I Win

The title of this post has been rattling around inside my head for half a day despite the fact it’s incredibly egotistical and not at all accurate, but defines exactly how I feel about how the trip to Tokyo turned out. Today was an opportunity to talk about the "secret project" with a number of managers who have a vested interest in seeing a solution to a problem that teachers across the country have been rather vocal about. Two had seen it, the others had not. Less than 20-minutes into the presentation, everyone was in agreement that the demo was good enough to deploy to a couple of locations as a trial. Before doing such a thing, though, executive approval was required. The CEO agreed to a quick demo and discussion on the topic, gave it the green light, then said “I’m glad we have something to tell the schools now. Every visit has involved complaints about the ‘global system’”. My objectives were accomplished. Teachers at several dozen schools will soon have one less thing to fight with during the day. People were generally smiling and happy. The day could not have gotten better.

Yet the title of this post irks me.

Working in a company of 10,000+ people means that a good number of them are going to be incredibly intelligent, incredibly perceptive, and incredibly competent. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with many people who fit two or more of these attributes and I look forward to working with them in a productive manner in the future, too. The great thing about working with intelligent, perceptive, and competent people is that there is always something to learn along the way. By assuming an attitude of “I win!”, I risk coming across as yet another over-confident, egotistical bastard who doesn’t appreciate the efforts of others, which is most certainly not always the case1. What I presented today may help the organization in the long run, but it was done in a manner that will likely rub some senior-level colleagues the wrong way. While no rules were officially broken, generally when there are questions or concerns involving someone else's project, it's uncouth to reverse-engineer what they've done, hammer their system to extract content, then present it elsewhere in a manner that is completely off the radar.

Justifications aside, I simply cannot shake the feeling that I’ve “won”. What it is exactly that I’ve won? This remains to be seen. Perhaps I've won some new enemies. It could be that I've won the question of whether the day job should be hiring out our jobs to vendors rather than making use of the many people within the company who can accomplish various goals, be they related to software or otherwise. Maybe it's something else entirely.

What I want, more than anything else the day job can offer, is to hear colleagues say that they want to use my software. I understand this is a very captive market and that there is generally nowhere else to go. That said, by creating something that people want to use, I feel an incredible sense of accomplishment; I have taken complaints, worries, and concerns and built something else. Is it better? It's not for me to judge.

The system I’m trying to replace at the day job was created by intelligent people. The problem comes down to expectations. People at the school level in Japan expect software that will present them with a dearth of features designed to help them do their job. The system from HQ in the US checks all the boxes, but fails in execution. Mine excels at execution while failing with a simplified set features. Rather than thinking "I won", it might make more sense to look at this as a group effort and proclaim that we won.

  1. I will not lie and say that I always appreciate the efforts of others, as this is demonstrably false. There are several examples on this website alone where I say that someone has gone out of their way to help, and I’ve snubbed them for whatever reason. I am not at all a good person, nor can I pretend to be one. What I can do, however, is aim to be better today than I was yesterday. I honestly try to do this, though there are many, many examples of when I’ve failed.

The Things We've Done

One of the many questions I like to ask people over a caffeinated or alcoholic beverage is "What are you most proud of doing?" It's a uniquely personal question that generally results in people thinking for a moment, exhaling, and responding with something along the lines of "I don't know". Very few people have an immediate answer for this because — for reasons I'm not entirely clear on — we don't seem to enjoy our victories for very long. Yet when we look back at the things we've accomplished in our lives, how can a person not be genuinely proud of a few things they've accomplished?

Hideki, the houseless person1 who has lived under a nearby bridge for the better part of five years, managed to get himself some stable employment at the start of the summer working for the city and cleaning parks. He was incredibly happy and soon moved into a cheap apartment on the south side of town. With autumn upon us, the city has let him go and Hideki has once again taken up residence under the bridge for the winter. I asked him why he's chosen to do this, and he explained in his meandering, rambling way that his neighbors are friendlier … and he likes that there are generally more steel and aluminum cans to collect for recycling in the area than other parts of town.

He's happy where he is, and he says he was proud that he could keep a steady job for an entire season for the first time in years. What he's told me of his past was generally not pretty, but his present is exactly what he wants it to be. We should all be so lucky to be happy with our circumstances.

When I think about the things that I'm most proud of, I struggle to answer why I'm proud of these accomplishments. They're not particularly amazing, nor have they changed the world for the better (yet). Despite this I'm genuinely happy to say "I have done this thing to the best of my ability" and leave it at that. I wonder if this is the case for others as well.

  1. Hideki has told me many times that "his bridge" is his home, so he's not homeless.