2015-03-01 - Header

Culture

Great corporate culture is easy to spot; just count the happy employees. I’m sure there are studies into the benefits of a positive culture, but I doubt you need studies to be convinced anyway.

Creating a great culture can be incredibly hard though. And regaining it after losing it is just as hard itself. It is like exercise; the amount of effort it takes to regain condition after sitting on your ass for a month disproportionately overshadows the effort it would have taken to maintain the routine for that same period. It’s rolling that boulder back up-hill.

So, I guess the first rule of Culture Club is: maintain culture for all it’s worth.

What makes culture hard is that you cannot afford words and actions to become misaligned. Intent alone is not enough, because perception beats intent every day; if employees don’t believe it, you’ve lost already.

Which means that the second rule of Culture Club is: make sure you pick a culture you are prepared to stand behind with every action, pick the culture you mean, be specific… platitudes do more harm than good. Everyone wants to be the “company full of smart empowered and pro-active individuals”, but just don’t say it unless you’re prepared to live by it.

I mean, look at McDonalds… there are manuals and procedures for everything. No need for anyone to be empowered or pro-active. But at least everyone is on the same page regarding what McDonalds culture is like. Which means that nobody ends up complaining about it. It Does What It Says On The Label.

And there are many stops along the spectrum from completely running on process* to completely running on people*, so pick the spot that is right for your organisation and live and breathe it.

And that would be the third rule of Culture Club: once you have a culture that is realistic for your organisation, everyone has to work at keeping it there. You have to look for things slipping and nudge them back where your culture says it belongs.

I suspect that may well be one of the biggest purposes that the playful decor at a place like Google has in maintaining their culture. It’s not a direct part of the culture, but it serves as an overt reminder not to take things too seriously. Breaking traditional corporatey-officey rules in the way you decorate immediately makes clear not to make assumptions about how things work around the place.

And I couldn’t be happier at Campaign Monitor; it comes with a great built-in culture close to the People-based end of the spectrum. And I’ll actively be doing my bit to help keep it there along with everyone else.

Just a little ongoing maintenance is all it takes.


* It is almost impossible to maintain a culture that is purely process-based or purely people-based. The more process-based a culture, the better it is to have a publicly acknowledged “why” for each rule and process; it helps the “people”-people. The more people-based a culture, the better it is to make clear that not being sure of how to handle something is okay, and a process to follow to find the right person to help; because you’re going to have “process”-people as well.

Why Driving Sucks

I could write a whole lot more about my job at the end of my first week, but I have more interest in talking about what happens before and after that work.

I have time-shifted, so I drive 6:30am – 7:30am and then 4:00pm – 5:00pm.
This is as close as I think I’ll get to the optimistic Google estimate of 53 minutes.
And that’s okay.

For the past eternity, my 5-10 minute commute exposes me to a bad driver or two every once in a while. With a daily 60 minute commute each way, every day is my “lucky” day. And I wanted to just record some of these blessings so I do not forget when the time comes to gripe about occasional public-transport mishaps.

Ending Lanes – there are a couple of places on my commute where 2 lanes merge into 1, with the left lane disappearing. Most drivers are perfectly polite and do not push in all the way at the end of the merging lane. Sadly, when they do, they merge in as little distance as possible, which usually encourages the small minority to overtake in the left lane… and push in at the very front, which then slows down the right lane even more, encouraging even more assh*les to push in front. Every once in a while you’ll even have someone ducking from the right lane into the left, push to the front and re-merge… because… entitlement.

This is actually the easiest to fix, and when I find myself in the left lane, I start indicating to merge early and when a space opens up, I move over half-way to claim the spot while keeping the left lane blocked. If this feels awkward, indicating and just keeping pace with the open space will work too. This usually makes both lanes flow better because now there aren’t any pushing-in cars causing confusion and uncertainty to the drivers at the end of the merge.

Overtaking Lanes – there is a long windy single-lane stretch in my commute, which occasionally widens to 2 lanes for a stretch to allow overtaking before merging back together. It is inevitable on the single-lane portions to get stuck behind a car going below the speed limit. On a 100km/h stretch there’ll be a car doing 90km/h. I wait patiently. Then the overtaking lane comes. I get into the second lane and speed up to 105km/h to get past quickly… and now suddenly the granny turns into Taz, going 108km/h and pulling away from me!?

Theoretically this can be overcome by speeding up till you inevitably go faster, but I don’t really want to see how far that game of chicken would take me. I do not know why people do this. It is anti-social… if you know the car behind you for the last 5km clearly wanted to go faster than you are going, can you not hold back when the overtaking lane comes around? Heck, slow down to 80km/h briefly to make it easier, and then go back to 90km/h; everyone’s happy!

Hanging Right – this is a variant of the last one… most of the way to work doesn’t exceed 2 lanes. The slow traffic is on the left. The fast traffic is on the right. Everyone thinks they are fast traffic. They want to go faster than the slow car they are behind. 85km/h on a 100km/h stretch!? No way! So, they pull in front of me to overtake… at 90km/h… for ki-lo-me-tres.

When I notice a fast driver approaching behind me, I find a way to get back into the left lane, even if I still want to get back in the right lane right afterwards to keep overtaking myself. Even if the car coming up is doing an illegal 120km/h, because I’m not the Police, and I’m not here to stop them from doing anything wrong. It’s usually best to have extreme speeders and Tetris drivers as far away as possible anyway.

Anyway,…
… Future-Jerry…
… That train you are hating so much right now, is really not so bad…
… It is usually moving. It isn’t beholden to the whims of other traffic…
… It may be a bit full, but you can read a book and be blissfully ignorant of those few idiots on the road…

Starting at Campaign Monitor

Commute

I made the right call when I was first offered the job late 2013; that is not to say that there is anything wrong with the job per-se, because Campaign Monitor has already proven an awesome place to work. The commute would have killed me 6 months in.

Tuesday - fresh muffins with breakfast

Tuesday – fresh muffins with breakfast

On Monday morning, I made it from home to work in 70 minutes, door to door. Not bad, but not quite the 60 minutes I thought achievable. My manager suggested I try a different route home, which due to evening traffic also came to 70 minutes, and sadly a missed Pilates class.

Then this morning, Google told me to expect 1h42m, to which I scoffed “No Way”.
Alas, “Yes Way”… multiple incidents and accidents, hints and allegations later, 90 minutes door-to-door.

I am somewhat hopeful after a 60-minute commute this afternoon that I can fine-tune this a little further for the next 4 weeks after which the office will move to a gorgeous new CBD location. I am considering waking up at the not-a-real-time of 6:30am so that I can start early, finish early, and hopefully mostly avoid the traffic both ways.

A small limited-duration sacrifice to the sleep gods may be warranted. And limiting my gym classes to Tuesday evening and the weekend for now.

Food

This job comes with breakfast and lunch included.

And not just something quickly thrown-together either. The Three Chefs start their day at 7am, first to make breakfast and coffee orders for 8:30am, then to make lunch for 12:30pm, and finally an afternoon snack and coffee at 2:30pm.

Tuesdays' menu - I can still smell the lamb ribs on my t-shirt

Tuesdays’ menu – I can still smell the lamb ribs on my t-shirt

It’s definitely better fare than I’d be able to buy myself for an average $10, and it’s not costing me anything. It’s also a great time to sit down and chat with co-workers. Sadly I am horrendous with names, and I’m sure I’ll have to be reminded for a while longer… but it’s a great way to get to know my coworkers.

There is an internal web page where the menu for the week is published, and from what I understand the chefs do not like repeating themselves, so I am looking forward to never having the same lunch again. Also, probably healthier than I’d otherwise eat (mostly).

Learning Curve

Getting started is always a bit intimidating, when you come in feeling like you know nothing. The Engineering department has a buddy system in place though, so I have someone to ask when I need to figure something out.

There have been a few false starts where I needed a hand, but otherwise, the internal Wiki is amazingly comprehensive. I have learned an awful lot already in only two days from just poking around.

DiSC - 6515 - Creative (apparently!)

DiSC – 6515 – Creative (apparently!)

Today I had my first one-on-one with my team lead. Having used Manager Tools myself, I already knew what to expect. And I had seen many staff with DiSC profiles displayed in their windows, so I asked if I should get one of those done as well.

“Oh sure, there is a Wiki page, and here are the credit card details… just make sure you send an invoice to myself and the accountant when you’ve bought something.”

*blink* … no red tape indeed!

Culture

Which brings me to CM culture.

Friendly and relaxed does not even begin to describe it. “We’re all smart adults here” might as well be the company motto. The change feels a little disorienting to me, but I’m sure I will adapt quickly enough.

Dress code is: “whatever you are comfortable in” (within reason, of course, see “smart adult” above), but there are plenty of staff in t-shirts, shorts and no-shoes.

Tomorrow's Lunch - Sous Vide chicken.

Tomorrow’s Lunch – Sous Vide chicken.

I have been invited to try ping-pong, XBox, after-work trainer sessions… So far, I have politely declined while I get my bearings a bit more and work out my commute and sleep patterns.

But I already know, I’m right at home.

Last Day

I cannot exactly say that 8 weeks felt like the blink of an eye. They definitely felt like A-Long-Time-tm.

And I feel a little guilty about how little of consequence I have done with it, but not too much.

I have managed to re-establish a workable gym routine that had been suffering from too many interruptions last year from around August till November. I can actually do Body Attack again without dying, and my legs feel mostly okay after an hour.

I have read a half dozen fairly lengthy books from the large pile I was indirectly gifted by my former co-workers (a gift certificate well spent!)

I have watched way too many movies, way too much TV, and had a few nice do-nothing days along the way too.

And most importantly, I feel completely relaxed.
Which bodes well for tomorrow, the coming month, and the years beyond.

Campaign Monitor, here I come!
I must remember to take pictures along the way.

Tony for a Little While Longer

Full disclosure first; my personal leaning according to The Political Compass economically lands slightly Left of centre, and socially very Libertarian. This is by way of explaining that although I have explicitly and specifically never been a fan of Tony Abbott, most Australian politicians are far too authoritarian for my tastes.

Despite all this, I’m neither pleased nor displeased with the outcome of the spill motion this morning. It seems clear to me that it’s far past the point-of-no-return for Tony’s eventual implosion. Everything between now and then is just political manoeuvring at one scale or another.

Tony appears to have serious impulse-control problems, and that continues to be his greatest liability. No matter how chastised he feels, and how much he intends to do better so as not to lose the leadership, he’ll remain just one low-blood-sugar moment away from falling over his own tongue.

By contrast, Malcolm Turnbull is doing a great impression of a Zen master. Almost every move carefully weighed and considered; no more action or admission than strictly necessary. He is doing a great job of making his intent clear without explicitly cornering himself by overt admissions.

I know to many Australians, they are both Liberals and therefore equally bad, but there is a fundamental qualitative difference between a carefully rational politician with an ability to change his mind, and a one trick pony that has figured out which lever to pull for a pellet.

And let’s not forget that calling Labor “left” and Liberal “right” is a bit of a joke anyway. A quick look at the Political Compass for the 2013 elections (or really, the political spectrum for almost every western democracy) will show that the majority parties sit squeezed in a very tight corner to the Authoritarian Right of the compass. As much as we can tell ourselves that a lot hinges on whether Labor or Liberal wins, the reality is that the real-world outcomes are only marginally different between the two once they are in power.

Not that I have a stake in this anyway; I am merely a permanent resident, and as such I am not entitled to vote.

Which is just as well, because I wouldn’t know who to vote for anyway.

My Campaign Monitor Adventure – Soon

The original plan would have been to start at my new job in the CBD last Monday (2nd Feb), but speaking to the recruiter uncovered that the interior decorating in the CBD was running later than anticipated, to the tune of early March. He suggested splitting the difference and starting Feb 16th, which sounded fine to me.

I’m starting to get back into a working frame-of-mind.

Yesterday I had a social engagement in the CBD and Abbey and I decided to take the Parramatta ferry in for a nice slow ride, and I took the opportunity to snap some shots of what I believe are our offices-to-be… there aren’t that many buildings around Hyde Park high enough.

Corner of Elizabeth and Park

Corner of Elizabeth and Park

I’m looking forward to these offices. The CBD is too far from where I live to spend much time there, but there is a lot of charm to the idea of being able to spend some time over lunch in Hyde Park… it’s right outside the door after all.

Well-used park

Well-used park

And I like the fact that city-dwellers actually use the park as well. Late in the afternoon the lawns were littered with people by themselves and in small groups reading or talking. And a larger group gathering near the reflecting pond seemed to be getting ready for exercise. I didn’t wait around to find out for sure though.

Plenty of shade among the massive trees.

Plenty of shade among the massive trees.

And the park has some wonderful shade as well. It was overcast yesterday, but I’m sure even on a sunny day a skin-safe spot can be found on one of the many benches strewn about the walkways.

But first… three weeks of commuting to Sutherland by car.

I’m sure I’ll be too engrossed in getting up to speed to notice much of it, and it’ll be a nice opportunity to spend some time in their original offices before they become “former”.

“Sadly”, the new offices will apparently not have personal offices, but be organised around teams from what I understand. I look forward to finding out what that looks like.

Despite the many articles recently floating around the internet slamming open-plan offices, I’m not too worried either way. I just came from open-plan and I’m sure I will be able to find the occasional quiet corner for deep thoughts to be thought; it’s just a matter of picking up the laptop and going for a walk.

Worst-case scenario I guess I could wander into the park, although I’m not sure the WiFi will reach all the way down.

Thomas Covenant – Unbeliever

I finished.

Last week, after reading through my many Melbourne journeys for work and many weekends over coffee, I finally closed the tenth volume of the Thomas Covenant series. And to be frank; I am feeling a little relieved to be done.

This series of books revolves around Covenant; on paper the most unlikeable antihero imaginable. Filled with self-loathing, anger and numerous anti-social traits. An author, diagnosed with leprosy, wife lost, child taken, universally feared and despised.

The stuff great stories are made of, clearly.

I vaguely recalled reading some or all of the series when I was much younger, which prompted me to give them another comprehensive shot since the last book was only released in 2013.

The first three books in the series are a trilogy released from 1977 to 1979, and they are unambiguously great, albeit somewhat bleak and challenging in parts (note: trigger warning for rape if you decide to read it). But I would strongly recommend not to read beyond, because the second trilogy and the last four books are increasingly fainter copies of the original. Which is a shame, because after the first three books I really wanted the remaining seven to be of the same calibre.

The first trilogy has a very memorable list of characters; Lord Foul (the antagonist) has some wonderfully evocative and malevolent mono/dialogue, the Lords struggling to recover past knowledge without despair,  the Haruchai warrior race with a very demanding personal ethic. And Covenant throughout balancing his struggle with self-loathing, uncertainty whether his experience is even real, and transcending his own limitations for a growing investment in the people he wrongs along the way.

Even knowing about “clench racing” (look it up!) and noticing the tic more as a result didn’t diminish the strength of the storytelling.

The great thing about the second trilogy is that it cleverly uses the fact that time flows faster in his fantasy alternate reality than in our real world to have 10 years in Covenants life put him 3000 years into the future in this alternate reality. A chance to create a completely new setting for the world, a new challenge, a new iteration of the struggle with lord Foul. What diminishes it though is the fact it turns into ever more fantasy-travel-porn… gratuitously labouring from one side of the world to another to get object X to challenge foe Y in increasing order of challenge. Grinding is no more fun in books than it is in WoW.

Add to this the fact that he has a somewhat painfully whiny companion in Linden Avery along for the ride. I understand what she is for, and intellectually the exploration of her personality is interesting enough… it just doesn’t make for very entertaining or relaxing reading in any other way than as an intellectual exercise.

And this is where the last four books become ever more dreary. For starters Covenant doesn’t appear until the third book at all; it’s all Linden all the time, crumpling into herself in despair over the challenges in front of her, setting herself progressively less lofty goals until she basically dooms the world when she brings back Covenant. It feels like her role was more to drive the story to such a deep crises as to challenge Covenant sufficiently to fix it all again. Add to this a veritable constellation of bad guys all trying to do them in at the same time for differing agendas, and add more travel-porn into the mix, and it feels like the only person to whom the story must have been enjoyable was the author.

The only reason I didn’t give up before the end?

I was morbidly curious to see how the author was going to get himself out of the knots he was setting up. Yes. I meta-read, not so much the story as the author. Also… spoiler: Deus-Ex, a million times. Ugh.

In short: I heartily recommend the original trilogy… just pretend nothing else happens after it. Lord Foul is defeated. He never recovered from the damage done by Covenant. You’ll save yourself several months of increasing agony.

Sad Display along M7

I had been taking some shots along the M7 for a photo-editing experiment I am planning to do next. Time to learn my new tools (long overdue). I almost didn’t notice this sad bunch sitting along the cycle path.

I have no idea what they are waiting for exactly, but it looks like they have been there for a while without shelter. I hope their ride shows up soon.

It looks like they have been waiting for their ride for some time

It looks like they have been waiting for their ride for some time