Feeling like a Chinovnik


Image by nist6dh via Flickr

Before I accepted the job offer to Tymnet McDonald Douglas, I had never heard of telecommunications.  Like most of the people back in 1987, I had never heard of the internet.  Strange as it must seem to younger folk, email and search engines were not part of everyday life.

“What is telecommunications?” I nervously asked a savvier colleague from Tall Tree, as I was saying my goodbyes.

“It’s what allows you to get money from the ATM,” he explained.

With that minimal knowledge of what I was getting into, I took the next step in my technical writing career.

On the plus side, I was given a base salary that was more than twice as much as I had been earning at Tall Tree.  And in many ways, the workload was much easier.  Instead of being fully responsible for all the technical documentation in the company, I was now merely a member of a team.  An editor read my work prior to publication and could catch not only minor errors of spelling or omission, but also ask me questions that led to further revision and improvement.  I no longer dealt with the printing house, bargaining with salespeople to get my company the best pricing on paper and production runs.  Specialists dealt with that.  I dealt only with the research and writing.

Moreover, the company sent me to classes on telecommunications during company time.  At first, I couldn’t believe my good luck.  They were paying me to improve my marketability by teaching me to understand telecommunications, SNA and other wide area network protocols that were being used at that time.  I had studied languages (Russian) and linguistics – including Chomsky’s transformational grammar–in college.  Learning the networks protocols seemed very similar to learning another language.

On the other hand, I had exchanged my five-minute commute for a 45-minute to 1-hour commute in aggravating traffic.  We did not have flex hours in those days and we could not work from home—because networking wasn’t yet ready for prime time.  So even though the demands of the work were easier, I had a harder time balancing my workload with my responsibilities at home.  My youngest daughter was now in first grade and her sisters were still in elementary school.

The other problem with my new job was that the company was so hierarchical that the higher level management seemed totally disconnected from the lower level workers.  The only manager that I had any sort of relationship with was my immediate manager, who really was a very nice, understanding, accessible guy.  But what a contrast to my previous company where the CEO and chief engineer of the company knew all my children by name.  It made me feel like a chinovnik—a petty clerk in a Russian novel.

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4 Responses to Feeling like a Chinovnik

  1. Carl Meisel says:

    Well said. I’ll be happy to read it. Hope you guys are well. We will be in SM from Jan 10-Mar 10 and then to China for a photo trip in the mountain country. Life in so good.
    Regards, Lynn & Carl

    • lipbein says:

      Nice to hear from you Carl You and Lynn must be going back to the Writer’s Conference. We probably won’t go again in February, because we are going to be there in October. I wasn’t working now, and Micha has been anxious to go back for another visit.

  2. Susan says:

    I enjoyed reading your post, Janet. It reminded me of my first technical writing job — at Crocker Bank. Talk about hierarchical! The employees practically had to genuflect every time the CEO (Mr. Wilcox) walked by. Like Tymenet, Crocker also provided great training. I’ve used the skills and knowledge that I developed there throughout my entire career. I spent 8 years at Crocker (I think of it as my military service…) before moving to a small software company in San Francisco to manage their Technical Communications department. It was a breath of fresh air — completely non-hierarchical. From there, I moved into contracting for awhile; then spent years writing for relational database companies (relational databases were really hot then; kind of like search and social media are now). I even spent about a year working for a Swiss company that needed writers who could write American English. Who knew that the ability to write American English would be so valuable?! That was an exciting time (end of the ’90s). I’ve always been glad that I moved into software; it’s kept me employed even during the worst of times (like now) and the culture suits me well. See you soon.

    • lipbein says:

      Luckily, Tymnet McDonald Douglas was the only time that I had to deal with that level of hierarchy. I’m impressed that you were able to stick it out at Crocker for 8 years! I didn’t stay at any of my jobs that long.

      My next job at Tandem was much better. Jimmy Treybig, the CEO, stopped me once in the corridor just to ask me how things were going. What a difference!

      Thanks for subscribing and for adding comments from your own experience.

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