June 9, 2010

It’s six months now since I got back to work. It seems like forever… in a nice way. (Which is not to say that I can’t clearly recall my SAHM days.)

Work is such an extremely important facet of life. It’s important when you have it and important when you don’t; when you have too much or too little; when it’s too easy or too difficult; and when it’s interesting, boring, or completely mind-numbing.

Too much work and too much stress can turn life upside down as you struggle to find time for other vital things – sleep, food, exercise, friends… been there, done that. But too little work can be more soul-destroying than it sounds… been there and done that too!

Overall I’ve been fairly lucky with work in my life so far. I’ve usually been happy with my work, usually been able to manage it or do well at it, usually had a little too much, but not much too much, or a little too little, but not much too little. It’s been a happy and comfortable thing for me.

Not always, of course. In KF days, I had much too much work and much too much stress. I had a boss who I still maintain was great at her work, but was such an expert manipulator of people that it became impossible for me to work with her (because I didn’t like being manipulated). After we had clashed once too often, and when she wouldn’t let me change to another team in the same company, I quit.

After that experience, in my next organization I had a fantastic boss, until she left and then I had a stodgy, inert, indecisive boss who was biding his time till retirement. His aim in life was to close down our little team and he tried to do this by not giving me any work at all. After I had sat out being jobless for several months, he finally had his way and I quit.

And that, I think, has been the hallmark of my success – when things become unbearable, I quit. I doubt it’s a good strategy, or even a sane one – in fact, it sounds pretty irresponsible – but it’s worked for me. I leave an organization when things are bad enough that there’s no chance of retrieval, but before they become so terrible that you end up full of hate and bitterness. There’ve been times when I’ve quit without knowing where I was going to go next, but luckily, I’ve always had the luxury to do that. Perhaps I’d do it even if I didn’t have that luxury… but we’ll never really know for sure.

Even more luckily, when I’ve needed a job, something has always turned up after a bit of looking. And it’s usually been something that is right for that place, time, and state of mind.

This job, for instance. It’s perfect. The work is challenging and stimulating, but only very occasionally requires me to put in long hours. The office is not too far from home. The timings are reasonable and flexible, the commute is tolerable. And best of all, I have (once again) got a wonderful boss.

In my younger days, this would not have been enough. I would have wanted to be part of a larger team. I would have wanted a more fast-paced work environment. I would have looked for opportunities to grow and advance and without seeing those, I would have been restless and disappointed.

Now, things are different. I still want to grow and advance, but not with the same urgency. I can see that I’m in a great place and I’m in no hurry to grow out of it. My work gives me real satisfaction, even when there is stress, even when there are deadlines that I might miss due to circumstances completely beyond my control (because of course I’d never miss a deadline due to circumstances within my control).

Having been unemployed for two years – a very vital, but very long two years – right now, I value my work so much more than I ever did before.

This could change… the time is bound to come when things begin to go sour for some reason or other… but right now I’m in a warm and happy place, which is so difficult to find. I can only hope it lasts.

Got It!

November 25, 2009

Yesssss, I got a job! Company 2 it is, the one in the same campus as Amit’s office and the kids’ daycare. I’m really happy, because the test last week was a lot of fun, and a bit tough too, and I spoke to four people (three on the phone) and came away feeling pretty good after each conversation. I thought I liked the people I spoke to. This is unusual – I usually don’t come away with any firm impression of the people I speak to, neither good nor bad. The domain that the company is in looks interesting and very challenging. The office is nice enough, the toilets are decent (though not first class, but good enough). And they made me an offer that seemed pretty good… considering the state of the global economy and the fact that I’ve not done any work for two whole years…

We’ve agreed to a start date of 10th Dec. We had planned a trip to Calcutta and Sandakphu during the Christmas-New-Year vacations, so I was a bit disappointed that I might have to give that up, but no: this company has a winter break that exactly coincides with the period we will be away. So I join, and two weeks later I go on paid vacation. What more could anyone want?

If you think all of this sounds too good to be true… and if you think what the heck has she done to deserve this… well, I’m wondering about that too. ..


November 20, 2009

I hadn’t expected job-hunting to be so energy- and time-consuming, and so tiring! But I also hadn’t expected it to be so exciting! I can’t believe how alive I have started to feel just going for interviews and talking to people about what I used to do and how good I was at it. (There’s a time and place for modesty: neither my blog, nor my job interviews are the time and place for it.) Now that I’m actually interviewing for jobs and meeting people who are in the same field as I was and who can relate to what I did professionally for years, now that I can sniff a job or two in the air, now that people are even asking me what kind of remuneration package I expect… I feel like a big weight has been lifted off my chest and I can breathe fully and deeply at last.

Of course I enjoyed my time at home with my kids. Of course I was thrilled to bits at various stages of their development. I know that I’ve written enough about them here for nobody to doubt that. But at the same time, spending all day, every day, at the intellectual level of three-year-olds… I think I was slowly degenerating. Kids are stimulating, sure, but maybe they don’t provide all the kinds of intellectual stimulation that you need, once you are used to it. After a while, the constant chatter of “what colour is that shirt” and “say hi to your car” can leave you feeling somewhat deadened. At least I’ve had my writing, my Archaeology studies, and, of course, friends and the Park Moms Inc to keep me sane, but none of that makes up for the challenges and stimulation of a working life. And that’s just not something two little girls, however entertaining they might be, can provide.

Strangely, I never really realised the extent of my vegetation, my brain-dead-ness, until just now, when I’m finally faced with the prospect of leading a “normal” adult life again; of talking to colleagues about meetings, deadlines, products, tools and technology.

Parts of me are apprehensive about how the kids will handle it, how we all will handle it; parts of me are anxious and guilty about putting them in daycare; parts of me are worrying about how on earth we are going to keep this household running when both of us are going to be busy at work all day. But the part of me that suddenly feels awake and alive, excited and thrilled says, whatever happens, we will find a way to cope, but right now it is time, high time, that I got back to my professional life.

Powerless. Again.

February 23, 2009

The fact that on a daily basis we can’t depend on a regular supply of water and electricity is really, really frustrating for me.

When I was growing up in the early ’80s in Delhi, we used to get water for two hours in the morning and a few hours in the afternoon or evening. We had regular loadshedding in the afternoons, which made it too hot to sleep. If you ran out of gas, and weren’t among the lucky few to have a two-cylinder (or double-barreled) connection, you cooked on a kerosene stove. That was even more long ago, but I’m old enough to remember it, so it wasn’t that long ago. (Either that, or I’m really old; but my age is no secret.) As for telephones, you were lucky to have a landline, there were no cellphones, long-distance calls had to be booked, were connected by an operator who could then follow the rest of your conversation and interrupt peridically to ask whether you needed an extension. Of course,there was no internet, and practically no Tv.

My point being, in those days, it was a tough life and you had to work with that. But that was 30-odd years ago. You’d think things would’ve changed by now.

In fact, it does appear that things have changed. We have TV and broadband, we have telephones by the dozen, we have double-barreled gas connections, we have electricity and water almost around the clock.

Or do we? Well, there’s load-shedding in the summer and pre-monsoon months, of course. And with all the squabbling over Cauvery water, we get borewell water, whenever the borewell has some. And provided there’s electricity to pump it. And provided that when you run it in the kitchen in your home, there’s electricity to run the water purifier with. None of which is a given.

Take the last 24 hours. We had guests for dinner last night, and by the time they left (which wasn’t actually very late, just a little after ten), there was no water in the kitchen, so we had only a limited stock of purified water for drinking and cooking with. As for water for washing up with, I had to fill that up in the bathroom and ferry it to the kitchen. Because they won’t run the pump at that hour. Because the fellow with the keys and the technological knowhow would have gone home and gone to sleep.

Then, this morning at 8.30, before I could replenish our stock of drinking water, electricity went. Luckily, we still had running water – they run the pump early in the morning. But no electricity. And at the time of going to press, at 1.30 p.m., we still had no electricity.

Which meant, apart from other things, that my laptop and two UPSs were out of battery, so I couldn’t do any work. All I could do was blog about it, thanks to GPRS.

So 30 years on, have things really improved, as much as we’d like to think? We have new technology, but where’s the infrastructure?

And how am I supposed to get any work done??

Complete Chaos

February 5, 2009

We’re leaving for Binsar today and it’s complete chaos in my neck of the woods.

I started working on Monday – and what better day to start work than on your birthday? Well, actually, I started working a few days before that, but I took Monday as the formal start date for myself. Which was really nice of me, because my contract actually dates from 12 Feb. Which is strange, because I’m out of town till Feb 19. But well, these things even themselves out, so why bother.

So I’ve now been working full time for three whole days, and it’s killing me. Well, it’s fun… in a way. Amit says he hasn’t heard me laugh this way in a long time. But then, it’s that half hysterical laugh which says: I’m way stressed out but I can’t cry right now, so let me giggle like a lunatic for a bit and see if that makes it any better.

Anyway, in the midst of a flurry of emails (200? 300?) and F2F meetings requiring a 20-minute drive each way, AND a late night telecon with the US, I haven’t got anything in the way of packing done. And we’re going to be spending three nights on a train, and going from warm, hot Bangalore, through cool, cool Delhi, to what is supposed to be a pretty cold Binsar, which, moreover, has no electricity.

So I’m sitting in the study surrounded by mountains of clothes that need to be packed into numerous backpacks that are evidently too few and too small for the mountains that are supposed to go in them. The girls, for some obscure reason, have a holiday at playschool today and are shouting for my attention.

And what, exactly, am I doing here ignoring them steadfastly? Packing? Working? Meeting important people?

No, I’m blogging! No wonder it’s complete chaos over here.

The Lucky Ones Land in the Dungeon

April 26, 2008

So my former company (and those of you in the industry – but not in the know – might be able to identify it from what follows) has shut down the small (?) team that I belonged to during my tenure there, and put all the 80-odd people in redeployment.

And we all know what that means.

Except there’s this small sub-group that has not been put in the redeployment pool right away. Lucky buggers, right? Yeah. Those guys, who are apparently working on something too critical to be abandoned right away (and a project which is in deep shit to boot), have been put in the dungeon instead.

Dungeon? What’s that?

That’s what I asked when I heard of this the other day.

The dungeon process has apparently always existed in the said organisation, but I was blissfully unaware of it during my three long, dry years there. (Well, naturally, considering I never worked on anything critical and any projects nearby that had to be abandoned were abandoned without missing a beat. But that’s another story.)

So this dungeon process apparently means that the entire team of, say, 20 engineers, gets to work out of one single conference room all day long – and they work extended hours at that. There are scheduled hours (sorry, minutes) for coffee breaks – and probably for toilet breaks as well. (These would have to be staggered, though, to avoid people wasting time standing in queues, or, heaven forbid, getting carried away and actually chatting in neighbouring urinals! – most of the team members being male.) Anyway, miss your designated break, and you’re screwed. It goes without saying that, with 20 of your colleagues and your boss perpetually within spitting distance (literally I mean, not figuratively), personal calls or some leisurely web browsing is out of the question.

So these lucky guys had apparently already spent 2-3 months in this manner when the larger team was summarily disbanded and placed in other groups, or allowed to leave the company with a substantial parting gift. Meanwhile, these guys continue to slog their way through the dungeon. When their project is satisfactorily concluded, then they will be given the redeployment or golden handshake option. Bonuses and promotions? Rewards and recognitions, at least? Sure: “Great job, everyone, thanks for all the hard work. Now you’re fired.” Yup, that’s a great motivator when you want a team to put in long hours in stressful circumstances where they’re trying to complete some work which presumably is going to make (or save) the company a whole lot of money.

Anyway, as they say, it’s a great place to work.

Quitting Unemployment

March 8, 2008

It’s not so much about whether to be or not to be: it’s about what to be, how to be, when to be, and for how long.

In the past, whenever I’ve changed jobs, I’ve always hated the new job. I hate the new, unfamiliar workplace, the new work, the new colleagues, the new learning – basically, I just hate the newness. I don’t think I’ve ever joined a single job without wanting to quit in the first couple of weeks. Most places, I’ve wanted to quit even after three months on the job. I’ve never done it though – I always told myself to wait for at least six months. Almost always (with one or two exceptions), between the three-month and the six-month milestone, something changes, and the desire to quit quietly goes away. Usually, by the time six months are up, I’m into the new role heart and soul and enjoying every moment of it.

The change to unemployment has been different. Now that that six-month milestone is coming up, I can honestly say that I haven’t had many moments of regret or of wanting to “quit” unemployment.

Just recently, though, I did suddenly have a yearning for the good ol’ days of office gossip, meetings, deadlines, lousy coffees and noisy cafeterias. When I think back to those “good ol'”days, I don’t think of the last organization I worked (or rather, vegetated) at, but rather, of the one before that, KF, where I could have complained of many things, but never of boredom. KF was too stressful, too tiring, too hectic, had too many people, too much politics and was generally just a bit too much to handle; but the work was always interesting, challenging, fun, and the people I met there were simply amazing. Just briefly, the other day, I missed that madness and camaraderie of KF.

The park, which is nowadays the centre of my social circle of idle moms, was partly responsible for this sudden spark of reminiscence. Two or three of the half-dozen or so moms that I generally chat with, are looking for jobs or planning when and how they can go back to work. What about me, they ask?

I don’t really know, honestly. I have been very comfortable being home, doing my own thing, looking after the girls. I spend two or three hours on the computer every day, which is all I need to recharge my batteries after taking care of the household chores and the twins in the morning. Occasionally, I do feel that I’ve become too house-bound, somewhat isolated, overly family-centric; but I’m not sure if this is something I want to be worried about yet.

If I think of returning to work, first I feel lazy and reluctant – life will be so much more hectic and I’ll get so little time with the girls if I do that. I also feel a little guilty – like being a “good” mother means giving up work forever, which I know is a stupid way to think, but I don’t seem to be able to change it. I feel a little selfish – if I go away to work, who will look after the girls? Then, I feel a little ambivalent – what work do I want to do next, anyway? And finally, I feel surprised to feel a little excited – I want to be part of that dynamic, decisive, rushing corporate workspace again.

Then, of course, there’s a work-from-home or freelance option. That would answer the question of looking after – or at least supervising someone else who’s looking after – the kids. But, it doesn’t provide many of the features that working from an office does – office gossip, lousy coffee, noisy cafeteria… Chances are, too, that it doesn’t provide such a good opportunity for career advancement, equal pay, or equally challenging or exciting work. It might be convenient, but is it what I want to do?

I’m happy with status quo for the moment… but in another few months or a year, I will have to have some or all of the answers. Sigh…

Voluntary Unemployment

August 22, 2007

I finally quit my job.

I’ve done this many times before – different jobs, I mean – and it’s different every time. There’s always some sadness, but there are always so many other things mixed up with that. This time, there’s a dry sense of frustration, and a sense of resignation in addition to the sadness: sadness that I had to leave a great company for the sake of a lousy boss; sadness that in three long years here, there’s probably nobody in my team that I’d really like to keep in touch with; frustration that my skills, instead of being honed or extended, have been forced to rust; and resignation that a small, faraway voice, however persistent cannot change the way a biased, stubborn mind or an elephantine organization works.

It’s the second time that I’ve quit without knowing what I’m going to be doing next. In a way, I’m more apprehensive about it now than I was last time. That time, I thought I was on my way to making all my dreams come true. This time, I’m not so sure.

But I know one thing for sure: it just doesn’t make sense to keep doing something that’s giving you absolutely nothing back. Other than a pay cheque, I mean. In my current job, I have no challenge, no opportunity, no growth, no stimulation. It’s a brain-dead job in which I have practically no responsibility. It was good to start with; in the early days, I had a lot to learn. But then, the learning dried up, and so did the challenge. I knew a long time ago, that if something didn’t change, and soon, I wouldn’t survive long. In the past two months, though, I made a serious effort to force a change. And yet, finally, the “change” that was forthcoming still required me to work with my current boss, and that, I know, is just not a long-term solution. I can’t work with a boss whom I’m constantly battling and trying to outmanoeuver.

With this decision, maybe, my corporate career is at an end.

Ten years of working life has taught me a lot. I remember when I was younger and stupider, idealistic, passionate… I used to get into the thick of office politics, standing up for whatever I thought was right, and vociferously at that. Ten years has taught me to change all that. Now I simply talk to people I like and trust, stay away from people I dislike and distrust, do my job and go home. It is comfortable this way; so what if it is less fulfilling than the other way – when you are intensely, passionately, and completely involved in your work and thoroughly dedicated, committed, and loyal to your organization?

  • First, I worked for the money – as a college student, Rs 4000 or Rs 5000 a month was a breeze!
  • Then, I worked for the work – sales jobs didn’t suit my temperament, so I switched to journalism; the money, Rs 2000 or so a month, was a joke – even back then, it hardly paid the fuel bill.
  • Then, I worked for ambition – I set out to prove myself, to achieve, to excel, and to be seen as one who did.
  • Then, I worked for passion – I loved what I did, I immersed myself in my job, I enjoyed it, I was defined by it.
  • Then, I worked for stability – I just needed a nine-to-five that would keep me busy and pay the bills; I didn’t have to enjoy it, I didn’t expect to be thrilled by it, I didn’t care if I was merely mediocre at it. I had realized that there were other things in life than work.

The thing that strikes me most in this progression, is how at first money grew in importance, then waned as I looked for more satisfying work; then grew again, as I chased fatter and fatter pay packets, which were to me a symbol of my “success”; then waned, when I realized that the fat pay packet alone is not only no indicator of success, but is, moreover, insufficient motivation to persist with a plum boring job. As the saying goes, all pay and no work… well, it’s not as much fun as it should be.

When I first started working, I cherished every rupee of my miserable little income; later, relatively “flush” with funds, I spent my hard-earned money with gay abandon; still later, with more money than sense, I tried to spend wisely, save wisely; and now, my salary having at last crossed all bounds of what seems reasonable and fitting for one of my skills, I value money so little as to actively set about terminating my handsome income on the flimsiest of grounds. (I mean, really, who ever heard of anyone quitting because they didn’t have enough work? Almost as mind-numbing as someone quitting because they’re getting paid too much.)

Of course, as far as money goes, it’s easy to speak from a position of plenty – I know that even if I don’t work and earn, I will survive, and in a fair degree of comfort at that. But that, in itself, is sad, because it takes away one great motivator in life. The need to earn is an important factor, not only in one’s career, but in life in general. There’s a strange rootless-ness in knowing that you don’t “have” to do anything to survive. No wonder kids who are born obviously wealthy often grow up a little wonky.

As for me – if I find myself going a little wonky, I can always go back to work, corporate or other. But that would be a kind of defeat – that would mean that I hadn’t been able to work on other stuff, the stuff you don’t get paid for, the stuff that makes a difference to you and – if you’re very lucky – a tiny bit of difference to the world around you.

Doing a routine nine-to-five (or eleven-to-four, truth be known) till you drop dead of boredom is the easy way out. It’s easy to sink into a kind of vegetable stupor. Getting oneself out of that is tough. After so many years of it, I don’t know if I have – or if I ever had – what it takes to achieve anything that’s important to me. That’s the scary part. But, well, like it or not, here’s my second chance to try.

Honesty – The Worst Policy

June 21, 2007
My HR Rep has been setting up meetings with the rank and file of our department – don’t ask me why – and she set up one with me, to find out what’s good and bad about the company or something of the sort. I told her the company was great, but that I was “this” close to quitting, because I simply didn’t have enough work to do and hadn’t had for close to a year and therefore it was clear that my contributions to the company were not appreciated.

She immediately jumped up and did a few evolved and highly agitated dance movements, and then asked a few pointed questions and then promised to speak to everybody from the CEO downwards to see that my issues were resolved in the shortest possible timeframe, and meanwhile she pleaded with me not to put in my papers. I told her I had vacation time coming up and would think about it after that.

So what she did was to go and talk to the India site manager of my larger team (my office organization gets a little complicated, but let me put it this way – you remember those senior managers I went out with for our quarterly? This chap is the manager of the manager of that bunch). Normally, should I be delighted to be receiving attention from high up? Not in the least – attention from high up is something I’d be better off without in any circumstances. In this particular instance, I was even less delighted than I normally might have been. I don’t trust this chap an inch. You know how some of these ultra-senior managers are – all smooth, and suave and charming, and they know your name and they go out of their way to make small talk with you and not let you feel like the last, tiny, insignificant cog in the wheel of their hugely important machinery, all the while making sure that they convey subtly that they indeed think of you in exactly that way? Well, that’s exactly how this gentleman is, and I’ve seen him make mincemeat of small fry like me, in public at that, with the full force of his smooth, suave, charming manner. Do I think he cares one whit about whether I stay or go? Not on your life. And yet, once he’s informed of it, he’s compelled to go and set up a meeting with me.

Errrrrrrrgh – it gives me the creeps to have to talk 1:1 with this chap in a small room behind closed doors to boot. Next time, I’ll know better than to say anything the least bit honest to the HR Rep.

Oh what a tangled web we weave

When we don’t practice to deceive!

Effective Meetings

June 1, 2007
There are some things my office is very good at. One of these is meetings. We’re terribly good about meetings. We set them up weeks in advance, we send out notices, keeping a variety of time-zones satisfied, we block conference rooms, we book audio bridges, we accept, decline and tentatively accept meetings, sometimes we propose new times, and occasionally we cancel. When we don’t cancel, we have punctual and predictable attendance. No-shows are practically unheard-of… except in a few types of meetings, where they are common.

We have many types of meetings. There’s team meetings, staff meetings, department meetings, site meetings, business update meetings, project meetings, program meetings, bug scrub meetings, open forums, virtual meetings, live meetings, F2F meetings, and 1:1s (read – one-on-ones)… to name a few. Our meetings range from 30-minute sessions with a single person in a room that seats six (not talking to himself – the other participant is on the phone, of course); to 20 people and 20 laptops and a super sophisticated overhead projector and half a dozen polycom phones cluttering a room that seats 16; to a 500-strong audience that throngs into the cafeteria to watch a presentation on huge side screens, with mikes strung all over the place for people to ask questions, an interactive session that lasts two long hours.

Whatever the case may be, we’re very particular about the infrastructure. Our meetings start on time, they end on time, the projectors and sound system always work, we always have wireless network connectivity, we never spend more than five minutes setting up and tearing down connections.

Likewise, we’re also very good at trainings. We have almost as many types of trainings as we do meetings (and I’m not talking about subject matter here) and sometimes it becomes difficult to distinguish between a meeting, a training, a workshop, a roadshow, and a tea-break (to name the most popular forms of interaction). No sooner has a new “tool” (have you noticed how nowadays anything on the computer is generically a “tool”?) come out, than there’s a whole series of trainings associated with it. Once you wade through all the training, you find that all the buttons have been moved around, but other than that it’s basically the same as the old tool.

Conducting surveys and collecting feedback is another favourite pastime in my office. We have surveys (or sometimes feedback – and sometimes both) on office facilities, coffee and tea vending machines, trainings, computer systems support, quarterly events, shuttle services, cafeteria standards (everyone loves those!), managers, employees, blue boys, the postal department and the impact of the monsoons on work/life balance.

When no survey has been done for a while, things are bound to get exciting soon, because, in all likelihood, there’s a particularly exotic survey in the pipeline, keeping all the “surveyors” busy. Now, if you’re thinking, just how exotic can a survey be, let me assure you that some very interesting things are possible by combining surveys and feedback with meetings and trainings.

  • For example, once, we had a survey to find out exactly how much time people spend in meetings. It turned out that, across the board, people spend about 40% of their time in meetings.
  • The survey also tried to find out whether meetings were generally felt to be effective. The answer was, generally, no: too many participants, too broad and unspecified an agenda, no clear decision making or decision makers, too much overlap in subject matter or scope.
  • Guess what they did with this survey? The created a mandatory training (mandatory!) for ALL employees to explain how to hold “effective” meetings.
  • Then, they collected feedback on the efficacy of the training on effective meetings.
  • Next, I’m guessing, they’re going to do a survey on the efficacy of the survey that was conducted regarding the efficacy of meetings.

Like I said, there are some things my company is extremely good at – and we just keep doing what we do best.

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