Thursday, August 8, 2013

Shrug In The City Part I - The Big Apple Chronicles

Some may be aware that I recently changed job roles in my company.  Actually, I resigned in an effort to get off the road.  I’ve been at it hard as a road warrior more than fifteen years now and it’s gotten old to say the least.  Or, maybe I’ve gotten old.  Of course I have; I’m 50 years old now, but that’s not the point.

I first started traveling for business in 1989 at NEC, my first post-military job.  Despite the occasional separation from family, I was hooked.  I loved the pace, the nice hotels, the trade shows, and the frequent flier miles.  Today, travel has a glamorous appeal only to people who don’t have to do it.  The truth is that travel in a post 9/11 world - in a word, sucks.  In my mind, it wasn’t just the horrific events of 9/11 that ruined travel.  The economic impact of the technology bubble burst had an impact as well.  In the years from 1997 to 2001, tech companies had an abundance of cash and restrictions on corporate travel for road warriors were few.  We were expected to hit the road and entertain clients.  Those were the good old days.

Fast forward to 2013 and while these aren’t exactly the bad old days, from a business travel perspective, they certainly aren’t as good as they once were.  Expense controls are tighter than ever, to the point where productivity suffers.  I was never one to cheat on expense reports and risk my job for a few bucks, but I refuse to lose money when I travel at my company's benefit.  And don't even get me started on the 21st century Works Progress Administration we call the TSA.  Still, week in and week out, I hit the road working for IBM attending sales meetings with account teams and subsequently designing and deploying the networks whose deals I helped them close.  As much as I had come to loathe travel, the dynamic nature of traveling to different locations and working on a project for a few weeks and then getting to do something completely different on the next one was far more appealing than most occupations, which dictate commuting an hour each way to sit in a cubicle and do the same thing day in and day out.  I could never see myself doing that for the rest of my working career. 
At the start of this year, I had the luxury of working a four month project close enough from home to actually be home every night.  I got to actually sleep in my own bed.  I got back to playing my drums and found a band to join.  My dogs actually quit growling at me when I came home at night!  Despite losing airline and hotel patronage status, I found myself enjoying the “normal” life.  As that project began to wind down, I found myself dealing with a deep seated sense of dread, although I couldn’t quite place its source.  Then it hit me.  My working "vacation" was over and I was about to reactivate my status as a road warrior.  I considered the possibility that there might be an occupational compromise I could strike and decided to respond to a few of the weekly recruiter calls and emails I had been receiving.  Low and behold, the perfect opportunity came my way.  A very high tech company in a field I was (and still am) fascinated with needed someone with my skills in a pre-sales engineering role that required very little travel, except for the occasional day trip.  I responded, we did the interviewing and negotiating dance, they made an offer, and I accepted.  When I submitted my resignation to IBM, I made it clear to my manager that I enjoyed my job, I felt fairly compensated, and that unlike others who had recently left my team, I was not seeking additional money.  I simply needed to get off the road.  During our conversation, I mentioned a comment that my family made that they’d seen more of me in the last four months than in the previous fifteen years.  Knowing I couldn’t be bought back with money, IBM offered me a new position in a pre-sales role with little to no travel.  Essentially, they offered me my cake and a chance to eat it too.  I wasn’t unhappy with my job.  In fact, it’s the best I’ve had in my adult life and I feel fortunate just to have a job in these days of hope and change.  I simply needed a break from all the travel and given that I signed on at IBM in a road warrior capacity, I never considered a possibility that I could have an alternative role there.  I was simultaneously excited about the opportunity and humbled by their desire to find a way to keep me.  I accepted the offer and made the grueling call to the recruiter for the other company.  From a recruiter perspective, I was considered a moderately big fish and this guy stood to earn a nice commission on my negotiated first year’s salary.  I felt guilty, but it’s my life, my career, and my family.  Plus, at the very least, I opened a door for someone else to seize an excellent opportunity there.

The irony of all this is that as I type these words, I’m sitting on a plane flying home from New York City.  Before I resigned, I helped close a deal for a wireless network at Tiffany & Company at their flagship store on Fifth Avenue in New York City.  I was fortunate (or cursed) to present well on the topic at hand during a technical discussion and thus brought a sense experienced credibility that perhaps T&Co had yet to see from other potential vendors competing for the project.  So when the deal was closed, it was pretty much sold with my name on it as the design and deployment Architect.  When I negotiated my transfer deal with IBM, I made the case for the potential follow on business with T&Co and for keeping my word to them to deliver this one last engagement.

Contemplating the start of this project, I reminisced on my last trip to the City.  The last time I was in the Big Apple, I was hit by a taxi crossing the street outside my project site (the Apple cube store) and then bitten by a dog while working inside the store – all on my first day.  That day set the stage for the rest of my week there, which might explain why I’ve not been back since.

The project kicked off this week and I found myself in the City for the first time in five years.  While walking up Broadway in the morning rush, I was instantly reminded of the electricity in the air, of the pace of the people, and of the sense of truly being at the center of the universe.  More than anything, I was minded of just how much I hate New York City.  Everything about navigating the City is a hassle.  Everything costs a fortune, everyone is in a hurry, politeness (let alone compassion) is unheard of, and nobody smiles because nobody is happy.

This duration of this project is eight weeks of design and deployment with a potential for three more weeks to babysit the store after the network is commissioned.  Since I’ve had little more than politics to write about lately (and I’m as sick of that as my readers are), I’ve decided to make the best of this opportunity and seek out a little inspirational fodder for writing.  Check back here for updates as the weeks pass.  There are so many camera opportunities, some of the people in the City make People of WalMart look like Breakfast at Tiffany's (no pun intended).  I'm actually kind of excited about it.

So, look out Manhattan!  Shrug is coming town to take a bite out of the Big Apple.  Hopefully, I can chew through to the core and not swallow any worms.