Thursday, January 29, 2009

Coffee in the Workplace

I'm beginning to understand Wally from Dilbert. If you read Dilbert, then you'll know that Wally is a coffee addict. He seems to operate only on java.

I actually like my new job, and in no way do I think of it as futile. My accounting classes, on the other hand... I've had really great Accounting professors at American University thus far in my curriculum, however it's reading the accounting textbook and doing problems from it that I find.. mind-numbing. I have actually gotten into the habit now of not doing accounting homework unless I've drunk coffee beforehand.

My accounting text smells (wreaks?) of coffee because I'm always toting it to Starbucks to do work. When I drink a few cups of coffee, I begin to feel wired. It's as if my brain goes into overdrive and I'm able to really focus in on the accounting text. I can go off to "accounting land" once the black stuff starts pumping through my veins. Next thing I know, 3 hours have passed and my problem set is complete.

Caffeine never used to do much for me. Things are different now.

I don't think that I'll need this kind of stimulation at my office this semester. I ask enough questions that it's impossible to lose focus of what I'm doing. Additionally, the company keeps snacks and drinks in a small kitchen that are complimentary to employees. Talk about a morale booster. For one, free anything excites me; but secondly, I never have to leave the office in search of something to drink. Between free coffee and soda, of which I may consume a retail value of 1 dollar's worth every 8-hour shift I work, the company actually saves money because I'm always at my desk, working. Jobs I've held in the past didn't afford this luxury, and I've always wanted a job that did. Before, I would go out for a drink and take at least 15 minutes, sometimes much longer, to get back to the office.

I've realized that complimentary beverages for one's employees is a wonderful way to boost productivity and morale, and save the company money, rather than the other way around as the misperception perpetuates. This is another instance of where some companies can be nearsighted.. they may save money by not providing employees with complimentary drinks, but do they sure lose out big time in lost productivity and bloated wage expenses.

First Day of Work

Yesterday was my first day of work at the Accounting (Tax) firm. I arrived at 8:30 AM, a bit earlier than expected. There was a gigantic ice storm the night before and everything was running much slower. Not many people had showed up for work yet, but luckily one very nice CPA was able to give me the "grand tour" of my new workplace.

I had always assumed that I would show up to work and be greeted by some excellent employees, and some mediocre employees. However, after one day I've only encountered highly intelligent, well-qualified people. I suppose the benefit of having a small firm with employees that number in the dozens, rather than hundreds or thousands, is that managers can really take the time to hand-select people to join the team. Some times at large corporations it seems that job roles roll over and need filling, and so companies must hire lots of people, regardless of how "perfect" a fit they really are for the company.

It seems to me that a few character traits are essential in any employee: the capacity to perform one's job well, to ability be a team player, and to potential to excel in the previous two combined. It seems that so often companies are nearsighted in their hiring by hiring employees that only fit one or two of the above criteria to meet present corporate demand. However, it's the employee who meets all the above criteria that a company really wants.

After my first day, everyone I've met has fit all three criteria. Everyone is motivated, well qualified, and extremely knowledgeable. Learning tax services is not at all easy. There is so much information to learn, and the US Tax Code now contains more than 5 million pages, to the best of my knowledge. As obnoxious as this is, I can't imagine Accountants being successful without their computers and powerful software. I was showed how to use the program ProSystems fx Tax, amongst others. Let me say that the learning curve on these programs seems to be a bit steep because the target users for them are industry professionals who already have a working familiarity of the US taxation system. This is no TurboTax we're talking about. This is the real deal...hundreds of forms each with hundreds of boxes...and that's just for federal filing. Don't forget the state income tax returns. And let's not delve into Corporate returns yet, either.

I enjoyed my first day of work because I was able to gain a large amount of experience just in my first 8 hours on the job. I didn't have but 20 minutes down time during my entire 8 hour shift, and that was for lunch. I'm really working for my pay, and it's a good feeling. There was plenty of work for me to do, so I don't feel like I wasted a single minute. Speaking of minutes- we keep track of our time in small increments of minutes. I write down all my activities to the nearest minute for accountability purposes. Partly this makes sure that I'm not goofing off, but it also helps to determine how much time has been given to each client.

I am very lucky to be paid for this position, while I earn academic credit at the same time. I'm happy to be studying accounting during a time like this because it seems that accounting is a fairly resilient industry in times of economic hardship. People will always need doctors, lawyers, and accountants.

So far I've worked on individual tax returns. I am entering data into the computer system, and sorting through peoples' documents to get things in order. The office is beginning to go entirely paperless, so even though client folders float around the office, it's wonderful to have some digital freedom.

The epiphany of my day had to have been when somebody was describing corporate tax returns and said, "So in that case you just make an AJE to the AGI to then wrap the NI into the RE and put it here." I realized that I'm in the right profession when I understood exactly what was said. It was actually a sort of special feeling.. because although there are countless moments just like this one that are sure to come, I felt like I was sharing a special bond with the person who said this to me. I spend an hour per day studying Japanese, and yet I felt like I was fluent in a whole other language at that moment.

Blog for the American University Career Center and Kogod Internship

I have created this blog to write about my experience working at a Certified Public Accounting firm. While the firm provides a vast array of accounting and tax services, I will be working primarily on tax return preparation, IRS correspondence, and client satisfaction. I work two full days per week and will write periodic updates in this blog about my experience. I expect the experience to be quite positive and I hope you enjoy reading about it.

Best Regards,

Jeff Wilson