The greatest corporate investment

I have applied to work at a certain software company twice over the years. Both times I already had a job, so it was really a probe. It was a way to see what’s out there and how it might fit me. I carry no guilt in looking. I actually believe it’s healthy. And it was at the encouragement of a good friend who works there. I like the person, we get along very well, are a good team and we’d gladly work together again.

As part of this company’s vetting process – to qualify or disqualify candidates – they give you a test. I forget the name, but it involves a fake but integral (sound) computer language that is progressively unveiled as the test goes on. The syntax and semantics are to be quickly processed and a series of around 25 questions is to be answered in 30 minutes. If you fail, the company wants nothing to do with you and management sends you a form letter that makes you feel like an impostor human being.

Now, it is that company’s right to do whatever they want to qualify people. The CEO wants who he wants and doesn’t want who he doesn’t want.

But I’ve worked with enough people in management that I’ve seen the addictive draw of metrics – any metrics – that classify or rank people. They’re always in large part wrong. They always tell only part of the story. But they make life easier for those who don’t really want to think about people. You know – for those who want to manage them like objects. And presented with evaluative measurement data, that is a constant balance to be struck among responsible leadership everywhere. On the other side, employees will conform to any metric at the expense of integrity, competence and real work throughput. And that’s a whole other topic.

So you probably guessed that I have flunked this test – twice, that is. That’s not how I learn computer languages. I try them. I tinker. I read examples and see how they work together. I apply principles of programming and data management that span languages. I would say my way of learning technology is vastly superior to manual-reading. And yes, I guess by some metric I have a deficiency in that.

Now when it is my focused job to write code, I write up to 10,000 lines a year. That’s quite a bit, for those outside the software industry. It’s hard to argue that my way of learning is inferior.

Concerning the test, what then is it meant to eliminate? What kind of people does it reject? Well, all non-technical people will certainly fail. But among the technically literate, it rejects those who might ask questions and thereby interrupt the work of others. THAT is the underlying business goal. And THAT is dubious.

To be sure and to be fair, there are those who are a constant interrupt to work flow. They have poor work skills at any job. But this goes beyond that and hits at the heart of human interaction at work.

So let me provide some reasons that avoiding interrupts is a foolish goal, addressing management in the 2nd person:

  1. Communication is two-way. During one of the dreaded interrupts, your existing work force is not merely giving information, they are receiving it. If you think there is no gain in hearing experiential wisdom from the new hire, then you should never hire anyone, regardless of the test.
  2. Interrupts happen and they are not bad. If your claim is that your existing employees are so focused and productive that they always make right decisions and always take optimal paths in work flow then you are intolerant of their mistakes. And very wrong. If you can’t make a mistake, you can’t make anything. I have seen huge, overwhelmingly beneficial changes in my work just by receiving the advice of another. It happens in your company too, whether or not you see it or officially allow it.
  3. Collaboration is the birthplace of genius. Speaking to some employees, the company I spoke of above apparently has one “idea guy”- the CEO. All others are his implementers. I don’t believe that; the company would have gone under a long time ago if that was the case. Great invention happens as a brain child of one, with contributions from collaborators. It’s happened at your company whether you’ve authorized it or not.
  4. People are wisest investment. The supposed cost in interrupts is a small price to pay for years of productive service and the great benefit an employee brings to your bottom line. My portion of contribution to my employers is somewhere between $250M and $500M, by way of raw calculation. They have made a profit from my employment. And that’s just talking about monetary gain. The personal, emotional and spiritual contribution of human beings to a company don’t make for metrics you can graph, but your company would dies without them.

This is not an exercise in sour grapes. I had a job when I applied at this company. I now have a job and I will have a job. It’s about lost opportunity and poor judgment among those in charge. A leader with responsibility to make progress against objectives does need to protect his/her productive people. But s/he also needs to grow people; it’s just good leadership (a different word from management, reader take note).

And recently someone dear to me was also disqualified from work because of similar concerns. There was no patience and no investment in the time for that person to get up to speed. And it is to the loss of that boss and his organization that the investment was not made.

And I have no animosity towards the managers who have these policies and practices. But I will say categorically that they are simply not worthy of the talented people working for them.

I’m glad and proud I flunked the test.


ISIS and the president’s Prayer Breakfast speech

Read this first.
The backdrop of ISIS and radical Islamic groups is key to understanding this.  This week the video of Jordanian pilot Muadh al-Kasasbeh being burned alive in a cage, only the latest of a set of barbaric executions meant to shock and scare people.
But concerning the speech at the National Prayer Breakfast, I find it helpful to read the original because context is vital and no tribe- liberal or conservative – will provide it. Obama’s was a three-point sermon of love, suspicion of faith-hostile government and the law of love. Not bad. And I do think he has Christian faith though it caters to a political platform more than staying true to the foundation of the faith.  That there are those who would even hate me for such a statement shows the spiritual confusion that dogs the church.
Now, the uproar is about the president citing the crimes of the Crusades in a way to humble those on their “high horse”.  While there are those who would find the present situation an opportunity to target all Muslims, those of the Christian faith I know really just want to know how to consider this brutality and its perpetrators.  They are murderers that need to be stopped – that is known – but solving the problem of the vacuum from whence they sprung – as well as other groups like Boko Haram – is the only wise course of action.  
From Obama’s speech, the problem with citing 1000-year-old crimes is that it takes the focus on the slaughter that’s happening right in front of us. The people doing the slaughter ALSO cite the 1000-year-old crimes as if they’re happening today. They don’t need Obama’s voice reciting it to them.  And using something that happened 1000 years ago as motivation for present-day violence is to have a very long memory to say the least.  It is only an excuse.
What we need to do – as Muslims are doing right now – is to name the problem as an aberrant form of Islam – with an informed approach to how to really work towards a solution within the society of tribes that have warred for longer than the Crusaders launched their heretical rampage. Honestly, THAT – the Shia and Sunni split – is the historical faith problem going on here.
And for his part, Obama, so far, has failed to even call the terrorists “Muslim”, probably being afraid of mass anti-Muslim sentiment and violence. And lest you think I believe the GOP got it right, they did and do NOT. The willful ignorance of the indigenous tribal culture of Iraq was arrogant, straight up.  Politics only confuse this discussion because it’s one of faith and tribe.
Singling out Islam as a faith with a modern-day, big problem is the first step towards really helping to fix a broken part of the world.  No hatred, no condescension, just loving some people who are locked in a system of hatred.

How I’ve made peace with winter

Winter. Season of death, frozen tundra, blowing snow and the reign of all things icy.

I like it, have always liked it.

I like the snowscapes, the way it drifts and sculpts the land with sharp ridges and sunken, clean-blown valleys. And it’s white, so white.

Isaiah 1:18 “Come now, let us reason together,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool”

The image of purity and restored innocence is not lost on me.

Icicles themselves are a study in their bulbous crystalline growth. If I give myself time I can see the drops trickle down the length of a long one, never finishing their plunge to earth. And when they catch the sunlight the shower of disbursed rays defies prediction and description.

When there is a storm, and this year there are plenty, we stay indoors.  Travel is impossible.  There’s a humility in that somehow warms me.  People may find it perverse; I don’t care.  There’s something right about being humbled by an event of nature that’s good for me, good for all people, whether they appreciate it or not.  And it’s just right – not a killer disaster like an earthquake or tornado.

People complain, but then they sit at home, having to be quiet as the storm rages around them.  Generally, people are well-fed and warm.  The coziness is to be enjoyed to my way of thinking.

When I was younger, I loved having snow days.  Missing school was one thing – there was one February – in 1970 I think – we literally had only 3 days of school.  But playing in the snow was a whole adventure in itself.  Our snow forts were edifices of grandeur – though they also had the practical quality of defense against the onslaught of snowballs projected by the enemy – the kids across the driveway.  And we’d form an arsenal of frozen weaponry for such battles.

I got so good at making snowballs that I decided it was a good thing to practice on moving vehicles.  I pelted one on the way home from school one day and got a vicious tongue-lashing by a driver who thought he’d hit something.  He was right; my snow balls were simple too well made for traffic use.  Unlike some downright delinquent friends – who somehow NEVER got spoken to – It was the last time I did that.

The part that most people don’t like about winter and snow is moving it.  Now I completely sympathize and have had many years of miserable experience doing that.  You get cold.  The snow is heavy.  You get a heart attack (really!) from shoveling.

So I want to say that if one is to enjoy the humility of being snowed in, there needs to be an conquering spirit that can only thrive when you are suitably equipped.  With a snow blower.

I loaned my snow blower to a neighbor once who HAD to report, ebulliently “There is NO BETTER WAY TO MOVE SNOW”.

I was glad to share the experience and life-lesson with him, for I know I had put joy into his winters forever.

There was a year in the late 80s when purchasing a Ariens snow blower became a need – not unlike a dishwasher around the same time – something we budgeted and did.  I still use my Ariens; I did this morning:

And that’s it.

I know folks in Minnesota do more outside in the winter than the summer while in Maine one asks “What do you do in winter?” with the requisite answer “We don’t”.

But I’ve made peace with winter for the most part.  Even if you haven’t be glad with me that spring is coming.  It will be warm and green and pleasant in every way.