MonthJuly 2011

Corporate Stockholm Syndrome

You may be working a job that makes you plenty happy to go to everyday. You may really enjoy what you do. You enjoy the company of the people you work with. You like where you are and what you’ve done. Overall, you’re happy and content with where you are in life.

Then one day something changes. You realize what else is out there. Maybe you start idly looking. Maybe someone tracks you down. But either way, you learn what else is out there for you. You learn what you could be doing and where you could be doing it. You realize there’s more money out there for you. ((Possibly a LOT more money!)) You realize it’s possible to work with a skilled group of people to learn from and share expertise and ideas.

You realize a lot of things when your perspective changes. In this case, I am this person. My perspective has changed. With my wife’s current job hunt underway to move to somewhere better I started looking around as well. I wasn’t terribly motivated to leave where I am and move on. I wasn’t terribly motivated to go through the job hunt process again. I wasn’t very excited to put myself out there to be judged and rejected all over again. ((As every job hunt goes.))

Then out of the blue, I was contacted. I was headhunted. Someone called me out of the blue, and despite rarely answering my phone, I took this call. A sign? A higher power? A random act on a random day? Who knows. The result is I have an interview Tuesday with real live people. I get to put myself out there in front of a new group of nerds. I want to be accepted by these new nerds. I want to join their ranks. I want to get more support for my career at work and I want to advance in my career. I want to make more money and take on more responsibilities.

I am tired of racing around and putting out fires. No, I am tired of putting out imaginary fires created by a series of poor planning and poor communication. I am very tired of having to do more work or rework through no fault of my own.

I am tired of imagined fires becoming my problem. The latest example being receiving a call from an out-of-state office at 5:42 on a Friday afternoon asking to re-add a computer to the domain and set it up for a new hire for Monday. There’s no way. It took all the self-control I could muster not to scream at this person for their carelessness.

Do I have this right…?

You’ve known about this new hire for a several days. You’ve known about this new hire all day today. Instead of calling in the morning, when there was a snowball’s chance in hell of the request getting completed today, you waited until 18 minutes until I leave for the day and our office closes. ((I am also the last technician on site and while we are on-call for after-hours work, this does not qualify as an acceptable after-hours request.))

The saddest thing is this is not a unique situation. This ((Not this exact event but a similar situation)) seems to crop up every week or two. ((Especially in that office. Though it’s not a condition unique to them.))

I have office Stockholm Syndrome.

I have seen the light. I see a way out.
I am going to meet with my rescuers this week.

If I go, I am also going to cause headaches for my current manager. I am an integral part of the department there. I am the rock on which all things are built. I have the serious technical chops to answer any question that comes my way. I diligently document everything I run across, especially if I think I may ever run across it again.

Wherever I am, I bring my A game. And I may be bringing that game to a new place soon enough. I am excited.

Berries rotting on the vine

I look up from my screens to see a sales rep standing over me. I can tell he’s frustrated. Before I can open my mouth, he slings his Android phone down on my desk. How do I know it’s an Android? It’s always an Android.

“I can’t type on this thing! I can’t see pictures in my email! I can’t get the company email setup! Can you show me how to use this thing?

He has gone out and bought an Android phone. He moved to it from the Blackberry Whatever he had before. He’s used a Blackberry for years. He misses his tiny tactile keyboard. He misses the familiar corral of icons. He misses that every single Blackberry looks like its predecessor. ((With minor changes.))

Why did he buy something he doesn’t want to use or even likes? He wants to do more with his phone. Maybe he wants to use Twitter and Facebook. Maybe he wants to stream music. Maybe he wants to graze through a vast application landscape. Maybe he simply wants a decent web browser.

Not a week passes when I don’t meet another Blackberry switcher. He’s left the comfortable, familiar tap-tap of the keyboard behind. He’s leapt headfirst into the alien world of Android phones because he wants more. ((And isn’t on AT&T or Verizon or doesn’t want an iPhone.))

He wants a web browser that can reasonably assemble a modern web page. ((He doesn’t care about flash.)) He wants to read the links he gets sent throughout the day. He wants to pull up the NY Times. He wants to check his stocks or send a quick Tweet. He wants to look at the new pictures of his niece that just popped up on Facebook. He wants all of this outside s tiny picture window. He wants the luxurious 3″ or 4″ display.

He wants more and more is not what RIM((Research in Motion)) is delivering. They got left behind. Apple’s iOS devices are eating their lunch Microsoft and Google ((and their army of partners)) stole the leftovers and their wallets. Just today, announced 2,000 layoffs.

People all across our company are dumping their Blackberries and moving to iPhones or Androids. ((I rarely see the iPhone people. Email setup is simple and consistent across providers.)) Judging from the news, this is not unique to our company.

It’s always the Android folks that stand over my desk or grab me in the hallways. It doesn’t matter which Android phone they’ve purchased on which carrier. Their tale of woe is always the same.

I miss the stock “Google Experience” my original Motorola Droid provided me. It’s a maze of skins and user interfaces out there now and trying to walk someone through a simple task like setting up email is an exercise in futility.

Every Android is unique to each provider and manufacturer has to put their mark on Android so even if you can successfully navigate one phone, a similar phone can have a completely different UI. ((It’s very frustrating from a support perspective to provide documentation or help over the phone.))

Every week I see more and more people turning from the Blackberries to Androids because they’re cheaper than iPhones and they offer a similar experience.

RIM is losing their base of business men with a choice. They will still cling to the government employees and those with more draconian IT departments but the writing is on the wall.

No one is buying Playbooks. ((We got one to test out but it’s almost useless without a Blackberry paired to it.)) No one is buying Blackberries. They all look the same.((Storm and Torch being the exceptions.)) There has been no innovation in the Blackberry patch in some time.

Instead of producing new phones and creative ideas, they’re pushing out the same phones over and over with slight differences. They are rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic as the ship goes down.

What is Twitter?

Trying to explain Twitter is the Rorschach Test for the 21st Century. The entire platform is exactly what you make of it. It is everything to everyone and can be tailored to match each person’s needs and desires.

In the beginning, there is nothing. As we find friends and heroes sharing their bits of wisdom Twitter evolves from a blank slate to a customized information pipeline specific to each one of us.

My Twitter feed is a stream of tech bloggers, photographers, designers, friends, co-workers and local food trucks. My feed is a reflection of who I am and who I interact with.

My wife’s Twitter feed is filled with food bloggers, family, and crafters. It is perfect for her just as mine is perfect for me.

Twitter is The Washington Post. Twitter is CNN. Twitter is TMZ. Twitter is AOL. Twitter is ESPN. Twitter is a yearbook. Twitter is a family album.

Twitter is exactly what you want it to be. Twitter is the media landscape in a world staffed by your clones.

A Rush of Words to the Page

My platform had gone silent. I had not written anything for Tech in the Trenches, or anything else in two weeks. Work took over my life and exhaustion filled my evenings instead of the written word. I had forgotten one of the key tenets to writing.

Place butt in seat.
Place fingers on keyboard.
Make the Clackity Noise
Go ahead and read Merlin Mann’s piece. Seriously, I’ll wait…

If you’ve chosen to plow on ahead or already read his words, I’ll give you this,

Your keyboard will have different things in it than mine does, of course. But, it’s impossible to know what’s in there until you’ve made the clackity noise for a few minutes. You think you know what’s in there. But you don’t. It’s not your brain that makes the clackity noise, it’s your fingers.

I’ve learned that my job is to just sit down and start making the clackity noise. If I make the clackity noise long enough every day, the “writing” seems to take care of itself. On the other hand, if there’s no clackity noise, no writing. No little stories. The stories may be in there, alongside God knows what else, but there’s no way to know. You must make the noise.

Make the clackity noise. Type on that keyboard, or if it’s more your style pick up your favorite pen, pencil or chisel and scrawl your words into your treasured notebook, writing pad or stone tablet. Make the words leave your brain and capture them to share.

I was not doing this. Sure, I was reading though not as much as normal as my Kindle’s WhisperSync has grown silent and my Instapaper queue grows ever larger. I was listening to wonderful tales courtesy of Audible. I was living inside another world.

I was not adding anything to my world. I was not moving anything lurking inside my head to the glorious sunlight outside the dusty, cobwebbed corners. I was not making the clackity noise. I was not racing my fingers across the keys in a vain attempt to keep up with the stories in my mind.

I was not telling stories.
I was not sharing with you.
I was not sharing anything with anyone.

I knew where I had to go and like a junkie aching for the next fix, I returned to 750 Words. I returned to that wonderful place with its welcoming black screen and 80’s green text with nothing more than the time and a word count and the assurance of 750 Words – Private, unfiltered, spontaneous, daily at the page’s end.

I came back and let the words flow. I wrote and I wrote and I wrote and I made the clackity noise again. I relieved the pressure valve on the story reservoir which nearly overflowed its banks. Now that it has crested, the stories are flowing again.

I wrote about my love for the Google Chromebook.
I wrote about my love for books and reading.
I write now, about my love for writing.

I write now. For the sake of writing. For the sake of storytelling.
I write inside my protected camp of 750 Words. I write in this familiar setting with nothing but the words to comfort me. I write in the non-judging, acceptance of darkness. I let the words flow freely from me again and I let them stain the page with their neon green shine.

I am telling you a story. A story about my way back from silence. I am sharing the story of my inability to remember the cardinal rule of writing.

To write.

Reverence for the printed page

I have a great reverence for books.

I will not defile a book with marking it up. I will not highlight, underline, circle, or scribble in the margins. I treat a book as a sacred collection of thoughts painstakingly assembled by its author. In a recent conversation with a friend ((And published author)) we discussed our love for eBook.

Me: I love Audible. I love Kindle too. SO MANY BOOKS!

R: And this coming from a guy who told me he didn’t read anymore!

Me: Kindle changed all that. True Story: My dad gave me a book to read and review. I couldn’t. I bought the kindle book and am halfway through.

R: You know, I have an actual library. I mean, probably close to, if not over, 1000 books. And I prefer the Kindle too.

Along with our love of the electronic book, we also share a reverence for the printed page.

Me: My dad has a library in his house. I want to have a library one day. I still love the sight, touch and feel of the physical book. But the benefits of eBooks are too much. I also have a certain reverence for the printed page. I will not defile it with highlighter, or pen/pencil marks. eBooks mean I can highlight without lasting marks. ((Yes, I know I’m weird))

R: No, you’re not weird, you’re RIGHT. I HATE people who defile books.
I won’t even fold the page down to mark my place.

I love the ability to highlight and make notes on Kindle books. I can mark up the book without a permanent smudge on the book itself. In addition, I can also see popular highlights throughout the book if I choose. I can read a book for review, mark it all up, and in the end, the book remains exactly as I received it. A pristine book, ready for the next person to enjoy, or me to re-read.

The Kindle app for the iPad has reignited my love of reading. According to GoodReads I have completed 15 books so far this year. That is more books than I’ve read in any single year since I graduated college in 2004.

The Kindle app is so amazing because in addition to allowing me to mark up a book without the permanence, it opens whole new worlds through the printed pages. In an instant, I can buy and start reading nearly any book my heart desires. For each of those books I can tweak the font size to make it easier to read through sleepier eyes. As flexible as physical books are, the fact remains I may not have the book with me.

If I leave my book at home I will not be able to read it at work or on the train. However, with Kindle books, I can read on my iPad, iPhone, or any computer within arm’s reach. I mainly read on my iPad or iPhone. The phone is an ideal reading device for a crowded subway car or those moments when I am waiting in lines.

I constantly have my phone or another electronic device on or near me so reading electronically is never a problem. The Kindle’s syncing and ubiquity stack up well against the pros of physical books without many of the cons. ((As I consider them.)) In addition, they do not need a large amount of space in my home to keep.

One day, when I have a house to call my own and I’ve given up the nomadic lifestyle of apartment living I will have a library. I will collect the great books I have read to fill the shelves. Who knows, I may even prefer reading on paper again by then. I want to have the quiet, comfortable room surrounded with the tomes I’ve spent my life reading and learning from.

But until then, I prefer the portability of Kindle and an endless library I can pick up and move once the lease ends.