Saturday, August 7, 2021

Intern-al Fortitude

 Here's a story from real life.

We have a big crop of interns at my office this summer. This is actually the first company I've ever worked for that has an intern program, and it's substantial. Every year our HR department recruits heavily from colleges in and around Texas. They vet these kids almost as stringently as regular hires and pay them well. As a result, many of them end up doing multiple internship stints with us while they're in school and joining the company full-time when they graduate.

Allow me a middle-aged lady moment: Every year these damn kids get younger and younger.

Coming soon: This.

I mean, this is objectively true. Earlier this year, I onboarded our first recently graduated full-time hire who was born the same year as my Precocious Daughter (who is a college senior but a late-month baby). Within a year some of our new hires are guaranteed to be younger than she is. And these college interns obviously are even more embryonic than that.

OK, so they're not getting younger. The gap in our ages is widening because I'm getting older. There, I said it. Shut up.

Anyway, we have a bunch of interns roaming around the office this summer, and to me they're mostly indistinguishable white boys of medium height with brown hair. Half the time I have to literally stop and check myself before I speak to them to make sure I'm calling them by the right name. I have the same issue with our African-American interns. We only have one female intern this year, so to amuse itself my brain gets her confused with all the other young women on the team she's assigned to.

How God created Gen Z, probably.

Again, this is not a "they all look alike" thing. This is a "they all look alike to me because my aging brain increasingly classifies people not by race or ethnicity but by whether they're old enough to remember when MTV played music videos" thing.

MTV, by the way, turned 40 last weekend and I didn't write about it because everyone else was writing about it and also it's depressing as shit.

And really it's just time to move on. 
Sorry, 1980s.

As I said, the best of these kids will leave us next week with job offers in hand, or with invitations to return as interns if they're not seniors. Some will accept, some will decline or say they'd like to think about it. If you haven't heard, the labor market is tighter than a Kardashian's forehead right now, and all the leverage is on the candidates' side, especially in my industry. As my boss likes to point out, today's young adults were in grade school the last time we had a major recession. They think having a plethora of opportunities is the norm. They'll inevitably find out differently, but for now they're riding high on feeling wanted and needed.

I give you the next generation, marching
confidently into the workforce.

I'm not usually privy to which interns are being tendered job offers until after the fact. My job begins when they show up for their first day of work. So I was a little surprised when my boss gave me a heads-up that the company had taken the unusual step of explicitly telling one of the interns that he was not being offered a job. Because this kid - we'll call him Ian - had taken the news badly, and my boss wanted me to keep an eye on him for the duration of his tenure with us.

Ian is a nice guy. All of the interns are nice, good people, or at least do a convincing job of acting that way to leave a positive impression. That's kind of a no-brainer. But Ian is a chronic Mansplainer Junior Grade. He compulsively inserts himself into every conversation to drop knowledge on whatever the subject is, usually conversations he's not even a part of. It's not done with any particular malice or arrogance, he's just reflexively young and stupid, which is why he's only a junior grade.

My interactions with Ian are all on a personal level, because we don't do the same job. So I can easily figuratively pat him on the head and ignore his interjections. But apparently he's taken the same know-it-all approach to his work. That hasn't gone over well with the older and more experienced team members who have done their best to mentor and coach him this summer. I guess "mansplainer" is a misnomer - there aren't even any women on his team. He talks this way to everybody.

If Ian were a New Yorker cartoon.


And when the hiring powers-that-be went looking for input on how the interns were performing, his team didn't hold back. It wasn't that Ian was chronically blunt and tactless. It wasn't that he didn't listen to instructions. It wasn't that he always claimed to know a better way of doing things than anybody had ever thought of. It was that he was the complete package of insufferability, and no one wanted to work with him.

Now my boss is, let's say, not a passive person. He is proactive and straightforward in a way I will never be, which is why he probably makes more each quarter than I make in a year. He earns it. So he didn't simply take the words of Ian's team under advisement and quietly strike him off the job-offer list. He sat Ian down and told him exactly why he wasn't being asked to return after graduation. It was the kindest possible thing my boss could have done. But I'm cringing down to my last non-confrontational neuron just thinking of that conversation.

Not many people know I was the model
for this emoji.

Ian, as I said, didn't take it well. My boss gave him honest, specific critiques of his work style, and Ian flat-out refused to accept them. He - talk about cringey behavior - he called HR demanding to know the real reason he wasn't being offered a job. HR called my boss and said, basically, "WTF with this kid?" So my boss sat him down again and explained how things were. Same conversation, same reaction. That's when my boss asked me to keep an eye on Ian. Not that he thought the kid was going to go postal or anything (although today, who knows?), but it would be in keeping with Ian's personality to badger every member of his team into revealing who ratted him out. Of course, "who" was everyone and "ratted him out" was reporting the obvious when asked. But you couldn't tell him that.

We don't need that kind of energy at work, especially not from a twenty-something bigmouth with no self-awareness.

This.

So I've been observing. Ian did in fact seem somewhat mollified. He was quiet and kept to himself. This lasted about a day. Then, his self-imposed period of reflection apparently completed to his satisfaction, he went right back to internsplaining to everyone around him. And as soon as he did, he seemed much happier. That is dedication to your limitations right there.

I hope that in a year, or five years, or even further down the road, Ian will look back and realize that, as humiliating as it was at the time, his rejection was the best thing that could have happened to him. That it made him more humble and mature and helped him find his ultimate path. I wouldn't place a bet on it, however. 

There's no real moral to this story, or advice, or even a clever ending. You guys should be used to that by now. I just wanted to share a tale of observing a mediocre white man in his larval stage. They apparently are nowhere near extinction.

Saturday, July 31, 2021

Harry Potter and the Craft-Beer Family Reunion

 You guys, I got to enjoy a pretty amazing night out this week.

Turns out I like enjoying stuff.


Well, we finally had a meet-up this week, and just in time, as it looks like the Delta variant and the large numbers of vaccine-resistant morons may be tag-teaming to put us all back in isolation. Never has a single virus so accurately identified the lowest common denominator of an entire society. Well done, SARS-CoV-2. If only you hadn't taken so many good and wise people while you were at it.

No, it's right in front of us.

I've missed my family soooo much. Other than my Precocious Daughter, I hadn't seen any of my relatives in person since before the pandemic roared to life in early 2020. I spent over a year having to encounter potentially infectious total strangers in grocery stores and at work - OK, my co-workers technically aren't strangers, but I don't know what any of these people do outside the office, and for all I know they bathe in Covid juice every day - but out of an abundance of caution I declined to expose my loved ones to any of my secondary contacts.

But I digress.

A group of six of us (seven, if you count my niece's very good doggo who is in training to be a service dog) grabbed a bite to eat and then went to a local craft beer place. Not my usual scene at all, but it had the advantage of having a huge outdoor seating area. It was quite crowded - even in non-pandemic times, I would have been twitchy at the sheer number of people jammed together, because people, ugh. Fortunately, we grabbed a table in the farthest backest corner of the place. The nearest people were eight feet away, and the majority of the crowd was considerably farther than that beyond an empty grassy area. Other than the bit where we had to weave through the sea of humanity to get to that table, I felt quite comfortable in our remote spot.

I didn't have anything to drink, because beer is not my thing. I did have a sip of what the others were having, and let me tell you - creamsicle-flavored beer is not a thing that should exist, in my opinion. Sometimes, when I wonder if I have a drinking problem, I remember the episode of "Family Ties" in which a young Tom Hanks portrays an alcoholic by chugging a bottle of vanilla extract to satisfy his craving for sweet, sweet, booze, and now I can honestly say that if I were crawling across the desert sands dying of thirst while simultaneously in the throes of the DTs, I would pass on creamsicle-flavored beer, so no I don't think I have a drinking problem, thank you very much.

This run-on sentence is brought to you by all kinds of 
questionable choices.

Anyway, we all sat and talked and had a great time being together. We also very much enjoyed the fact that we happened to be there on "Harry Potter Trivia Night." We actually had walked over to this particular watering hole because we'd heard they were doing trivia, and we thought that it might be fun to wander over and maybe participate in a few rounds, even though none of us are exactly Potterheads.

Uh, no.

This was serious business. This was a highly organized, team-based tournament of very competitive nerds. In fact, we learned that the Harry Potter trivia was the sole reason for the large crowd, and on a typical Thursday night there would have been only a small fraction of the people in attendance. So instead of being casual participants, we got to be spectators at a vastly entertaining spectacle.

This was not "What was the name of Harry's owl?"-level trivia. Oh, no. I am not kidding when I say that one of the questions required one to know that in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry's personal prophecy orb was located in exactly the 97th row of shelves in the Hall of Prophecy. I could have gone happily to my grave not knowing that bit of information, and I'll probably forget it long before I do, but there were people here who knew it and were deadly serious about knowing it.

On a good day I can name upwards of three Weasleys.

Now, such a dedicated bunch of half-drunk wizarding fanatics deserves an exceptional master of ceremonies. And the lady running the trivia tournament was that and more. Imagine Roz from Monsters, Inc., only spouting Harry Potter trivia and berating teams for their choice of names ("'Snapes on a Plane' is not nearly as clever as you think it is!'"). The best part is that she seemed to truly consider her role a sacred responsibility and was not having an enjoyable time at all. At one point I realized I probably sound a lot like her when I'm trying to run a lunch meeting at work. It was glorious.

At the end of the night (early, because most of us had to go to work in the morning) we all promised to get together again in August. I hope it happens. PDaughter starts her senior year of college in August, and my nephew starts a new job, and we might all be wearing masks and washing our groceries again by then anyway. But I'm hopeful, because I really love my family.

Maybe next time there will be a few more Muggles at the bar.