mm067: By the way, I do earn a living!

July 14, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

I realize that it has been some time since I broached the topic of my career, and what I do to afford the leisure to pursue this blogging thing. Lot’s of Bloomberg here; just not in this post, sorry!

Faithful reader will remember that what I do is web conferencing, an increasingly useful tool that should be adopted by more and more corporate entities due to its transformative capabilities.

My employer in the Heart of Corporate America (HCA) is a grand old conservative organization, proud of its financial performance measured over generations (a quarterly dividend paid without interruption since before my late father was born!). It seldom moves quickly where infrastructure technology is concerned, rightfully (I admit with admiration and affection that I have come to see it as rightfully) expending whatever fleet instincts it possesses towards the tooth of its tiger, not its tail.

Which is a long explanation for the fact that HCA has only been using web conferencing for a few years, mainly the five-plus years that I have been there. That’s an interesting tale. I found myself “at liberty” after my previous employer, having entered into a “merger of equals” disappeared utterly, as far as most of its human capital is concerned.

I had been part of a vigorous corporate information technology department of 155 people, getting real work done, largely supporting a marketing organization that had just launched a blockbuster product. Our “partners” swept in shortly after the “merger,” and told us there were jobs for each and every one. 1,000 miles away. Five of us took them up on their kind offer; the rest of us took a severance package.

So there I was, with a lengthy résumé, but not much current IT experience, but what was current was useful: Documentum, a complex but growing document management system, and Lotus Notes, the collaboration environment beloved of many large corporations for its rock-solid email system as well as its rapid database development feature.

The Documentum piece got me a 4-month consulting gig at HCA, doomed to frustration as the hiring manager, whose vision had created the opening I filled, cheerfully moved onward and upward (and to another campus) about a week after I reported for duty.

After a two-month interval, I was interviewed for a business analyst position by another team in the same division, and what got me the consulting gig, six months long but renewed several times, was tucked away on page two of the position description: experience with telephone and video conferencing.

I had that experience. Our Documentum team at my previous employer had outposts in several cities in the US and Europe, and, while I didn’t create the bi-weekly telephone conferences (and the occasional video conference) that the head of the corporate team had established, I did a great deal of the heavy lifting there: I published the invitations, agendas, prompt minutes; and led most of the meetings with a relaxed and welcoming style that created esprit de corps among people who had never met. We weathered the Y2K circus with ease, thanks to the cooperation and collaborative successes engendered in those bi-weekly (in 1999, weekly) sessions.

Yes, I could talk the talk about conferencing. And almost immediately after I started, additional to the conventional Lotus Notes business analysis work I had been assigned, I was asked to go see the division’s key contact for a web conferencing pilot then underway, using Lotus’ product called Sametime. The manager in question said, “thanks for coming over. Have a seat at my desk. Here is hard copy of the presentation. We’re about to demonstrate the tool in a web conference. Why don’t you lead it?”

With that sudden immersion, I never looked back. Indeed, I have led countless demonstrations since (with a good deal more assurance than that first, sweaty session). I have taught over 3,000 students the tool, all using the technology to teach the technology, in order to provide tactile, experiential learning, key for adult learners. I have surveys from 130 of the most recent of those classes, going back nearly 18 months, and my composite score is 4+ on a 1-5 scale. I facilitate key meetings, remotely from my desk as well as on location in offices and conference rooms on-site and offsite. And yes, both my corporate email signature, and my business card contain the title, “Mr. Sametime.”

My passion for collaboration created a niche for me in HCA, and by the way, has led to significant cost savings. Using IBM Lotus methodology for an analysis earlier this year, I made a believable case for $5 million in travel avoided last year; a number I think is conservative. HCA has over 60,000 employees in 130 nations around the world. Imagine not having to fly 16 regional managers from Latin America to Miami for training just as effectively delivered and received in one’s office! Just eliminating cross-campus and cross-county travel to meetings large and small in and around Corporate HQ must provide hundreds of hours of productivity savings daily.

Finally, I try to keep my passion pure, as it were. Yesterday, I was asked to participate in a bi-weekly telephone conference with a group of field-based high powered advance-degree technical managers, as there were questions about the web conferencing tool they were concerned about. The upshot? I cheerfully directed them to a third-party outside resource. Yes, a more expensive solution than my in-house one. But in their field application, the outside resource is, I believe, the more effective answer. As I told them, just because I have a (most wonderful) hammer, not every client’s problem is a nail.

Finally, I did apply for my soon to retire manager’s position, as I previously reported I would. And, as is their wont, HR never communicated one word to me beyond the automated receipt of the on-line application (don’t you dare call us — we’ll call you).

I’m not management material at HCA, that is obvious, and of course I’m disappointed, but as I said previously, I do love what I do, and where I do it. Some would ask: why on earth would you screw that up by moving into bean-counting-obsessed management?

Why, indeed.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE

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mm061: Back from vacation…

July 11, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

First day back at work after several days of vacation — not bad, but a comedown from the blogstorm of the past few days, as the first opportunity to write at all, or read for that matter, has come after 8:00pm, seldom MUDGE’S sharpest hours.

Those of you seeking to read more about Michael Bloomberg here will be disappointed, since on that subject I know very little more than I did yesterday. I’ll even control myself and not put his name in today’s tags. Such restraint! I’ve struck some kind of nerve, since those posts have exceeded interest in everything else I’ve had to say by an order of magnitude.

Your interest is my interest. More on Bloomberg will follow. But not tonight.

Several posts ago I wrote about my spiritual renaissance, one manifestation of which are these electrons you peruse, and another that I determined to apply for my retiring manager’s open position. Did so just before leaving for that stay-at-home vacation last week.

No word on the application as yet, although my intuition is that the manager and the department head are content to let HR do the dirty work. You’ll remember HR: don’t call me, we’ll call you. One of the known candidates was in town today lunching with the incumbent; appears that the fix may already be in.

I don’t really mind rejection; I get white hot when not taken seriously.

Well I still love my job — remember? Tsar of Web Conferencing! I’m sure that long term I’ll be a happier camper than counselor. Still…

BTW, thanks for the kind response to mm060 from kindred spirit ClapSo. The word for my lovely, extraordinarily patient wife is not saint, a concept foreign to our heritage, but rather, valorous.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm060: on a personal note…

July 10, 2007

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.

Helping us to observe these diverse and marvelous celebrations were members of our near and extended families (with some terrific new extensions, thanks to our accomplished and gorgeous new daughter-in-law) and many long-time and exceptionally supportive friends.

A stunningly, dramatically, most wonderful weekend. Thanks belong to all who created and attended and made it the superlative several days it was. When they say “life doesn’t get better than this” it’s not draft beer they mean.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm018: Surprise!

May 31, 2007

MUDGE’s Musings

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Surprising myself, I am a teacher.

Not under-qualified, apparently, but under-credentialed certainly, I spend a good portion of my working week teaching adult fellow employees how to use the software tool our team supports.

Because of the under-credentialed thing (I am a 20?? graduate of Hard Knox U), I never really thought of myself as teaching material. Indeed, when I came up onto the scene, there was something, forgive me all the teachers in my life, including my supremely patient spouse, something declassé about the “profession” of teaching. It certainly didn’t seem to pay a lot, and that derisive slogan (“them that can’t, teach”) must have colored my opinion early on.

Silly me. No, unless one is tenured at some golden suburban secondary school or first rank university, teaching is still a depressingly under-compensated career. And kids today! I have nothing but awe for those who daily (except for three blessed months during the summer, you fiends!) face today’s MTV’d, video-gamed, reading-free children.

But, I teach adults in a corporate setting. And, better yet, I teach them remotely, via web conference, which provides some excellent insulation: I can’t witness them dozing off, doodling, or (I hope they’ve muted their phone so I can’t hear them) answering email. And by my benighted standards, the pay is acceptable, the benefits better than expected, and I’m not at risk from receiving angry phone calls from parents of misunderstood students.

The dozing off thing comes to mind because yesterday morning I engaged in one of my rare personal appearances. One glance at the blurry photo adorning this page (blurry for public safety reasons) will convince you of the truth of my oft stated slogan: I’ve always been told that I have a great face for radio. But there I was, presenting my technology to the last group in the local area of my employer apparently unaware of it, and I watched a woman deal with my presence and presentation through closed eyes. I was envious.

But, my classes, two to three a week, are conducted via web conference. For the uninitiated, a web conference consists of a telephone conference that accompanies visual material presented from a web site. This visual material can be static, like a presentation, or dynamic, like a demonstration of a live application, but it does not include video of the speaker or participants.

The web conference as teaching medium is a blessing and a challenge. A blessing for some of the reasons noted above (the dozing, the doodling, the email). But a challenge because I am stripped down to my essentials, my voice and how I deliver it. That’s where the radio comment rings so true, since what I have become is not so much a teacher but a radio actor, a genre that seemingly only Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion keeps alive today. I need to engage people by projecting my knowledge and enthusiasm across the wire, for one to two hours at a time, solo.

No wonder I’m worn out at the end of the day. Today was that kind of day. My two-hour advanced topics class, begun at 3pm Central time to accommodate the occasional participant from the West Coast, of whom there was one representative today, I am happy to report. Because a 3pm start of this arduous exercise is tough enough, without the disappointment of realizing that I’ve accommodated no one. It’s like the 8am classes I teach several times a month, designed to enable attendance during the work day for the occasional Western Europe student; I am disappointed to have to work so hard, undercaffeinated, without the payoff of a UK or Netherlands or German participant.

But, the end of day classes are the toughest for me. Not the material, I’ve got that locked down solid. It’s that corporate advantage again: do the same thing enough times and be appreciated for it. But just the fatigue that comes from performing, emoting really, with unknown or insufficient feedback. Most of those radio programs that people are nostalgic for, Jack Benny, Fibber McGee, and the like, and today’s Prairie Home, were/are performed in a studio with an audience of some kind, because actors require feedback. I get some, sometimes, and people are usually more than kind when they fill out our end of session survey. But, it’s a large emotional expenditure with little payoff, short of knowing that the biweekly direct deposit can still be depended upon.

And that’s enough. So, I teach, as I say, surprising myself several times a week. After nearly five years, that’s a happy outcome.

It’s it for now.

Thanks,
–MUDGE

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mm009: Lost and found

May 16, 2007

MUDGE’s Musings

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Skipped a day for the first time in this brief string, yesterday. Needed to get some distance from the hammering I took. Got it. So I’m back.

Many of us are creatures of habit. It’s part and parcel of curmudgeonhood. A place for everything, and everything in its place, and all that.

So, my personal cell phone went missing. Found it missing (a wonderful contradiction in terms first highlighted for me years ago by Flanders and Swann) as I unstrapped my daily armor upon my return home from HCA.

I remembered pulling it out of my pocket shortly before departing work, and reading the text message from the traffic service, and I remembered all too vividly later that I was impatient about cramming it back in my pocket. It didn’t go very deep, but I let it pass.

So when it was missing, first thing I did was head back out to the car: did I have it near the opening of the pocket, and did it slip out during the 75-minute Moby Dick on wheels session? Didn’t see it there. So, perhaps it fell out of my pocket as I sat at my desk. Maybe someone found it there. Maybe it’s already in use dialing Bulgaria. I scrambled to find a customer service number for my cell carrier (funny, *611 doesn’t work without the phone!), ended up calling information on my land line (another 75-cents down the drain) and suspended my service immediately.

Then ensued a conversation with the customer service person regarding my options, which turn out to be manifold. I have been paying several $ per month for insurance on the thing, having lost a couple (1. back seat of a taxi; 2. plopped into a commode — a distressingly common fate for cell phones I found out) through the years. So there’s that replacement, less a $50 deductible, of whatever model would be comparable. Also, I’d heard from the carrier a week ago or so, reminding me that my 2-year commitment is up and offering some choices, and this agent re-reminded me of same. Sigh. What I really wanted at this financially constrained time (and, another element of my curmudgeonhood, when are the times NOT financially constrained?) was to go to the office in the morning and find my phone.

So I got back to the office this a.m., after a distressed night (what a bother! Is someone plundering my contact list — for what exactly? etc.) and of course did not find the phone in my cube. Sigh. So, I called Security, reported it missing so that they would be on notice if I had to file a police report (required I was told if I wanted to replace the phone via insurance), contacted the department’s assistant who left word with Housekeeping, and stewed. It’s just a phone, a commodity, hardly state of the art two years ago when new, but I like it. Sigh.

Then, I got an idea. Grabbed my car keys, and took a look again, this time in bright sunshine, as compared to the fog of distress at 6PM the evening before. Crawled onto the floor in the back seat, and there, wedged into a corner and thus hiding from my hurried foggy on-tilt search before, was the phone! Whew! So, called the carrier to get service reinstated (can I help you with anything else today sir? Thanks, no! [I really like this phone, and don’t feel like spending more for a new one without a lot more analysis of my instrument and carrier options]), called Security and our assistant to stand down, let my lovely spouse know. What a lot of Sturm und Drang for no achievement whatsoever. Except grist for another post, I guess. Sigh.

Of course, the episode of the phone was just one hammer-tap last evening. A couple of others, probably of greater long term import hit at roughly the same time. Sigh. Maybe those will age gracefully as the phone incident turned out to, and we can discuss at leisure, or not.

Thanks,
–MUDGE

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mm008: Working

May 14, 2007

MUDGE’s Musings

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Telecommuting

I have a friend who for years has commuted 50 feet to work and back. Self-employed in the best sense of the word (on purpose and would have it no other way) his work week is seven days long, but he has flexible hours. He works long and hard because he loves what he does, but also can stop and grocery shop in the quiet middle of a week, away from the weekend crush that devils mortal man, and as what he does is very high quality and fairly unique he knows that if we wants to take a couple of weeks of vacation in Europe or China he can, because his clients will be there on his return.

That’s him. Here’s me: a 30-mile one-way commute, made bearable for those two hours a day only because an otherwise contemptible employer some years ago introduced me to books on tape. (Now I read and stay connected in several media: audio books, real bound paper books, and this newfangled Internet thingy I’ve heard so much about. I’m so flexible.)

A few years ago, I made the leap from hourly contractor to salaried employee at the Heart of Corporate America (remember? HCA — not the name of a real place I really work!) I call my home away from home. Honestly, un-curmudgeonly, an excellent place to be. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it forever: far and away the best place I’ve ever worked.

But the commute is a killer, book on tape or not. Unfortunately, or not, with employee status came a couple of things: a pay cut, of course, since overtime is now on me; and the opportunity to participate in the golden treasure of the white collar working stiff in HCA – Working from Home, WfH for delicious short.

For a day or so every couple of weeks, I get to enjoy the 50-foot commute I have long envied in my entrepreneurial buddy. In fact, this is one area I can trump even him: I have a much smaller house; the commute is about 20 feet. It’s a beautiful thing. Due to the nature of my work I take home a laptop computer every evening, and on those lovely days that I can eschew the highway, I pull it out, plug it in, connect to my home wireless network and in short order I’m connected to the corporate world only slightly less directly than had I invested the nonreturnable two daily hours of my all too short life in my mobile library, dodging the clichéd but all too real coffee drinkers, cell phone gabbers and makeup applyers all the while. My auto insurance company should send me a valentine!

And here’s the deep dark secret: I’m a better employee for it. I’m sure that for some, “Working from Home” is code for “goofing off on company time.” In fact, the first time that I heard the expression regarding a former colleague at a former company (and I do mean former – 9,000 employees swallowed up and spit out in a typical episode of corporate bulimia), my boss illustrated it with the sardonic two-handed quote mark gesture.

I’m connected – on line I do everything I do at work, including conducting on line classes and providing high level technical support on the on line tool for which I’m the local champion. I religiously check office voice mail for my two lines every 30-40 minutes, and I’m always available via the corporate instant messaging tool.

And it’s quiet when I WfH. No unwanted intrusions from the cube dwellers all around me at the office. I respect your single-parenthood but I can only tune out so much for so long. And I respect the management work you do, but I wish I learned about it in smaller doses at times of my choosing. And your analyses of last Sunday’s game is fascinating, BUT I HAVE WORK TO DO!!!

And I know it reciprocates. If I had laryngitis, I can name several candidates who I’m sure, through osmosis and sheer repetitiveness could fill in for me in one of my classes.

Dilbert is an optimist.

Or, maybe it’s not quiet WfH. When I’m not on the phone, likely as not I’ll be enjoying Pandora.com, as marvelous a construct as I’ve seen recently in webland. Check it out while you can, as the riaa-monsters are preparing to pounce.

But, it’s my choice – quiet or not so, and if not, I choose the content. Tell me that doesn’t make me more productive.

But, don’t get me wrong – I like the people I work among, and I really don’t have a problem spending most of my employment on the man’s premises. But he (and I’ll bet he does), and now you, should know what a blessing it is to have the opportunity to telecommute occasionally.

Thanks!
–MUDGE

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mm007 H.M.D.

May 13, 2007

MUDGE’s Musings

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Started to think about all of the mothers I know: my own dear mother, just about to celebrate her 80th birthday; my wife’s mother, a reasonably spry 86; my wife, a champion mother; my daughter, excellent mother to our grandchildren; our friends close and not, near and not; my coworkers, many of whom, like my wife, juggle family with a demanding job (I certainly couldn’t do it).

A member of the curmudgeon’s guild ought to be railing against artificial so-called holidays egregiously invented by the greeting card, floral, jewelry and brunch businesses, but not me today.

Thanks, Moms and moms.

–MUDGE

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