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I work in an outsourcing company in Russia, and one of our clients is a financial company located in USA.
For the last six months I have been working on several projects for this particular company, and as I was being assigned a larger project, I was invited to work onsite in USA in order to understand and learn the new system.

Things didn't work out as well as I hoped because the environment was messy after original developers, and I had to spent quite some time to understand the quirks. However we managed to do the release several days ago, and it looks like everything's going pretty smooth.

From technical perspective, my client seems to be happy with me. My solutions seem to work, and I always try to add some spark of creativity to what I do.

However I'm very disorganized in a certain sense, as I believe many of you fellas are.

Let me note that my current job is my first job ever, and I was lucky enough to get a job with flexible schedule, meaning I can come in and out of the office whenever I want as long as I have 40 hours a week filled. Sometimes I want to hang out with friends in the evening, and days after that I like to have a good sleep in the morning—this is why flexible schedule (or lack of one) is ideal fit for me. [I just realized this paragraph looks too serious, I should've decorated it with some UNICORNS!]

Of course, after coming to the USA, things changed. This is not some software company with special treatment for the nerdy ones. Here you have to get up at 7:30 AM to get to the office by 9 AM and then sit through till 5 PM. Personally, I hate waking up in the morning, not to say my productivity begins to climb no sooner than at 5 o'clock, i.e. I'm very slow until I have to go, which is ironic. Sometimes I even stay for more than 8 hours just to finish my current stuff without interruptions.

Anyway, I could deal with that. After all, they are paying for my trip, who am I to complain? They need me to be in their working hours to be able to discuss stuff.

It makes perfect sense that fixed schedule doesn't make any sense for me. But it does makes sense that it does make sense for my client. And I am here for client, therefore sense is transferred. Awww, you got it.

I was asked several times to come exactly at 9 AM but out of laziness and arrogance I didn't take these requests seriously enough. This paid off in the end—on my last day I woke up 10 minutes before final status meeting with business owner, having overslept previous day as well.

Of course this made several people mad, including my client, as I ignored his direct request to come in time for two days in the row, including my final day. Of course, I didn't do it deliberately but certainly I could've ensured that I have at least two alarms to wake me up, et cetera...I didn't do that.

He also emailed my boss, calling my behavior ridiculous and embarrassing for my company and saying “he's not happy with my professionalism at all”.

My boss told me that “the system must work both in and out” and suggested me to stay till late night this day working in a berserker mode, fixing as many issues as possible, and sending a status email to my client. So I did, but I didn't receive the response yet.

These are my questions to the great programmers community:

Did you have situations where your ignorance and personal non-technical faults created problems for your company?

Were you able to make up for your fault and stay in a good relationship with your client or boss? How?

How would you act if you were in my situation?


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3  
How pathetic that the client insists on schedule so much. Truly backward... –  Yar Mar 5 '11 at 8:08
    
I have a feeling that we work in same company: description is same, schedule is same, clients are in USA :) –  Andrey Mar 5 '11 at 11:58
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@Yar - sorry, but I'm not going to be happy with a room full of 6-figure salaries waiting on the hired programmer. Dollars do not wait on dimes. Code whenever you want. –  JeffO Mar 5 '11 at 12:21
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I don't really have any constructive advice, but I wish you all the best. You seem to have a good head on your shoulders. –  sevenseacat Mar 5 '11 at 13:05
    
@Jeff O that's true too, good point. –  Yar Mar 5 '11 at 15:08
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6 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Have you heard the phrase, "closing the barn door after the horse is gone"? You blew it. It's too late. Sure, you can show that you at least understand you blew it by apologizing, but you've established your reputation with that client (and your employer's reputation as well).

"Did you have situations where your ignorance and personal non-technical faults created problems for your company?"

No. I run a consulting company. I knew from the beginning that I need to dazzle my clients daily to beat my competition and thrive. I hired developers that feel the same way. It's made us all wealthy both financially and emotionally. My clients love us because we always show the utmost respect. They trust us.

"Were you able to make up for your fault and stay in a good relationship with your client or boss? How?"

Another phrase comes to mind: "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me." Your client took a real chance on you and you made them look foolish. They have no incentive to look foolish again. As for your boss, maybe she thinks you're a genius or that he can reform you. Who knows? Here's the thing - I have a team of geniuses that also are amazing professionals. I don't need or want fussy geniuses.

"How would you act if you were in my situation?"

Apologize and start over with a new client and boss.

A few other comments:

  • Please don't say "fellas" when talking to developers. Half of my team are women.
  • If this was one day of being late, I would chalk it up to being human like others commenting here. It wasn't, though. It was more than one day. People can tell you the client is being too demanding and you can talk about how you need flexibility. That's fine. Either quit taking consulting work or don't be surprised when I steal your clients.
  • "Of course, I didn't do it deliberately..." of course you did. If you didn't mean to, it wouldn't have happened twice.

Maybe it's a matter of figuring out your priorities. Who knows? Maybe you are so smart that you don't have to play by "their" rules. If that's the case, I suggest you start your own company and take the world by storm.

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+1. People here are being waaaay to lenient on this kid. By saying "you are just human" you are giving him a pass for his behavior, regardless of what you say before. He needs to be his own worst critic if he really wants to succeed in his career. Remember, without motivation, one must be prepared for a life of mediocrity, regardless of what other positive traits one may have. –  Nemi Mar 6 '11 at 15:29
    
People who are unable to motivate themselves must be content with mediocrity, no matter how impressive their other talents. ~ Andrew Carnegie –  Nemi Mar 6 '11 at 15:32
    
Brutally honest, thanks. –  Dan Mar 8 '11 at 4:19
    
I didn't know until now that "fellas" is masculine. –  Joey Adams Jul 26 '11 at 3:39
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That's an interesting question since you seems to perfectly understand the problem. Here is what I would do if I was you:

Apologize honestly

You didn't meet your part of the contract your previously accepted. Thanks to your hard work, it didn't affect the project that much, but your image (in their paradigm).

Apologizing seems the only professional option you have today.

Now, take this experience as a lesson. If you feel you can't respect your part of the contract (working hours), don't accept it!

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Makes sense, however I actually didn't have any kind of contract that would force me to work in certain timeframe, it was more like an unspoken agreement because everybody works at this time, and my client said that business guys would not understand what was the point of me being there if I wasn't around at the common work time. So there's some political aspect to it, mostly. Of course actual communications took no more than hour a day. –  Dan Mar 5 '11 at 8:27
    
I also did apologize but I'm not sure if I did that properly. I said that it was my personal fault and doesn't come from disrespect or lack of caring. –  Dan Mar 5 '11 at 8:29
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@gaearon: If you apologized you can't do more than apologize again. Show you are really affected by that. That's what your customer expect from you. Regarding the fact that you didn't know about the working hour before accepting the contract, that's something you are supposed to ask before. That's something I learn the hard way too. –  user2567 Mar 5 '11 at 8:36
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+1 - make amends for the different culture, and get the maximum learning from the experience for the next time. –  user1249 Mar 5 '11 at 10:41
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Well, don't take it too serious. Sure, they are upset, but you are young, so a little lack of professionalism has to be expected. Apologize and go on with your work. They need you to do the programming, and as long as you can deliver that, there is a good chance that the relationship with your boss will soon recover.

Remember that we are all humans, and as such, we make mistakes. You are no different in that regard. Don't let that unfortunate event pull you down and dimish your performance.

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+1 we are all humans –  user2567 Mar 5 '11 at 14:11
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You should always keep in mind that your failures are always better noticed then your achievements. You might did a great job, but messing final meeting was serious issue for your customers. So you should also treat with respect things that are important for your customers either you like it or not.

How to fix the situation: well, first of all try to do your best, you must behave perfect for sometime so that customers forget about incident as fast as possible. In a meanwhile try to find out is it possible to arrange meeting again, or understand how can compensate your absence on meeting. I am really sure there might be compromise, no one is interested in blaming you, they just want things done.

How to prepare yourself to fixed schedule: Try not to sleep in airplane. When you come to USA you will want to sleep in early evening, because there is -8 hrs time. You will wake up very early (about 8 AM) without alarm! It will be very easy to keep this schedule, try to orient to your bio clock, not to clock on the wall. Try to discipline yourself and even if you prefer waking up late you can manage this schedule for a month.

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When flying I take my sleep queues from the light outside. If it is daytime I stay awake, or take a short nap. It will be a long day. When it is night, I sleep and remember it will be a short nights sleep. Either way, your first day I expect to be tired. When flying east, I try to arrange for a mid-day nap. I always switch immediately to local time. –  BillThor Mar 5 '11 at 17:31
    
@BillThor I was saying that if you used to get up late and then travel to far west (+8 hrs) you can exploit your bio schedule to adapt to local business schedule, so it is actually avoiding switching. (at least partially) –  Andrey Mar 5 '11 at 17:42
    
Point taken. Traveling either way I find it easier to adjust my schedule as I end up throwing it off. –  BillThor Mar 5 '11 at 18:09
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Welcome to the Puritan work ethic! Seriously though, 9:00 AM is not considered to be an early arrival time in the United States. When a American manager asks one to be at work by 9:00 AM, he/she generally means that he/she wants one to be at work and settled by 9:00 AM.

With the above said, you are still young; therefore, you should be able recover from your faux pas. When visiting an American client site in the future, you should arrive at least fifteen minutes before the client's requested starting time. Most American organizations judge one by one's appearance, promptness, and etiquette as much as they do one's skill set. It's part of what is known as the "total package."

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Good reputations that may have taken years to build can be destroyed in minutes, and it sounds like you have done exactly that. Your current boss will not be happy with you, and will always, always remember something like this.

You should have a frank and honest conversation with both your boss and your customer. Not email or text.

I would recommend that you use the D-U-V-H technique.

  1. Determine what the issue is (but I think you know already)
  2. Understand the issue from the other person’s point of view. (e.g. Why does start time matter over total hours worked)
  3. Verify that your understanding is correct; and also confirm whether there are any other objections or issues.
  4. Handle the real issues.
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+1 for understanding that this is his problem to solve. There are lots of hidden "accusations" in his post that show that he has an entitlement issue, instead of thinking that he did something wrong. E.g., When talking about how woke up late on his last day he takes ownership that it was his fault but then says "Of course, I didn't do it deliberately...". He most certainly DID do it deliberately. Someone who is clearly as smart as he is knew what the outcome would be and admitting anything less is an insult to the reader. Until he owns up to that he is going to have a hard time solving this. –  Nemi Mar 6 '11 at 15:36
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