Contradictory Signals

I worked for the BBC for over 20 years and in that time met many people who were helpful, kind and trustworthy and some who were only too willing to sit with you to pass on their knowledge and experience. This particular person was none of these. He was my boss and was in charge of around 20 people many of whom were design engineers. My role was one of a lowly laboratory technician, the dogsbody if you will.

Although technically gifted, his conduct and behaviour left much to be desired. In a mode of self preservation and self protection, the design engineers became to act like him. He stamped on them so they stamped on me. I got a double dose.

I was creative in an artistic sense and that rubbed off in the way I designed printed circuit boards. These had to be designed and laid out by hand. There were no computer aided design tools then. Remember this was the mid 1970s and small and simple microprocessors had only just been developed.

Since I wanted to be more creative and more involved in the engineering design process it seemed the right move to study microprocessors and learn to write machine code. I took to machine code like a duck takes to water. At one point I was the only person in the section who understood machine code and microprocessors. It seems the design engineers had a problem with this as their noses were well and truly put out of joint.

My boss called me into his office one day and suggested that the design engineers were having problems with my behaviour. Not sure of what he meant he said that the engineers are fed up with dealing with my idiosyncrasies.

What astonished and stunned me was that in a previous discussion we had together he said that I had to accept that everyone is different and that I must accept that the engineers have their own idiosyncrasies.

It seems I had to make allowances for them but they were not required to make allowances for me. Today, any company would not be allowed to get away with such blatant discrimination. My reaction to his statement got me six months probation and a move to another section where I flowered as a designer once out of the shadow of such a crushing tyrant.

The mistake I made was not to challenge his rhetoric and stand my ground. My mistake was not to communicate to him the errors of his ways in a sensible manner. His signals to me were contradictory but also were mine to him. At that age, I simply didn’t have the words to explain my feelings.

When a similar opportunity arose with another employer in 2004, I did have the words, the age and the wisdom to use them.