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Bruce and a Lesson in Work-Life Balance

“You’re getting reorged.” That was all my now former boss told me in the hallway. It wasn’t something I wanted to hear at that moment. Why? For one, I liked my old boss, and I also really needed to go to the bathroom. It wasn’t a good hallway conversation.

“You’ll be reporting to Bruce.” Who? I’d never heard of him. Bruce was new to the company, coming to us from a construction equipment firm where he was a sales VP. It was a strange fit, especially considering that he now had some IT people reporting to him. He shared his resume with the group at our first meeting. This guy was a serious corporate go-getter. He literally rose from the mail room to the big corner office. Bruce’s achievements on his resume, if true, were remarkable. He lived in a fancy gated neighborhood and drove a European sports car. He had a nice looking family, a son active in high school sports and a college-aged daughter who turned a lot of heads. More on his kids later.

But it didn’t take long before Bruce’s management style started to rub people the wrong way. IT guys are used to a laid back atmosphere. Not Bruce. He insisted on a strict professional dress code, right down to the shoes. Core working hours were mandatory and enforced. Flex time? Forget about it! He also insisted on keeping the supply cabinet in his office. Folks hated groveling for paper and pens, having to justify a need for them. The guy was a tyrant. It was like working for R. Lee Ermey. For those of us in IT, it was hell.

It also became apparent that if you didn’t have aspirations of upper management, Bruce didn’t respect you. Being a peon was okay as long as you showed what he thought was a drive to make it to the top. And that drive didn’t leave room for much else. The serious go-getters he was grooming didn’t have time for soccer games with the kids. Even vacation requests were often denied.

Yet one day Bruce confided something to me. It was a short remark, almost made in an off-handed way. He said that he was trying to spend more time with his son and daughter. They were close to leaving home and he felt like he had a lot of lost ground to make up. That was about all he said on the matter, but it stuck with me.

It was an epiphany. I knew I didn’t like Bruce, and I thought he didn’t have anything to teach me career-wise. Was I ever wrong. Bruce taught me a LOT. I learned in that instant that I didn’t want to be a Bruce. How many people look back at the end of their career and wish they’d spent more time at the office? None! I decided to trade a thick resume, big job titles and plaques on the wall for quality time with the kids. It means I’m not going to be a chief technology officer one day. It also means I’m not going to miss things like “Doughnuts with Dad” at my son’s preschool. It means I don’t miss bedtime.

I don’t know what happened to Bruce. The next reorg came and swept me away to a better place. Bruce eventually left the company, hopefully to retire and spend more time at home. But knowing him, he’s probably still trying to conquer the corporate world in another big building full of cubicles. I’m sure he’s still slaving away trying to get another penny added to the EPS this quarter. Hopefully his daughter isn’t out looking for something to replace the father figure she didn’t have.

Team Building Ideas

So here’s the scenario… You’re a middle manager in cubicle land. The economy sucks. You’ve laid off or outsourced half your work force and morale is low. The “team members” you have left are working extra to cover for the folks you’ve moved to the unemployment line. You fear that once the job market turns around, people are going to flee your company in droves. What’s a pointy haired boss to do?

Team building! Get these folks our of their cubicles and into something fun and kind of competitive. Give them a challenge, a goal they can hit in the hopes of capturing a laser printed certificate of achievement. And maybe, just maybe, your employees might get to interact with others from your organization, a hodge podge of unrelated departments.

In all seriousness, my company seems to be doing this kind of thing much more often now. And as much as I used to make fun of it, I’m starting to enjoy the stuff we do. So check out my suggestions for places to take your office group. I’ve tried most of these. Still hoping for my first certificate of achievement.

Andretti Karting – Roswell

By far my favorite place for something like this. The karts here are surprisingly fast and the racing is close. It was an intense experience. If you’re group is young and competitive, this is the place to go! They also have some rather large meeting rooms if you need to conduct some business. For those not interesting in racing, they have a ton of video games and pool tables. Also food and booze onsite.

Bowling

An old standby for team building events. Nevertheless it still works. Most bowling alleys have the gutter bumpers available. The game gets significantly more enjoyable when every other ball isn’t a gutter ball.

Try Brunswick Zone in Roswell or Stars and Strikes in Cumming.

WhirlyBall – Roswell

The karts here are several orders of magnitude slower than Andretti. But going fast is not really the objective. Whirleyball is like combining bumper cars, Jai-Alai and hockey into one crazy sport. And considering that you’re just sitting on your ass most of the time, I found that my heart was pumping pretty quick at the end of the game. It is a fun thing to do once and doesn’t require a lot of athleticism.

Corn Maze

Get lost. Literally. Here’s the idea… Group up teams of people who don’t work with one another. Make them work together to quickly get through a maze carved into a corn field. At the end, if they aren’t killing each other, maybe they will be more cohesive or something. If they can navigate a corn field together, then maybe they can solve your unpaid collections problems at work? Probably not. But then again, being outside in the early fall sure beats florescent lights and cubicles.

My suggestions for nearby corn mazes are Cagle’s Dairy in Cherokee County and Uncle Shucks in Dawsonville.

Cubicle Contributions – Charity at Work

Someone asked me for money today. No, there are not homeless people in Alpharetta now. And no I wasn’t at Underground Atlanta, I was in my cubicle. And no he wasn’t a homeless guy that managed to slip past security. This was a co-worker, albeit one that rides a Harley and wears a leather jacket. Did I avoid eye contact and move along? Nope, I wrote him a check.

Let’s call him Ted, my Harley-riding software developer co-worker. Every year Ted participates in the Ride for Kids which is a rather large fundraiser for the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation. This coming Sunday is their Atlanta event. If you wake up early on Sunday morning you might catch them cruising up GA-400. It is a cool sight to see, and I’m not a motorcycle guy by any means.

Is it cool for Ted to hit up his fellow cubicle dwellers for cash contributions? Or is he crossing the line, bordering on pestering? Is it appropriate to ask co-workers to support your charitable endeavor? I say absolutely, so long as you follow a few rules. But before I get into my rules, here is why I give to stuff like this:

People want to give but don’t. They need to be asked. I truly believe that most people are giving people. We just get busy in our daily grind and giving becomes something we don’t do. Sometimes it just takes a kind yet firm invitation to give that gets us off our butts. Charity events like this create that little push. I’m all for being pushed, a little.

Do some research before you give. Even though you’ve only giving a few bucks to a co-worker, don’t give if you’re not comfortable with the charity. In the case of the PBTF… I did my research and learned they are favorably ranked on Charity Navigator. Do some homework on any organization you donate money to, office fundraiser or not.

Giving creates some office goodwill. I’m not trying to buy my way into the good graces of my co-workers. But helping Ted builds a bit of cubicle goodwill. I don’t suggest keeping a tally of this, requesting a return favor a few weeks later. That’s not cool. But Ted is likely to remember my support of his cause. That’ll come in handy when I ask him to fix that shoddy code he wrote!

I’d rather help an individual’s fundraiser than the corporate campaign. This one might not make a lot of sense. But I’d rather help Ted or maybe someone doing a walk-a-thon over the big corporate United Way campaign. Ted’s a good guy and deserves the credit.

If you’re going to raise money at work, try following the these tips. First, don’t lean on people too hard and don’t pester them. An e-mail is an okay way to start. I’m not opposed to an in-person request so long as it is sincere. And don’t be offended if someone says no or gives almost nothing. Second, don’t let it interfere too much with work. Don’t waste a lot of your time and others. And along those lines, don’t go plastering stuff on every bulletin board in the office either. Keep it personal. Finally, thank your donors. Handwritten notes go a long way. Or better yet, include something with your note, perhaps a small piece of fancy chocolate or something.

I didn’t give Ted a lot of money so I’m certainly not trying to boast. As a matter of fact, I only gave the minimum to qualify for my company’s matching gift program. But nonetheless it is something. It’s for the kids, right? Maybe Ted will win a nice set of steak knives for raising the most cash.

Best Place to Live for an Atlanta IT Professional

I recently received the following e-mail from a reader…

One of the things my husband and I like about the Alpharetta area is the sheer number of jobs in the IT field, which we both work in, along with the reasonable cost of living.

Quick question .. we can only get up in that area on the weekends – a few years back my husband was there for a trip. He mentioned the traffic during the week was horrible. I know overall the traffic in the ATL can be a bit much — if you live in Alpharetta and commute to where most of the hi tech firms are – is it really that bad? We have lived in the DC area so we can handle traffic, but would rather not return to hour plus commutes.

Just wanted to pass along that I enjoy reading your blog so thanks!

Tricia

Thanks for the kind words, Tricia! Your e-mail fondly takes me back in time, long ago…

Cue the harp music and blurry mental images

…it was the late 1990′s, the heady days of the IT boom. If you could spell JAVA, you got a job. Crafty IT folk would land contract jobs for big bucks. It was common to start a new IT contract then get a better offer a few days later after running into someone at lunch. Those who stayed with a company got to play the stock option lottery for free. If you were lucky, your company (with no business plan and still in the red) would go public or get acquired. Hello liquidity event!

Cue the needle scratching on the record sound effect

Two recessions later, things are a little different. There are a hundred thousand Indian guys willing to do your job for ten rupees a day.

Oh wait, you wanted to talk about traffic and IT work. Sorry. Metro Atlanta has several geographic pockets of IT jobs. They are roughly located in…

  • Alpharetta (North Fulton)
  • Norcross (Duluth, Peachtree Corners)
  • Perimeter (Sandy Springs, Dunwoody)
  • Southeast Cobb County (Vinnings, Galleria area)
  • ITP (inside the perimeter, Buckhead, Midtown Atlanta)

I’m probably forgetting some, and that also doesn’t mean you can’t find a job somewhere else. I know IT people in Cherokee county, Gwinnett, etc. But as a general rule, these are where you’ll find the concentrations of IT jobs.

If you’re anticipating switching IT jobs every few years then I wouldn’t move to Alpharetta. As much as I like living here, I just don’t think it is ideal for commuting. Your best bet location-wise is the perimeter area, Dunwoody or Sandy Springs. You’re close to GA-400 and I-285, which can move you in any direction. You can go up 400 for Alpharetta or south for stuff in town. Scoot over to Peachtree Industrial if you want to head northeast into the Norcross area, or go west on the perimeter to the Cobb locations.

Don’t get me wrong, your commute is still likely to suck no matter which way you go. I just think that living at the perimeter will reduce your chances of having a truly horrendous commute somewhere. If you tried to commute from Alpharetta to Midtown or Vinnings everyday, you’d want to keep sharp objects out of your cubicle.

Also keep in mind that the surface roads at the perimeter are a mess. It will likely take you more than half your commute to get from home to the highway. But on the flip side, Dunwoody and Sandy Springs are decent places to live with good schools, places to eat, more nightlife options, etc.

I’m also like you in that Alpharetta attracted me because of the sheer number of IT jobs. If you look at my monthly job market posts, nearly every company on this list employs hundreds or thousands of IT people in Alpharetta. If you can land something fairly stable in Alpharetta then by all means settle down here! Take what I said above and ignore it all!

I kinda hope Bob Strader comments on this post. He’s a local realtor and blogger. I always appreciate what he has to say, especially for a topic like this.

Best of luck in your job hunt and move! Thanks again for the email.

If you have questions about Alpharetta or my blog, e-mail me at lee@rootsinalphareta.com or find me on twitter at http://twitter.com/rootsalpharetta

The Aliens Looking Down on Windward Parkway

I’m convinced there are aliens looking down on Windward Parkway in befuddled amazement. They are studying us and our ways, and cubicle life on Windward has them completely dumbfounded.

Millions of square feet of indoor space remains empty most of the time, except for about fifty hours a week. It is during those times that the mass migration occurs. Even though Alpharetta is a moderate sized city, tens of thousands of people drive scores of miles to get here. From all over metropolitan Atlanta they come. They drive vehicles that hold four or more people, yet they ride alone on overcrowded roads. By the time they arrive, they are already frazzled and ticked off.

They walk past security guards as they enter the buildings. I suppose someone of authority thinks unauthorized people actually want to enter these buildings. Nevertheless electronic credentials are flashed and folks enter. Next they navigate an endless maze of walls only five feet tall. Finally they arrive at a space marked 5B069 on a sticker left by the networking guys.

Next they enter their own little world. It’s fifty square feet that belongs almost exclusively to them. They are surrounded on four of six sides by what is essentially rigid carpet. Privacy? Almost nonexistent. The fabric walls are dingy and dirty from years of occupants long gone. They’ll spent over two thousand hours a year in these pale neutral colored confines.

A zipper opens a bag and reveals a mobile computing device. It is a wonder of technology that includes the capability of wireless connectivity. Yet it is of little need because they connect it to a dizzying array of wires. Those wires connect it to routers, which are connected to more routers, which are eventually connected to nearly every computer on the planet. While it is booting up, the employee removes a small black iPhone from their pocket. This is not a company-issued or approved device, yet its somewhat limited technology is used beyond its means to communicate trivial personal details over Twitter and Facebook. A greater level of collaboration is achieved with this device in ten minutes than in eight hours working in the cubicle (even though they collaborate about the meatloaf dinner from last night).

Once the laptop computer is finished booting up, this person uses it to communicate with other employees, over a wire, to the adjacent fabric covered box. This communication continues for hours and hours, using technology that is decades old, running on a computer capable of putting a man on the moon… wirelessly. The employees labor to produce software that is used internally by other cubicle critters in unseen parts of the building. These other workers curse the software for being prone to defects and otherwise difficult to use. Little do they know that the people responsible for making it sit yards away and are just as miserable in their cubicle-bound careers.

Steven Hawking recently said we should be fearful of possible alien contact. I’m not losing any sleep over it. After witnessing the above, the little green men probably think we are all morons. Soon they’ll move forward with plans to enslave us to do their work. I just hope they give me an office with a door.

Alpharetta to Extend Greenway… a Little Bit

The city of Alpharetta has voted to extend the Big Creek Greenway from its current end at Webb Bridge Road up to the end of Marconi Drive. This is only about three quarters of a mile. Doesn’t seem like a lot really, but it is one step closer to Forsyth’s Greenway. It also opens up access to Windward. There will be a very small parking area here at the cul-de-sac on Marconi. They are also building a tunnel under Webb Bridge Road just for the path.

The trail is starting to get very close to cubicle land. This might be a nice lunchtime diversion for folks working at McKesson. But from here, the path is uncertain. Crossing Windward will be a problem. If the city is willing to spend the dough to tunnel under Webb Bridge, then you’ve gotta think they would be willing to do the same for Windward. Or perhaps a pedestrian bridge?

It appears that the future path from Forsyth’s current end at McFarland will follow the new Ronald Reagan Blvd. If they ever build it, this will be real close to the proposed Taubman Mall. I think this will take away from the woodsy feel of the path. It also means that Alpharetta will have some choices to make on how to get to McGinnis Ferry Road. Will they continue to follow the creek and cut through the Windward golf course? Or perhaps they can go north and follow Alderman Drive near LexisNexis and Equifax? Stay tuned.

Mission Statements

I’ve got a quiz for you today. Can you guess who’s mission statement this is?

Consistently create encore experiences that enrich lives one person at a time.

No, it isn’t my blog’s mission statement because I don’t have one. I’m not a fan of mission statements, especially overly vague statements like the one above. If you can’t figure out what my blog is all about after reading an article or two, then I’ve failed. Likewise, if you can’t figure out a restaurant’s mission after eating there, no mission statement is going to help.

So who’s mission statement is this? It could be for anyone. “Encore experiences” makes me think of the symphony, but that’s not it. “Enrich lives”? That’s a pretty bold statement for a business to make. But this statement could apply to anyone, from an art gallery to a prostitute, and everyone in between.

Zaxby’s

Yeah, the chicken place. Don’t get me wrong, I kinda like Zaxby’s. They are an above average fast food joint. But this mission statement is absurd. They must be proud of it because it is often printed on my receipt. But give me a break! Are chicken fingers enriching my life? Do they make me a better human being? I get some calories, protein,  carbs (and a lot of fat) while eating here. They give me some energy I suppose. Enriching? Encore experiences? Hardly.

The unfortunate reality is that several man-weeks of work were probably wasted at Zaxby’s corporate HQ coming up with this statement. They probably sat in a conference room with a large whiteboard, writing down words. Some got scratched off and some got moved to the “parking lot” to wither and die. Break out teams were formed to explore concepts like “one person at a time.” When it was done, they probably labored over the word “consistently”, wondering if it was powerful enough to begin the statement. These wordsmiths took it all very seriously. The leader of the group (probably a young kid with an MBA) I’m sure got a good performance review the following year. The next year, when the economy went sour, he was the first on the layoff chopping block. All the wordsmithing in the world isn’t gonna sell more chicken fingers.

I cringe every time I read this at Zaxby’s. Why? Because in the past I’ve been in that group laboring to produce nonsense like this. I know how fruitless an endeavor it can be, yet I know how seriously bosses can take it. And I know how overly vague statements like this actually distract from the true mission of an organization. In Zaxby’s case, their true mission is simple… SELL FREAKING CHICKEN!

Perhaps they read the mission statement to each new hire. Maybe some pimply-faced high school will be inspired by it, prompting her to create an encore experience while taking my order. Who am I kidding. This mission statement is indescribably bad!

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