I had to take this contract.
I was in a contract close to home but the money was poor. Worse than that the agency had just gone bust leaving me four months out-of-pocket on a six-month contract.
Then out of the blue I get a call about a financial-services company wanting someone to run their website for three months on contract. Great low-tax location in central Europe, fantastic pay. I’ve even got an old girlfriend in the region who wants us to get back together again.
The agency pay my expenses to go for the interview. After a 30 minute chat with the manager I have the offer. It’s more than twice what I’d just been earning.
I took the job.
What else was I going to do?
At reception the project leader, who had declined to be present at the interview, arrives to take me to my desk.
She greets me with a dirty look and en route to the desk she stops and announces, “BTW, we are very religious in this team and there’s no cursing or taking the lord’s name in vain”.
OMFG, I think to myself. What’s she telling me here?
I know you IT contractors are all foul-mouthed heathens. How did she guess?
That’s some greeting and I’m thinking: Welcome aboard, sinner. She wasn’t kidding either. Of a team of six, three of them were bible-belt fundamentalist American Christians, including both the senior team members.
DAY TWO of Contract From Hell
On a Tuesday, we have to report on “what we worked on this week”.
Now, instead of having the team email her individually and compiling the report herself, as a good team leader would, she has the team take turns editing a text file on the shared-drive.
She, the team leader, instructs the office junior to “train” me on this.
My “edit window” is set at 14:00-15:00.
The level of incompetence of this “leader” astonishes me when I see that she uses the same text file each week and she hasn’t even deleted the reports from the week before, including her own comment, which states, “I hired a contractor for three months, but we hope to replace him with an internal as soon as possible, certainly within two months”.
Being the only contractor on the team I ask the junior rhetorically, “This doesn’t refer to me does it?”, and she went bright red, poor lass.
My first appearance at the “weekly status meeting” where marketing, legal, and other groups interested in the website contents discuss their upcoming plans.
Our entire team has to attend, but only the team leader will speak.
She is unable to set up the video conference link, but one of the girls from marketing does it for her.
THE FIRST FRIDAY
She keeps me behind until 18:45 on Friday for no good reason, but as I’m on an
hourly rate and my flight home doesn’t leave until 20:50 I’m not complaining.
END OF FIRST WEEK
I’m up to speed with this job.
Each day they require us to attend an utterly pointless “roll call” meeting at 09:00am.
The team leader insists on this because she wants to make sure we are all in at the time she sets.
She also sets everybody’s lunch hour as 12:00-13:00 not a minute before, not a minute after.
My work involves editing one or two lines of html each day (in an interwoven template) and ftp’ing the occasional pdf to the webserver. I am a webmaster with in-depth knowledge of interwoven, but for the money they are paying I guess I can put up with it.
Pity they don’t allow web access for contractors though, so I’m going to be bored a lot.
Thankfully I have a window seat with a nice mountain view.
I notice some inefficiencies in their approach, and as my official job title is “consultant” I write a quick paper on process improvement and demonstrate it to the manager.
It uses capabilities of their existing systems and costs nothing.
He asks me to implement it.
Next day she cottons on, drags me into an empty office and threatens me, “This is why we had to let the last person go. You have to do what I tell you”.
I tell her I have management approval and she tells me that neither the manager nor I know how to run a “digital service”, by which she means “website”.
On Friday she keeps me behind until 19:30 claiming that I have to obtain her sign-off for a Monday morning change before I leave.
At 19:25 she turns up and when I present the change-request for her signature she flipplantly says, “Oh, the manager can sign that on Monday”.
End of month.
I submit my time sheet for signing and the manager freaks out. “You are not allowed to do excess hours without written permission. You stayed late twice on Friday. Don’t do it again otherwise I will have to cancel the contract! I don’t have budget for overtime.”
I meet a couple of permies in the bar on the commuter train and they tell me that hardly anybody in the company will talk to this woman.
She was a secretary but they can’t fire her because the redundancy package would be too high, so they stuffed her into the web team to get her out of the way.
They also tell me she has no knowledge of IT whatsoever (as I had independently discovered).
After having abandoned my process improvement and gone back to her overly complicated way of doing things (each stake-holder was signing off every change three times over) she again criticises my approach, says I am doing it wrong, and now tells me to do it the way I had suggested in week two, but this time, the process improvement has morphed into her own idea.
The office junior has a problem with her PC and it’s clear that the team leader hasn’t a clue what’s wrong. I overhear them discussing the problem and quickly suggest a known workaround.
The team leader gives me a withering glare and snarls, “Don’t you ever interrupt me while I’m speaking again.”
I call up the manager from my previous contract and ask if his offer to come back under a trustworthy agency is still open, but he’s just hired a replacement.
She tells me I’m doing it wrong again, and, in one sentence essentially tells me to do it both her original way, and the new way, despite them being incompatible.
By now I’ve learned to ignore whatever she says and just do the damn job.
It doesn’t matter how I do it, she always will find fault. This is why she constantly contradicts herself.
She has a copy of “Stupid White Men” on prominent display on her desk, and when I open a discussion with her about it, it is clear she didn’t even read it.
The title appeals to her though.
The temperature outside is ten degrees below, and the bible-thumpers, it turns out, are also fresh-air freaks one of whom likes to come in at 6:00am and open all the office windows.
Brass monkeys never had it this bad.
A few UK wintel contractors are over for a couple of weeks and obviously they know this woman.
They are effing and blinding all day and dragging the lord Jesus’ name through the mud – normal behaviour when working with windows.
She has no authority over them, and they are clearly winding her up.
I try to not laugh. When things go wrong for her she says, “shoot”, or “fudge”.
We all know what she means, but in her devout mind she has not technically committed any sin so it’s ok.
Her ticket to rapture is still assured.
END OF MONTH TWO
She wants to make conversation:
“How many agencies do you work for?”
“Whichever ones get me contracts and pay up on time”
“No, I mean how many are you actually signed up with?”
“Well none of them. I send my CV to all of them on spec, and resend it if I see a contract I like.”
“When I was temping as a secretary I worked for three agencies.”
“Sorry, but I’m not temping, I am an independent contractor.”
“It’s the same thing.”
“Well not really, they don’t pay me between contracts for example.”
“Then you’re stupid.”
I am still in the job, so I guess they didn’t find that permie they were hoping for.
One of the guys in marketing has just got married to a CSR he met in the company’s Dubai office.
To get her a work permit they fire the contract DBA and give the CSR his job.
The newly weds hold hands during the weekly status meeting.
A week later they have to hire another contract DBA to show the CSR what to do – he quits after two days.
They offer me an extension and I take it – the money is that good.
I insist to the agent that they should raise the notice period from 2 to 28 days.
It’s Xmas, and the cross-worshippers are full of themselves.
There is a non-stop barrage of anecdotes about Jesus coming from the manager, which have dramatically increased since the Muslim girl joined the team.
Something else I learned about the culture there: You can’t swear, or say anything un-christian, but it’s ok to fart in the office so long as you say sorry afterwards – no matter how much it stinks.
Things are starting to slip.
She doesn’t like me, and is starting to make it clear.
I’m the only contractor on the team. I’m also 10 years senior to the next eldest person, and the only person qualified in IT.
She announces over my head to the team: “You know these contractors make twice as much money as you do”.
I am not going to let this stand and defend myself saying, “Wait a moment. You have no idea how much I make, all you see is what the agency charges. Think about it for a moment. If you were sent to work abroad for three months the company would pay all your flights, all your hotel bills, and your meals. You’d do very nicely out of it. I have to finance that myself”.
Her response, “Well you’re stupid. You should move house.”
Changes Backed Out
I turn up at work on the first Friday of the new year and immediately notice that every change to the website over the last three months has been backed out.
Alone in the office I use my skills to discover what has happened (developers promoted new code over the holiday and also promoted three-month old test data – a cut from production – with it).
I repair the damage, decide that under the circumstances I do not require sign-off, and redeploy the correct content.
Before leaving I send an urgent email to management detailing what had happened, the steps taken to recover, and how to avoid a repeat.
On the Monday I get an email from the boss’ boss telling me well done,
and she gives me a bollocking for deploying without her permission.
I’m getting fed up with her b.s. by now so I forward her the email from
I also show her how to avoid it happening again and she says that won’t be necessary as she has told the developers not to make any mistakes in future.
THE LAST MONTH
Marketing ask me directly in the status meeting if I can prepare a press release a day early because they have a team training exercise on the publication day.
I tell them it’s no problem as I am not busy that week.
After the meeting the shrieking team leader yells at me never to speak in a team meeting again.
Why not, I ask her. “You must check with me, there might be things happening this week that you don’t know about”.
“Well no, but that’s not the point, I run this team and I won’t have juniors speaking without permission!”
THE FINAL WEEK
Agent calls me saying they want to terminate, no reason given, adding that they want me to leave as quickly as possible (I guess they have found a hapless permie and need the desk space).
I remind him about the 28 days notice and that I expect them to honour that, if they do I’m happy to leave today.
He gets back to me after an hour and says they will pay the next 28 days but they want me to leave at the end of the week.
I begin looking for a new contract. As they will not allow me to access my webmail I openly use their telephones to call around agencies.
As I leave for lunch she makes some caustic remark to a team-mate about “unemployment”.
I book the conference room between 12:00-13:00 for my first telephone
interview for a job 40km from home.
She interrupts at 12:30 asking me to leave as she wants the room.
I put the interviewer on hold, and tell her the room is booked and to go check the booking system to find another room.
Morning, first thing, I am offered the new contract despite her childish attempt to disrupt my interview.
I laugh at her.
In that day’s team meeting she asks what I have on for the day, and I say that I am supposed to be preparing the quarterly results press release (as mentioned the week before) but that I cannot because she hasn’t handed over the text or signed it off.
“What do you mean, I haven’t signed it off?”.
“Marketing and legal sent you the approval emails and the text three days ago and you haven’t signed it off. So it’s going to be late now.”
“You could have asked the manager to do it!”
“No, it’s your responsibility to sign it off and you’ve been sat there next to me the last three days holding it back like some anally retentive simpleton. Why should I go over your head?”
“Leave this meeting now!”.
(I had in fact already spoken to marketing – who know this woman and her pathetic machinations – and they had sent me the text directly, so it was in fact already prepared.
I arrange with the back-up guys to cut my personal files onto a CD (I’d amassed nearly 40MB of photos, emails, and stuff).
They say it’s fine but it turns out the CD writer is broken.
She spies me using the CD writer and runs off tittle-tattling to management that I might be stealing data.
Banned from taking my personal possessions out of the office, I copy the
file to a hidden directory on the PROD webserver (which I, and I alone, have access to).
I download it from a wireless cafe that evening.
It’s my last day and I have to remove that hidden file from the webserver before I go, but wouldn’t you know it, PROD is down.
Nobody can access it today.
I cannot leave that file there, even if it is encrypted.
So, I root about the network and discover to my relief that the problem is simple: DNS is down.
I ftp using the dotted-decimal and remove the file. Then I spend the day chatting on the phone and answering every spurious request she makes with,
“Can’t, your network’s down”.
All the team are frustrated all day by the outage.
I’d gotten to feel sorry for the junior sat next to me though, and I could see she was frustrated by the downtime.
So at 17:30 I say to her with a wink, “remember someone told you I get paid much more than everybody else? Well look, type these numbers into your browser instead of the name and see, the site comes up. It isn’t down at all. It’s been up all day in fact”.
Delighted, she looked up at me and asked, “how did you know how to do that?”
I looked away from her, right into the eye of the team “leader” and said, with all the venom I could muster, “That’s what I get paid the extra for”.
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