident that dirty reads were the culprit. When I pointed out that NOLOCK was to blame here and that removing it would fix the problem, I was told that NOLOCK was part of the coding standard and must be used. Despite my attempting to explain how NOLOCK works and citing BOL and various blog posts showing that dirty reads can and will occur when using NOLOCK, they refused to believe it was to blame. To me, this was like ordering a cheeseburger and then complaining there’s cheese on it. I actually got an email from the lead DBA telling me that both Microsoft and I have no clue what we’re talking about when it comes to transaction isolation levels. When I asked if they could then please explain it for me, I was told it was “too complicated” and would be way over my head.

Give your team nothing to do.
I’m not sure they ever had a plan for what I would be doing. The whole time I was there I probably had 2-3 weeks of actual work they let me do. The rest of the time I would ask what I could do and I was told I could read, play games, mess around in the test environment, surf the internet, or do whatever I wanted to fill time. This may sound awesome, but it was really quite boring. I would have felt much better with a heavier workload, but without one, I decided to dedicate my time to professional development and the community. I got my twitter on and started this blog, which I consider to be a pretty wise investment of said time. Judging by the number of science fiction novels on people’s desks and the countless online poker games (for real money) I’d see on their screens, I’m guessing there were a few others would could have used some more work too.

Make your team reinvent the wheel.
One of the few projects I was given was to develop a view or procedure that would show all the active processes on a server, their current wait types, and statistics such as the number of reads and writes they’ve performed. When I heard this I realized that Adam Machanic’s sp_whoisactive script would be a shoo-in, as it did everything they were asking and much much more. I forwarded information about it to my superiors, noting that it had been in development for years, is used by thousands of DBAs worldwide, and best of all is free. Their response was that all development must be done in-house, and we could never have code on our servers that was written by “some guy from the internet”.

Deny opportunities for training and professional development.
I blogged about this last year, but to summarize, at the interview I was told there was a budget for appropriate training events. When such a training opportunity appeared, they refused to help pay for training or even give me the time off to attend, because they felt I was “good enough” and didn’t need training. I ended up going on my own time and my own dime, and it was worth every penny.

Play games with vacation time for major life events.
When I interviewed for this job in April of 2010, one point I made sure to bring up was my wedding which was taking place in August of 2011. I was assured there would be no problem taking 2 weeks off to get married, provided my manager approved and I had accrued enough vacation time. I filled out the PTO request on my very first day there and was promptly denied. I was told it was too early to request it, and try again 1 year from the date. Ok fine. When August rolled around I submitted another request and was again denied. My manager told me to try again once I had accrued the 2 weeks of vacation time. When I had 2 weeks of vacation built up (this was probably December at this point) I tried again, and was told to wait until February, when it would be 6 months away. In February (which was 6 months out) I submitted another request, and was told “possibly”, because they had just approved another member of the team for vacation during that time and they didn’t want too many people to be gone at once. WTF?!? I was trying to decide if I would just quit my job before the wedding, or simply make sure nothing of value was left at my desk and not show up for two weeks. Fortunately I found a new position and didn’t have to worry.

Conduct exit interviews in full view of others.
When I announced my resignation, my exit interview wasn’t held in a conference room or other private place. Instead the director opted for the lobby, with the receptionist right there and other people coming in and out. I later received a follow-up questionnaire from central HR which asked some standard questions as well as some very interesting ones about pay in the workplace. I’m all for written communication, but in lieu of a face-to-face HR meeting, a phone call with them would have worked wonders. At the very least, it would have showed they were trying to make it look like they care why someone’s leaving. But I’m pretty sure they didn’t.

  22 Responses to “Eight Ways To Avoid Retaining Top Talent”

  1. Bob,

    This is pretty bad experience and thanks for sharing your insight. I am sure many people will relate to some part of it. I can relate to training budget part. I too made sure during my job interview and they said they will provide one conference training once a year. I got it first year. Then management changed and training budget went out of window. As they say life is a game of compromises. So I took the stock and everything else I like at work beside this one thing. So I stayed. In your case there were multiple bad things going at the same time. And I admire you still stayed one year and utilized your time wisely.


    • Hi Ameena,

      I’m usually one to stick things out and I don’t want to seem like I change jobs like clothes, but in this case with multiple upsetting events and the fact that a fantastic offer came along, the time was definitely right to get out. Thank you for your thoughts!


  2. For a talented person such as you (I read your blog and so I know your tech skills) the best thing was to move out. Glad you finally found a position. If the company told you and Microsoft were wrong on isolation levels, I dont know what I can comment. my 2 cents.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.


  3. Excellent Read! Wow – never read such a comprehensive read on this subject.

    Seriously great!

  4. WTF? The thing about your wedding is unbelievable. It’s almost too bad that you didn’t stay just long enough so that you could not show up for the two weeks and really stick it to ’em ;-)

  5. At my first job, I had the “Give your team nothing to do” and the “Deny opportunities for training and professional development”. Surfing the web on the job is awesome. For one day. Then you are bored out of your mind, which is quite depressing.

    Eventually I was fired during the economic recession, and it was the best thing that ever happened to me.

    • My feelings exactly about being bored, Koen. I’m sorry to hear you eventually lost your job, but it sounds like you were able to turn lemons into lemonade. Thanks for reading!

      • Some very fine lemonade :)
        I found a company specialised in BI (never really heard of it prior to that point in time) who were willing to invest in a junior like me. They send me to some SQL Server trainings (SSIS, SSAS) and now, a few years later, I’m speaking at local SQL Server conferences. Career-wise, getting fired was truly the best thing that happened to me. It didn’t feel like that at the time, but when I look back now, I have absolutely no regrets.

        I guess it’s the same with you. Move on and have no regrets :)

  6. I was also related some part of it and thats my first job. I stayed one year there, learned as much as I could. Learning new things, thats the one thing to solace myself to stay. I hope I will encounter fewer of these problems at my new job.

    Thanks for sharing your experience.

    • Thank you for your thoughts, Barış! One of the few things that kept me there was the realization that I could use all that downtime to help myself for the future. Glad you were able to do the same, and best of luck at your new job!

  7. Oh Dear. There are so many parallels here with my current job. I started 4 weeks ago and it took very little time to realise what a complete “non fit” I am. You have described my interview process to a tee, though there were 3 non techs involved. I’m not planning on completing my 3 month probation. I want to gloss over this episode in my CV and move on.

    The whole holiday thing would be funny if it wasn’t so serious. The number of companies that tell you “our employees are our most valuable asset” but then start treating them like things rather than people is shocking. In fact if a company uses that phrase I reckon you should be suspicious.

    I recognise the dogmatic application of a “standard” we have a similar unexplained method for our SSIS that makes a number of things very very hard to do and any kind of data quality check close to impossible. No one can explain why we do it the way we do, but we must do it that way.

    many thanks for at least helping me realise it’s not me being a prima donna. My current job just isn’t very good.

    • Hi Steve,

      I don’t think there’s any shame in saying “hey, this job wasn’t what I thought it was going to be, and I’m just going to try and move on as quickly as possible.” Judging by the comments here, it looks like you’ve got lots of great company!

      Best of luck in your future job search, and thanks for reading!

  8. Very nice post Bob. I’m catching up on the site; there is some excellent writing here.

  9. This is a good read for anyone looking for a job. This should also be a good read for managers.

  10. […] Eight Ways To Avoid Retaining Top Talent […]

  11. Hiya Bob, I remember meeting you in the Chicago SQLskills class. I had no idea all this was going on then. Wow. My condolences. If I didn’t know better, I would think we worked at the same place. While I wasn’t getting married, I had a manager mess with my vacation once. The week before I was supposed to leave, he told me I had to build several clusters. If I couldn’t get it done, he would cancel my time off. So I get it down, but when I return, it turns out no one used those server and they got recycled for something else. Well, I’m glad to hear the new job is treating you better.

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