I was a major bitch at work this week. Just ask my coworker. He’ll probably tell you I must have been suffering from the worst case of PMS in history, because that’s what people say when a normally even-tempered woman gets fed up enough to stand up for herself. I’m normally a nice engineer. I’m the person they can count on to design the stuff everybody finds boring, and never complain about it.
I’m the engineer who will always say yes to an extra assignment, who will take on anything, and who will make any move necessary for the organization without a single complaint, except maybe to a trusted friend at happy hour, or my husband. Every boss I’ve ever had has told everyone, “Anastasia is the easiest engineer to work with. Her work is top notch, she works fast, and she never complains.” And it’s true. I am an easy engineer to work with.
This is unsurprising considering my upbringing. I’m a nice southern girl. I don’t take up much space. I move over when someone else is walking toward me on the sidewalk, even if it’s relatively clear that they should. I don’t dare weigh over 120 pounds, probably because I subconsciously don’t even want to take up physical space. For years, I wouldn’t wear heels because they make me taller than most men, and my well above average height mother taught me that that’s something that’s to be avoided if at all possible.
Growing up, I received hundreds of messages that basically told me that people were allowed to walk on me. My boss skimmed off my tips? Well, find another job. What an asshole. Don’t ask for them back, though. You might need him as a reference, and you wouldn’t want him to tell people you’re difficult. Teacher gave class officer position to dumb as a rock popular kid when you deserved it more? Don’t make waves. People will think you’re difficult. Friend’s dad made comments about how you’re growing up in all the right places? OK, no more sleepovers for Anastasia, but we definitely will not say anything. You don’t want that kind of reputation. People will think you’re difficult.
This is why I’m the easy to work with engineer. This is why I’ve designed all the projects nobody else wanted, why I’ve served on boards I didn’t have time or energy for, why I did the work other people complained about, why I spent a year of my life practicing engineering at a foldable table half taken up by other people’s file boxes in an actual storage room, while people who didn’t even have degrees got real cubicles. I’d always been told the world was allowed to walk on me, that I was a nice girl and that means you don’t make waves, you don’t offend, you don’t speak up, you stay grateful for what you have, because really nobody owes you anything, which really means you deserve nothing.
This week, something clicked, and all of that changed. I actually spoke the words, “If this guy doesn’t step off me with an urgent quickness, I’m going back to my old job!” to my boss, and then, “Stay out of my files and away from my projects for the rest of your life!” to my coworker. My boss was understanding. My coworker was stunned. My intern looked on with the same face I make when I see any of the women in the Black Panther movie being extremely badass. It felt like an out of body experience, and I liked it.
This didn’t come out of nowhere, of course. That would be crazy. I can explain.
I joined my current working group a month and a half ago, and due to some shifting of personnel, I became the lead engineer after three weeks. The other engineer in the group is fresh out of school. He’s been in the group for five months. They also brought on one other engineer, but he’s been there just a few days, so he’s an unknown quantity at this point. He seems fine. I’ve been with our organization longer than anyone else here, including our boss, and I transferred over from the most respected division because the work this group does is more complimentary to my research interests, and I needed a more field-based position for a couple years in order to advance to higher, director level positions.
The fresh out of school coworker, whom I’ll call AG from here forward (it stands for Arrogant Guy, which is a perfectly accurate description) did not take the shakeup in which I became our group’s lead engineer very well at all. He seems to think that because he’s been in this working group longer, he owns the place, and that it doesn’t matter that I’m actually quite drastically ahead of him professionally, tenure-wise, and everything else. He’s had no mentor like what I had as a new engineer, and therefore has no professional courtesy. I overheard him the other day telling someone he trained me. The reality is, I mostly trained myself, although he did give me some links to videos I wanted to watch from our machines’ manufacturers, so maybe that’s what he thinks training is.
Apparently, being unafraid to call out a bad situation is part of being leadership material. I have learned valuable lessons from this, and I will continue to learn.
The worst part isn’t his attitude, although that’s pretty horrible, but the fact that he has no sense of boundaries at all. He thinks every project is his, and horns in on everything he possibly can. A month ago, I did a field investigation in conjunction with another engineer who left a week later, and a technician. We got back to the office, and AG, who was not on the mission, took the flash drive of the data, said, “I’ll process this now” and I never saw it again. I didn’t question it because I was still brand new, and I was just learning the system.
A couple weeks later, he was out of town at a training, and our boss told me to conduct an analysis at the request of a client. I did the analysis, and when I finished it, my boss wanted it, but I had an appointment that morning and was out of the office. The boss knew this and was ok with waiting until I got back. AG came back into the office, told the boss, “I’ll do it”, repeated my analysis, and luckily cc’d me on all these emails. I got back to the office, saw this, worked through lunch to assemble the presentation my boss wanted, ran to his office while AG was still away for lunch, and gave him the presentation. Once again, luckily, it was Ramadan at the time, which meant my boss was fasting, and would be spending lunchtime in his office. Had he or I eaten lunch that day, this would not have worked, and AG would have stolen my assignment right out from under me. It was then that I started to realize that I was going to have to do something about this.
A few days ago, I was talking with my boss about a project that I’m the assigned engineer of. He asked me about the presentation for it to give to the client, and I told him I’d finished it. I showed it to him, and he was happy with it. AG overheard this conversation, and went into my files on the shared drive, changing a few things, adding a bunch of things, and not saying a single word to me about it. When I saw this, I went to my boss. I told him that I need AG to step off me quickly, because I absolutely cannot work like this. Luckily, he understood completely, and said he’d work on writing a policy to address this sort of thing.
The following day, the boss and I were presenting my analysis via webinar to a client, and they asked a question. My boss and I both said we didn’t have the test data they were talking about. AG, who was sitting in on the webinar, blurted out that he did, ran out for his laptop, came back in, and basically took over the webinar, discussing an analysis nobody asked him to do, on a project that didn’t belong to him, with data we have no idea where he got. We were horrified.
When I got back to my desk, AG, looking very pleased with himself, told me that if I wanted to do the analysis myself, that was ok, but he was doing the next step of it, and would contact the client with his findings. I was ready to spit nails at this point, but maintained my composure. I walked over to him, looked him straight in the eye, and in a calm and even tone, told him to stay out of my projects for the rest of his life.
See? I was a major bitch at work this week, but we’re having a policy implementation meeting on Monday, and the boss is going to talk with all of the engineers about staying out of each other’s projects, the procedure for assigning projects, and timelines for completing them, in addition to file management, data processing, and other things relevant. AG will know he can’t step on my toes anymore, and if he does, my boss assures me that he won’t hesitate to take official disciplinary action.
The thing is, this is how he’s been the entire time he’s been here. I talked with the engineer who left, and she said, “Yeah, that’s just how AG is. That’s his personality.” But why should he be allowed to continue that? I don’t think he should be. Frankly, I’m glad I got fed up enough to call this out for what it was, incite the boss to make an official policy, which he allowed me to contribute to the development of, and change things for the good of the group. We’re going to be better off for this, and my boss told me he’s glad I came to him. He is now speaking to me in terms of when I am a director, not if, but when. Apparently, being unafraid to call out a bad situation is part of being leadership material. I have learned valuable lessons from this, and I will continue to learn.
It’s like Tina Fey said, “Bitches get stuff done.”
Sorry, AG, your lead engineer is kind of a bitch, but if you stop stepping on her toes, you’ll be just fine. Stay in your lane, and I am, in fact, a very easy engineer to work with.
Aging Millennial Engineer