Wine me, dine me, make me write bad checks

While the title belongs to Dad, the story is all my own. 

As most of you know we are having our OHUG user conference this week in Las Vegas.  What you might not have known, was that this also Ravi’s birth week and since workplace worth is gauged by birthday celebrations, the team made a point to take him to dinner and celebrate. 

Now, being overcharged is not note worthy in Las Vegas, I was not really surprised to be charged $30 to have a bowl of oatmeal and a coffee delivered to my room.  Inflation is a reality these days.  Even the airlines are charging for luggage.  Cost of oil, low value of the dollar, unemployment rates, casinos need to protect their profits somehow.  I get it.  

While planning the event, [of course, done by Vivian*] we found we needed to have the cake delivered from a nearby bakery.  The restaurant (which I would never name) was kind enough to receive the cake and bring it over with candles after dinner, so we could all sing.  They then took it back and cut and served it with a very nice presentation, that included a rectangle plate and a cute chocolate squiggle design on the extra white space.  We all exclaimed at how great everything was and proceeded to enjoy a very nice cake.

After receiving (and closing one eye to sign) the bill, we all went back to our hotel, very satisfied with our pleasant evening.  We were thankful to Ravi for growing a year older and to OHUG for bringing us all together to celebrate.  On the way home, I began to puzzle about how our tab could be so large and decided to look more closely at the bill.  It was then that I found we were charged $15.00 EACH for that cake.   Not for the cake itself (we paid that separately), nor for delivery (we absolutely paid for that as well).  Nope, that charge was just to cut and plate the cake.

Not only did this restaurant rip us off for cake cutting services, turns out they also performed magic.  When Vivian asked them for the rest of the cake to take home, they said [with a straight face] that it was all gone.  Really?  You cut a square cake in 11 equal pieces?! 

I guess I should look at this that $165 + tax is a small price to pay to be reminded of caveat emptor.  I fully recognize I should have thought to ask about a fee.  I also believe that they should have mentioned a charge when we arranged to have the cake delivered.  In the end, it’s all fair I guess, since I got a chance to share my story on the blog. 

More proof that web 2.0 really does break down barriers.


*thanks again Vivian — you rock! 

Firsts and Worsts

I’ve been finding myself reading a lot of blogs these days.  What I find interesting, is what kind of posts I respond to.  I find the conversations on “firsts” and “worsts” fun, they make me smile and remember and then they make me glad I’m past it.

Laurie recently posted a worst interview and Gretchen posted a look back at her first Onboarding experience in a “real” job.  Then yesterday, a collegue asked me the age old question, “tell me again how exactly did you get into Tech, Meg?“, which I’m sure he intended to be a compliment, on just how wise I am in the ways of my job, and thus a blog post was born.

Let me first say, that I have been receiving a formal paycheck since the age of fourteen and have had all kinds of horrible (and some not so horrible) jobs prior to (and during) college.  Like most I didn’t think they really “counted”, since they were not “real” jobs.  They were ways to make money. 

After college, is when you get a real job. 

I had it all planned out.  I would go to college, I would get a great job, I would live happily ever after.  So it was some shock at the end of my college experience that I realized I hadn’t actually figured out *how* I would get a job.  Nor did I know what kind of job I wanted (turns out that they weren’t putting fresh college grads in charge, who knew?).   In a panic, I started to consider the options that would allow me to delay paying back my student loans, grad school? peace corp? while also pursuing the campus recruiting process. 

Most of my interviews were unmemorable (I’m sure for all involved), but one had me talking to someone who stepped out every 5 minutes on his [at the time still novel and quite large] mobile phone as he was “expecting a call to close some funding”.   I left the interview unimpressed and not completely clear as to what they did anyway.  I did make it to the second round with that company, which required both an aptitude and a personality test.  Being just out of college, I didn’t really find that odd, but I will note I have never had to do either since.

After some time passed, I started to catch on to the idea of being a candidate and while I did get more rejections then I had ever experienced in my entire life, I also started getting a few offers, most for jobs like insurance sales, a “manager” position at Lady Footlocker and an offer to do “sales support” for a Manufacturing ERP startup (of course at the time it was not ERP yet, it was MRP II but I digress).

In the meantime, I had found a summer study abroad that I really wanted to do.  It was some ten countries in six weeks studying the European Union and the Euro.  Now this was exactly what I wanted to do (travel and geek out studying European economics), and I needed to figure out how to find a job offer that would let me start in September vs. June.

Yes, I’ll say it again, I chose my career based upon which job would wait for me to come back from a trip to Europe

Upon returning from my summer off, getting my stuff out of storage and beginning my first day at work I found out a few interesting “real world” realities

  1. Startups, can have challenges in the area of workforce planning, and, when they miss their numbers are inclined to freeze hiring
  2. Positions that you are hired for might not still exist when you start six months later
  3. When you find yourself starting a new job, for which the actual position has been eliminated, it is good to be a fast learner and to project flexibilty — quickly
  4. Tech guys are easy to bribe, if you are nice to them they will teach you survival skills for the fee of a few lunches (editors note, I suspect I had a bit of an edge being female here)

So, due to an adequate score on the aptitude test and the fact that I had a job offer in writing, they decided to place me in the support organization where I spent my first months doing QA for a new release. 

It took me a good six months to have any idea what the company actually did (native applications in Oracle forms and Sybase APT), what my job actually was (first and second line support) and how to gain the skills to do that job before they realized I didn’t have any skills (see bribes mentioned above).   

For the geeks reading this post, I will share my first technical training session to give you an idea just how poorly suited I was, to be fixing software bugs.  I was thrown out for being “difficult” and thus my black-market approach to knowledge acquisition was born.

Un-named trainer: Are you familiar with Unix?

Meg: No

Un-named trainer: Do you know vi?

Meg: No

Un-named trainer: You’re going to hate it.

Meg: Oh. (editors note, in fact I did not hate vi nor did I find it difficult)

Un-named trainer: ok, so you are going to go into vi and write this create table statement

Meg: why?

Un-named trainer: because you need a table

Meg: what for?

Un-named trainer: You’re just being difficult aren’t you.


And the rest they say, is history.  I will say, that having such a strange start to a career, has proven to be very helpful to me over time.  Jumping into jobs I’m not skilled to do, to meet challenges I have never done before, comes very easily to me.  Sometimes I succeed and sometimes I fail but I am never afraid to try.

The industry term for that is agility and it is a competency that I think is a good one to claim as your own. 


A case for empathy

Over the past year we have been experiencing health issues with my youngest daughter.  Nothing serious, but certainly sleep interrupting  (for the whole family).  Turns out that, without sleep, moms and dads are cranky and, when feeling badly, toddlers are difficult.  Who knew?  Interesting thing about these health issues, is that since they were not severe, often people were quick to blame “the terrible twos“. 

Since I’m the mom, I found myself becoming protective, convinced that it was not that I had a terrible baby, but that she was feeling badly and that everyone had better cut her a break.  Over the last four weeks, I feel I have been validated in my position, for while we do have our moments, our girl has been feeling much better and everything about parenting has gotten easier.

As I look back over the past 6 years of my life, I realize that I’ve been muddling through with some serious personal ups and downs, that have impacted my behavior at work.  I also have observed the same in my co-workers.  While some have also been due to hormones and sleep deprivation [in the case of those with small children] others have been the result of family and personal situations that have made their lives more difficult.  While I would never want to suggest that anyone is exempt from being responsible for their own behavior, I do encourage us all to attempt to have empathy for those that we work with.  When working with others who are being difficult, it might not hurt to consider, that maybe they are under personal challenges that exceed your own.

I agree with Wally who points out that people are not interchangeable parts.  We cannot think of them as just cogs in our business.  We need to embrace the three dimensional nature of people in the workforce.  It is our human condition that makes us more effective employees but it is also our human condition that gives us flaws.  As we observe those flaws in ourselves and others, I recommend that we channel our mother-instinct (and yes I mean this in a gender neutral way) and remember to believe the best.   By doing so you will avoid having your own behavior deteriorate and in the end you might just be able to say “I told you so”.  I think Randy Pausch’s last lecture summed it up nicely:

“Find the best in everybody. …you might have to wait a long time, sometimes years, but people will show you their good side. Just keep waiting no matter how long it takes. No one is all evil. Everybody has a good side, just keep waiting, it will come out.”