Monday, June 07, 2010

Dear Minions: Welcome to Being in Charge of Stuff

I'm trying to get some of the staff for my summer job up to speed. I have a staff of 26 people -- 13 full time and 13 part time. Of the 13 full-time staff, three are returning from last year, and 10 are new. Of the 13 part-time staff, five are returning from the past (not all from last year), and eight are new. My staff includes eight faculty/researchers, four grad students, nine undergraduates, and five recent high school graduates. And many of the undergrads just finished their freshman year.

The point is that I'm fielding emails from the new, young staff people who have never really been in charge of anything before. Eventually most of them will get the hang of things, but at the moment it's sort of trying to get them all trained. (More on this later.)

About a week ago, The Computer Guy, a recent high school grad who has his own minions (three of the part-time staff), emailed me to ask if we were going to have Debian Live CDs this summer. I wrote back, "If you get them / make them. If you need to buy blank CDs, save the receipt, and we can pay you back." Also challenging: He is prone to black-and-white thinking. If the (very out of date) staff manual that he found in our collection of stuff stored on the system says that something should be done by a particular person in a particular way, he doesn't want to have it done any other way. Yo, I'm the Director, dude. The way that I tell you to do it? That is, by definition, the right way. If it tells you to print the files at CopyTech on a Saturday and CopyTech is closed on weekends, you do not need to ask me if it is OK to print in W20-575. If it is free, legal, and ethical, just do it.

And then today, one of the social minions who is in charge of greeting people at the airport and arranging outings and receptions and the like emailed me with a question. Does she need to make her own sign for meeting people at the airport, or will we provide her with one? Have you seen the sign fairy around our office?

In the meantime, I am dealing with all the details that no one knows exist because I do them well. No one knows how many phone calls and emails it takes to get the RFID chips in the ID cards activated to unlock the door of the building and the stripes to work in the cafeteria. MIT has an arcane process called "Event Registration" that no one knows that I do because it keeps security from asking us what we're doing in this space and why. If you want to take more than 25 people to the beach (Harbor Islands), you need a permit. I am dealing with a flurry of emails because one of the mathematical/computational biologists has an office in a hospital building (part of the Harvard Med School complex), and the paperwork to get anyone into that building is madness -- especially when I'm dealing with people with J-1 visas, someone with a positive TB skin test as a result of a childhood vaccination, and other unusual issues.

Too bad the TechCash cards won't work to buy beer.