antipaucity

fighting the lack of good ideas

vacation

This CNBC story caused quite a bit of discussion on my Facebook wall this week. In short, Americans don’t take all the time off they can, and many don’t even take any.

I didn’t used to take much, either – but have since changed my view on the matter.

There seem to be a variety of issues at play in this discussion; some of the highlights of the thread:

“what if Americans enjoy their jobs more than anyone else, and so don’t want to take more breaks?” –CF

“what if Americans are more scared of losing their jobs while being on vacation, and instead work more tired, more stressed, and less effectively than their counterparts in other parts of the developed world” –me

“You don’t realize that you’re “working for something” if you don’t get to have time to enjoy that for which you’ve worked.” –MS

So what think ye?

yay for vacations

I just had a great week. From the afternoon (UTC) of 28 Nov through the afternoon (EST) of 7 Dec, I had no internet access.

And until 0100 (EST) of 7 Dec, I had no access to my phone. It was phenomenal. And I didn’t miss anything “important”, either.

This is the first multi-day break I’ve taken since last year in March. Turns out there’s a reason vacation time exists. HP has a company shutdown at the end of the year, so while I got back from the UK just early Sunday morning (local), I had only enough time to do laundry and adjust my body clock to ‘normal’ time again before getting on a plane and spending 2 weeks in Denver at another customer.

So it’s an odd intermission – 2 weeks of work before being off for two more weeks, but it’ll be nice to be home for a couple weeks. And the parents and sis will be down for Christmas this year, and that’ll be fun, too.

they asked the right question

Let me compare the experience I wrote about yesterday to another I had the same year with the first customer I was ever sent to – HSBC.

Just a couple weeks after starting with ProServe in 2008, I was sent to Chicago to do a final PoC for HSBC. Someone else had done a PoC the previous year, but with HP’s acquisition of Opsware, HSBC (along with many other customers and potential customers) held-off on signing a purchase contract so they could bundle “everything” they wanted from HP under one big honking purchase order.

And due to changes in the underlying product architecture, HSBC wanted a fresh demo to play with for a little while before writing-in that line item into their PO.

Enter me. A freshly-minted consultant who hadn’t yet developed a solid cheat sheet. So fresh, I thought staying 20 minutes away in a Comfort Inn to save $12 a night was smart (it’s not – always stay as close to your customer as you can (that is within budget) when you’re traveling). But I digress.

After a set of unexpected flight delays, instead of being able to start Monday before lunch, I didn’t even get to meet the customer team until almost end-of-business Monday. Tuesday morning, my main contact met me at the door, escorted me into their lab, and introduced me to the “spare” hardware I’d be working on – a ~5-year-old Sun server running Solaris 10 (thankfully – they’d only just upgraded from Sun OS 9 on that machine a couple weeks before).

Like my main contact in Nutley later that year, my main contact at HSBC was an old hat Solaris admin – he’d been using and administering Sun equipment for nearly 20 years. Smart guy (but, unlike the guy in NJ that summer, he wasn’t a Sun fanboi purist).

The reason we were using retired (and, possibly, resurrected) hardware was because they didn’t trust one of the sales reps (who had since been fired) who made some pretty sweeping promises to them early on in the sales cycle. And, whomever had been in several months prior to do the first PoC had apparently complained bitterly about “having to use Sun”.

So they partially set me up to fail – but I was too dumb to realize it at the time…a perfect instance of the old phrase, “you can’t fool me, I’m too ignorant”.

(I did have to suffer through slow network access: the NIC onboard “supported” 100Mbps … but it was flaky, so it had been down-throttled to just 10Mbps. To put this is a little context, that was slower than my home internet access – even then – 10 years ago!)

Wednesday about lunchtime, the HSBC project manager for “HP automation initiatives” introduced herself and through our conversation, casually asked, “if you had your druthers, what kind of hardware would you install SA on to support our environment?”

So I answered what I’d use: each server in each SA Core (they were going to have 3) should have 16+ x86-64 CPUs, at least 32 GB RAM, and ample storage (at least 100 GB just for the install, let alone extra space which might be needed for the software and OS libraries). Oh. And it should be running RHEL – don’t use Solaris as the host OS for HPSA.

She pressed me to find out why I suggested this, and I told her, “because SA is written on Linux, and the ported to Solaris; every major issue SA has run into in the last few years regarding OS conflicts has happened on Sun hardware & OSes.”

A little while later, she thanked me for our conversation, thanked me for getting SA up and running so quickly (even on half decade out of date hardware, I had it installed and ready to demo to them in only a little over 1.5 days), which gave me time to go through its functionality, show-off some new things in 7.0 that hadn’t been possible (or as easy) in 6.1 (or 6.5, or 6.6), and even be told I could head out to the airport a little early on Thursday! Win-win-win all around.

Fast forward a few months.

I get a phone call from the engagement manager I’d worked with on the HSBC PoC week, and he asked me if I had a current passport. I told him, “yes,” and asked him why he wanted to know.

He then informed me that HSBC was getting ready to finalize a $12+ million dollar hardware, software, and services sale … but would only be buying SA if I was available to install it.

That’s cool – getting asked back is always a Good Thing™ … but what does that have to do with having a current passport? Bob elaborated: HSBC has a policy of vendors doing installs on site (not weird). And two of those “on site” locations were not in the US: one would be in London England, and the other in Hong Kong. “Would I be able to do that?”, he wanted to know.

“Yes. Yes, I would.”

“OK,” he said, “I’ll send travel dates and details in a few days.”

I hung up, then wondered if I’d said “yes” maybe a little too quickly: who gets asked to be the installation engineer who’s holding-up the finalization of a multi-million-dollar sale? Especially when I knew there were folks at least as qualified, if not much more so, available?

This was my first experience with being asked-back as a consultant (I’d been asked-for when I worked in Support, but that was very different).

And, ultimately, it’s what led to the single best services engagement I had for quite a while. And giving me a [partially] company-paid vacation to the UK. And getting my first stamps in my passport. And establishing a friendship with a customer contact in London who’ve I’ve stayed in touch with ever since.

All from not knowing the “project manager” was actually high-enough up in the HSBC management chain that her recommendations/requests for external personnel would be honored even on big contracts – and being truly honest with her when she asked what I viewed as a casual, throwaway question in a loud computer lab on a cool Wednesday afternoon in April.

The upshot is to always treat everyone you meet as “just another person” – whether a CEO or a janitor, they put their pants on the same way you do: one leg at a time.

traveling consultant cheat sheet

“Join the Navy and See the World!”*

Perhaps one of the most famous recruitment phrases ever established in the United States.

And it’s not at all dissimilar form what a lot of budding consultants think they are going to do when either joining a services organization, or starting their own business.

I have been fortunate in that I have gotten to “see the world” as a professional services engineer – at least a little.

What the recruitment phrase fails to mention is that while you may “see” the world, you [probably] won’t get to do much while you’re “seeing” it. I’ve been to or through nearly 60 airports in the last several years. I “saw” the coast of Japan a few times when going into and out of Narita. I’ve “seen” Las Vegas – from a couplefew thousand feet. I’ve “seen” Houston – from IAD. And so on and so forth.

The far more realistic view of what will happen is something like this:

  • get call Friday afternoon asking you to be onsite in <someplace> Monday morning
  • book flight, hotel, rental car (if appropriate)
  • make sure clothes are clean
  • do as much Saturday and/or Sunday as you can, since you’ll be gone for a week
  • fly out Sunday evening or Monday morning (I’ll talk about this later)
  • get rental car
  • check into hotel
  • go to customer site
    • work
    • eat
    • sleep
    • repeat
  • check out from hotel
  • return car
  • fly home
  • repeat all of above

As someone who has been doing a travel-based job for 7+ years now, let me share some of the things I have learned with you.

Basics

Loyalty programs

Sign up for airline frequent flyer programs. In the US, this means Delta, United, Southwest, and American Airlines.

Sign up for hotel rewards. Hyatt, Hilton, Marriott, Wyndham.

Sign up for the car rental programs. Hertz, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Thrifty, Enterprise, National.

Stay “loyal”

So long as you are able, ie costs are reasonable, schedules are good, etc, stick with a single primary chain for each of the travel categories (airline, car, hotel). If you’re going to get status, might as well get it all with one place when possible.

Sign up for every promotion your loyalty partners make available. For example, I’m a United Guy (used to be a Delta Guy – but that’s a different story). I’m also a Hilton Guy (because Marriott hasn’t been as competitive (price, location) in the markets I’ve been to as they used to be). I have my Hilton HHonors Double Dip go to HHonors points and United miles. And I make sure ay time there is a promo to get more points or miles that I sign-up for it. If Hilton wants to give me an extra 5,000 United miles for every stay after the second between now and 31 August, why not take advantage of that?

Choose the best rewards – for you

Maybe you like traveling so much you want to have Avis points so you can get free car rentals on vacation. Personally, I find turning all my reward points into frequent flyer miles is my best option – renting a car for a week is almost always less expensive than paying for a flight – especially when my family goes somewhere on vacation.

Clothes

Every shirt and pair of pants I take when I go onsite are “no iron”. This saves time when you arrive. And you won’t have nearly as much time as you think you will, most of the time.

Get slip-on dress shoes. You will appreciate this most when going through airport security. But also if you have to go through security to get into customer buildings, etc.

Have an arrival and departure change of clothes that are comfortable – I like jeans and either a polo or comfortable t-shirt.

What about jackets? I like the lightest-weight jacket I can carry/wear: there will not be enough space on the plane for it, it’ll get hot in the airport, and you really only normally need it to walk from the airport to the rental car shuttle / counter, form the rental counter to the car, the car to the hotel, the hotel to the office, and all in reverse. You probably won’t need a parka for those types of activities.

Baggage

There’s a big conversation that surrounds this topic, but I’m going to tell you what works for me. First, check your main bag – it’ll accelerate your time to board, your time between flights (if you have one or more connections), and make it easier to get around the airport when you arrive (easier to use the bathroom, get a meal, etc). So save everyone headaches and check your main bag.

In your one carry-on – a laptop bag- you should have the following:

  • single change of clothes
  • snack & water bottle (empty, of course)
  • basic minimal toiletries (toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, etc)
  • book (or Kindle, but I like a physical book – there’s never anything to have to turn off)
  • all required chargers (laptop, cell phone, mifi, etc)
  • portable battery backup like an EasyAcc Classic

Arriving and Departing

Day-of? Or night before?

This is almost entirely a personal preference: arriving day-of (eg Monday morning) can be good if you have a family, don’t mind getting up hyper early to get to the airport, and can functional well enough on little sleep.

Arriving night before (eg Sunday night) can be good because if you’re bumped or delayed on a flight, you have cushion before your customer expects to see you.

Either way, always try to check-into your hotel before going to your customer – if it’s an early-Monday arrival, change out of your travel clothes at the airport into work clothes, and have the hotel hold your bags for you.

I alternate between which is better for me to do based on how many connections I have, customer expectations (if you have a mandatory 0900 meeting Monday, and you flight won’t arrive til 0930, you have to come in Sunday night), time of year (weather considerations), etc.

What did I miss?

What would you add/change/tweak on this cheat sheet?


* I always though it should read, “Join the Navy and Sea the World”

7 things employees wish they could tell their boss about salaries

LinkedIn had an interesting article Friday whose title I snagged for this blog post.

The 7 items are:

  1. We don’t care about pay scales
  2. Forget policies. We talk.
  3. We think about our pay a lot.
  4. We will sometimes let you take advantage.
  5. When we have to negotiate … we both lose.
  6. No matter how much we earn, it’s not enough.
  7. Still, reasonable pay is ok.

Several of the points resonated with me – especially in light of things I have written previously.

“If the company can’t afford to pay an employee more, smart bosses say so. If they think a certain percentage raise is fair, they explain why. Smart bosses use pay scales to build their budgets, and use reason and logic - and empathy - to explain pay decisions to employees.”

Can’t agree more: if you don’t treat your employees like rational, smart human beings, but rather like mere resources – you create and/or perpetuate a culture of dehumanization.

“Many companies actively discourage staff from talking to each other about their salaries. I know a few companies that require employees to sign agreements stipulating they won’t disclose pay, benefits, etc to other employees.

Doesn’t matter. Employees talk. I did, both when I was “labor” and when I was “management.” Generally speaking, the only employees who don’t share details about their pay are the ones who are embarrassed by how much or how little they make.”

Yes, yes, a million times yes! In my blog post “publicizing compensation – why not?“, I point-out that forcing people to not talk about their compensation makes folks more likely to try to find out, and can lead to discontent.

“Employees think about pay all the time. Every time they deposit their paychecks they think about their pay. To a boss their pay is a line item; to employees, pay is the most important number in their family’s budget.”

Funny thing is: managers get paid, too – but rarely think about that when it comes to their employees.

“Occasionally the job market is a seller’s market, but many new employees are just really happy to land a new job. And since business owners are born cost cutters, it’s natural to hire every new employee for as low a wage as possible.”

This is related to the next point …

“Great employees are worth a lot more than their pay. You get what you pay for, so smart bosses pay whatever they can to get and keep the best employees they can.

When smart bosses find great employees they always make their best offer, knowing that if their best offer is too low, there is nothing they could have done.”

If you want to be the best possible employer ever, you need to start with your best offer to candidates. If you start with anything less than your best, you’re implying that you don’t really value their time, expertise, or potential contributions to your organization. It has been said that “everything is negotiable” – but if you don’t start with your best offer, you’re telling your current/future employee they have to make you want them more. It may turn out that your “best offer” is $120,000 per year with 3 weeks of vacation. And maybe that employee really wants 4 weeks of vacation – and is willing to accept a somewhat lower salary for that perk. Start with your best, and then massage it into what is best for both of you.

“We all want more. It’s natural. Unfortunately no boss can always give more. And that’s okay.”

Wanting more is not inherently wrong (though wanting more for merely the sake of more is probably unhealthy) – and that’s why the last point in this article is so smart:

“People are smart. They understand market conditions, financial constraints, revenue shortfalls, and increased competition. They understand when a company can’t pay top-of-market salaries. What they don’t understand is when they don’t feel fairly compensated compared to other employees in similar positions, both inside and outside the company.”

“Fair is a concept that only exists in economic theories not based on effort.”* When you look at services like Glassdoor, you can quickly see that salary is only a single facet of employee compensation (and important one, and [generally] a large one, but only one). And it’s easy to get caught-up in the mindset of keeping up with the Joneses. While it is nice to have “more”, it’s important that honesty and transparency flow from management to employees as well as the other way around.


* publicizing compensation – why not?

how cold is it?

an oldy, but a goody


An annotated thermometer (degrees Fahrenheit)

+50
New York tenants turn on the heat
Minnesotans plant gardens

+40
Californians shiver uncontrollably
Minnesotans sunbathe

+35
Italian cars don’t start

+32
Distilled water freezes

+30
You can see your breath
You plan a vacation in Florida
Politicians begin to worry about the homeless
Minnesotans eat ice cream

+25
Boston water freezes
Californians weep pitiably
Cat insists on sleeping on your bed with you

+20
Cleveland water freezes
San Franciscans start thinking favorably of LA
Minnesota Vikings fans put on T-shirts—-YEAH!!!

+15
You plan a vacation in CANCUN!!!!!
Minnesotans go swimming

+10
Politicians begin to talk about the homeless
Too cold to snow
You need jumper cables to get the car going

0
New York landlords turn on the heat

-5
You can hear your breath
You plan a vacation in Hawaii

-10
American cars don’t start
Too cold to skate

-15
You can cut your breath and use it to build an igloo
Miamians cease to exist
Minnesotans lick flagpoles

-20
Cat insists on sleeping in your pajamas with you
Politicians actually do something about the homeless
People in Duluth think about taking down screens

-25
Too cold to kiss
You need jumper cables to get the driver going
Japanese cars don’t start
Minnesota Twins head for spring training

-30
You plan a two-week hot bath
Minnesotans shovel snow off roof

-38
Mercury freezes
Too cold to think
Minnesotans button top button

-40
Californians disappear
Car insists on sleeping in your bed with you
Minnesotans put on sweaters

-50
Congressional hot air freezes
Alaskans close the bathroom window
Two Harbors Minnesota Agates practice indoors

-60
Walruses abandon Aleutians
Minnesotans put gloves away, take out mittens
Boy Scouts in Two Harbors Minnesota start Klondike Derby

-70
Minneapolis residents replace diving boards with hockey nets
Ridgeway snowmobilers organize trans-river race to Buffalo,WI
Lackore Boys start to complain while working on snowmobiles

-80
Polar bears abandon Baffin Island
Girl Scouts in Two Harbors Minnesota start Klondike Derby

-90
Lawyers chase ambulances for no more than 10 miles
Wisconsinites migrate to Minnesota thinking it MUST be warmer

-100
Santa Claus abandons North Pole
Minnesotans pull down earflaps

-173
Ethyl alcohol freezes
The University of Minnesota (Twin Cities Campus) closes

-445
Superconductivity
Lackore Boys quit working on snowmobiles.

-452
Helium becomes a liquid

-454
Hell freezes over

-456
Illinois drivers drop below 85 MPH on I-90

-458
Incumbent politician renounces a campaign contribution

-460 (Absolute Zero)
All atomic motion ceases
The University of Minnesota-Duluth is closed
Minnesotans alert us as to how it’s getting a mite nippy


refound here

a week without facebook…

…and a week to go.

Normally, I take about one big break for the book of the face every year – generally when my wife and I take a vacation somewhere 🙂

This year we’re upping the ante: while home – and accessible via SMS, email, Twitter, phone, Google+, etc – I’m on a two week Facebook break. And then, excluding some exceptions for special events and the like, both my wife and I are planning to also forgo Facebook on the weekends.

It’s far far too easy to get hooked on electronics and feel like you HAVE to reply instantly whenever that little iOS leash buzzes or your Android tether dings.


As a side note – I have been exceptionally happy with Buffer for maintaining some regularity of social media postings.