January 15: Kuwait Kuwait, Don’t Tell Me

I know all of you NPR geeks have been waiting for this title. Indeed, I’ve actually gotten more than one request for it. I try to make sure that the titles are at least somewhat related to the subject matter of the email, though, so I’ve been holding off on it—but as it’s rapidly becoming apparent that lack of information is one of the themes of this trip, I think its time has come.

Months ago, I asked about a certain type of Army online account that I thought I might need, and was told I would not need it. Monday afternoon, I received the new information that I did in fact need it, and by today if at all possible. The rental car we were meant to have over here in Germany does not seem to exist. No one has mentioned why, and I suspect that this is because no one knows. I have yet to receive reliable information on when I’ll be leaving Georgia, and whether it will be by military or commercial air, which affects what sort of bags I can bring. Once I reach Georgia for training, I will be receiving an unknown number of items weighing an unknown amount and occupying an unknown amount of space. These items may or may not be accompanied by a bag to put them in. The woman I’ll be working with in Kuwait asked me today if my company had completed the paperwork necessary for me to get on base there, so I can do my job. I do not know the answer to this. I asked if she meant the travel orders, but apparently she did not—which is just as well, as I don’t have those yet either, despite the theoretical requirement to have them upon hotel check-in here in Germany.

My training thus far has taken place largely on a computer which does not have the systems we’ll be using installed, on a desk without a phone. A common exchange goes like this: I read a trouble ticket and say, “So if I had the console, I would pull up the user information and computer name, right? Then, if I had a phone, I would call them and get more details about the problem. After ascertaining that it is what they reported, I’d remote into their computer, if I had VPN software.” The whole process appears to be straight out of a Dilbert comic.

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There’s a Mitch Hedberg joke that goes, “I think Pringles’s initial intention was to make tennis balls. But on the day that the rubber was supposed to show up, a big truckload of potatoes arrived. But Pringles was a laid-back company; they said ‘Hey! Cut ‘em up.’”

See, I’m with Pringles. As it turns out, I can likely get the online account before I really need it. I don’t particularly need a car here in Germany, and I’ve actually been enjoying the opportunity to walk around the city. I’ll leave Georgia when I leave, I’ll take what I can take, and I’ll ship the rest, or mail it home. If I get to Kuwait and don’t have access to my job, I’ll lounge around my apartment and see the sights—and if I don’t have an apartment, I’ll hit up CouchSurfing and lounge around someone else’s. I really don’t see anything to get worked up about.

I’m fairly convinced that I’ve discovered one more thing no one’s told me, though, one which dwarfs all of the rest of these. Although I won’t be entirely positive until I actually get to Kuwait, I am almost certain that the job I agreed to do in Kuwait, the job which had a five-page description entitled “LAN/WAN Administrator,” is not in fact the job which I will be doing.

I’ve had a growing suspicion about this since I arrived in Germany, and began training with the help desk technicians. The job contract requested half a decade of experience in running a multi-domain wide area network. This includes everything from managing the user accounts to ordering the pieces needed to actual physical construction of the network. It asked me to have expert knowledge of three different programming languages, to have two different network certifications, and to be able to communicate well in order to not embarrass myself during the monthly reports to various important folks and during the weekly meetings I would be leading. It discussed the various other administrators and techies I would be in charge of. It was, in short, quite explicit about the new managerial duties I would have to take on, in addition to the flood of new skills I’d have to hone.

What I’ve come to realize, however, is that there is in fact no managerial responsibility associated with this position at all. All of the network administrators are located in Germany. My job in Kuwait is to be the guy on the ground, basically. I’ll get to go out and fix stuff, to pick up the computers and shake the sand out to make them work again, to tear them apart and hopefully rebuild them. I’ll get to muck about with all of the network utilities and settings, to keep everything running smoothly, but I won’t have to make the command decisions on when and what to upgrade.

I admit that it’s mildly disappointing to learn that I won’t actually have anyone working for me—but in all honesty, I wasn’t really looking forward to that. I like being responsible for my own work. I can’t see myself getting the same sort of enjoyment out of breathing down someone’s neck. Basically, what I’m realizing here is that I’ll get to do all of the things I was looking forward to and learn all the skills I was excited about picking up, without being the guy who’s got his neck on the line if everything goes wrong. So really, I’m sort of okay with this.

I do find it somewhat astonishing that I have been flat-out lied to regarding what I’m going to be doing with a year of my life—in written form, on signed documents, no less. I’m curious what they would do if this were the sort of thing that upset me. The document I signed was, after all, a job offer. If they were to choose to pay me a different salary then they’d promised, I’d be able to use that document to insist that they stick to what was agreed on. It seems logical, therefore, that I could do the same thing with the rest of the contract. They offered me this job, and theoretically, I could demand that they provide it. Of course, the contract also stipulates that either side can bail at any time for any reason, so I suppose that technically they would only have to agree that they would be providing the job if they weren’t terminating my services, so I’m probably better off not trying that. Besides which, like I mentioned, they’ve basically said, “Okay, we’ll give you the higher salary, but we’re not going to let you do the tedious parts of your new job—only the fun ones. This is not open to discussion!” Much as I’d like to play Br’er Rabbit here, I believe I’ll end up just going along with their demands.

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