Thursday, September 17, 2009

Professional Interviews (5): Jamie, Project Manager

The fifth in my series of interviews with people about their jobs, an attempt for me to both learn to interview and learn about people's jobs. This one was the first phone interview, which presents its own challenges, of lack of facial expressions and gestures, but not too much of a handicap, I don't think (maybe Jamie is just exceptionally expressive, I'm not sure). Anyway, I'm in bold, J's in Roman, and I hope you find this all as interesting as I do.


What is your job description on paper? Ie., What did they hire you to do?

I guess manage documents and staff. Manage staff, maintain documents. Maintain the integrity of a set of documents. (what does that mean?) It's business-speak--it's making sure that the documents are in order, checking if there's a relationship between the documents...because often if you are dealing with 500 000 documents, their order has probably been tampered with because of moving, because of coming from many sources. I have to make sure, with this team of people, that these documents are...I don't know...organized properly. It can be very tedious.

What do you actually do?

I deal with the documents at the ground level, I hire people, I make sure that the staff is aware of what's going on and, because we're in front of a computer for 8 hours, I try to be as conscious as I can of the general happiness of the staff. That can be anything from health problems to their infighting, how they deal with one another. That's why I said I'm managing the staff as well as dealing with these documents.

Can you do a day for me? Like, hour by hour?

I've been wondering that myself for the last week! A typical day is at my desk, viewing documents, seeing if there's a relationship, cataloguing, one ear open to the environment of the office. Making sure that whatever's happening in the office is communicated back to my supervisor. I'm kind of in the middle, between the bosses and the regular staff.

Lately I've been dealing with something else, so I haven't been looking at the documents. But there's always part of me that is worrying that people are talking too much, or we're not producing enough numbers... When we were on a deadline, I made sure I was there cataloguing the documents with everyone else on the weekends. Like, I don't have my own office, I'm in the mix with everyone else.

Are you responsible for disciplinary issues?

Yes. But I don't— Like, we work in an office building where we should be wearing business casual, which is a rule I prefer to ignore, and then sometimes people take it to a new level of informality, and show up in really questionable clothing choices for the environment but I would prefer that people dress to make themselves comfortable because it can be difficult being in an office all day. Why make it any harder?

I hate discipline. I'm passive aggressive, so that makes it very difficult. Last week I spoke to someone that was being too loud. The person wasn't being loud in that moment, so an argument could be made that I should have waited for an example of the problem to say something, but I saw a moment to go over and I said "Ok, you have to watch the volume of your voice. I'm sorry if you feel picked on." And the person’s response was "Yeah, I do feel picked on." And then this person went on to list four other staff that needed to be disciplined even more. Which I find humourous, that one person would be willing to sell out all the other people in the office? And for what? Vindication of poor behaviours maybe?

I see problems in the office and I try to think is this just how people deal with the every day or something that we need to deal with. We can't help ourselves, people, humans. I probably ignore more than most people would. Eventually though you don't have a choice, once you call yourself project manager and have hired people, you have to go up to people and say, "Do not cut your toenails at work, please. That's disgusting " The thing I want to say, "Get your head out of your ass," but I don't say, because if you're verbally abusive people usually aren't going to listen to you. But because we work in an open environment, 13 people in a room, its not impossible that a toenail could fly in the air and hit someone in the eye.

What is the part of your job you are best at?

Wow, I don't know. What would someone say to that?

Like, in your job interview, the thing you said you could contribute to the company, the thing that you are good at offering.

Interpersonal skills. I love it, I know there are lots of people who would rather work at home, but I love the social aspect of work. And I don't mean talking about watching "American Idol" last night, I mean collaborating with people, the process of work. Most of my relationships even with my close friends involve work. I don't think I have a close friend right now that I don't have a job with.

...I just like work, I like my social relationships being about work. This conversation I take a great amount of pleasure in because it's for your blog, there's something to it.

I spend more time at work than I do at home, most people do, so where do I live?

Why not just go home and say, this isn't my problem?

I suppose, the easiest thing...if it's not done, I'd be the first person to be asked why it wasn't finished. I'd be asked, what were people doing that it wasn't done? I helped hire the staff, made sure that they can do things within the parameters of the deadline.

I've really come to this by accident. I don't have a law degree and there are people there who are lawyers and it would be really really cool if I had a law degree too I’m sure, but that just isn’t going to happen. Anyway, that’s my day job. My nights are filled up editing a film about a person with a porn addiction. And I'd really like that to be my focus. Not to porn addiction, ideally it would be to make films and write. Right now I'm taking the Kafka approach, to work all day and write all night. I'm trying to eliminate distractions around me and to just write and make these films.

It's the day job question--can you get any glow from your job? You care about your job and are good at it, so can you feel proud of it the way you do about a solid piece of writing?

I need money to exist. I'll reduce it to the basics first. I like to live a certain way, and a person has to have a job, that's almost always true. The things I'm writing right now, they don’t pay. I have to have a job, I like the people I work with, and I actually take pleasure in the work. In having 5 calls to make and making sure things are getting done. It's the process, and that's what I take pleasure in with the writing, the process of the drafts of stories is the day to day stuff to me, which I enjoy doing. I know that mundane work day kills people inside, but I don't have that feeling after 6 years. That might be because I'm in a position that has some power to it, or because I work for someone who's very freethinking and opening minded. My boss, he really does have a creative mind. And that helps. I'm not really sure if I worked somewhere else, if I'd have the same passion. But then, I equally I enjoyed working at a pizza place for years.

What do you do at lunchtime?

Um...bitch. If I'm with the one or two coworkers that are my confidants, we'll take a break to go out of the office to talk about the office. Sometimes I'm playing basketball. I'm obsessed with the middleaged weight-gain, I'm terrified of it, so I'm getting some exercise. If I could do it the way I'd like it, I'd be by myself. I used to go to this place that no one else went, it served this disgusting pasta with bbq sauce and this chicken...well, it wasn't good. But it’s a space where I don’t have to worry about meeting anyone.

When you meet people at parties and they ask what you do, how do you describe it one sentence? What follow-up questions do they ask, if any?

"I'm in litigation and at night I'm collaborating on a documentary about a porn addict." I never tell people I'm a writer. "Documentary about a porn addict" is easier than writer because it's more complete, people get that. People ask what you write and you say surreal noirs, they might not get that, and they say, what's that like? Most times at parties, people give you maybe 5 minutes, so I try to reduce it quickly to its main points. It's a short form to say "I do this but I also do that." You're looking for the description that people nod at and move on. This is cynical, but people don't have the time in their lives to put into that many other people, they’re too busy with their own lives.

Who would you warn away from this career path--who is absolutely not suited for this job?

I would have assumed that I would have been not suited for my job, and I seem to like it so...who knows?

Some of Jamie Popowich’s writing can be found here.


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