I hate business travel. I hate being away from Terry and Tasha. And I hate airports. Flying is a pain too, since the airlines have been reducing the number of flights to keeps the planes more full, but mostly I hate airports. But then who has had anything good to say about the airport check-in process since 9/11? As much as I cringe saying it, it’s one place where the terrorists really seem to have won.
But when the VP says everyone needs to show up in Houston for a team Face-to-Face (or F2F as we say these days), you simply suck it up and go.
Ultimately, I’m glad I did. There were plenty of presentations that put me to sleep, I got sick of people who so enjoyed hearing themselves talk that they couldn’t restrict themselves to their allotted time. As usually happens at such gatherings, I got a serious case of PowerPoint poisoning.
At the same time I got to meet in person for the first time people with whom I have been working remotely for a long while, including my manager. I got to reconnect with people I have worked with in the past. I saw people I haven’t seen in person since my old campus closed.
Getting people with different roles and responsibilities and different priorities together in the same room is not the same as doing a teleconference. The dynamic is entirely different. It’s good to have that interaction.
Making the trip was worthwhile. Being back home is better.
I wrote some weeks ago about my co-worker Jan, as I called her, who was moving off of the project we had worked on together. I was cleaning up my instant message contact list the other day, and noticed that her status was “presence unknown.” That invariably means that the person has left the company. Took me by surprise.
I tracked her down on LinkedIn, and we finally talked on the phone last week. She had been working remotely from a small town outside of Redding, CA for some time. Turns out that she was nervous about her perception of how getting ahead (or even surviving) in her business unit seemed to require a physical presence in that business unit’s new office tower in Silicon Valley. When early retirement was offered at this time last year she raised the issue with me, but we never discussed it thereafter. I assumed that she had considered the option and dropped it.
Turns out that was not the case. She applied and was accepted (as was everyone who applied), but had her departure date deferred by ten months. She had kept that all very quiet.
But here’s the thing that struck me. She had moved to the Redding area with her significant other some years ago when his job took him up there. She told me when we talked that they had been together since high school, and that they had recently split up. How disruptive and disorienting is that? She took these big changes in her life as an opportunity to make another big change and move to Hawaii, where her brother is. She’s looking for remote contract work.
Jan, as I’ve known her, has always been hard-shelled (biting the heads off of nails, as I used to say) and expressed minimal emotion, except, at times, maybe anger. I detected a slight crack in her voice as she was telling me about the breakup, but for the most part she remained stoic. Still, what a major, life-changing disruption this had to be for her. There must be some significant pain and emotion just under the surface.
I do wish her all the best. I wish her an orchestra with which to play. I wish her contracting success. And I wish her love, and the chance to emerge from that hard shell.
“Never heard of him. That’s not exactly true. We were like brothers.”
— Airplane II
When I was direct assigned to my current role at work two years ago, right at this time of year, I had a counterpart in another organization with whom I was required to work closely. I found Jan (as I’ll call her) grating, irritating, and difficult to work with. In general I didn’t much like the job in those days (things have since changed). I was unhappy with my then-manager for her role in my being assigned the position, and I was looking around for other options, of which there were few.
Still, Jan and I developed a good working relationship over time and a mutual respect evolved. When it came time for performance reviews and my manager polled my peers, Jan’s praise of me was glowing, almost to the point of being embarrassing. When the company offered an early retirement program for which we both qualified, she told me one day, “Please don’t tell this to anyone. I’m telling you this as a friend, not as a colleague. But I’m thinking of taking early retirement.”
Eventually priorities in Jan’s organization changed, and the close collaboration came to an end. She was later assigned other tasks. Recently, however, interest in the project revived within that organization, but under another individual. Jan came to one last cross-organization meeting where we introduced the new person.
I took a few minutes to thank Jan for her contributions and mentioned how I appreciated her help in showing me the ropes in my early days in the new position, when I was a deer in the headlights or drinking from a fire hose (depending on which metaphor I was in the mood for). Which was in fact true, despite the other stuff that was also true. She said that this was one of those projects where ten years from now you would remember the people you worked with. She said it was fun in those early days.
I said that yes, it was fun. That’s not exactly true. It wasn’t. And I don’t like lying. But there was no reason for me not to maintain a cordial relationship with Jan. We can each go off working on our separate projects maintaining a good feeling about our past collaboration.
That’s not a bad thing.
I got a couple of renewal notices in the past couple of weeks that made me think how different my emotional state is than a year ago.
It was just over a year ago that I bought my Internet radio. That has turned out to be a very useful and practical purchase. I use it every day. When I was setting it up I noticed that the service that provides the audio stream for my model listed something called Calm Radio. It was just a sample stream, but had channels for symphony, solo guitar, solo piano, etc. It also had channels for choral and Gregorian Chant. At the time I was seriously stressed at work and looking for anything to sooth my nerves. So I shelled out sixty bucks (Canadian) for a year’s subscription.
The same with tricycle. I thought some Buddhist philosophy would help my stress.
When tricycle came up for renewal, I realized that I hadn’t been reading my online issues, and that I wasn’t nearly as stressed as I was a year ago. I cancelled the automatic renewal. Same thing with Calm Radio. I noticed that I hadn’t been listening to the Calm Radio stations, and it didn’t make sense to spend $60 (CDN) for another year. I cancelled that too. Listening to our Bay Area classical station, KDFC, is more than sufficient.
Saving money and less stress. Good things.
When I was at the conference in Las Vegas last week we had arranged to shoot a short video with a corporate partner who uses our technology. Our marketing guy was to ask me a couple of introductory questions, we’d go to the partner for the bulk of the video, and then back to me for a couple of concluding questions. I thought we’d just meet the video crew somewhere, we’d shoot the video in ten minutes, and then we’d be done. I was wrong.
We were told the recording would be at the portable studio on the show floor. When I got there I discovered this was really a production. It started with makeup. Yes, makeup. I went into the makeup booth and they spent several minutes putting makeup on my face. They gave me some hair gel, and trimmed my nose and ear hair. Then, sitting on our director’s chair-like stools the technicians gave us lapel mics and we did a sound test.
We started the shoot and it went smoothly. I thought it went well, but the crew asked us to do it a second time, because of some sound problems and to make sure we had sufficient good footage. Then the partner and I were excused and they asked our marketing guy to stay and ask the questions one more time looking at empty chairs.
I have to say, that was a new experience — something I haven’t done before. My counterpart on the engineering side asked me if I was still going to talk to the “little people” when I made it big. I told him I wasn’t going to quit my day job until I’d seen the edited video.
And probably not even then, I would expect.
I’ve worked with colleagues in and from India for many years now. I have gotten used to their speech patterns. Since English is not their native language, many phrases to not conform to standard American English usage. One phrase I hear periodically is one colleague telling another, or a manager telling a team member to “do the needful.” That’s what I’m doing this week.
I’m not big on business travel, and I avoid it whenever possible. But I am the product manager for my project, and if my project is being shown at a trade show it’s really good for the product manager to be there. Hence my trip to Las Vegas this week for a partner conference. And anyway, it will be good to have a break in the routine and meet some of my colleagues in person.
Thanks to the miracle of modern blog technology, this blog will continue on its regular schedule while I am away. And I’ve got a number of thoughts for blogs in the weeks ahead.
In the meantime: Las Vegas in Lent. That’s an interesting concept.
I wrote last Thursday about how my manager was taking early retirement, and how the site at which I was working was closing and I was becoming an official teleworker.
Friday was my manager’s last day. On Wednesday of last week I left my cubicle for the last time. It was a sad day.
I packed up the few things that were left in my cube and went to the cafeteria for lunch one last time. The cafeteria was quiet, as more and more people have moved to other sites. The staff was familiar though. Sodexo has done a good job of retaining employees and the two people at the cash registers, Jorge and Iris, have been there since I moved to the site in the spring of 2000. I went through Iris’ line, at the station that was once staffed by the late, gregarious, beloved Betty.
I ate outside, looking out at the volleyball courts. Those courts were well-used by some very serious volleyball players who regularly took extended lunch hours to play no-nonsense games. One the most intense and serious players was a slim, fit woman with long brunette hair. She held her own well with the men. Wednesday those courts were empty.
I had my annual physical on Wednesday afternoon, so after lunch I took everything downstairs to my car and packed my laptop into my briefcase. I pulled my nameplate off the fabric wall, turned and took a long look at the empty cubicle, and then left the building for the final time.
On to the next chapter as a permanent teleworker working for my new manager.