Check-Six: The Pitfall of Saying,

ASOG Article of the Month – October 2020

ASOG Author: Gareth Davies

We've all heard it at some time, "It's not my job!" and we all have cringed when we've heard it. Gareth Davies gives a great professional and funny experience on how he dealt with one such moment.

"It's not my job" has become a commonly used response in the workplace and even in the aviation & remote-sensing world. Sure, this attitude may help someone avoid doing extra work, but it can be full of pitfalls. Applying the attitude "it's not my job" can result in many negative results, i.e., limited career advancement, isolation, or losing a job. You don't want to be labelled as someone unwilling to go above and beyond the bottom line. Not to say, it could also get you branded as lazy, incompetent, and unaccommodating (say goodbye to your Pub invite).

Here's one of my personal experiences that highlights the pitfall of saying, "That's not my job" and how someone can reverse course.

Contract Change - European Space Operations Centre (ESOC), Main Control Room (MCR) circa A.D 1986


For those following ASOG, you will know I was a Network Controller in the MCR of ESOC. Due to the nature of the E.U., it's founding of ESA, and subsequently, the requirement for 'geographical distribution' of funding, there would be contract changes within ESOC's various departments. This time it was Software Support.

When it comes to contract changes in the ESA, Contractors had to re-apply for their jobs (even if they are/were doing a good job) or return to their companies. So, at the end of the day, the ESOC staff was in a flux state, i.e., friends left, and potential new ones arrived.

In this particular case, a batch of Oxbridge grads (Oxbridge-Oxford/Cambridge University graduates) full of themselves and their abilities swagger in on the first day of the new contract. You have all met the types, mostly well-meaning, just need the edges rounded off.

On this first day, we hear a tentative knock on the MCR door and in walks our new Software guy. We make the standard introductions, and he asked what he could do for us (outside of Launches, the MCR was controlled by Network 1 who, beyond day hours, was in charge of the MCR and all the operational control rooms, a.k.a. Shift Co-ord. and that was his call sign. Network 2 [me] was known as Network). Our responses were yes, we do have a little thing that he could help us.

What Time is It?


We explain that as shift workers, we counted our days as days-on, days-off, and holiday/vacation days, and that often did not know where we were in the calendar month. I was forever getting in trouble for forgetting birthdays. You would clock November 3 and tell yourself you must buy your mother a birthday card for the 24th. The next thing you mentally clock is December 2 and the ensuing grief. Ordinary office day workers can, with four weekends in a month, subconsciously figure out where they are within the month. Not us in the MCR. Often, during the winter months, it was dark when you arrived and dark when you left. Then suddenly, it was April.

We explained this problem to our new, eager to please (we thought) young man, and asked him to take a feed from the Atomic Clock we knew ESOC had and give us a day/date time stamp that would appear on our consoles screens when we logged-in, i.e., help us with our orientation to time.

After explaining our problem or request, Our Oxbridge chap said, "he was not here to do things like that." However, we in the MCR knew that was precisely what he was here for. Most people think that mission operations are high tech. (It is not) and off he went with the attitude of "It's not my job!"

Time for additional schooling


After this blow-off, we decided to make a point with our new and young Oxbridge grad Software chap. We sat down and concocted an attention-getting lesson for him.

Gary (Network 1/shift co-ord.) said he would cook a chicken for his family, then boil and bake the bones. On my jogging runs, I was to collect some shiny stones and a few wood pigeon feathers. Gary added some shells from his daughter's collection, and I put in some marbles (not from my head). We put all these items in our scrabble bag, which at the time was a turquoise/purple Seagram's Seven Canadian whisky bag, and waited for the right day to execute our lesson or plan.

On a crystal clear and bright January day (which was part of our plan, i.e., the effect of transiting from light to dark), Gary and I were on the morning shift together. We knew our new Software chap was coming to the MCR on this day.

You Are Cleared for Launch!


At 11:55, when everyone in the Control Centre went to the canteen for lunch, we executed our plan. We dimmed all the room lights and the monitor screens to a minimum, moved the control chairs (high backed) and arranged them in a circle next to the main door, rigged the main door to lock when it was opened and then closed to control the parameter, lay the Seagram Seven bag in the middle of our circle. At 12:00, we called our young chap to the Control Centre to help us with a problem.

As he opened the door, we closed our eyes because it was bright, having been in the dimmed MCR for 5 hrs or so. As the MCR door locked behind our young chap, Gary and I started dancing around the bag, making Indian sounds. After some seconds (this whole incident took about 15 seconds), Gary took the bag and threw all of its contents into the air. Shells, bones, marbles, stones, and feathers clattered and floated all over the consoles and then the floor.

Gary asked, "what do you think, Gareth?" I said, "4.2." Gary followed up with, "What about the wishbones position to the feathers?" I yelled out, "Aw Shit, I missed that; it's 4.8." Gary finished with "and the shells to the marbles." I concluded with "OK, it's 5.1."

At this point, our young man had regained his sight, purveyed all around him, which was a sight and gasped as you can imagine. He shrieked, "What on earth are you doing?"

Our response was (as if we had just noticed his presence), "Oh hello, we're just deciding what version number you are going to load in the MCR next because clearly, you haven't got a F'ing Clue!" As you can imagine, he turned and left.

After our young chap rapidly left, we execute the last part of our brilliant plan, i.e., destroy the evidence. Like two 10-year olds that could not stop giggling, we rushed to the hidden door in the back wall where the cleaning staff had their vacuum cleaner. If anyone or the Ops Director had seen the MCR in this state, all hell would have broken out. However, by 13:00, all was tidy, and Gary and I clocked-off our shift to celebrate our performance with a couple of beers.

Mission Complete


Eight or so days later, Gary and I were on the morning shift again. I logged on, and I told Gary to log on. Low and behold, a new line on the screen, day/date, and time stamp!

Shortly after seeing the new stamp, we heard a knock at the door and in walked our young Oxbridge Software chap. "Well," he said, "got that wrong. It is exactly why I am here. You scared the living daylights out of me. Thank you!"

Since that moment, our young Software chap became part of the MCR Ops team. When he was there, he brought his family and friends to view ESOC and the MCR, plus he always came on our shift and, like any fully integrated teammate, got the full Monty. In the end, we always got the support (yesterday) when we needed it.


Bottom line


If you hear yourself saying, "It’s not my job,“ stop—it’s only going to set you up for some pitfall. It transmits the message that you’re not willing to go above and beyond or worst yet you’re incompetent. However, to keep things in balance, don’t go to the extreme end of the spectrum and be the task Pack Mule either. 

So, next time a crewmember or teammate requests your support, ask yourself: Should I help my team mate or Check-Six for the rest of my life!

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