A few weeks ago I resigned from EMC. My last day is 10 May. Similar to my last weeks at Intel, the “lame duck” period working for a soon-to-be-ex-employer usually contains the most fascinating and instructing weeks on the job. My days have been filled with friends calling to wish me luck, pick my brain, and find out for themselves as much as me what might be next.
Most are surprised that I am not going to another job yet. Invariably a pregnant pause follows me telling them I am going on sabbatical. I think they are usually wondering:
Well, no to the first two. To number three you’ll have to follow my actions for the coming year and reach your own conclusion! As others ask and challenge me about my future, we have had some friendly conversations of incredible insight. They have helped me form a clearer picture about what I need in my next job.
Last week to my colleagues and friends at EMC I announced that I resigned. I did this after obtaining the counsel of my trusted colleagues, many discussions with friends, and a prodigious amount of soul searching. And not without a little anxiety. But its now done.
[Article written on 6 January, right after I arrived in Luang Prabang, Laos.]
I am currently enjoying a 10-day vacation through southeast Asia. My friend and travelling partner, Jonaca, teaches and has three weeks off school. By herself she visited Cambodia and Bangkok. I joined her for Laos and northern Thailand. At this moment we are in Luang Prabang, a city I visited years ago. It has changed remarkably. It should come as no surprise that this regional transformation is linked with China’s growth. But more on that later.
I met Jonaca in Bangkok on Wednesday, 2 January. We spent a few hours drinking beers in Patpong, watching the seedy district setup for the night. At night time we caught an overnight train to Nong Khai, Thailand. Nong Khai is the last railroad station on the path from Bangkok to the capital of Laos, Vientienne. Laos has never been rich enough to build a single kilometer of rails so the tracks stop at the border.
The overnight train was awesome. Our two-person sleeper had bunk beds and was made up for us with clean sheets after dinner. There was an open-air restaurant serving beers until late. After a few more we retired and woke up pulling into Nong Khai. From there is was a sequence of short rides and long queues to get into Laos. We then took a four-hour van to Vang Viene.
Vang Viene is famous in Laos for the wrong reasons. A gentle river lazilily snakes through the town which is supported by visiting tourists. The sharp mountains, colorful sunsets, and beautiful river first drew people here. But it is the wild parties and omnipresent drugs that brought in the dangerous crowds.
Along the river bars sprouted up to cater to the masses of backpackers that ride inner tubes and kayaks down the river. The bars blared music and sold opium, weed, and mushrooms in drinks and food. The bars setup rope swings into the muddy water, which conceals dangerous rocks. Dozens of tourists died here last year.
Unlike Thailand, the Laos government generally enforces curfew at 23:00. I suppose the huge amount of money the river bars generated bought special consideration from the local police. But when this part of Laos became famous for dying tourists the government finally stepped in. During my visit with Jonaca, there were no bars open on the river. It was just the two of us sitting in tubes floating down the water.
Which I am fine with, by the way. I quite like a quiet city with cold beer and friendly locals. The idea of 19-year-old Aussie kids puking up their mushroom shakes on the bar floors does not appeal to me. So, all-in-all, Vang Viene worked for me. We spent a couple days there then took a lovely six-hour car ride to Luang Prabang, where I now sit.
As I mentioned above, I visited this town five years ago. I stayed in the Luang Prabang Bakery, which is still the most charming place in old town. Because it was full we are staying a couple doors away at the Villa Phathana. This hotel is nice enough.
But it is incredible how much Luang Prabang has changed since my last visit! I read the Chinese are helping Laos build a new airport in Luang Prabang. This is part of the multi-billion dollar railway project that China wants to connect Kunming in China’s south all the way to Bangkok. Its first destinations will be Luang Prabang and Vientiene. I read last week that China’s conditions of the loan to Laos for this project are onerous. The IMF has asked Laos to decline the deal. But the prospect of China helping Laos build its first train network ever is too strong. The project will almost certainly go forward.
So, Laos is cuddling up to China. There are Chinese language signs all over town. And the China-funded airport in Luang Prabang has made this city accessible to the world. The town is incredibly busy. I thought last time it was just me and the tuk-tuk drivers here. But today the streets are swarming with French, Malaysians, Chinese, and Americans. This charming village has finally been discovered.
Today Jonaca and I are relaxing, writing, and probably drinking. Tomorrow we fly to Chiang Mai, which is the only other destination on this tour. I hope to make time for another blog entry.
I just successfully finished apartment hunting in Hong Kong. I arrived in town on 6 December. My company paid for 30 days at a serviced apartment in Wan Chai. Jonaca and I are taking a short trip through Thailand and Laos on 2 January. That left me with just a few weeks to find a place and move into it.
Things were a bit challenging. To explain the avoidable pressures I was under, I have to start with some characteristics of the local real estate market.
I am two days into my new adventure in Hong Kong. I have mixed emotions about this move. Certainly this city has a lot of promise. But I had hit a comfortable spot in Singapore. Great apartment, good work, wonderful girlfriend, so-so social life. Then all of the sudden I am in Hong Kong looking at apartments literally half the size of my Singapore place. And I know no one here. This may be tough.
These initial challenges have given me time to reflect on Singapore and its characteristics, whether charming or annoying. Here is what is top of mind:
More to come as I recall it.
The past few weeks have seen a lot of disagreement over the South China Sea by the countries that border it. This waterway connects China to europe, Africa, middle east. And it has been identified as a potential rich source of oil, natural gas, rare earth minerals. The Paracel and Spratly islands, sprinkled throughout the sea, command the region. Sometimes multiple countries claim ownership of the islands. The water that surrounds them is hotly contested.
A big part of how companies hire is based on easily measured skills, both hard and soft. We look for people that understand the technology, have demonstrated competence in execution, can communicate and lead, etc. And clearly these aspects are important to job success. But a previous personal blog entry got me thinking about activities indirectly related to success but possibly just as important.
That previous article focused on a team’s communication practices as a sign of health. But that is clearly not just dependent on policy and environment. Individuals’ capabilities are important. Not all people communicate as easily or effectively. There are degrees of directness in language, an ability to turn thought into words, the skill of reading a listener and modifying the message. All of these add up to communication intelligence that predicts part of a person’s contribution to a team.
My friend Karen works in the food industry. She is often sharing articles and videos she finds that speak to our common interest in food. Last week she sent me a 90-minute Youtube video called, Sugar: The Bitter Truth. Its a very long video with a 20 minute dive into biological chemistry that was tough the follow. But when making more easily understood observations the presenter enlightened me.
Here are some of his observations:
My new responsibilities at EMC make me a part of a large transformational project. I have never before had the privilege of building or changing culture. But my managers have brought me into such a project. And we are doing it at very large scale. Thousands and thousands of people.
The first outward signs of the scope of this project came from a blog post by my second-level manager. If you are not in the industry the import of Chad’s post may be difficult to decipher. But those of us in technical sales recognize the ambitious nature of this change. Chad is not just trying to change reporting lines. He’s trying to change culture.
A common topic of discussion on which I have written before is the strange and disappointing nature of customer service in Singapore. Examples abound. But let me just give one mini-example to set the stage.
To get a Singapore driver’s license I had to register for classes online. The webpage registration failed. But not before the charges were deducted from my checking account. When I called the support number they told me I would have to go to the main office to ask for a refund. The office is 30 minutes away by cab and much longer by public transportation. I do not have a car (as my pursuit of a license makes obvious).
Despite my requests, my pleas, and ultimately my screaming, they had no better way for me to get my money back. They said there was not even a phone at the office that could help with a refund. They screw up, I lose 90 minutes of my work day. End of story.