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13 July 2016

Accommodations and respect, part 2

This is a continuation of https://stillinthedesert.blogspot.com/2016/07/accommodations-and-respect.html.

I finally got a reply, that started with "I'd like to apologize", in response to my raising a fuss that the workstation that's reserve for me at work as part of ADA accommodations wasn't available one day last week. At that point it was already the wrong answer. I didn't ask for an apology. I don't want people to be sorry. I want to be able to come in to work, sit down, and start working and not have to throw a fit and/or make a scene in front of an office full of people to get someone to recognize that there's a problem with something I need to do my job.

My response to the apology letter was that since having a sign posted doesn't seem to work, someone should be assigned to make sure that the workstation that's reserved for me is available when it's supposed to be-- that person could certainly be one of the student leads that's here every day. I noted in my response that doing so would take about two minutes out of someone's day. It's my impression, since this particular accommodation was one that was initially denied (I appealed the decision and it was then granted), that The Man is just trying to do the minimum required to stay out of trouble. Honestly, how hard is it to say to the people that are here during the day (I work at night), "That workstation must be empty at 1630 every day. Make it so."

Otherwise at work, we didn't have a software dev meeting again this week-- so for another week, no one has asked me anything about the project I'm working on. I come in earlier than normal on the days we do the meeting, which I did today, thinking there was going to be one. I had to interrupt someone else to ask about the meeting, and that person mumbled a little bit about a part of my project that I've already talked to everyone about. Which was something, at least someone had looked at it for a minute, but it wasn't that much.

I'm not asking people to throw coins and candy and tell me how much they love me every day at work. Honestly, a majority of the time I'd like to be left alone so I can code. Some of the time I really do enjoy interacting with people though, especially when it involves talking about software and what people want their software to do. I'm much more motivated by seeing someone using software that I've written, hearing their opinions on what it does well and could do better, than I am how much I'm being paid. It's not that money isn't important-- it is-- but it's not the main thing that gets me out of bed and to work every day.

That's not what I'm getting. Instead I'm getting apologies and I'm being ignored.

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One of the goals of my taking this particular software development job was finding out how I'd do in an actual production environment with PTSD-- not just working on my own projects, but coding in exchange for someone else's money. I don't like saying this but after a little more than a year, I'm feeling a little bit discouraged. Nothing I asked for as far as accommodations was anything that required great expense or changes to work flow. Even so I've had to spend a lot of time and effort not only to get the accommodations but to make sure I keep them.

I'm trying to imagine how requesting the same accommodations would go at a startup, or at any tech company, considering how the process has gone at a university and considering previous places I've worked. I often think back to the dot com I worked for, where I had PTSD and didn't know it at the time, and I wonder if I asked for the same accommodations what their response would have been.

Task switching, being moved from one job to working on another (and another...) job wasn't exactly the same problem there but it was similar. I'd be working on one client's website, and there would be a change to another client's website, and another, until I'd have six or seven different things to work on but no sense of what priority to assign to each one. Invariably, the ones I'd pick as the lowest priority would be the ones that management would be asking about first. I remember that I did ask more than once for some sort of guidance on what I should be working on, but never got an answer; the highest priority was generally the client that was currently on the phone with an account manager. I ended up working on several different clients stuff in a day, not making forward progress on any of them.

There were also times when I'd get pulled from being a programmer to being a system administrator because I was the only other person there who knew shit about UNIX.

I remember that I started keeping my email client closed when I was working on something. Eventually I also started keeping my instant messenger client (back then, Yahoo Messenger or ICQ) closed or on away as well. Then I brought in headphones and turned down the ringer on my phone. All of that led to people emailing me, then messaging to see why I hadn't responded to their email, then calling to see why I hadn't responded to their IM, followed by them tapping me on the shoulder in my cube and nearly getting themselves smacked for sneaking up on me.

We did ask at staff meetings about all of this-- the company tried "quiet hours" where we weren't supposed to be interrupted, but then we'd just have people standing outside our cubicles ten minutes before or after quiet hours with a stack of questions. That's one of the reasons I left that company, was the constant conveyor belt of switching from one thing to another to another.

The noise there was terrible, too. An old warehouse with high ceilings. Fax machines with a stream of incoming faxes that never stopped. People talking. There was a TV in the reception area. Complete open office. There were a few actual offices with doors, and I remember asking about getting one of them, but was told they were already assigned to others. I never heard what the criteria was for being assigned an office, and I'm not sure there was one. I had an assigned workstation-- a low rise cubicle-- but there was no truly low traffic or low noise area in the place other than the few offices there were.


Had there been such a thing as noise canceling headphones then, I'm pretty sure I'd have bought a set on my own. I know that some companies now buy noise canceling headphones for their programmers without the ADA; the company back then might well have done the same.

Had there been an ADA then, I might have been able to be assigned an office as an accommodation. At the very least I might have been able to share an office with someone else who valued quiet. I remember now, what happened when one office opened up because someone left and I asked for it-- it was converted to a server room. So that might have been a fight.

It should be noted that programmers have requested, and repeatedly been turned down, for having offices with doors that close for years in favor of open offices. I'm certainly not the first, and this wish in particular has been a wish as long as there have been programmers.

Task switching, and getting prioritized work assignments, might have been a fight too. The whole "quiet hours" thing never really stuck, and it turned out that the manager I had there that would pile work randomly into my inbox was fired not long after I left-- but everyone was laid off several months later, so who knows. If we say (for the sake of argument) that the same manager I worked for stayed, and so did I, customizing a work flow for me would have been an epic battle. (Although, if the same changes had been made for everyone else too, the entire development staff would have been a lot happier and more productive.)

I feel pretty safe in saying that the accommodations I have now probably would have helped, back then. They help a great deal now, and if I hadn't taken my current job and had gone straight to a tech company I would be in the same boat as back in the day-- trying to figure this shit out, except under heavier fire.

Taking all of the anecdotal evidence I accumulate from what people say online about where they work and where they intern, and what I'm able to get from recruiters and tech evangelists at hackathons, it's hard to picture what it will be like asking for accommodations from tech companies. Interviews are somewhat hard to come by lately, because as soon as I get to the part about I'm not graduating this fall the connection starts getting choppy and the conversation ends. *sigh* So it may be a moot point.

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None of this answers the question of why no one gives a shit about the project I've been working on through all of this stuff about accommodations. The experience of requesting and appealing and fighting for accommodations-- and then having my work outright ignored-- has taught me a lot, though.

It's a lot easier to cowboy up and push through the noise and bullshit when I feel like I'm doing something important. Coding is fun and I enjoy it, but it's also therapy. Getting dialed into coding a solution to a problem, given that I have the opportunity and the right environment to do it in, beats the PTSD. Doing something and getting feedback that it's a good thing beats the depression. Seeing what I've built work for other people and talking about what I've built beats the social anxiety.

Hacking-- or programming, or software engineering, pick your term-- makes me happy. ADA accommodations aren't an end, they're just a means to make it so that I can hack and be happy. Let me hack, let me be happy, and I stop caring about a lot of other things. Interfere with accommodations, you interfere with me hacking. Interfere with me being able to hack, you disrespect me, and you make me unhappy.

I just want to hack, and be happy. Why don't people understand this?



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