Can I go out and play yet?

Hi, friends.

Sorry for the pause in updates. My job has been consuming, unsatisfying, and stressful over the last few days. Recall that I was sent here to, what shall we call it …, “train” 4 engineers on a piece of software I know only partially. I’m not the expert. But there is no expert. No one still left at my company has ever worked on this code long enough to become one. I’m not, in my opinion, even the best person for the job. But I was the most knowledgeable one who was available in a mutually agreeable time frame. Of this, I was clearly upfront to all involved before I came and still I was chosen. So, here I am.

I gave probably 15 or more hours of lectures last week, complete with slides. I personally thought they were pretty damn good. At least, they were more comprehensive and cohesive than the “training” I was originally given. This week, we were to sit down and walk through code in the debugger. But we have hit the point where their questions exceed my knowledge and I haven’t figured out how to get them to transition out of thinking of me as their teacher and into me as a useful resource for them to use as they start trying to answer their questions themselves.

I came here unconsciously thinking, “Hey, won’t they be pleased to get so much attention and background! Even if it isn’t expert, it’s a helluva a lot more than I got.” But noooooooo. Our sessions have turned into them asking me the same questions over and over again and me saying, over and over again, “I don’t know but here’s how to find out,” and them wearing grimaces in response. It seems like a small thing, but after 8 1/2 days of it now and you could slice the frustration in the room with a knife. I’m clearly not popular here.

Not only does the lack of warmth and comradery feel shitty, but it kicks in my performance anxiety. I haven’t felt this anxious since I was in Comp Sci grad school in 1993. Back then, I got so depressed and hypersensitive that I couldn’t concentrate. Fortunately, I’ve aged a little and have a thicker skin and more stable sense of myself. So, although I’m uncomfortable right now, I won’t be scarred by it. My teammates back at home gave me a pep talk last night, and reminded me how valuable I am, and promised me that, no matter what these people end up thinking of me, I’m not going to get scapegoated if their disappointment becomes a political matter.

Blech. Thank God its almost Friday.

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10 thoughts on “Can I go out and play yet?

  1. my advice:
    it’s a heirarchical culture, they insisted on treating you in a formal heirarchical way from the get go.

    give them firm, authoritative orders to find out the answers to your questions themselves instead of giving permission in your usual egalitarian way. be confident and in charge. make it seem like their assignment.

    • Great idea! How about if each person diagrammed a different section of code (or whatever) and then presented it to the group. Emphasize that there are no experts in this stuff and that this is their opportunity to become “the” expert. Then, if they don’t like the teacher….

  2. Man. A perfectionist’s nightmare! I’m sorry you have to squirm around in that situation… I can feel in my gut how icky it must be.

    But maybe a great opportunity to practice loving your limits and only taking responsibility for taking care of yourself. (Pardon my laying my current inner monologue over your situation!) Maybe an evening of skipping around your hotel room, hands in the air, calling out to them, ‘I sure wish I knew the answers to your questions, I know you do too, but since there’s no way I possibly could, I’ll keep doing my best, you keep doing your best, and it will be what it is! Can’t do more that that! Whoopee!!’ is in order πŸ™‚

    Hugs to you out there!!

  3. I agree..

    with merkabamystica, Be the one in charge..

    Also, remind them..that if it weren’t for you they’d have no background at all on this software, would be terribly behind in supporting this piece of software, And, the management of this US based company (I’m assuming here since it looks like your world headquarters are in CA.) would gather conclusions that the Indian wing while, cheaper pay in the short, is in fact, in the long wrong costing them more because they aren’t moving as fast as the business wants, and will ultimately shut down their Indian operation and move it to China where the latest Wall Street article says the workers there are faster and even cheaper. And, that it doesn’t really bother you so much if they’d rather just be belligerant and ask the same question over and over instead of learning how to figure it all out on their own because by the time the development process moves to China.. (or even Russia) You’ll be sitting back at home with a whole new job talking uber rich hippie come yuppie’s from their emotional ledges over fancy lunches that over look the mountains as a high priced therapist or some such.

    eesh.. I must be in some sort of mood this morning! So sorry for the giant run on sentences..and ranting etc.

  4. What you describe is sounding more and more familiar.

    Here is another perspective. My company just ran a pilot training program about how to get along in cross-cultural organizations. It was an eye-opener. The group I’m in has been having many of the problems that the class pointed out. Before we had a Chinese contingent, a manager was someone we could bounce ideas off of, tell him when he was doing something wrong, etc. To an Asian, perhaps an Indian as well, a manager tells you what to do, he is the fount of information, you go to a manager when you need help. One of my roles is that of a teacher, and I am regarded similarly. My chinese co-workers come to me for help and will not question my ideas. I’m expected, by them, to know. They will not let me say, I don’t know the answer, here is what I would try. They want to know specifically what to try and will ask me several times to explain it. Even one who is several pay grades above me. I have been expecting some original thinking and initiative, but haven’t been getting it. Now, because of this class we are starting to put some pieces of the puzzle together and look at how we relate to co-workers from other cultures.

    Unfortunately, the class only pointed out potential problems and did not suggest any solutions. (That’s now consultants guarantee future business.) So my point is that perhaps (and probably) the problems are not yours specifically, but are cultural. My reaction to the class was something like, &%$* we didn’t have enough problems with the software? Now we get to second-guess how we should be communicating with our co-workers.

    • That’s really helpful to hear that it’s not just me. I’m with you. I’m not opposed to some cross-cultural sensitivity, but I could have used some help with that, like, yesterday.

      Thanks for sharing this. It helped a lot.

  5. Wow.

    I’m with merkaba.

    Also, it reminds me of when one has been jones-ing all afternoon for a candy bar and goes to the vending machine with one’s last dollar bill, only to have the machine reject it. One tries to turn the bill around and insert it again, only to have it rejected. One flattens the bill and gives it another (useless) try. Then one hits the machine, and tries again. One pushes buttons, hits it, than inserts the bill again.

    You know, in a way, you have to respect their passion for the material. It’s just too bad that their passion tries your patience. Eventually though, as you stand firm and continue to reject their dollars, they’ll have to move on to a different machine or go down to the corner store for the “chocolate”.

    I’m so sorry it’s sucky.

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