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Interview with Tina Slankas

Slanka, Tina
Martin, Beth
Date of Interview: 
Relationships with people and places
Tina Slankas talks about group dynamics at her work.
Charlotte Narrative and Conversation Collection
Collection Description: 
Beth Martin interviewed Charlotte, NC residents to collect various stories for a class project at UNC Charlotte.
BM (Beth Martin): And it's April first. [Laugh] I forgot that.
TS (Tina Slankas: ( )
BM: Cool. [Laugh]
TS: Well you asked for me to give you some stories about group dynamics.
BM: Yes. Exactly.
TS: So, I have two engineers who are supposed to be working together on my public key infrastructure project, um, these two engineers are the consummate security professionals.
BM: [Laughs]
TS: They are very black and white, there is not a gray area in their world now the challenge is these two personalities, um, are off shifted just slightly one is black and white the other is white and // black, so, uh-. //
BM: // Oh. Wow. //
TS: The two together make a very interesting combination. So, uh, it's Bob and Allen, Bob is, uh, Allen is my lead on the project because Allen has some experience with public key infrastructure and Allen is the kind of guy that, uh, he, uh, likes to plan, doesn't like to document, hates documentation, um, likes to play he's actually, gotten into better playing, I was concerned at the beginning of the project but he is, he is right now he has turned into an engineer that likes to play and play and play and play and try and try and try and try and then it is like at the end you document but not during the playing and trying process because that slows you down.
BM: Got you. Kind of like that retroactive documentation. [Laughs]
TS: Yeah, lots of that. Allen is of French Russian descent he grew up most of his life in Europe so he has a definite aloofness in his personality, very European, ok so that is one of my personalities, then there is Bob, Bob ( ) is a known entity in INS , this is the same Bob ( ) that you have heard stories about or heard the personality on the phone.
BM: The name certainly sounds very familiar.
TS: Yes, he is Bob, he had zero knowledge of PKI when he entered the project.
BM: Oh no.
TS: So I spent, the reason why I asked Bob is because he is a security consultant, Bob is really good at documentation so where Allen doesn't document Bob documents to the nth degree.
BM: Got you.
TS: Um, and Bob is a heartbeat Bob will tell you, "I'm ok. I'm ok. I'm ok. It's broken. The world is going to end, things are not going well." [Laughter] While Allen will tell you the world is ok and not worry about telling you something is broken, Bob is a, uh, constant heartbeat, so my first month of the project was, "This is not going to work, this is not going to work, this is not going to work, Bob get over it we're going to do it, this is not going to work." Since Bob took some training, which helped, but Bob still doesn't have the firm comfort level feels that we have cut the timelines on this project to past the quick, impossible timelines not happy, not comfortable.
BM: Can I ask you what kind of training? // I'm just curious was it people skills or-. //
TS: // It was PKI, PKI training. //
BM: OK. [Laughter]
TS: He had training so he could learn about the particular technology we will implement so that helped a little bit but Bob likes to read and read and research and research and when he hits his comfort level then he likes to go forward and we don't have time on this project to get Bob's comfort level to move forward, so, and Bob is a big personality, Bob is known for his Bob-isms he does not describe to steak as steak it's dead cow, we had a conversation the other day, uh?
BM: ( ) [Laughs]
TS: Uhh, Bob was describing a car, so I said, "Bob how do you describe a car?" "Well it is a people mover, it is a conveyance of transportation." I mean five minutes for Bob to describe a car, so you have this person who is into documentation and likes to hit that comfort level before he can move forward and black and white, so how he understands things at that moment in time, he is, he has no shy bone in his body he will tell you how he feels we have him saying one thing, you have Allen saying another thing so you have these two big personalities clashing in front of the customer.
BM: Oh wow.
TS: So my first challenge was a, ok, the three of us are volatile, we are, are, we ignite each other we set each other off.
BM: Well, yeah you're not // afraid to say what you think. [Laughs] //
TS: // [Laughs] No, no. And I'm in charge // so that's that.
BM: [Laughs]
TS: So um, the three of us together are just not a quiet combination so we have, we actually had uh, an incident where Bob and Allen were having a volatile discussion, I wasn't there, in front of the client and, uh.
BM: Ouch.
TS: One of the customers, uh, he's a new guy on the project, he's the new, new hire for the PKI project a designer, uh, talked to me on, uh, on us it was St. Patrick's Day, pulled me aside and said, "Tina just thought you should be aware, just thought you should know that, uh, um, this, incident occurred and it, it, could you please talk to the guys because I just don't think it is the right way to act in front of the, uh, client to have this vocal discussion, it got to the point where Allen told Bob 'Please don't yell at me.'"
BM: Oh jeez, that is a bad point. [Laughs]
TS: So uh, so yeah, so this is where it escalated to so I'm like ok so I, I talked to my management, I'm like, ah, "We've talked to these guys about behaving, we've talked to these guys about the sensitivity of the project, how to, where should I proceed?" So finally I said, "I'll talk to them one on one and maybe we can resolve this, nip this in the bud." So I talked to Bob and Bob's like, "Oh yeah I remember that conversation, yeah I, I was intentionally obnoxious." Because Bob has, he can turn, tone down his personality but he figures he knew the situation.
BM: [Laughs]
TS: He knows Allen, he knows, knew Steve, he thought he knew Scott so he figures he could be full Bob.
BM: Oh.
TS: And so Bob gets animated, Bob had a differing opinion than Allen so they clashed as much as they could possibly clash, because Bob was on full out Bob. I'm like, "Bob, that was probably not a good idea, let's try to tune, tune, tone Bob down, uh, lets definitely not do this in front of a client." "No problem, I can do that." And these guys since they see black and white, as long as you define the boundaries they won't do it again, in that exact same scenario again, now if there are changes to the scenario.
BM: [Laughs]
TS: ( ) It doesn't apply.
BM: So the context has to be black and white.
TS: Yes, the context has to be black and white, so, so, the next day, this is Monday, the next day, uh, Allen is in uh, Steve's office explaining Steve some technical situation and Bob was wandering around and happened to wander upon it, disagreed with Allen and they had a vocal discussion again, that it wasn't in a meeting, they thought that it wasn't in front of Scott, so Scott wasn't there.
BM: Oh no.
TS: So they thought it was ok to be vocal, so the next thing I know Steve booted both of them out of his office, and said, "Figure out what you are going to do and then come back to me when you know the answer." Allen comes to my desk and says, "Bob did it again." And I'm like, "Didn't we just talk about this?"
BM: [Laughs]
TS: Basically I had to have the conversation with them, about you're both trying to do what's best but that may not be what's right, that may not be the right solution, the best solution for the client and you have your best solution, you have your best solution but unless you're working together and you figure out what is the right solution is for the client it doesn't matter and if you guys can't get along I'm going to have to kick one of you off the project.
BM: Wow.
TS: And it's not, it's going to be the one who can get along with other people, because if I have to bring another engineer on this project I'm going to get the ones who can get along with other people. I'm not going to deal with the, I'm right, I'm doing the best thing you know, what is, what is the best thing for the client?
BM: Yeah.
TS: So I have this conversation with them, the principal consultant has this conversation, they got ran through the coals.
BM: Oh no.
TS: And part of this was, it's such a sensitive project, and management was pissed.
BM: Well, yeah.
TS: They're like, "You guys are consultants. Can't you consult? Can't you get along with at least each other? You're on the same side. You're on the same team."
BM: Half the job of consulting is people skills. [Laugh]
TS: So the new rule was try hard to resolve, and not have volatile conversation, you are no longer allowed to have animated discussions at the facility because there are ears everywhere and you are to behave on the facility, if you need to have a volatile discussion you need to go outside, you need, not, not outside, you need to take it off premises.
BM: ( )
TS: Don't have a volatile discussion you guys figure out how to work together, and that's worked out for a whole week , so we're doing ok, uh, so then the next day, the thing that happened was I, the other thing I instituted was we're going to have daily meetings, their like why we, we understand, we get along great, you're the problem, ok I'm the problem, no problem, but I, I, uh, we called it finally Tina's need to micromanage the project.
BM: [Laughs]
TS: She must have a daily meeting, to, to put us under her thumb and lead the way, so the first meeting we have or the second meeting we have, no the first meeting we had on Wednesday, we uh, we, uh, we're talking about what work are we going to be doing today and Bob was going to, their, their building and deciding what the final configurations are, there servers, they have five servers that they have to decide.
TS: And, uh, Bob feels that he needs to break everything down, rebuild from scratch and because every time they've built the server they've built it differently so he's not real comfortable with saying the current build is correct and he's learned some things the night before so he wants to tear it down and, and start from scratch and build things over. Allen is like we kind of got that figured out but we need to interoperate this with other systems with active directory and exchange.
BM: Eh.
TS: So he wants to play and build, play and build, play and build, Bob wants to document, document, document, document, and then feel comfortable that he has these reservations so after about, after a discussion I'm like, we, we determined that there is duplication in the environment, there is two CA's and there's two RA's and the ones that Allen needed didn't need to be connected to the same stuff that Bob needed so we said look let's divide this in half and Allen can have those two systems and he can do whatever he wants to do until next week and Bob can have these systems and he can do whatever he wants to do until next week, and on Tuesday when I come back on site nine o'clock in the morning I get Bob draft documentation Allen talks about the changes that were made to the documentation and we can move forward, we can get over this hump, so we, uh, we did that and I found out later that day that they actually continued the conversation, figured out a way to work, together and they actually ended up doing iterative documentation the last few days.
BM: Oh, my gosh.
TS: A miracle occurred, [laughter] they've been on the project for two months and they are finally, finally working together and getting along.
BM: That is so cool.
TS: Yeah, so that part is, uh.
BM: That's interesting, I mean you had these two different-.
TS: Two different absolutely different learning styles and personalities, both big and uh, and the other interesting dynamic that was happening is Allen, um, Kevin and I have analyzed this, and Allen has a tendency to rank you, where do you fall in my, um, life, are you a superior to me, are you an equal to me, are you subordinate to me and this is dealing with technical.
TS: So if he feels that you are superior he acts one way.
BM: Yeah.
TS: And is very humbled in your presence and, and treats you very nicely if you are a peer of subordinate, all bets are off.
BM: Yeah.
TS: He talks down to you, and this is something that Kevin has noticed in conversations and watching him interact with people and Jim Tiller called him out on it and so, uh, and I'm like well I think because of how Jim described me and everyone else has described me I think I've moved, changed roles so he actually interacts with me better than he did at the beginning of the project because I wasn't a PKI expert so therefore I was a subordinate, and, and they explained to him that no, no, no, no, no, she is in charge.
BM: No matter your expertise in other areas.
TS: [Laughs] Yes, it doesn't matter. // She is in charge. //
BM: // The geek factor thing coming // into play. [Laughs]
TS: [Laughs] So he's actually been a lot better to work with since my, my, his role, ranking and my ranking have been explained in there, but it was, um, that was coming into play as well, and Bob doesn't deal well with being talked down to.
BM: Well yeah.
TS: So it was like he had that going with Bob learning and trying to figure it out and Allen going well I don't need to explain it to you because you know, you're too stupid to, you know, it's-.
BM: Yeah that's going to go over real big. [Laugh]
TS: Oh yeah, so we and that going on with everything else and it's like oh well, this is fun.
BM: Well cool.
TS: So that is one of my stories. How much more time do you need?
BM: No that's good, that's plenty, I'm just so happy you were, I mean that's just perfect, I was just interested in how groups work, and how it's just like you were talking about the, um, apparently their expectation of what the client would want them to act in front of them and how other-.
TS: Well, it's-.
BM: People want them to act in front of the client, that's interesting.
TS: The, uh, the, uh, client dynamics, the, the client situation is kind of different, like I was telling you in the car, it's different from most of the clients we deal with usually INS is traditionally brought in by the IT department and it's usually a peer relationship, if you're dealing with conflict you're dealing with people that are worried about you taking their job, and usually if you-.
BM: Oh yeah.
TS: Explain enough times, you can explain, "I'm not here to take your job, I'm here to make your job better, I'm here to make your job easier, we're going to solve this problem. Then I'm going to do a knowledge transfer, and you're going to be the hero, I'm going to make you look great."
BM: Right.
TS: Were coming in to save money, save time, you know, solve a computer problem, implement a solution, whatever, but it is usually at the IT level, this particular project because we're dealing with the legal department everyone is on pins and needles and so they the PKI guys don't know what the final solution, they know they are implementing a solution, they know at the end what the functionalities going to be but they don't know the specific of what the configurations on each of the boxes are, is going to be and there's no collateral out there right now for them to pull from to say, you know, do this, do this, do this, and this will work on active directory box or do this, do this, do this, and this will all be interoperable, or they don't have that type of information to pull from, so they're kind of inventing, they let, they call it, a couple of weeks ago when they were having a lot of this conflict, it was part of it was also this pressure they feel, causing them to not use their consulting filter.
BM: Um, um.
TS: Uh, and Bob described it that, "We're inventing the wheel and we just discovered it's round." I mean-.
BM: [Laughs]
TS: [Laughs] And the active directory guys, the Microsoft guys are pulling a wheel out of a bag, it's something that has been done over and over and over, it's a known entity, it's an evolutionary part of the network process, they currently have a Microsoft environment, but to go to that part of the active directory, it's just kind of, of the next evolution.
BM: Uh, uh.
TS: So that part of the environment is pretty stable there's a lot of documentation that can be provided, there's a lot of information that can be provided and it's ok, because the customer's comfortable with it, well this new technology the customer's not comfortable with and if we tell them something, [phone ringing] they like you must do this.
BM: OK, do you need to get that?
TS: And like, that's John's cell phone, um so you don't have the ability, that most of the client's we have where we can say, well we , we thought we were going to do this but when we tested it we discovered it wasn't quite right so we tweaked it, we can't do that, here 'cause they're like you said, this is what you were going do and why are you doing that? Didn't you know that you said this?
BM: They have that black and white mentality too.
TS: They've got the black and white, legal does so that's, um, what we end up deciding and we're just not going to, uh, um, provide them the interim documentation, interim information so that's the, uh, given that, and given how the guys are acting in front of the client it's like you're not helping this situation guys, you need to be very confident and we need to have one voice so the other part of our conversation was Allen is the one voice if we're having anything to talk about PKI it's going to come out of Allen's mouth and Bob and I won't comment, we just, you know, unless, it is something that has been fully decided, we're not going to comment on it, so that way they get the single // interface, single voices. //
BM: // ( ) //
TS: Associated with something so that, that, it's kind of how, how we had to figure out how to deal with the client and our management specifications it's just you know, get it done, do it right, do it so that you're not hurting yourself with it.
BM: Right, yeah.
TS: That's why, like today, I was, the second conflict they had when they got kicked out of the client's office, the client was comfortable with the solution before they started arguing about it.
BM: Oh ,no.
TS: But now they, they, the client is confused, they don't know exactly which direction we are going with the solution, and this is dealing with the remote access environment.
BM: Yeah.
TS: So uh, I had, we had Allen put together some documents to say this is, these are the different options you have, the different capabilities you have but now our management doesn't want to present it because they don't want to be, you know tied to a particular functionality or capability.
BM: Oh.
TS: But oh, I'm like we have to present something because the guys confused them. This is part of the reason why that second conflict was so bad, and management's like, "Are we just trying to hang ourselves?" [Laughs]
BM: [Laughs] So, you've got to come up with something.
TS: Well, I think what we are going to do, end up doing in that situation is, uh, the implementer is actually going to be a third party, it's a subcontractor of ours.
BM: Oh cool.
TS: So what will probably do is have Allen give D.J. from the subcontractor the information and have D.J. make it their own and then have them present it as the different capabilities of the system.
BM: Interesting.
TS: So then it's not coming from us.
BM: Right.
TS: But it's coming from our subcontractor because they're going to be the lead in implementing the remote access portion of the technology, so we might be able to kind of solve it that way. It's just, it's the perception.
BM: Yeah.
TS: The concern that if it comes from us, we don't want them to be confused by it or whatever.
BM: Exactly, it sounds like you have a lot to deal with. [Laughs]
TS: [Laughs] I stay crazy.
BM: Thank you, I'll go on and turn this off.
BM: Thank you.
TS: You're welcome.