Wednesday, September 14, 2005

NT: A New Day, Different Job

I started an overview of my career moves at Northern Telecom (see N.T. in the title?), in A New Day, A New Job. I was about to continue when I thought of all the wonderful stories in my CTS days, which I immediately wrote up in My Time In CTS, simply as a change of pace.

Now back to the career path: comes 1995 and I feel as though I'm facing a dead-end. Local systems groups are frowned upon as I.T. - information technology - groups are making a vice-president directed play to gain control of all things computerized. It seems to matter not at all that such an approach invariably hampers a business unit. I'm all for company-wide efforts being handled by I.T. but local concerns are always ignored. The bigger the IT group, the more ignoring occurs. This is fact, everlasting truth and holy writ.

I should know, I did my own share of ignoring, and I was local! At least my users could come and state their claim at my desk if something was important enough. On any given day, I would have a line-up at my doorway, otherwise, I'd ever be trying to keep the big machinery running as a whole. More on this in another blog entry.

Being that the push was on and that I was feeling increasingly unappreciated, I decided to take heed of opportunities outside my directorship. I was torn with leaving my teammates, but there was nothing I could do for them any more than I could for me.

Off to Fibre I go. Here I met Monk and was reacquainted with Carmine. I'd been in an adjacent cubicle - what passed as office space at Nortel - with Carmine during my CTS days, and got to know him a little bit. A pleasant fellow, a little intense but mostly laid back, and Montréal Italian at that, so I immediately felt kinship as a fellow Montréalais. I'm not Italian, nor do I have any in my ancestry, but I had a lot of Italian friends in both high school and then CEGEP who were from Anjou and Laval. Adding Montréal-Nord, these were the Italian districts in the greater Montréal area.

Carmine would turn out to be a fantastic manager and coach in the years ahead. If anything, he would be the only consistent person in my management structure. I reported to him until the dark days and beyond.

I began my time in Fibre, as a fresh new Band-6 Team Leader. As it turned out, I got a promotion about a year later, as per the observations of my Manager in the U.K. Small consolation but I was finally vindicated for that cluster-fuck of moving a few years before.

At that point, the world was shiny and new and I was feeling hopeful again. A lot of my bitterness at getting screwed by that gutless twit, Calvin, has been washed away. I was acquiring more responsibility as I was managing more people. I came to work in the morning for them! It was great feeling, as opposed to leading lambs to slaughter as per my previous position. I tried to always remain careful in my evaluations of my flock and to give them proper due, Carmine had a solid process whereby checks and balances were tightly controlled. I'm not saying we didn't make mistakes, I'm sure we did. But I wasn't going to leave any of my guys twisting in the wind. Not if I could help it.

I had a great team in Fibre. Monk had put together a good assortment of people. He had a real knack for identifying good talent. Once again, the divergence between the members of the team was wild, but good people to the last. It's only when I started doing my own hiring that things turned to shit. It turns out that I'm a good judge of character, but not during an interview. Lesson learned; this became excruciatingly clear and I stopped doing any hiring.

Our mission was similar to CTS in that when an emergency arose we would get called, so again I was part of a pager carrying team, on a 7/24 basis, and still on the front lines. At this time, I had been carrying a pager non-stop for over 6 years. When I finally got rid of it 4 years later I had to buy a watch!

Another year went by and I moved to another, related, group. Still in customer service, this team was closer to design and much greater expertise within the product. These men that I was managing had vast and far-reaching experience. Luck of the draw had me managing my old manager, Monk! This was a product support team and not an emergency team, although we were still on-call 7/24 as the expertise reference.

I would have words with design, brand management, other customer service guys. This team was a focal point for the product subset we were supporting, and truth be told, I was having a really good time. My people were great, by and large the people in all the teams I was dealing with were great as well. I wish to keep the guilty anonymous, but by the same token I must keep the great ones anonymous too. (Maybe I'll hire a lawyer soon and then I'll go to town on my thanks and my condemnations, both. Please send money now. )

One observation I came across in my dealings with multiple groups, in the vein of prejudice no less, personalities are different. Everyone is different. Of course. It became somewhat of a joke that one could easily identify which group someone was working for, by his or her personality traits. It became such a science that we would extrapolate to the cars in the parking lot. The buildings containing the designers would have very specific cars parked outside: Civic (lots and lots), Corollas and Tercels, older Accords and Camrys. Then the buildings containing customer service or brand-management would have: GMC pickups, F-150s, Ford Explorers, Jeeps YJ and Cherokees, Porsches, Audis, 4-Runners, Firebirds & Camaros, Mustangs, Bonnevilles, Eagle Talons among other assorted makes and models, and a contingent of motorcycles.

It wasn't a question of money either, as design was typically paid 10% to 50% higher wages than their customer service counterparts. This actually led to a minor revolt of which I was caught in the middle. The level of expertise we would bring to the game was on par and on occasion surpassed our design friends as we acquired the field experience on top of participating in the design process. A small remuneration differential was expected, but 50% was certainly out to lunch. My team was especially critical since the sheer amount of network knowledge required to do our troubleshooting could not even be bought off the street at the time. No one in this team had less than 4 years direct experience in networking of some sort, some as much as 15.

As the scope for the product support team was raised, so we had to import some newer talent. It came as a shock and delight to me, that my old fibre emergency team was slowly migrating with me. I guess I wasn't a bad manager if these guys, that had been working for me for 2 years, wanted to follow me over.

Regardless of my new found appreciation, things in my personal life weren't going so well. (Please note the correct use of the word regardless, and not that calamity "irregardless".) Another blog of course, but suffice to say that my recurring depression was taking more and more of a toll. At least work was going reasonably well, other than the standard stresses.

I was approached to pilot an intelligence project, whereby engineer's knowledge and experience could be captured into a type of white-board database. On the face of it, everything in my career had led me to this point. My background in computer sciences and management information systems, my time in support, even and maybe especially, my management and troubleshooting skills were all going to be assets to build the single-most important troubleshooting system that Nortel would have at it's disposal.

Few companies had successfully done this, the reason two-fold: lack of management commitment and lack of, or worse wrong, technology. But the Web being the buzzword du jour, a world of possibilities was open for business. In true design fashion, requirements were collected and analysed, a direction and mission were set and we were off. The phrase "boil the ocean" often came to mind, not so much in reference to global warming, but rather expounding the difficulties we would face. I was up for the challenge though. This was too important to leave undirected and it's exactly what had been lacking in serious troubleshooting tools for customer service.

I had built a small tool of this type for my personal use years before. It was simple yet effective and contained the sum of my repeated knowledge over years of troubleshooting. I knew what I was shooting for. It was new, it was exciting, and by all the gods it would make one hell of a difference!

Fibre: also known as optical; glass fiber and light technology able to carry ludicrously vast amounts of digital data over equally ludicrous distances.


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