Thursday, September 22, 2011

Stream of consciousness farewell

After 11 years, I am leaving my first real job, and I can't help but reflect on the amazing ride that it has been. I genuinely believe in the importance of capturing these reflections in writing so that some day when I am much older and the memory isn't as good as it use to be, I can revisit that younger self. But I also want to make sure that I am abiding by the blogging code of honor for these types of topics. So I have decided to attempt to write my farewell using one of my favorite writing techniques - stream-of-consciousness. Most of you won't have a clue what I am talking about, some of you might recognize bits and pieces, and a small handful of you will know it all, as we shared this time together.

Raining. Presenting my papers for the first time - excited to see him at the gate. Joking with the immigration guard-- 'Why would you ever want to move here, ah, for love, except for love.' Everything I own in bags and boxes strewn across the airport floor, trying to find his number written on one of the many pieces of paper in the folder with all that other important stuff. I need to get more organized. I have no change, so I am going to have to dial collect. But I haven't a clue how to dial collect here. The phone is ringing but no one answers. The taxi driver isn't very pleased with all my bags. He drives me to the address, and I get in the gate and tell him to leave me at the door to the apartment building. And I ring the bell. Over and over again. Finally he comes down, hung-over, half-awake. He forgot to pick me up. He forgot I was moving to Ireland.

First day in the office. The business park is under construction. The building is cold. No one is here except the guy in ICT. He is laying cables and he shows me a desk where I can sit. There is no phone, no computer, no people. Printed documents for me to read, a few screen-shots printed out in black-and-white. I am the first one to work in the new office block. The phone comes first, then a machine, the network, and slowly more people start to populate the desks. The team arrives, only they aren't going to be my team. I am being moved off the marketing team, heading upstairs to engineering. And I take a seat next to my boss. He is most people's boss. There are lots and lots of people around all the time. 

The first job is to write a suite of user guides. I am the first person to press every button, link to every page, try and complete every single business process all within a short period of time. I have lots of questions, I am gaining confidence, raising bugs, wanting to do more and more. I am driving him nuts, in a good way, I hope. Most nights I go home lonely though, to a wet, cold, dirty Dublin flat. After weeks of watching them get off the bus and go for pints, arriving in the next day with hang-overs, I finally get the courage to ask if I can join them. And so life in Ireland begins. I become the editor of the company newsletter. I know everyone and everyone knows me. I know what is going on, and people come to me for knowledge, gossip, support.

The company reaches out to NYC in their time of need. I am writing about unimaginable things. We believe in something. And we start to work long hours. All of us. A make-shift golf-course is built behind my desk. For weeks, he tried to get a ball in the hole and failed - I could not contain myself, knowing that they put magnets in his ball. Finally he catches on to my bright red face. 

I am no longer alone. I have a peer who is with me for the long haul. The team continues to grow. I have a mortgage. I make lists and I check off every item on every one of them. I am torn between the two worlds of wanting to know how stuff works and wanting the team to be successful, to represent something that is more than just the words we put to paper. For the most part, we are successful, but we do have a hard release that teaches us some very important lessons, like never stay in the office all-night. Sneak out even if it is just for a short-while, long enough to take a shower, change clothes, brush the teeth. I am running all the time, fast, far. The head is clear as I face the next adventure.

I am married now and we are trying to buy a house, which isn't easy. I am trying to embrace the notion of raising a family here while never truly being Irish. Friends move on, far away, peers are dispersed, and I take on a new job, working with the best team that may ever cross my path. We challenge each other, we respect each other, we get stuff done fast and to a high standard. We are all friends. This is our life. We don't want much else beyond the work and the occasional night of free beer. 

I am asked to leave the team that I love and rebuild. It is hard to leave that which is all I ever wanted in a career. But I do. I want to share this with the peers that got lost in translation. I am studying, I am pregnant, I am sick, I am a mom, I am finished the dissertation and back to work. Things have changed in my absence. No one writes the newsletter anymore. Childcare isn't great and it is incredibly hard to leave her each day. But I am determined to make it work, to get my mojo back. We are trying to decide whether or not to move to California. 

We move to Noe Valley, so different than we remember it - all of us are grown now, lots of kids and dogs. It takes just over a month, but we start to settle in, a new house, a great daycare, old friendships renewed, and new ones on the horizon. The sun is shining and it looks like things just might settle into a rhythm. The job changes. And I am trying to embrace the freedoms that less responsibility affords me. But it isn't in me. My daughter is thriving, and I want to be that mom who is comfortable in my skin, which means I need to find that spark again. 

I think I know how to get it back, and I begin to work hard to make it happen. Someone whom I admire takes me under his wing and gives me something to get stuck into. I am studying, negotiating, running, working out solutions from as many angles as possible, never closing any door that might just be the right one. A new door opens a little bit, and I decide to stick my foot in it. I am nervous about leaving that familiar space for something so completely unknown, but I like the way it makes me feel, to be new among a settled group, to know nothing among some of the cleverest peers.

This week is quiet-- a few quiet emails from people wishing me the best of luck, some harder ones from those who are like family. I have teared up a couple of times, and felt unsure as to whether or not that is OK, to be sad saying goodbye, and yet completely incapable of separating the personal from the professional in so many instances of the past 11 years. I am nervous about the unfamiliar. Will I be as known as I have been; will I be as able? Will there be a clearer line between work and home, or will those lines become blurred again as I will love what I do so much that I will need to merge the two together? Will I have a golf-course behind my desk?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

I'm bringing sexy back...

On Sunday, I ran for 60-minutes, which I havent' done in a very long time. And at some point along the run, with the sun shining over the bay, thousands of people noticing each other and their surroundings on the day that was in it, I started thinking about this week's blog, and I how I wanted very much to write something that wasn't heavy - I wanted to have fun with it.

And I remembered back in the day, being editor of the engineering newsletter, every Friday chasing up team leads for the weekly news, interviewing one or two people offsite, working on customer projects. There was something very comforting in liasing across groups, doing my utmost to convince the least interested that they could get something out of partcipating in this space. Each week, I would write an intro and most weeks I would find something funny, a picture, a story, something I wrote myself. My style back then was as I am when you meet me - babbling, warm, sometimes surprising people with a darker side of humor.

In direct contrast to my writing style as newsletter editor, most of my blog entries (if not all of them) are heavy going. One of the things that keeps me writing each week is that the blog allows me to work out the bits and pieces swimming in my head so that I am freerer and more relaxed in my daily life. Looking back across the lifespace of the blog, I have to admit to myself that if I read my blog, I am not sure I would want to meet me. I'd seem far too serious about life. As the blog evolves, I want my readers to know that side of self that is much lighter.

Running towards the Golden Gate, determined to touch the bridge before I turned back, I thought about how very much I wanted to shed the extra weight that I am carrying, both physically and metaphorically. As I touched the red iron and made my decent back towards Chrissy Fields, Timberlakes, "I'm bringing sexy back" started playing. My stride seemed to take on this little wiggle that could only be a disturbing sight for the hundreds of tourists around me...

But I couldn't help it, things are in motion now, change is happening, and I am seeing things in a brighter shade of grey.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

On collaboration

This is the first time that I have decided to blog about politics. I have friends and family who fall on all sides of the political spectrum, from tea party goers (my step-grandparents), to independents (my mother), true Democrats (my sister), true Republicans (child friend, Tara), to the farthest left that is possible (my father).

When I listen to my friends and family talk about their positions, I see logic from all sides. And I immediately want to bridge the gaps between the differing viewpoints that I am experiencing.

What I am struggling with right now is that we seem to have reached an impasse in our society where we are no longer able to hear each other - we are no longer willing to embrace the very grey nature of humanness, that there isn't one right or one wrong, but that true Democracy is born out of checks and balances.

Yes, I am naturally a liberal at heart, but that hasn't had a negative effect on my relationship with any of the friends and family who fall on different sides of the political spectrum. We can openly engage with each other, and though sometimes I am angry and find myself feeling as if the ability to bridge our ideas is hopeless, we eventually get there.

There is a reason for this - when I talk to family and friends, we are interested in collaborating with each other - we care and respect each other. We want to find a common ground despite our different viewpoints. And when we do, in our conversations, in our lifestyle choices, it is the best mix of all worlds.

I truly believe that the key to fixing the stalemate that we seem to have reached in our society is for each and every one of us to embrace the principles of collaboration. Before I start listing these, I want to persuade my critics. There are lots of people out there who see the concept of 'collaboration' as wishy-washy, as a fizzled attempt to real action. 

Recently, there has been a debate in the technology sphere about the importance of fostering a 'decider' driven culture (Apple) versus a 'collaborative' culture (Google)-- thanks, Gina, for giving us bloggers a forum for this conversation ( Though I am collaborator at heart, I can still see the very real benefit of having people in positions of power capable of making important decisions and seeing them through. 

If we are to take the technology stage as a potential metaphor for society, then it is very easy to see that both Apple and Google make amazing products and are very successful in their industries, and they are achieving this success taking different approaches to innovation and implementation.

Let us imagine for a brief moment that Apple and Google decided to merge together, and create some very important product(s) that would solve some very important problems. What would happen in this endeavor? Would there be a stalemate, much like there is in this government? Or, perhaps, would the two companies be able to create something amazing?

I would like to believe in my heart that the best of Apple (including Steve for as much as he is able) and the best of Google would be able to sit in a room with the biggest white board of all time and start hashing out some very real solutions to those very real problems. And at the end of that mythical meeting, there would be a list of actions that could be targeted, along with the ones that were pie-in-the-sky, and the ones that were going to take too long to be worth the investment, but might be worth considering once the seriousness of the problem was downgraded. 

Last night Padhraic and I watched the Inside Story and we both went to bed feeling this very icky yucky feeling - and I haven't been able to let go of this feeling inside myself that it is time for the country to stop bowing down to the financial industry and start looking toward companies that make real products. While I can respect lots and lots of people who would say that corporations like Apple and Google are big and have their faults, no one can say that providing real product is the same thing as the mythical institutions that have become our banking and political systems.

Returning to the topic of this blog, I did a very quick 'Google' search on the 'principles of collaboration' and found a NASA document on the 'principles and best practices' of collaboration ( that is fairly straightforward. In my own circle of family and friends, here is the very basic list of ingredients that have been fundamental to collaboration:
  • Listen to what other people have to say and if you don't understand, ask for a simple analogy. 
  • In turn, when you talk about your own viewpoint, give analogies that match others who are listening.
  • Be strong in your convictions, but warm in your demeanor. The best way to do this is self-deprecation - admit mistakes and what these have taught you along the way.
  • Appreciate the success or common sense of differing viewpoints.
  • Never lose your sense of humor.
  • Walk into collaboration with an acceptance of compromise.
  • Finally, be aware of non-collaborative situations and politely disengage
I want to talk a little bit about the last bullet. I have reached this point a couple of times in my life, and it really and truly sucks. But I can also say that with time, when you choose to politely disengage (rather than fist it out), eventually, the environment becomes collaborative again, because it is what it is - we are social beings. The worst thing we can do when things are at a standstill is force the issue.

Are we truly at this point, where collaboration is not possible? Would it be better to disengage for a bit, and see what happens? Can we regroup? What does this mean on a global scale?  I'm nervous about this, and think it might be a better idea to get the tech execs in a room with a whiteboard to try and solve the political problems with technological solutions rather than completely disengage.