Saturday, September 18, 2010

Thank you Sun for the great managers

They say the #1 reason employees leave a company is because of their direct manager.

I worked for Sun for 11 years, and the main reason I lasted that long was because I had great managers the whole time. There were 14 of them: Render, Michele, Dilshad, Francis, Brian, David, Austin, Pat, Wendy, Mike, Mimi, Shripad, Jessica and Peter. These folks were honest and hard-working professionals and they all cared about me and the company, often in that order.

I could tell you tons of stories about how wonderful they were but I'll pick just one.

It was the spring of 2001 and I had just screwed up a project schedule. We had this translation vendor who was supposed to send a translation to my team's project alias but instead they sent it just to me. And it took me a while to open that mail and realize that the delivery hadn't gone to the whole team. Once I did realize it I forwarded the translated files to the right person but this caused a delay which made us slip our schedule.

I felt awful.

I decided that my manager Francis should hear about it from me instead of from someone else so I took the Walk of Shame into his office and gave him the full report. I told him I had learned from this mistake and it wouldn't happen again. I told him I felt really bad about it. He was very understanding.

I left his office and went back to my own, still feeling like shit.

And just at that moment Francis popped his head into my office. He said, "Hey, don't beat yourself up about this. We all make mistakes sometimes."

If it had been appropriate to hug him I would have.

You know why that comment meant to much to me? Because at that moment I knew that Francis knew me. He knew that I was in fact beating myself to a pulp over this mistake. And he knew just what to say.

To boil it all down - he knew me. Isn't that what we all want, really? We want someone to recognize us as individuals. To know what's different about us. What's special about us. What makes us tick. What ticks us off. We don't want to be a face in a crowd or a number.

And although I was employee #100840, my managers at Sun always knew who I really was.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Thank you Sun for that visitor badge

In October 1999 I interviewed with Sun Microsystems in Silicon Valley. It was a program management position in the Sun-Netscape Alliance. Do you remember that alliance and iPlanet? Good times.

Buddy had offered to drive me to the interview because he knows I get nervous before interviews and he didn't want me on the roads in my condition.

I was dressed in my best, and only, suit. It was a navy Jones New York suit and I loved it. In fact I still have it. Is it crazy to wear a suit for over 10 years? I think the style is classic but maybe I'm deluded.

Anyway, in the car I was having a drink yogurt for breakfast. And Buddy went over a speed bump and my yogurt spilled on my jacket lapel. Yikes!

(P.S. don't you love the way I wrote that last paragraph, making it look as if Buddy were partially if not fully to blame for the accident? It's an art that you all should aspire to.)

There was no time to go back home and change. And anyway I didn't have another suit, so going home would be kinda pointless.

I tried my best to clean off my suit using old parking receipts and hand sanitizer.

Surprisingly, the yogurt was still obvious.

And all I had underneath the jacket was a silk tank top. I couldn't show up for the interview wearing just that.

So I resigned myself to showing up with a faint yogurt stain on my lapel.

When I got to the reception desk the attendant asked me to fill out a visitor card. It was about 2" x 3".

She took the card back from me, fiddled around with it and did something I couldn't see, and then she handed the card back to me. Except now it was in a plastic holder with a clip on it. And she said, "You can just clip this to your lapel."

Folks did you hear that?!?!

She said, "YOU CAN JUST CLIP THIS TO YOUR LAPEL." Except she didn't yell. But I was yelling inside my head, let me tell you.

I was yelling - HALLELUJAH!

I heard angels sing. Clouds parted. A beam of sunlight came through the window and shone directly on me. It gave the receptionist a halo.

And at that moment I knew that Sun and I were meant for each other.

We were like yin and yang. Fred and Ginger. Peaches and cream. Hall and Oates. Yogurt stain and a visitor badge.

Thank you Sun for the babies

In the summer of 1999 I was at my wits' end. I was working for a start-up localization company in Monterey, California and the overtime was killing me.

It wasn't just normal overtime, it was unexpected unplanned "honey-i-don't-know-when-I'll-be-home-go-ahead-and-go-to-bed" overtime.

For example a client would call me at 4pm and complain about a delivery and suddenly the whole team had to stay in the office until we fixed it, which could sometimes be 10pm or midnight or 1am or God knows how many times I saw the sun rise through the windows of our conference room.

Now I'll admit that I might have been able to manage our clients' expectations a little bit better and spared myself and our team some of that over time but I was a green project manager and these nuances were beyond me at the time.

When I say green, I mean really green. This localization company took me in with absolutely no experience in project management and they taught me a LOT in 18 months. Seriously, when I walked through the doors on my first day there, I didn't understand how a computer's file system worked. I didn't know how to save things to disks. I didn't know the difference between Microsoft Office and Windows. It was bad. But they took me in and they taught me and for that, I will be forever grateful.

In exchange for everything they gave me I managed $1.6 million dollars worth of projects for them in 18 months. Not bad for a green project manager.

But in the summer of 1999 I turned 30 and my biological clock was ticking. Buddy and I had been married for two years and we wanted a family. But my job was so demanding that I could not imagine how a baby would fit into the picture.

When this sudden overtime would rear its ugly head I would often wonder, "What if I needed to pick a baby up at daycare right now?" I had heard of daycares that charged a dollar for every minute you were late picking your kid up and I calculated what it would cost if I picked my baby up at 2am.

It would be $480.

I looked around me and wondered how my colleagues managed to care for a family and work in this environment.

And it hit me.

None of them had families. Seriously, not one single person had children under the age of 18. Except for Stayce and she was a wonder woman. And I wouldn't even write about her except one of my colleagues from that localization company will read this post and leave me a comment reminding me about Stayce. And I would feel bad if she thought I had forgotten her.

Anyway, that's when I realized that if we were going to start a family, I needed to get out of this job.

Because there is no Wonder Woman hiding inside of me.

I applied for a job with one of our clients, whose office was an hour north in Silicon Valley. I went for an interview one Monday and asked the hiring manager to be sure not to tell my current employer that I was interviewing with him because I hadn't let my current employer know that I was interviewing outside.

He assured me that he and his team would keep it confidential.

On Tuesday I walked into work at 7:00am. 7:00am. That's early, right? Well, the news about my interview had made it to the office before I did. One of my co-workers stopped me before I even got to my desk.

"I hear someone's been interviewing at (an unscrupulous company that can't keep their word when it comes to confidentiality)."

I thought maybe playing dumb would work for me.

"Oh really? Who?" I asked.

"You!" he said.

Playing dumb has never worked for me. Which is too bad because I often do really dumb things.

Naturally, things were a little uncomfortable for me from that point on. One night I was crying on Buddy's shoulder and he said, "Why don't you just quit?"

"Quit? Without knowing where I'll go next?!" I asked. I have never been a risk-taker when it comes to this sort of thing.

I mean, I put a snake around my neck in Thailand. I rode on a motorcycle with no helmet in India. I stood on the left side of an escalator in Germany. But it would not be like me to quit a job without knowing where I'm going next.

"Sure!" he said.

Buddy is a very "sure" kind of guy. Things always work out for him and I'm sure it's because he expects them to. "They're hiring like crazy in Silicon Valley. You can get a new job. Don't worry."

I looked deep into his brown eyes and realized he was right. So I took a deep breath, stopped crying, and turned in my resignation the next day.

Naturally as my last day approached I had to tell my clients that I was leaving the company. One of my clients was Sun so during our weekly progress con-call I told my contact, Michele, that I was leaving the company. As soon as the call was over my phone rang. It was Michele and she wanted to know where I was going next. When I told her I didn't know yet she invited me to come in and interview for a program management job at Sun.

And that was a monumental event in my life.

One week later I accepted an offer from Sun.

Two weeks later I was working for Sun and their wonderful health insurance kicked in.

Four weeks later I was pregnant.