WcW011: A week in the (professional) life

April 10, 2008

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Web Conferencing Week

All right, it’s been a lot more than a week since the last of this series appeared. Actually, about 26 weeks. Ouch!

It’s been a time.

Began this post with the aim of sharing what’s been a roller-coaster of a week. So, we’ll try that, but read on beyond the quotidian carryings on to see what’s really underlying the lengthy delay between what I had hoped would become a more predictably episodic series.

Wearing all of my hats this week.

Teaching. I teach web conferencing to my fellow employees; ran some numbers the other day. 650 classes of one to two hours duration; more than 3,900 participants collectively in 5-1/2 years. This is harder than it sounds (you scoff: one to two hours!). All of these classes are conducted on line via the web conferencing product that I’m endeavoring to teach, together with a telephone conference call to provide the audio.

Rather like the radio, in that you are performing for people whom you cannot see, and whose only impression of you is what they hear, and the static slides they see on their computer screen. Takes a great deal of emotive energy.

I’m pretty good. My feedback surveys say so. This week, I’ve taught two regular classes, and two more special one-hour rather more free-form sessions directed at participants in our pilot of the new, much improved version of our product that we’re endeavoring to roll out to full production in less than three months. This is a heavier load than usual, due to the pilot, and there still is one more pilot session scheduled for tomorrow morning as I write this, together with three more early next week, along with the two regularly scheduled ones.

Read the rest of this entry »


mm342: Blasts from the past No. 7-8

April 8, 2008

MUDGE’s Musings

There’s most read, and then there’s favorite. This is a post which yr (justifiably) humble svt is, regrettably, but not regretfully, not at all humble about.

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BlastS from the Past!

2 posts we really, really loved to write, and read, and re-read…

From our very earliest days, originally posted July 10 and 11, 2007. They’re short, so here’s a two-fer.

mm060: On a personal note…

MUDGE’S Musings

Didn’t want all of the political and social and career observations to totally obliterate some deeply personal ones (this is my sandbox, after all!).

This weekend we celebrated, in order of importance and reverse chronology, the beautiful (most ever!) wedding of my dear son and his amazing new wife; the 80th birthday of my indomitable mother (attended by her four children and their life partners save one; eight of her nine grandchildren and her two great-grandchildren); and we must mention MUDGE’s and his heroic spouse’s own 37th anniversary.

Read the rest of this entry »


mm333: "Great people shouldn’t have a resume"

March 30, 2008

MUDGE’s Musings

Mostly, this nanocorner of the ‘Sphere© looks at the news and opinions of the day, be it political, or sometimes technological, seeking some nugget of value that, out of the information inundation, resolves itself as unique and important to yr (justifiably) humble svt, and hopefully to you, faithful reader.

Today it’s not about what’s new. It’s about each of you.

This won’t take long. But it just might be the most important few words you’ve read this year.

It’s Sunday. The next workweek lurks, its dimensions unknown, its outcomes uncertain, beginning in a mere few hours.

It’s recession in America, and perhaps the world. What’s going to happen to your job this week?

Better start thinking about your next job.

Read the rest of this entry »


mm322: Blast from the past No. 5

March 19, 2008

MUDGE’s Musings

There’s most read, and then there’s favorite. This is a post which yr (justifiably) humble svt is, regrettably, but not regretfully, not at all humble about.

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Blast from the Past!

A post we really, really loved to write, and read, and re-read…

From our very earliest days, originally posted July 1, 2007.

mm043: Rip van Mudge awakes!

MUDGE’S Musings

This blog, having just become active less than 60 days ago, is the symptom of a quickening of interest in life, in the world and its politics, in my career. especially, that is most unexpected, even unlikely, at my (corporate reference only!) advanced age.

Don’t misread me, I’ve always been ferociously interested in my career, especially the part where the electronic deposit to my bank occurs like clockwork every second Thursday. And especially the global collaboration part, in my position as evangelist for our enterprise’s web conferencing tool, a role I’ve played to rave reviews for more than four years.

But, the career development part here in the Heart of Corporate America (HCA, remember, not it’s real name!) I’ve left dormant.

Read the rest of this entry »


mm256: I don’t hate big corporations, either

January 16, 2008

MUDGE’S Musings

I’ve had this one sitting in my idea folder for a week and a half. Stanley Bing, who writes for Fortune magazine, and whose The Bing Blog blogroll2 has been a fixture on the Left-Handed Complement blogroll for as long as there’s been one, always has useful things to say about corporate life.

His observations are always bracing.

So it was with interest that I encountered his ode to big business:

bing

Why I love big bad corporations

The Bing Blog | Friday, January 4, 2008 at 11:27 am

I watched all the victory speeches last night after the Iowa caucuses were done. Everybody had their own spin on why it was a good night for them, of course, and I’m not going to say much about that. We all know who did well and who didn’t. But one thing stood clear in all the speeches offered to the people of America as a branding statement for this new generation of political products: Everybody hates big bad corporations.

It was weird for me. It wasn’t that long ago that I would listen to people lathering up about big bad corporations and how they needed to be taken down a peg and go Huzzah like the rest of the gang. After 25 years in business, however, I find a different reaction bubbling up in my gut when I hear the rhetoric.

I feel bad for the big bad corporations.

Stanley, I work for a big bad corporation also, as do a few of my friends. Of course, in MUDGE’s particular circle, many of my oldest friends are attorneys, partners by now, actually, working in small to medium size firms; a lot of attorneys! One is even a federal judge! How is one of those a friend to one of me?

Many of my friends are consultants, or owners of small businesses, or psychologists or occupational therapists, or owners of small businesses employing psychologists or occupational therapists.

Actually, I am an oddity among my old friends. I actually work for a big bad corporation, NYSE listing, S&P 100 status and all. Stanley says,

I work for a big bad corporation. Most of my friends do too. We’re writers and lawyers and accountants and research people and editors and graphic artists and programmers and marketing and advertising folks and a lot of other things that are neither big nor bad. We do what we do. And if anything happened to our big bad corporations, we’d be SOL.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

The Bing Blog Why I love big bad corporations «

I believe I have shared here a while ago that I didn’t start out loving big corporations. (Although, I searched the site but couldn’t find such a thought, so consider that you’re hearing it from MUDGE for the first time.) In fact, I would tell people that I was a small business guy.

In retrospect, this was defensive. As a credential-free individual, MUDGE did not believe himself to be conventional big corporation material. Probably wanted to be, which is where the defensive part comes in.

Worked for too many inadvertent non-profits, if you catch my drift: undercapitalized, too many competitors chasing the same customers’ manhole cover nickels, never enough in the bank to promptly pay the vendors, or much of a payroll.

As a kid, fresh(ly dropped) out of college, I spent a couple of years as a “senior” clerk in one of those very large companies, a manufacturing icon that long ago departed Chicago for cheaper (i.e., non-union) locales. I didn’t play well in that sandbox, but, after all, I was a kid.

After a few months at a computer trade school, I worked first for what was then called a service bureau, and now probably would be termed a computer consultant.

Wrote accounting, inventory and financial statement programs and the bureau ran them for medium sized companies who didn’t believe they could afford the mainframe computers then prevalent, nor their keepers. My employer was a small company that wanted to be a big one, but I was insulated from most of the bureaucratic (as it were) guff by a boss who was far more iconoclastic than I ever achieved, anywhere.

Moved from there after a couple of years (after all, that’s what we hotshot programmers did!) to work directly for another Chicago iconic company, embarked on a project decades ahead of its time.

Some day I’ll cite chapter and verse, but the short strokes are they canceled the expensive ($2Million in 1970 dollars) project that I’d hired onto (along with more than 40 others) and then they tried to channel this free spirit back into accounting programming.

Thus expelled from the mainstream, yr (justifiably) humble svt spent better than 25 years kicking around aforementioned inadvertent non-profits, mostly, until really bad times but a really really good attitude landed me in the lap of major corporate America once again.

12 years and another job change later (well, I really didn’t want to relocate to exurban New Jersey), I like it here. Mr. Bing has got it right. Big corporations employee lots of people; they support their communities; their research achieves the critical mass necessary to assure that they will be around for the long haul.

Yeah, the bureaucratic guff is there. Most of it I take; some I push back, carefully. But let’s face it: many of my rough edges, by no means all, have been worn smooth by the years, so I have figured out how to handle guff, and guffers.

And for now, I am tolerated. There’s always next week’s crisis, but, in a recession, I think I like being under a big umbrella.

Stanley Bing, as usual, got it right.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE

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mm222: Social networks — Encyclopedic, Careeric, Blogic

December 14, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

It’s all about making connections, here at Left-Handed Complement. Once again, several threads have appeared from different directions, just in time to create the fabric of post no. 222.

Encyclopedic

First, two entries noted Google’s new contender for encyclopedia of choice, Knol, challenging Wikipedia. The straight story from, where else, NYTimes:

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Google Develops Wikipedia Rival

By JEREMY KIRK, IDG News Service\London Bureau, IDG

Google is developing an online publishing platform where people can write entries on subjects they know, an idea that’s close to Wikipedia’s user-contributed encyclopedia but with key differences.

The project, which is in an invitation-only beta stage, lets users create clean-looking Web pages with their photo and write entries on, for example, insomnia. Those entries are called “knols” for “unit of knowledge,” Google said.

Google wants the knols to develop into a deep repository of knowledge, covering topics such as geography, history and entertainment.

The target of this new community is not only Wikipedia, but also Yahoo “Answers.” And they’ve coined new nomenclature (don’t you just love the English language?), “knols.”

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Google Develops Wikipedia Rival – New York Times

Poking around some of our usual suspects, i.e., our blogroll2 , Machinist blog at Salon.com weighed in on Google’s new adventure with some useful analysis. Does the world need another encyclopedia? The folks behind Squidoo and Mahalo think so in their own unique ways (if less scholarly, in this observer’s opinion), and now so does the web’s 8,000,000-lb. gorilla.

Truthiness showdown: Google’s “Knol” vs. Wikipedia

Having just written a book about how digital technology is changing cultural ideas about truth — shameless plug: to be released mid-March from Wiley; pre-order here — I’m fascinated by Google’s announcement, late yesterday, of a Wikipedia-like application called Knol.

Knol’s goal, writes Udi Manber, Google’s engineering chief, in a blog post, is “to encourage people who know a particular subject to write an authoritative article about it.” The system, which is currently running in an invitation-only beta, offers free Web hosting space and editing tools to allow anyone to write up a page about whatever they like. Google is calling each article a “knol,” which it says stands for a “unit of knowledge.”

Experts contributing knols will not be anonymous, or aggregated, says Machinist’s Farhad Manjoo, but rather will contribute separately and openly to create what Google hopes will become collective knowledge, and perhaps, maybe, wisdom, the pinnacle of the knowledge pyramid (anyone still care about knowledge management? data, information, knowledge, wisdom).

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Machinist: Tech Blog, Tech News, Technology Articles – Salon

And of course, Google will sell and place advertising, to be shared with the article authors.

Imagine advertising in the margins of the 30 printed volumes of Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Well that’s why Larry Page and Sergey Brin are $zillionaires, and yr (justifiably) humble svt is so humble…

Careeric*

(*New coinage!) Several posts ago, while noting Facebook’s stumble over its intrusive Beacon privacy-blasting tool, we mentioned LinkedIn in passing, as a site we (still very much in the world of Web 0.79, much less 2.0!) participate in rather desultorily.

I’ve got 41 people in my network, which LinkedIn tells me expands to “41,700+” (their friends — astounding!) and “2,563,400+” for their friends (science fiction).

MUDGE doesn’t know if he wants to know that many people.

But, besides accreting millions of supposed contacts, what is one supposed to do at LinkedIn. David Kirkpatrick, senior editor at Fortune magazine, tells us he was in precisely the same boat (of course, MUDGE likes to think of himself as extraordinarily unusual, so for senior editors to have had similar feelings makes one uneasy!):

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Why you’ll finally use LinkedIn

The buttoned-down social network has a new CEO, a growing membership, and an increasingly-useful set of features.

By David Kirkpatrick, senior editor

NEW YORK (Fortune) — For years, I’ve been befuddled by LinkedIn. I knew it was supposed to be the social network for work, but to me it was like war. “What is it good for?” I asked myself repeatedly, even as I occasionally poked around and accepted requests to link with people. I belonged to it, but I really didn’t know why.

The other day I had a chance to sit down with LinkedIn CEO Dan Nye, who’s been on the job since February. He told me about a few changes that Linkedin subsequently announced (VentureBeat has a good description of them.). And his PR person upgraded me to what would otherwise be a paid account. (It can be $20 to $200 per month.)

Who knew that LinkedIn charged anything? I’ve been a member for more than five years, and have never been solicited, until tonight when I poked around a bit after reading Kirkpatrick’s story, and the link to VentureBeat clipped above. LinkedIn is getting more ambitious about its available tools, as you’ll see.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Why you’ll finally use LinkedIn – Dec. 14, 2007

Most intriguing. But here’s a concern:

(Nye recited the depressing figure that only 30 percent of LinkedIn’s members have read any business magazine in the last 30 days.)

Hey, LinkedIn, I’m picking up the slack on that one, with my subscriptions and devotional readership of Business Week and the best magazine on the planet, The Economist!

But if only 30% of those 2,563,400+ third degrees in MUDGE‘s network read business magazines, one has to be concerned about how useful the 70% business illiterates of them might be when the day comes that I am expelled from HCA (the Heart of Corporate America, not its real name, as constant reader will recall) and I have to network for real. Down to a mere 769,020 viable networkers. Not nearly enough to find viable employment for this overaged supernumerary.

Sigh.

Blogic**

(**More new coinage, from the fertile tidal pool of MUDGEdom.) This third leg of today’s tripod has to do with the social network of bloggers, who gather under that extraordinary circus tent called WordPress.

I can’t be complimentary enough about WordPress. The first-ranked member of MUDGE‘s Blogging Process Hall of Fame©, as unveiled here, and anointed here, WordPress has been a resourceful and supportive, and most breathtakingly cost effective blogging host.

This nanocorner of the ‘Sphere© has been hosted there from absolute day one; in fact, it was mention of its free site (where? at Lifehacker?) that provided the spark that, several months later, burst into this vigorous flame of daily commentary.

This week Anne Zelenka, writing in the always useful GigaOm, presented her observation that WordPress is not merely a host for nearly 2,000,000 blogs (!), but a social network in and of itself.

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The Next Social Network: WordPress

Anne Zelenka, Tuesday, December 11, 2007 at 3:45 PM PT

Could open-source blogging platform WordPress serve as your next social networking profile? Chris Messina, co-founder of Citizen Agency, thinks so. He’s started a project called DiSo, for distributed social networking, that aims to “build a social network with its skin inside out.” DiSo will first look to WordPress as its foundation.

This could be the next step towards the unified social graph that some technologists wish for. WordPress suits the purpose because it provides a person-centric way of coming online, offers an extensible architecture, and already has some features — such as an OpenID and a blogroll plugin — that can be pressed into social networking service. And its users represent exactly the sort of audience that might appreciate the permanent, relatively public identity that DiSo aims to offer.

The contrast is with the MySpace and Facebook paradigm. Zelenka argues that those sites provide a space for one online, but it’s not one’s own space. Not “person-centric.”

Clark was responding to an ongoing conversation launched by blogger and cartoonist Hugh MacLeod, who proposed that blogging is far more important to him than social networking. Bloggers including Stowe Boyd and Darren Rowse seconded the idea. This growing disenchantment with social networking and return to blogging suggests that in the future we could see a migration, at least among tech bloggers, towards more distributed social networking — along the lines of what Messina envisions.

This is all rather esoteric, but interesting all the same.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

The Next Social Network: WordPress – GigaOM

As we’ve discussed above, and before, this writer came to the creative end of the web quite late. While for many years a consumer, only in the past seven months have I been a content creator. Never was tempted by MySpace (we’ll let MUDGElet No. 3 enjoy his age appropriate time there); only a bit tempted by Facebook (as discussed previously); and the jury is still out on the value to me of LinkedIn; but I feel I’ve found a home (lonely as it is, but she always has told me that it’s quality not quantity that matters) here at WordPress, among 2,000,000 fellow bloggers.

Maybe Chris Messina of DiSo is on to something.

So, there’s our tripod of social networking. Encyclopedic, careeric, blogic. An icky stretch, right?

Google’s Knol, LinkedIn and WordPress. Hope it came together for you, the way it did for me.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm192: Women at work: A level playing field at last?

November 12, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

We’re still playing catch up with a bulging ideas folder here at L-HC. A recent NYTimes column updates us on the ever-intriguing topic: women in corporate America.

One might ask: why are we still confounded by this? After all, U.S. women began to flood the workplace after the economic shocks of the 1970’s put single income families on the endangered species list. Why would a fact of work life for more than 30 years be cause for comment?

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By LISA BELKIN  | November 1, 2007 | Life’s Work

DON’T get angry. But do take charge. Be nice. But not too nice. Speak up. But don’t seem like you talk too much. Never, ever dress sexy. Make sure to inspire your colleagues — unless you work in Norway, in which case, focus on delegating instead.

Writing about life and work means receiving a steady stream of research on how women in the workplace are viewed differently from men. These are academic and professional studies, not whimsical online polls, and each time I read one I feel deflated. What are women supposed to do with this information? Transform overnight? And if so, into what? How are we supposed to be assertive, but not, at the same time?

“It’s enough to make you dizzy,” said Ilene H. Lang, the president of Catalyst, an organization that studies women in the workplace. “Women are dizzy, men are dizzy, and we still don’t have a simple straightforward answer as to why there just aren’t enough women in positions of leadership.”

Catalyst’s research is often an exploration of why, 30 years after women entered the work force in large numbers, the default mental image of a leader is still male. Most recent is the report titled “Damned if You Do, Doomed if You Don’t,” which surveyed 1,231 senior executives from the United States and Europe. It found that women who act in ways that are consistent with gender stereotypes — defined as focusing “on work relationships” and expressing “concern for other people’s perspectives” — are considered less competent. But if they act in ways that are seen as more “male” — like “act assertively, focus on work task, display ambition” — they are seen as “too tough” and “unfeminine.”

Women can’t win.

So, take a look at the balance of this well written story, and then come back for MUDGE‘s take.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

The Feminine Critique – New York Times

Of course, MUDGE has a story. It’s what blogging is all about, isn’t it? Storytelling?

Some years ago, at an agonizing time in my work life (too much agony because of not much work), to get some cash flow, meager as it was, I took a job as a temporary secretary, a temp.

My first position in this role was one that lasted several cash-flow beneficial months, as an assistant to the VP of training for a mid-size public company.

Interesting role reversal, this, as she and I both had some adjusting to do. Here I was, perhaps five to eight years older, a guy in a position usually filled by a woman. Here she was, a high flying corporate vice president, probably the first women to fill that role at her very traditional organization.

So, to thicken the broth a bit, imagine one of my regular duties, when not keying revisions to PowerPoint training courses on diversity. I was keying revisions to my employer’s Ph.D. dissertation.

The topic: why women in the corporate life find it so challenging.

Did a lot of typing, so I ended up doing a lot of reading. Her thesis: the language of corporate life is male, and so, just to learn the job, just to advance beyond entry level, women need to learn an entirely new language. To act in a way totally foreign to how girls grow up in this country.

So, let’s assume that some times have changed since 1995. That today’s young women entering the workplace have played team sports in greater numbers than their predecessors ever did. Girls in school are not only playing sports, but are excelling in technical courses and the sciences.

It’s a different world than 12 years ago, and maybe it was different then also. My boss’s career melted down very suddenly for reasons that the drones (and this particular drone was back in the temp agency’s pool in mere hours) weren’t made privy to.

Who knows, it could have been political. Who knows, perhaps her boss decided that having her secretary work on her school work during office hours on the office clock was inappropriate. Who knows, maybe she never was able to successfully defend her dissertation; obsolete before she finished.

What MUDGE does know is that for a great many of the intervening years from then to now, he has very cheerfully worked for several different women. Different from men he’s reported to over the years, but not in substantive ways. The foreign language has apparently been learned, at least in the parts of the world MUDGE occupies during his work day.

Maybe sometime in the next few years even MUDGE‘s stolid employer will welcome its first female CEO. Ability won’t be the issue; toughness, quick thinking, the ability to effortlessly work 20 hour days, and a respectable golf game might be.

I’ve worked for good men, and the very scum of the earth. I’ve worked for highly competent leaders, some of whom were women, and some highly competent women in their field who were still learning how to be leaders. They’ll learn.

It’s all good. Beats the temp pool by a mile. By the way, I’ve long been convinced that temp is the natural contraction for contempt.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


WcW003: Sometimes, it’s all about teaching

July 28, 2007

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Web Conferencing Week

As filled with unusualities as was last week, this past week… was not.

The main theme was teaching. We wrote about this facet of my career quite extensively in mm018 and I don’t feel compelled to rehash here. It’s a significant portion of my responsibilities here at HCA (Heart of Corporate America remember, not its real name).

And, like all things everywhere, it either dies or changes. I vote for change.

For more than a year, we’ve been attempting to turn over some of the basic courses to an expert in our division’s training department. To that end I’ve provided annotated course material, one on one instruction, the opportunity to practice. I am this good teacher, right?

It’s been a bust. Last year the explanation was that the designated person didn’t start that year with this goal in her list of goals, and thus was unable to devote the time and attention required to mastering the material.

This year began with this turnover on this person’s the goals list, but after a kick-off meeting in February, and prompt transmission of updated curriculum to answer some concerns, the person has simply not responded to my queries for nearly three months.

I’ve been teaching this material for so long I suppose I have underestimated its challenges. You simultaneously are teaching a collaboration tool while smoothly utilizing that tool to deliver the lessons. And in order to teach effectively, you are attempting to interact with your students using a very limited sensory array, just their voices and whatever of the conference’s tools they are able to begin to understand.

Pretty demanding, upon reflection, and I believe totally overwhelming for the training department’s MIA “expert.”

So, Plan B. Our vendor has a partnership with an organization in the UK that has produced some workmanlike Computer Based Training (CBT) modules that I’ve persuaded our department to purchase on an enterprise basis. These don’t provide the HCA-specific content that so richly fills my curriculum, but as our IT division’s underlying software philosophy is to customize purchased applications as little as possible, the generic CBT should be quite sufficient, at least for the basics.

The idea always was to remove some of the repetitive burden of teaching the “level 100” coursework (originally to a live instructor), leaving the advanced curriculum, as well as individualized instruction for higher level personnel to yours truly.

So, this week: mostly teaching. The scheduled three classes, two of them with that 3:00pm start time (to accommodate West Coast participants, a few of whom, I’m thankful to note, were present) that is supremely wearing on me, as this type of teaching seems to demand an energy level more difficult to tap 7½ hours into my business day.

The week’s one conference facilitation gig (my other public responsibility — and hey, it’s July!) turned out also to be about teaching, although that was not the intention of that meeting’s leader, nor mine.

Arrived at the designated conference room a few minutes earlier than the routine 30-minute lead time called for, to find a dark room, arranged poorly to accommodate my gear, and without a built in projector for the expected live audience, or a speakerphone for the conference.

Then the leader arrived, simultaneously with the caterer with a snack array (odd for an 11:00am meeting), which mystified that leader, who by the way arrived without a portable projector.

Her assistant apparently had misconstrued the purpose and intent of the meeting, which it turned out could have been much more conveniently conducted from the leader’s office, since there was no expected audience in the room; the presentation was meant to be transmitted solely to a conference room at a facility in Massachusetts.

Okay, so I walked down to the nearby Audio-Visual crew office, to request that a technician deliver and install a speakerphone (which had not been ordered by that assistant), and we determined that as it was just the presenter and me that we could forego a projector, and simply sit together at one of the 12 tables in the room and work off of my laptop.

So, with much conversation about the assistant’s misinterpretation of the leader’s instructions, which concluded with my promise to forward said person (a former student, who apparently assumed that she understood web conferencing because she took my course; well in her defense the two of us had lots of popcorn and canned soda available!) a document we created a couple of years ago and which is posted on our website titled “Successful Sametime Conferences,” a checklist which calls out key requirements like projectors and speakerphones.

But as we waited for the 11:00am conference start, the discussion turned to what she does: Corporate Learning and Development, and her group’s increasing need to respond to the globalization of our employer. It is a small measure of the silos permeating HCA that she had no idea of what I do (the teaching part I mean) or how I deliver it. And we’re both part of same broad corporate organization.

Meanwhile, we sat on the phone, and in the web conference, patiently awaiting our Massachusetts audience to join us. 11:00am goes by, 11:05, 11:10, nada.

She gets up and uses the house phone outside the room to contact a different assistant, who phoned back shortly thereafter to report that the HR manager at the other end who had requested the presentation, and had called more than once to confirm that it was on the schedule, had suddenly that morning decided that her team had higher priorities that day and had unilaterally canceled the session, apparently without notifying anyone outside of Massachusetts. Ouch.

And, while my direct customer is not the subject of this next Life Lesson, her customers certainly qualify:

lifelesson32

So, a lot of furor for nothing. But, a good outcome, selfishly for me, and perhaps for her organization, since I was told that I will be asked to an upcoming meeting of the Learning and Development management team to discuss my globe-spanning technology (and perhaps more?).

What on earth took them so long?

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


WcW002: Web Conferencing Week – On location

July 22, 2007

wcw1

Web Conferencing Week

In our first venture in this direction, WcW001, I described the week just past as filled with unusualities (coined in this space tyvm; if I use it 500 more times, think that it gets added to anyone’s dictionary?), and described one. Here’s another.

Only a few times in the five years I have been plying my trade at the HCA, have I been asked to conduct business outside the friendly confines of the navel of the known universe, our dual expansive campuses and its outlying but nearby satellite sites.

But, Wednesday afternoon I received voicemail from one of my most frequent clients, the sales training functionary for one of our most important product families, asking that I assist Friday at an all-day session emanating from a hotel near the airport.

Sent off a memo to the contact that had been specified, detailing the logistical arrangements that I would require (broadband access, a phone connection for the web conference’s accompanying telephone conference call, a second phone line and phone for monitoring purposes, sufficient power connections, table/chair near the audio technician, etc), received a quick response including the name and contact information for the event handler at the hotel. A quick call to this person confirmed that all would be as required, and her smooth and professional demeanor actually filled me with confidence that it indeed it would.

So, Friday, instead of trundling out to the navel, etc., trundled instead to the vicinity of the airport, to a very nice and upscale hotel, the likes of which grunts such as yours truly work at, but surely can’t afford to stay at.

After the usual flurry of activity around finding the venue, and locating the key contacts among people with whom one has spoken but never before seen (and no one wears red carnations to identify themselves any more — why is that?), located the hotel employee audio technician who was handling the event and, after at my request he arranged the switching out of his equipment table for something large enough for the both of us, began setting up.

The main problem in the morning during the run-up to the start of the broadcast sessions was the speed of the internet connection I was furnished. It seemed that everyone in the hotel was competing for the same not-so-broadband connection, and I found this to be somewhat crippling as I dealt with last minute changes to the presentation.

And, by the way, wireless was not an option. Not only did my laptop not detect wireless access in the room (although others PCs did, so that was a limitation of my equipment), but it is my hard experience that, for a very network-centric application such as a web conference, the flaky nature of most wireless connections is toxic.

As with most web conferencing applications, Lotus Sametime uses two major modes to display information to those connecting to it: screen sharing and its whiteboard. Screen sharing is the simplest mode: whatever the person sharing is doing on her desktop shows up within the screen sharing window in the instance of all participants’ internet browser connected to the meeting.

The meeting room whiteboard is not as simple to use; it requires prior setup to load (or, in Sametime nomenclature, attach) whatever presentation files to be shown. The value add for this setup requirement is that most presentations transmit throughout the network much more efficiently, since the information to be transmitted is cached on the server (i.e., while the current slide is shown, the next one is being loaded into memory, and the previous one remains available).

However, on the dead slow connection I experienced mid-morning at the hotel, the revised version of the presentation file I received could not load into the meeting — the process timed out. This was frustrating.

I persisted, and eventually, late in the morning, and perilously close to the noon start time of the first of the two events taking place in that room, the revision finally got loaded (I’m thinking that the contention for bandwidth on the hotel’s connection eased closer to lunchtime), and I was finally good to go. We connected the audio tech’s phone (running the interface from the room’s sound system so that all those using microphones would be heard on the phone) to the telephone conference operator, and at the proper time the event began.

Meanwhile, in this large conference room, an earlier event not requiring my participation had begun, and I had a chance to observe the participants from the tech table at the front side of the room. Well more than 100 young (everybody in corporate life is younger than yours truly these days!), attractive field sales people were in the midst of a several days long training conference. This day’s meetings were devoted to product knowledge.

Our field sales people have to know well a great deal of technical data, as well as all of the nuts and bolts of technical selling (a topic I’m certain was handled, or reinforced at least, on other days of this conference).

For most applications of web conferencing, usage is quite straightforward. The leader of the meeting connects to the Sametime server, connects his laptop PC to a projector, and uses the screen sharing mode to simultaneously project his presentation in the meeting room while making it available to remote attendees. In smaller meetings, whatever overhead is added for the web conference is minor, and whatever distraction that the electronic meeting may cause usually is minor.

However, for large meetings, that overhead and potential distraction is not acceptable. Early in my web conference facilitation experience I learned that for these types of large-scale events the best approach is to split the function of running the web conference away from the in-room presentation function.

And this is what we did for the meetings in the hotel conference center. This way, there was no spillover from the electronic conference into the meeting room itself; so had there been technical problems, or even communication from the remote participants relevant to the web conference, it would have been invisible to those in the room, and especially to the speakers, whose demonstrated technical expertise might not have extended to the web conferencing arena and whom in any event would not have welcomed such interruptions.

So, the idea is that two copies of the presentation are required: one, for the laptop PC connected to the projector in the conference room. The other, for the PC connected to and leading (“moderating” in Sametime nomenclature) the web conference.

After the energetic activities of preparation described above (and there’s always something in large meetings) things in the first, 50-minute session went quite smoothly, as did most of the second one until the last 90 minutes or so of that four-hour(!) presentation.

The last 90 minutes? Well, the second speaker neglected to mention the existence of, much less share his umpteenth and latest presentation revision with me. Turned out he had about 85 slides; I had only 67. Ouch. So I vamped as best I could (at one point I used my text annotation tool to announce that there were some new slides showing that were unavailable to the web conference).

Well, afterwards, my contact in field sales training consoled me by saying, “how many people do you think were actually paying attention in that last hour?”

And separately, the speaker apologized to me (after all, even those present in the room did not have those slides in their printed handouts) by saying, “they usually only allot me two hours.” Sigh.

But, in the larger context of the day this was minor (the organizers certainly reported so) although that could have been 5 o’clock Friday of a hugely busy week manifesting itself. But, if my customers are happy, so am I (especially if the issue in question was totally outside my ability to rectify).

Could I have anticipated a new version of the presentation? Of course, there almost always is. Could, under the constraints of time (just about 10 minutes from the end of the first meeting to the start of the second) and a suspect broadband connection (remember it took about 90 minutes elapsed time to upload the smaller revision to the first presentation) I have actually accomplished the successful update in time? Perhaps not. Sigh.

While it doesn’t really apply totally to this context, since the speaker was guilty with an excuse (had to fill a lot more time than usual — and by the way, his extended topics were interesting, to this amateur scientist, and relevant). Often, though, the last-minute tweaks that cause this practitioner of meetings so much gut-churning distress are mostly gilding the lily. So, it gives me the opportunity to roll out:

lifelesson

But, overall, a good and an interesting day. Can I apply the science I was exposed to during five-plus hours of presentations to my job, or my everyday life? Absolutely not. Was it interesting, in the context of learning for learning’s sake? Absolutely. Forty-eight hours later as I write this, can I remember any of it? Please don’t ask me that!

All told, an interesting end to a more unusual than usual week in the world of web conferencing.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


WcW001: Web Conferencing Week

July 20, 2007

WcW logo

Web Conferencing Week

Trying something different here at Left-Handed Complement — back to my roots, or at least my original intentions for this space, to regularly explore my professional existence. I have previously written about what I do, and my very recent, quite futile aspirations toward management, but it’s been sporadic at best. Not my intention when I started.

This is an attempt to apply some discipline — maybe most work weeks haven’t recently seemed very interesting to me (although the one just completed was altogether not routine), but I believe that what I do is quite unusual in any corporation, small or large, so I’ll explore those unusualities (have I just coined a MUDGE-ism?) in this space, I hope every week or more often.

And, for you completists out there, clicking the “Web Conferencing” tag cloud on the sidebar will catch you up.

The tent-poles for many weeks are the large scale conferences (or even small, but critical ones) for which I provide consultative, or substantive services. This week was busier in that respect than many lately.

For one thing, I assisted a high level HR manager as he ran a focus group with a group of administrative assistants for one of HCA’s (remember, Heart of Corporate America, not it’s real name) most hidebound and traditional divisions, its corporate attorneys. In the year 2007, I must admit it was jarring to hear more than one of these women (and they were all women) refer to themselves as secretaries. Is it any wonder they had a lot to complain about?

My role: to make the HR manager’s slides available to the several administrative assistants connecting from outside the navel of the known universe (the heart of the Heart, as it were), including one humorous (or perhaps I simply mean good humored) person in Europe for whom the meeting started after 5pmCET (Central European Time, did you know?), and for her didn’t finish until about 7pm.

This meeting was both easier, and more complex for me than usual. Easier because there were few enough remote participants, and the slide content was simple enough, that the PowerPoint slide deck could simply be “Screen Shared,” so that those in the meeting room and those connecting remotely watched exactly the same presentation at the same time.

Complex, because I had arrived at the conference center first (always my goal) and found the room dark, furnished correctly but otherwise unprepared electrically and electronically. The electronic podium had been pushed out of the way to accommodate a meeting that I had worked a day and a half earlier, never replaced in position and thus was totally inert.

I dug up an A/V tech, who found a bunch of thick cables in the floor, and (I hoped) matching ones curled up in the podium that needed to be connected, a job that took this stranger (and I thought by this time I knew most of the guys) about 20 minutes. There had to be 30 colored wires with metal connectors for each end among the cabled groups; glad he wasn’t color blind!

I offered the manager the opportunity to sit at a table closer to his group, so as a result I stood by the podium to advance the presentation slides at his command, which I must admit got a little old after 90 minutes (actually, between arriving early, and the meeting starting about 25 minutes late due to the above mentioned technical snafu I was standing for well over two hours, not my favorite way to spend a late morning, especially a late morning under-snacked and under-hydrated). Such is show business.

But the wonderful news, as I related the high points to my manager later that day, was that the technical issues were A/V ones, not web conferencing ones. Whew! Our system has been behaving itself of late, and I don’t take that for granted, working as I do out there among my customers.

My colleagues on the team are, by training and by inclination, telephone support types. Let’s face it, most IT professionals take up the career because they are introverts who are more comfortable relating to hardware and software than the people who consume their work product.

The thought of encountering a real live client having trouble with our technology makes them sick to their stomach, and I’m not really exaggerating — they’ve told me so countless times. So the fact that I go out there so frequently putting my own ego, as well as my team’s reputation on the line, in person, confounds them.

It’s what I do.

But as always, it was fascinating to pay attention to the content of the meeting. This little job of mine provides a very unusual opportunity to be a fly on the wall for some most interesting sessions, and as touched on above this was one of those.

I guess HCA’s corporate law department is stuck in some 1950’s time warp, as distinct from “public” law firms which I have to feel are somewhat more up to date (one person recently arrived from one reported that for the work she and most her colleagues do at HCA, a public firm would describe and compensate them as paralegals, not secretaries).

The attorneys like it this way, I’m sure (more than one of the women described their bosses (male and female) as “needy,” for example working in longhand [on legal pads, I’m sure] and claiming not to know even the basics of their computers), but I don’t understand how the assistants can stand it.

By the way, the IT building I work in must have close to 600 employees; maybe eight of them are administrative assistants, and I’m sure that the bean counters think that this number is twice as large as necessary. We are hardly needy — we do for ourselves.

What I wanted to say to this group of put-upon legal division employees (and of course I didn’t since flies on the wall don’t say a word, ever) was, be thankful you work for whom you do; any other department and there would be half or fewer of you!

And that’s just one of the several meetings and or events this week, and I find that reflecting on it has spent my Friday evening energy, but we’ll renew this effort later this weekend, I promise.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE

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