I am increasingly of the opinion that my supervisor has not the slightest idea of what she is doing. Perhaps I should qualify that. She knows clearly what she is doing, which is totally avoiding what she should be doing.

I admit I don't know what her job is. What should she be doing during the day? What would not get done if she wasn't there? I don't think I've ever seen her do any work, nor understand anything much of what the rest of us do.

She has a desk covered in papers, and she has a little spiral-bound notebook in which she enters memoranda on the tasks she's assigned me. She reads and sends e-mails, she attends meetings, and every few days she comes over to me and checks my progress.

A vast amount of time chatting, gossiping, on e-mail and phone to long-lost friends, looking up personal things on the Internet, making cups of coffee, powdering her nose, and just plain disappearing. Say about half her work day is visibly not doing work. The other half is sympathetic magic, a cargo cult shadow-play designed to convince others and perhaps herself that this busy activity and this passing of text is a form of work.

The more closely I look at it, the less I can see anything in it which is, in fact, functional work.

She has perfected the art of nodding seriously in agreement, and repeating random snatches of what you just said quickly after you, as if she was just about to finish your sentence (i.e. was thinking it herself). Actually sometimes she does add something before I've finished, and it's more or less random. I say "we need to.." and carefully slow down, and she vigorously agrees, "to, to..." as if that's a good point and I've confirmed what she'd just been deciding was best; then because I find this painful I usually continue and say something like "to look at the..." and she proffers "field" or "client" or "employee" or "data", something sufficiently high-level that it will at a pinch cover the true answer.

Intersperse this with dead air words, fillers not of the merely hesitant unassertive female variety, but to an obsessive-compulsive extent, "I wonder could we, kind of, actually, you know...", larded through every sentence until she grinds to a halt because this time I'm refusing to cooperate and guess at the details.

She consults her little notebook. Her notes are useless even for herself. All she can get from them is "You know we had, kind of like, that problem...?"


She names the client and I trawl my memory. Possibly I can remember but sometimes I want her to try to articulate it, so I play possum until she's forced to add details. But she didn't note the details, and can't remember, and wouldn't understand them anyway. Didn't understand them then, wouldn't understand if I explained again. "That problem with employee records... not, kind of... ohh," and then she screws up her brow and gazes at the ceiling because just this once her steel trap grasp of facts has let her down. Tip of her tongue, it'll come flooding back in a moment... Especially if I get in first, that'd definitely make it easier.

The e-mails to me are just points other people have made: testers, managers, anyone who knows what they're doing. She sends me these as if she's the one who's been reviewing it. So I e-mail her back with answers to some and questions on others, and she has to consult someone else. The client. Or go into a meeting with someone who'll know.

I make a big show of explaining everything. I explain the internal format of the fields, and the reasoning that means the fault is in such-and-such a module or process. I haven't yet tried saying that the springs on the rate table have been weakened by overuse so we need to import booleans into all the string fields, but I'm tempted to watch her agreeing.