Busy being

I’ve had a busy and productive week at work, which accounts for my inactivity here. It’s been full-on, but I’ve enjoyed it. As they say in the vernacular, I kicked a few goals this week.

One of the reservations I have about the role I’m in is wondering what I’ll do when I’m finished with all the process improvement and innovation. There’s a fair bit of that to be done, which is a large part of the appeal. I’ve been given a free pass to get it done, and that’s a big plus as well. I started on this a way back and made good progress, but this week implemented a couple of things that were highly visible and potentially will make a significant difference to the segment of the business I’m in. This is good, and there’s a lot more to be done, but in 3 months when I’ve ticked off the big-ticket items, what then?

The obvious answer is I’ll worry about that when the time comes, but I know I’m not the sort to happily maintain the status quo. And that’s not how you want to use me either if you’re smart. I’m really good at the innovation stuff because I have imagination, experience and a big-picture perspective – it’s all about connections and integration and synchronisation. I’m unafraid too, and that counts because you’ve got to be bold to carry these things off. What I’m not so good at is sitting in the corner watching it tick over while I twiddle my thumbs.

It’s funny. In my experience, most people are the opposite, but I get bored if things aren’t moving and changing. But – I’ll worry about that later.

For now, I’ve been flat out doing things and reckon this week past is probably the most productive week I’ve had for years. It’s exhausting in a way, but in a way that you’re happy to be exhausted. And, besides the fully anticipated resistance of the office Luddites, was very well received – lauded, even.

It’s been important – I think – in shoring up my position. The new manager has come in, and we’ve met now and had some overlapping stuff, and out of it, I think he’s come to trust me. That’s the first hurdle cleared. He may even like me – I’m certainly different from all the marketing people he deals with. It means that those who were looking to muscle into my area have been dropped by him. I think in this I probably got support from those outside the area I’ve worked with, including the vendor.

The question remains what I want out of this. I may not get a huge say in how that plays out – in recent experience what I want and what I can get are very different things. But I think I’m gaining more leverage now, both at work and in general. In my new role, I’m more exposed to important decision-makers and wield more influence, and out in the world I can point to a few more strings to my bow.

I say I want nothing to do with really pushing it anymore, and it’s true. The job matters less than the work, and at the end of the day I want to walk away from it and let it be somebody else’s problem. But then, I can’t stop doing things, and one thing leads to another, and I’ll always want to make it better and shinier and, regardless of what I say, get possessive of it. I don’t want it fucked up, and the best way to guarantee that is to do it myself – and push comes to shove I’ve got the muscle to hold my ground and even forge a path. I enjoy that, too – the rough and tumble have never bothered me. And I end up in that position, and I look around and no, no, no, I think, let someone else take the responsibility, but this is my place, and this is what I can do, and ultimately, I want everyone to know it. And I want the money to go with it.

Figure that one out, Sherlock. Or is Jung?

In between

I had a meeting this morning with my direct manager. These are pretty casual affairs. We meet offsite at a café downstairs, and the conversation tends to be pretty candid, which is how I like it.

There’s a bit happening at the moment and a fair bit of uncertainty with it. People have left, and their replacements have only recently started. There’s been a state of flux these last 4-6 weeks, and a few have been jockeying for position having spotted an opportunity in the uncertainty.

I’ve not really involved with this – it’s not my style – but I’ve been wary and increasingly concerned that others are trying to encroach on my territory. I’m not easy to push around and I’ve held my ground, but the outcome of all this will influence my plans going forward.

I’m waiting for the dust to settle, also waiting to be engaged with – as promised, but as yet not eventuated. In the meantime, I applied for an opportunistic job over the weekend. On top of that, one of the guys recently departed has been in contact and wants to catch up regarding potential roles at his new employer.

You know me, I’m always figuring things out – things outside me, and things inside too.

By my reckoning my situation has two distinct elements. Almost by accident, I’ve invested a lot of time and brainpower over the last 12 months in the AI space. I’ve enjoyed it and, with respect to my career, have identified it as an opportunity that I wish to take adntage of.

In the beginning there were three of us involved, and I was at the pointy end of it. The other two have gone and I’m left as by far and away the most knowledgeable and experienced person in this area – I practically designed the platform here.

This is what’s under threat, though. Others seemingly have identified the same opportunity, though till now they’ve been uninvolved, and are trying to muscle in.

When I took this job on I sought assurances that I could keep doing it. I had a form of ownership, but the people who gave me the thumbs up have gone now. It weakens my position, but I’m not about to meekly rollover.

The secondary element is something I actually managed to articulate quite well to my manager today.

I’ve got an awful lot of experience in senior roles and in delivering serious projects of all kinds. I consider myself knowledgeable and smart and curious besides. I like to know and understand things and keep myself informed. All of this means that I sit here watching on while others talk about or do things that I’ve done before. I’m surprised how poorly informed many people are, and often, how poorly or incompletely things are executed. Mostly I let it go, but at times I’ll chip in with my 2c worth.

The problem is there’s hardly anyone here who knows my background. The people you’d think might be interested have never bothered to inquire. That means when I speak up, it comes across as opinion only when actually it’s based on knowledge and experience. It’s frustrating, but mostly I let it ride.

What’s tougher is when things happen that are in my area or directly impact upon me that are poorly conceived or executed. I hate sloppiness of any sort, and it makes me sick to the stomach to see it. I can hack it if I look away, but when I have to confront it I just can’t rest until it’s made right.

The kicker is that I don’t want to take responsibility for these things. As I explained to my manager, I’ve taken a step back from that sort of responsibility. I don’t want to live it. I want to walk away from the job at the end of the day and be myself. I’m full-on when I’m doing it, but when I’m out of there I know it’s only a job, chill. But then, nor can I watch the car heading for a crash without looking to prevent it.

This sums up my predicament. I’m in conflict with myself, determined to step away but unable to stay uninvolved. I dunno is if it’s a sustainable position long term. Effectively it’s a battle between an ascetic desire to keep it personal and private on the one hand, and my ego and perfectionism on the other.

What this means if I choose to step away from this place is anyone’s guess. I figure I’m going to have to make a decision. But that’s why I’m also targeting AI as a transportable skill that means that one day – perhaps – I can be a visiting consultant.

Being old school

I got into work this morning and found that a heater had been left on overnight. It happens most nights. Muttering under my breath about it, I switched it off, as I do most mornings. My team lead noticed my muttering and asked the question, and I explained how I have to turn it off every morning and what a waste of energy and money it is and don’t people turn off after themselves anymore? He smiled at my affable grouching and related how his grandfather would mutter similar imprecations, and how he’d been brought up to think much the same. He’s about my age, and at that moment we were a couple of self-deprecating grumpy old men.

A few minutes later, after I’ve logged in and done all that first stuff – checking emails, messages from overnight, system issues, etc. – he speaks up again. He’s reviewing some data fixes we’ve proposed for which I’ve done the documentation, and he tells me he doesn’t have to change a thing, just cut and paste what I’ve written. It’s a compliment of sorts, and I tell him, well, I like to be thorough. And he replies that he’s the same and we both agree wistfully that we’re old school and unspoken in that is the thought: haven’t things changed.

I sometimes wonder if my experience makes me a bit of a dinosaur in some ways, but the reality is that it stands me in good stead. It means I have an answer often when others don’t because I’ve done my homework and because I like to understand things. I have a creative mindset and realistic enough to know that shortcuts are necessary sometimes and that just doing it is occasionally the best option. And I enjoy that because I like to do. But, I come from a process-driven background. There are ways to do things. There are structures to adhere to. I’m nowhere near as anal about it as some, but the irony is that when once I might have been considered on the looser end of that scale now times have changed such that I’m one of the more rigorous. And I haven’t moved an inch.

There are trends and fashions in everything, including business practice. The trend right now mirrors agile, even outside of IT and projects. It’s become a way of doing things across the board – a quick-moving, lightly touching, low documentation way of doing things. I have nothing against Agile per se and think it’s just right for specific projects but – and I always say this – horses for courses. One size doesn’t fit all. Properly speaking, you should define the problem first and identify the right solution for it rather, as it often appears the case now, having a cookie-cutter solution and attempting to fit the problem to it.

I guess this is an attitude that makes me old school at least. I’ve walked into an environment where nothing has been documented because no-one considered that anything you build will also need to be maintained. Knowledge is held in people’s heads or in scattered emails and user stories. There is no coherent understanding, let alone a baseline. If you put everyone in the same room and extracted what they know you might piece something together, like a jigsaw, or more likely a version of Frankenstein.

Trends come and go, and I expect this will moderate, as trends do, but I also think it mirrors the times, just as I mirror my times. I was brought up such a way that now makes me old school – turning off lights when I leave the room, closing doors after I open them, doing what I’ll say I’ll do, and doing things in a rational, methodical and thorough way.

The work zoo

Friday was the last day for the man who got me my job, and there were drinks after work at a nearby bar. I was there for about 90 minutes, chatting with colleagues and drinking beer. It was fine without being anything special, up until the Sales guys turn up. They’re a very different crew.

It’s no secret that Sales and I have had our run-ins and have an uneasy relationship. There’s plenty of practical reasons for that as far as I can see. For a start, I’m ethically driven, and they couldn’t spell it. To them, everything comes second to making the sale. They’re happy to do over other parts of the business to achieve that, and have no regard for anyone – including the customer – once the sale is done. To someone like me – principled, standards-driven – that’s poison. And I guess that’s the fundamental issue. Put us on a line, and they’re pushing the edges at one end, and I’m doing the same on the other.

That counts when it comes to basic style, as well. I catch a glimpse of various Sales guys around the office (you can spot ’em a mile off), and it’s rare that the style snob in me doesn’t emerge.

Friday night was typical. Three of them came along, all burly types leading with their belly. They have a distinct manner, splay-footed, stomach pressed forward as if looking to intimidate with it, shoulders pushed back, walking in a swaggering shuffle. They greeted each other with a hug, though they’d just shared an office together a few hours before. Filtering through the ranks influences seem to range from gangsta and rap to the merely gauche (Peter Jackson suits). Many of them are outright lairy, right up to chunky jewellery and baseball caps. They’re a shallow, egocentric mob in general, lacking grace. (To be fair, there are some reasonable characters too – I have a mate working there, and some of the women are very nice). As a general rule, they don’t give a fuck about anyone else and do whatever they want. (They ignore the lines and colour wherever they wish).

It’s interesting to differentiate between the different personality types. There are Sales, but then now I’m working closely with Marketing, and they’re different again. They’re decent people in general, a tad overdrawn to my taste – a bit louder, a bit more emphatic with their words and gestures (but then I’m old-school hard-arse), a bit gushier. They’re more touchy, feely. More ethereal.

In IT, where I’m sitting, there are some classic IT geek types. There’re a couple of guys who I’ve barely heard a word out of and who avoid all social contact. Much of the floor is taken up with Indian developers, industrious and humble. They’re smiling and gracious when you stop to chat with them, always ready to take time out to talk about the cricket. My own team lead is as lovely a guy as you’d ever meet, more reserved and quiet than anyone from Sales or Marketing. He just gets on with it.

I’ve got some of that, but I’ve probably got a bit of everything here. I’ve got a bit of swagger, but balancing it out is a decent work ethic and a genuine interest in others. I’ll colour outside the lines myself occasionally, but only because I think the lines are in the wrong place (and I don’t always recognise arbitrary boundaries). I’m not as loud as marketing, but I can fire up and be just as smooth and extroverted as they are. What I have and they don’t is a touch of mongrel. I’m having my qualms these days, but even still it doesn’t stop me from being direct and focussed. I’m ideas-driven, and everything comes second to that.

I think back to where I’ve come from, and it feels disorganised and ineffectual. There’s a jobbing mentality. People come and go, and while there are some excellent performers, most are happy to turn up and go home. Even the management is amateur by comparison, lacking a framework and driven by individual whim.

It’s no surprise I left soon after Sales turned up on Friday. We shook hands warily, nodded heads, but we’re not for socialising together.

Through the eyes of others

So, I was pondering the sense of futility that seems everpresent these days. What is the value of what I do? What is the point of this existence? But then, on Thursday night, we had a work function after work when we went to the same bar I went to a few weeks ago with JV. Drinks were laid on, and tapas and the atmosphere was convivial. I had 3-4 drinks and spoke to different people, but more most of the evening was in conversation with my new manager.

I’ve mentioned before what a lovely bloke he is. He’s a cracker. He’s a couple of years short of 60, originally a Malaysian Chinese who’s been living here for about thirty years, and about a foot shorter than me. We’ve always got on quite well, but now our relationship has changed. I find him a straightforward and decent person to work with. Judging by our conversation on Thursday he’s quietly fascinated by me, and quite chuffed to have me on board.

When he interviewed me first, he hadn’t seen my CV, but obviously, he’s caught up with it since. He began to ask me about aspects of it, commenting on what interesting experience I’d had, and how strange it was that I had experienced both senior positions, and junior – I’d confessed to him how I’d started out there working on the phones.

It was not the time or place to give him the full story, so I skimmed over it, but it was enough to intrigue him more. As an individual, I’m very different from him. He’s always been the modest, hard-working family man, whereas he sees me as quite the adventurer – and approves of it. At the same time, he’s obviously excited to have me join the team. He realises that for the price of a middle-ranking role he’s got an experienced, and competent senior candidate. I’ve opened his eyes to possibilities, and suddenly he sees opportunities ahead.

It was almost endearing to see how enthusiastic he had become. He was like a kid believing in Santa Claus again. He’s encouraged me to do my thing from the word go, and the results are fascinating to him – almost as if he’s been made to think another way, and it’s revitalised him. To be blunt, I think he sees me as a bit of a meal ticket, though not nearly mercenary as that. He’s happy to ride in my wake and, as I’m always am when given my head, I’m happy to forge ahead. It so happens, as he is very conscious off, that with the senior Digital Manager leaving things are in flux, and the chance to stake out new territory is there.

I went home that night on the train reflecting on that. It was flattering to be seen in such a light. I knew I was capable of what he hoped from me, but it seemed particularly ironic considering what I had felt just the night before. I struggle to find meaning for myself, but here I am with my manager finding meaning in me.

Then yesterday. When I interviewed for the role I ultimately had to knock back, there was a woman involved. I hardly knew her then, but am now working close to her, though we work in different areas. She’s a lovely lady, kind, and obviously very smart, and takes every opportunity to be friendly to me. Yesterday we happened to be in the kitchen together at the same time. I don’t know how it started – perhaps she asked me how the job was going. Anyway, she said she thought it was a really good fit for me and that I’d be good at it – she’s like that. But then she said, “you’ve got a very interesting CV”. She said it positively. I was surprised and murmured something about having sought variety. “Variety is good,” she said.

So, in the space of 24 hours, I’ve had two different people basically validate my professional self, and express even how interesting that self is. It made me think about what I want. Did I want for me what my manager hopes what I can enable? The answer always is yes – I always want more, because more is interesting, and because it is better than less, and because what I never want is the dull, old status quo. But do I really want those roles? My ego does maybe, and probably my bank manager. I don’t need it, though.

What I want, I realised, is the room to be myself. I’ve been denied that, here, and in years leading up to this, but in the years before that was the source of satisfaction. I could feel myself, could be myself, without constraint, so much so that I took it for granted. My step-sister always said she’d never met anyone as comfortable in their skin as I was – but I felt that too, without knowing it.

My life was comfortable then. I’d achieved a level that made things simpler, but while there was comfort in that, the joy of it was not in the achievement, but in the freedom to achieve. I was given space, and I took it. Maybe the secret then is the doing, not the being. And maybe, judging by what others see in me, there’s another journey in me.

Touch wood

Okay, I’ve been busy, which is why I haven’t written – quit complaining. I started the new job on Monday and ever since it’s felt a bit like steering a spaceship through a meteor storm, hoping not to get pinged.

It’s not that the job promises to be that difficult. It’s more that it’s pretty busy and I’ve been introduced to about five new applications and a raft of ill-defined processes, with about five minutes instruction in each, and left to my devices. On top of that, I’m in a new team, which I’ve yet to be formally introduced to.

You know me. I hate not being in control, but I’m also reluctant to admit that a bit more help would be useful. I’ve asked for help here and there but, by and large, I’ve forged ahead figuring it out for myself. Around lunchtime yesterday, I began to feel more comfortable, as if I had a handle on things. There’s still much more I don’t know than I know, but the framework has become clearer. I’m not a big fan of what I’ve found, which coincides with the next phase: ownership. I’m not far from stepping in and saying okay, this is what we have to do from here on in.

I’ve got no complaints. It’s been an imperfect process, but it’s not been deliberate. They’ve been under the pump themselves. Besides, they’re IT people – smart at what they do, but some of the courtesies and things we think of as common sense elude them. It’s not purposeful, just the way they are. It’s up to me to fill in the gaps, which is what I’m doing. And in a way it’s not a bad thing – I can come to it fresh and form my own opinions on it (though it would have been handy to get some instruction on the apps I’m working with).

I finished up in the old role Friday. Would you believe the manager came to me, and everyone else, and asked us to work on the queues of work wildly out of control. It was my last day, and I hadn’t done any of that stuff for near on three years. It seemed a dubious proposition to me. I would be of doubtful productivity, and there was always the risk that I would fuck up.

I’m not precious, though. Reluctantly I started in on it – and took 40 minutes to complete something that would have taken about 15 minutes before. Once I had that done, I abandoned the exercise. I had other things to do on my last day, loose ends to tie up, and so I did that (and didn’t finish doing them until after 5pm, btw). What are they going to do? I wondered. Fire me?

At about 4pm a few people started gathering around my desk, and I knew something was on. I got a card and a bottle of gin as a parting gift, as well as a couple of speeches. I responded graciously. Later a couple of the lads, beer aficionados, brought me a 6-pack of boutique beer as their parting gift.

It’s fair to say that among the rank and file, I was always pretty popular. With a few (notable) exceptions, it was the more senior staff I clashed with, or relationships were strained. A lot of that was me, not that I was ever particularly rude unless you think being direct is rude (many do). It’s just that you make an assessment and it seemed to me that many were incompetent or unpleasant or self-serving. In those cases, I work around those people. I don’t pretend anything, but nor am I bothered to engage. Though nothing is said, they always know – but they know because they know the truth themselves inside, and it’s unpleasant.

I went out with JV that night and ended up having an unexpectedly great evening, as I described. I felt more myself. I wondered if that was the secret. These last 18 months, I’ve tried to be more authentic in what I felt. The tendency before was to always shrug my shoulders and plough through, like a ruck rover going through a pack. Now, I decided, I had to acknowledge what I felt and open myself up to it. It was necessary, and it was mostly positive. But though you let things go by doing it, some things you carry. I wondered if what I carried had become a burden.

I felt cocky Friday night. I remembered my old self. I had some of the old swagger back. This is me, I thought. And I thought it’s time to be that person again – to go for it, to be cocky and audacious, to shrug off the limitations I’d imposed myself, to once more take the risks that were a part of my essential nature. To be utterly free in my self.

I’ve lived a small life in recent years, and the argument has been I had no choice. Certainly, my opportunities were limited, but I also sought to be sensible. That meant denying myself things until the time was right – such as meaningful feminine company. In the crowd of women last Friday night, I felt roused in the old fashioned way.

I think there’s some sense to all that, but it’s not so easy. This week has been very hard. On Monday, I wondered how I would cope. I think a part of that is feeling out of control, but there is a fundamental issue underlying that. I sometimes wonder if I’m suffering from a form of PTSD.

Through the week I was up and down, but I managed. I reverted to habit and got away with it, but inside I felt frail. I think the truth of it these days is that I don’t have the buffer around me anymore. I feel things easily. I bruise easily. It’s a strange thing considering the man I was. But then, it seems, I can carry the bruise and function (much to my surprise sometimes).

I have no choice in this. I must function. I’m in a new job, and much is expected from me, and there’s no second chance. And there’s no reserve. I have to make it work because if it doesn’t, I don’t know what happens then.

That sounds bleak, but I reckon it will work out. I know this of myself. I’m as smart as I’ve ever been, and it comes through even when I’m not feeling it. And, to my surprise, many others seem naturally inclined to defer to me. I wish I could see myself to understand that, but I suspect it’s that veneer formed over many years of working. It’s not a true thing right now, but from the outside, it appears intact. I should be thankful for that as it opens a lot of doors for me.

I’d like to think the worst is over, but I know there will be other challenges. This ‘worst’ was just about the worst I’ve felt, but I’ve come from that a bit. That should reassure me. I think, ultimately, I’m a survivor.

Up and down

I was in such a good mood this morning. I got into the city around the usual time, just after 8am. Usually, I go straight to work but this time I stopped off at a hole in the wall café I’d read about where I got myself a coffee, and one of their signature, home-made crumpets with honey drizzled on it.

I walked into the office, and one of the girls brightly greeted me. We stopped to have a chat, and she offered me a donut she’d brought in. Nah, I told her, I’ve got my crumpet.

There was no real reason for my relative ebullience, except maybe because it was Friday, and yesterday was payday.

It didn’t last, and that’s what puzzles me.

My offsider is away today, and his offsider in Adelaide, and so the work that might usually come to them landed on my desk. It came out of nowhere. It’s been quiet, suddenly – with them absent – it became busy. Needless to say, it was all urgent.

I tried pushing back, knowing that was pointless. In the end I was entreated to help out. I cancelled my meetings and got down to it.

It’s not a remarkable story, but it left me feeling pretty sour, even despondent.

The work was unfamiliar to me. I’d done something like it over a year ago, but I had to make an effort to remember how to do it, feeling uncertain at every step of the way. The urgency of it all only added to the pressure.

There’s no doubt I felt some unaccustomed stress, but that was to be expected. The thing is I don’t typically suffer much from stress. Often, in situations like this, I feel invigorated instead. But not today.

Whatever I felt may have been exacerbated by the circumstances. That these were urgent requirements was because they either hadn’t bothered to advise us until the last minute, or they had fucked something up requiring a critical fix. There’s a lot of simple things that are managed poorly every day, and it gets me down.

I’m only speculating here. I can add the disappointment I felt at being so abruptly downhearted – and the confusion accompanying it – only made me feel worse.

It worries me, and it fascinates me, too. There’s no doubt I’m not as resilient as I used to me. There are moments I feel quite frail. I doubt anyone can see it, or know it, just the opposite probably – though maybe I’d be surprised.

In the event, I did what had to be done, without issue. Still…