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I started my job in the beginning of May. My boss is not from an English speaking country and he can be hard to understand, even when not talking about technical stuff. He's a forestry scientist and hired me because he "doesn't know computer programming" so there's a lot of non-meeting of the minds when it comes to discussing the technical specs and what the end product should be.

He gets mad a lot and today when I didn't understand something he yelled at me. I'm not OK with being yelled at and if he does it a few more times I will report him to HR.

Aside from being unpleasant to be around when yelling and getting angry, it's not productive. Here is an example of his directions:

  1. Learn NRT for module NRT_intersection.docx: \\vault\...\NRT_intersection.docx
  2. Steps to learn how to intersect two layers:
    a. Learn import/export operations with utilities pgsql2shp.exe and shp2pgsql.exe (part of the install package for Postgresql with PostGIS)
    b. Learn how to change SRID of spatial layers so that both intersect layers have the same SRID using above mentioned utilities,
    c. Export spatial layers from DB as temp shapefiles to local working directory \\...\Anderson using utility pgsql2shp.exe: make sure that SRID value is set to 29581 for both shapefiles, (this value is referenced for the table nfi_16 in the public schema table public.geometry_columns),
    d. perform intersection of exported shapefiles using imported into Python module arcpy (in function “Intersect_analysis”);
    e. import back to DB to schema intersection shapefile as temp table using utility shp2pgsql.exe and corresponding SRID=29581,
    ...

For step 1, the NRT_intersection.docx contained 20 instructions that I was following and the boss hit the roof that I was taking that long and said he only wanted me to read through them and not do them. I didn't know this.

For the rest of the steps: I understand them so little I barely know how to articulate a question. I told him I didn't know what SRID is and he told me to read the documentation and I asked which documentation and he said 'the one online'.
And what are spacial layers? When I ask for clarification, the new instructions are as unclear as the first.

What questions should I ask to a) keep him calm and b) understand what he wants?

I googled 'SRID' and found Wikipedia stating

A Spatial Reference System Identifier (SRID) is a unique value used to unambiguously identify projected, unprojected, and local spatial coordinate system definitions. These coordinate systems form the heart of all GIS applications.

This gets me nowhere.

I'm a co-op student and I have informed my supervisor I'm having trouble understanding my boss. It seems like everyone focuses on how he's from another culture and used to a different language. While I have respect for that, it doesn't solve the immediate problem.

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    Don't wait for him to yell at you a few more times. Tell him straight up please don't yell at me and getting angry with me is not going to fix anything. – paparazzo Jun 16 '15 at 8:14
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    The culture/language angle doesn't seem important, from your description he's assuming that you have an in-depth functional knowledge of his domain when that is clearly not the case. Did you discuss this at all during the hiring process? If I understand the co-op student thing correctly, it seems like your manager applied for a program where he's supposed to supervise a student's first work experience but is not prepared to put in any of the work that that entails but would rather use you as cheap labour to do "the programming". – Lilienthal Jun 16 '15 at 10:37
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    GIS (Geographic Information Systems) is a difficult domain to pick up; it seems as if someone with prior knowledge of - or training in - the domain is needed. In the meantime, have you looked at gis.stackexchange.com? – EleventhDoctor Jun 16 '15 at 12:29
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    Unless you're OK with your boss seeing this question, you might want to reconsider posting samples of the actual instructions under what I presume is your real name. – jpatokal Jun 16 '15 at 12:52
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    The instructions seem straightforward (for someone with knowledge of GIS) so if you do post it over at gis.stackexchange.com I'll try to explain what he's after. – George Jun 16 '15 at 13:34
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People have very different styles of communication, not everyone knows how to work with interns, and some people are just assholes and unpleasant to interact with. We don't know exactly the situation but what seems like "yelling" for you might be considered "talking" by him, or he just might have an argumentative disposition, it happens.

The best thing you can do, initially, is to not worry about "keeping him calm". Don't appease the guy, make him angry with your questions when you need info. He has to know where you stand, otherwise you won't get work done and piss him off even more.

At some point, you'll need to find out what the issue really is. Presumably, he knew that you didn't have forestry or GIS domain knowledge when you were hired, so what is the real problem then? That's what you will want to find out.

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    some people don't understand how difficult understanding the stuff they're specialized in is. – Formagella Jun 16 '15 at 19:26
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    By the description, it's worse than that. Boss told the employee "learn this stuff". Employee learned the stuff. Boss tells the employee "I didn't want you to learn it, I wanted you to just read it". We can all guess what the boss would have screamed about if the employee had just read the twenty steps without learning them. – gnasher729 Jun 18 '15 at 21:14
  • @Formagella Yeah, I frequently hear people say they didn't learn anything in school/university in the x years they were there. They then go and mock you for not knowing their domain specific knowledge. – HopefullyHelpful Feb 8 '17 at 23:54
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I was involved in an incident where a mid level manager screamed at me so loudly that half the floor could hear him.

I was sitting at my cube (half height) and my wife had called me to ask a few questions. The manager walked up and began screaming at me to get off the phone; he dropped quite a few expletives. Quite frankly I'm not entirely sure what he was even saying due to the volume other than to get off the phone. For the record, personal calls were absolutely allowed.

I calmly told my wife that I'd call her back and hung up. Everyone in the office had stopped to watch what was going on. I didn't say a word and just stood there waiting for it to end. In all honesty I was afraid the guy was about to hit me. He outweighed me by at least 100 lbs and was at least a foot taller.

When he finally finished and stomped off, I went straight into the CTO's office and told him that he had a choice. Either he would terminate that manager and have him escorted off the property immediately or I would go to the police, file a report of assault then sue the company into oblivion for not doing anything about it. I was actually shaking at this point.

The CTO said he'd look into it, so I left. About 10 minutes later I had a phone call from the CEO apologizing profusely for the behavior and letting me know that the manager had been fired and was being escorted off the property by building security. He then all but begged me to come back.

Abuse - whether physical or verbal - should not be tolerated. If I were you I would immediately go to his boss and let them know what happened. If they aren't willing to fix it, decide what you want to do but at the very least you should move on.

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    "Ultimatums" at work, while emotionally satisfying, are RARELY successful. You got lucky because your manager was probably already hanging by a thread. – teego1967 Jun 16 '15 at 14:42
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    you were going to report an assault because someone yelled at you? That isn't assault my friend.. – easymoden00b Jun 16 '15 at 15:43
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    @easymoden00b: law.cornell.edu/wex/assault -- (I'm not necessarily saying that what happened here was or wasn't assault, just pointing out that the legal definition doesn't require physical contact) – Keith Thompson Jun 16 '15 at 15:49
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    Actually, when someone yells at you and makes you feel threatened, that is assault. Check out en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assault. If they actually hit you, then it becomes battery as well. – Francine DeGrood Taylor Jun 16 '15 at 17:53
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    then sue the company into oblivion That will only work in some countries. – Jan Doggen Jun 16 '15 at 18:40
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Based on the task you describe here, as well as the one in How to address a manager frequently losing their temper I think that you need to contact your school co-op coordinator and say that before you can work on tasks you need to learn more about GIS. If you are using ESRI's products (and possibly even if not) they do a range of online courses ( http://www.esri.com/training/main/training-catalog ) which were quite good when I did them (albeit 10+ years ago).

There may be some "awkwardness" with your supervisor when you raise this but given how you describe your relationship I think this will be better than trying to ask him things piecemeal over the next few years.

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