Current Occupation: Retired
Former Occupation: My former occupations, in order, are: baby sitter, sales clerk, Rockette rookie, mail sorter, maid, assistant trainer for the blind, administrative assistant, so-called dancer, waitress, newspaper and newsletter editor, technical writer, IS specialist and literary editor.
Contact Information: Katharine Valentino, mother and grandmother, worked for 25 years at menial jobs before acquiring a BA degree in journalism—summa cum laude!—from Indiana University in Bloomington. For the next 20 years, she worked at slightly more interesting jobs and occasionally was even allowed to write some technical thing or another. She retired in 2012 and moved to Eugene, Oregon. She is writing her memoirs, each of which, when done, she reads to her grandson. She also occasionally edits and publishes memoirs for others. Her Website is I Write [and Edit] for You.
Throughout more than 60 years of work, whenever I’ve been asked, “What are you?” I’ve always answered dutifully, “I’m a … [whatever I’ve been doing lately to make money].” But in my mind, I have vowed never to be whatever I was doing at that moment just to make money.
Senior Technical Writer and IS Specialist
Much as I hate cars as status symbols, traffic jams instead of bus routes, ever more roads instead of parks, and pollution… Well, I was 51 years old, right at the cusp of unemployable because of age. Besides, the Nissan North America corporate offices were only 10 minutes—admittedly by car—away from my apartment. And I was out of work, having broken Job Strategy Rule No. 1: Unless you have six months’ of expenses saved up, do not quit a job until you have another one.
My first day at the company was in September 1995. My last day was in March 2012. That’s 17 years! I wrote paper and online documentation, introduced task-oriented instructions and clickable decision trees to employees and managers, and designed and built customer-support Websites.
Then, oops! I came into work one day as usual and stuck my nose close to my computer for a couple of hours. A work friend walked by and said, “I thought you were a contractor.” I said I was; Nissan hired technical writers only as contractors, never as employees. “Go talk to your manager,” said my friend and walked on. I did and was told that Nissan had let every contractor go two hours ago. It was a finance issue.
Lucky for me, Porsche Cars picked me up almost immediately and each week for a year flew me into and out of Reno, then its national headquarters. I wrote online help for parts distribution, vehicle management and vehicle allocation. When that was complete, Nissan hired me back again—at $2 an hour more than I had been making before. I guess the finances got straightened out.
When I began this second stint at Nissan, its intranet consisted of a few pages with cute buttons and a limited amount of information about cars. Three years later, as the company’s intranet content master, I had supervised the transfer of almost all information needed by employees from paper or Excel spreadsheets to databases accessible on the intranet. For my own department, Information Services, I had created an app used to request and approve requests for computers, software and phones.
Then, right in the middle of the famed dotcom crash, oops! Nissan subbed out its entire IS department to IBM. And the fun and good work came to an end.
Standards I had set for intranet design, format and maintenance were ignored by this “Irresponsibility Behaved Multinational.” An expensive project was initiated to set new standards, which were years in the making and which allowed for less functionality than the old standards. While the project was active, the old standards were ignored. By the time the new ones were in place, there was a mishmash of cadged-together substandard apps that had to be dealt with, each itself an expensive project.
Entire teams of “Inexperienced Bored Miserable” employees built Nissan intranets and apps, taking months to years (I kid you not) to create something that could have been created in minutes to weeks (really, I’m not kidding). I once watched as work I could have completed in five minutes was charged to Nissan at 41 hours.
Requirements for intranet pages and apps, received from managers, were not evaluated for practicality or even to see if something already in existence might suffice. “Increasingly Bad Management” cost Nissan a pot of gold.
Documentation of all types became a huge effort since what had been a handshake endeavor between Nissan’s IS Department and Nissan became almost overnight an antagonistic struggle with an “Insidious Byzantine Mentality.” In such conditions, documentation of good work must substitute for actual good work.
IBM employees who were “Into Building Money” replaced the 25 Nissan employees maintaining websites and charged Nissan for each employee’s time. This cost Nissan a great deal since website maintenance had previously cost nothing other than my salary.
Formal projects were required to make even simple updates to apps. Projects performed by the “Industry Bowel Movement” were so expensive, however, that Nissan departments, rather than initiate projects, frequently went back to old, labor-intensive methods of getting work done and distributing information.
I found it hard to transition from a knowledgeable and respected worker with Awards of Excellence displayed in my cubicle to a minion of the “Incredibly Bullying Menace.” I had been allowed to do good work, work that helped my clients do good work and go home on time to be with their families. No more.
I remember sitting in a meeting to gather requirements for a legal contact list to be put online. “May I suggest something?” I asked after listening to what my clients thought they needed. I knew they were expecting my input. “If you look at this from the point of view of a user of your contact list, …”
“At IBM,” my manager interrupted in the middle of my sentence, “we don’t dictate requirements. We listen to requirements.“ You know that nasal tone.
So I had to say I was sorry and “Please do go on. I didn’t mean to interrupt.”
They had only a couple more details to add. Then, I said what I always said at the end of such a meeting. “Let me see if I’ve understood your requirements correctly.” I started to read the notes I had taken on my laptop.
“At IBM,” hissed my manager, “we never summarize requirements verbally. We write our requirements document and submit it to the client for approval. If it must be amended, there are procedures to do that.”
So I had to say I was sorry and would submit a requirements document in the manner required.
When the meeting was over and my manager had slithered down the hall back to her office, my clients expressed outrage at the way I was treated. “You tell me who that woman is,” demanded the admin who had formerly been in charge of her department’s website. “I’m going to report her to your manager. Nobody should treat you that way.” I had to tell her that woman was my manager.
As the years went by, my job deteriorated into nothing other than make-work. Toward the end, I was putting in more than 60 hours a week to manage only one app, and 10 people were doing the same amount of work I had been doing myself before “Industry’s Bulging Monolith” took over.
I would have been outraged, but I was too tired. I would have quit, but it was not a good time for a woman in her 60s to be out of work.
Each year in annual downsizing, I was let go. I would be required to train replacements from another country where the pay was miniscule, and then I would be notified by email that my job had come to an end. I would say goodbye to my Nissan clients, who would complain. That would get me reinstated, but usually only after I had worked several days to a week without a contract. The last year I was let go, I was 68 years old, and I didn’t fight it.
Oh, by the way, Nissan eventually cried “I’ve Been Misled” and fired that “Intergalactic Bottomline Mistake.”
Recently, I’ve had work editing memoirs, novels and poetry. I didn’t seek these jobs out; they just happened to me because I joined a creative-writing group. When it came time to critique, I kept saying, “Something can’t be very unique.” Or “I’m sure you don’t mean you ‘could literally have eaten a horse.’” Now, I’m known as the local “grammar maven” and am the editor of five of the world’s estimated 129,864,880 books. Well, wow.
So, what was I? Baby sitter, sales clerk, Rockette rookie, mail sorter, maid, assistant trainer for the blind, administrative assistant, so-called dancer, waitress, Newspaper and Newsletter Editor, Silly Jobs haver, technical writer, IS specialist, memoir editor, … Not one of these things defines me, or ever did.
Like this? Read the previous pieces: