Welcome to the colony

IT pilot fish gets a job working at a government facility, and he's well-qualified except for one not-so-small detail: He needs a security clearance.

And there's a Catch-22: "I had to have the clearance before I could start on the job, but we couldn't apply for the clearance before I was an active employee," says fish.

"Clearance could take six months or more if there was anything strange in the employee's history. During this time we had to show up for work, but largely sat around in an area they called 'the leper colony,' because the employees who were already cleared couldn't be anywhere near us 'lepers.'"

The uncleared IT people in the "colony" also can't be assigned to IT work that uses their skills but doesn't require clearance. Fish soon learns that no one will even put him on a programming project, because as soon as his clearance comes through, he'll be immediately shifted to the job he was hired for, leaving the others on the project high and dry.

There's a workaround for students who have been recruited in their senior year of college: They're hired as part-timers before graduation in order to get the clearance paperwork started, so they can transition to full-time once they've graduated. Instead of just sitting around, the students can spend that non-working work time to do homework.

But for new hires like fish who don't fall into that category, there's really just one alternative to months of boredom: The high-end techie "lepers" can be assigned to no-clearance-required IT support jobs.

"The managers all liked that idea because the employees' cost was split between their departments and the 'real' jobs we couldn't do, so the managers got a resource for cheap," fish says.

"Generally, the jobs were well below our skill level, but feeding paper to computer printers was better than sitting around the colony. And I got to have some interesting conversations with some Ph.D.-level 'lepers.'"

Don't leave Sharky sitting around -- send me your true tale of IT life at sharky@computerworld.com. You'll score a sharp Shark shirt if I use it. Add your comments below, and read some great old tales in the Sharkives.

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