Mandi didn't plan to take a staff job at a university. To the contrary, she'd heard some bad things: loads of office politics, budgets so thin you need quantum mechanics to describe their position, and bureaucracy thick enough to drown any project.

But one day, she met her old colleague Scot for lunch, and they got to chatting about his university job. "Oh, yeah, that's common enough," he said, "which is why my team isn't structured that way. We're doing in-house development of educational solutions, which is a fancy way of saying 'nobody understands what we do, so they leave us alone'."

Scot invited her to take a tour of his office, meet some of his co-workers, talk a little about the work they were doing. They were based in a rented office just at the edge of campus, sharing the floor with a few scrappy startups. It wasn't a fancy space, and it was a little cramped, but the first and last thing Mandi noticed was how happy everyone was to be there.

Augusta, the front-end lead, talked a little about their framework selection process, and how they made their choices, not based on what was new and trendy, but based on what felt like a really good fit for their subject matter. Harry, who handled the middleware, was happy to explain how he'd needed some time to get up to speed on the right cloud scaling options, but the team was there to support him, and they eventually got a great set of automation built which handled spikes but kept costs down. Quinn rhapsodized about how great it was to work closely with the end users, to really build the solution that worked best for them, and how exciting it was to see their requirements translate into implemented software with tangible benefits.

Unlike pretty much any place Mandi had ever seen, everyone was happy to be there. Everyone liked the work they were doing. Everyone felt empowered to make the best choices, to work through challenges with the rest of the team, and everyone enjoyed celebrating their successes together.

"I always have to bring people in," Scot said, "because nobody believes me when I tell them about how great my job is."

"Honestly, I still don't believe it," Mandi said.

"Well, I did have a bit of an ulterior motive. We're looking to scale up the team a bit, which means I'll have a position soon. It'll take a little bit to grind those gears- that has to go through the university hiring process, but I hope you apply. I think you'd be a great fit."

Mandi did apply, when the position finally opened up. It was a slow-moving interview process, mostly through the university HR department, but she met Scot one more time, early in the process. Then, she landed the job, a contract-to-hire position.

At that point, Scot didn't work there anymore. He had resigned, and since the team was actively working, and since the HR process was painfully slow, the HR department didn't hire a replacement as an employee- they hired a contractor. Technically, Mandi worked under the same contract, and thus her direct manager was Cyril, the new team lead.

There was just one problem with that: by both university policy and IRS rules, contract employees can't manage regular employees. So Cyril's title was just "scrum master", and he technically had no management authority. Which meant the regular employees ignored him.

Mandi and one other contractor reported to Cyril, but nobody else did.

The overall project lead, Ruthie, was also a contractor, but hired through a different contracting firm. Not only did she have no authority over regular employees, she had no authority over any other contractors. Nobody reported to her, but she was in a management role.

The result of this management omni-shambles was meetings. Loads of meetings. Daily standups became daily "take a load off, we'll be here awhiles". After the standup, Cyril would be pulled into meeting after meeting as every section of the department started pulling in different directions, so despite being the "scrum master", he had no idea what anyone on the team was doing. Ruthie threw meetings on everyone's calendar, which nobody attended, because nobody worked for Ruthie. The only way for a contractor to get a regular employee's attention was to schedule a meeting.

Above both Ruthie and Cyril was the technical lead for the entire campus IT department. He was the only person in the org chart that everyone technically reported to, but he had never been a fan of the entire "rent an off campus office and let smart people solve problems," approach. While he was the only one who could potentially set some direction, he had no interest in doing so. The one time Mandi was on a conference call with him, he excused himself, "This isn't really a priority for me right now, I have other issues I need to address that are more important."

Mandi stuck it out until the end of her contract period. She never received an offer for a full-time position, and frankly, she wouldn't have taken it anyway. Her fellow subcontractor, the only other person who reported to Cyril, did. So his HR hiring process can work, eventually, for some people.

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