Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Zen of the Day

Master, what is the Way?
The Normal Mind is the Way. What you have unlearned you have learned.

You are reading this sentence without thinking about how you are doing it. Yet you spent several years learning the alphabet, how to sound out words, and how to string them out into a complete sentence. You learned how to read, but you really didn’t know how to read until the day you stopped thinking it. When you can do something without thinking about it – do it with a normal mind – then you have mastery.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

If My Career Were a Kid It Could Vote

I started my first “real” job – my career – eighteen years ago today. I walked into the TI’s HR department the day after Memorial Day 1989 fresh faced and bright eyed, ready for the world. So on this eighteenth anniversary, here are some random thoughts:

  • My goal when I started my career was “to be successful.” My career goal now is…I really don’t have one. The definition of “success” has been redefined for me, and the fact of the matter is that I live the lifestyle I want. I work from home and have free time to do things I enjoy - that is when I am not overseas wheeling and dealing with international executives. I got a pretty good set-up, actually.

  • Despite the previous comment, I actually work a hell of a lot. It is how I work that is different today. I may take two hours to work-out at lunch, but I get up at the crack of dawn to check on issues from Europe and then have 8pm conference calls with Asia. I do email at all hours, including weekends and holidays, and just spent Memorial Day on a plane heading to Asia for a business meeting (it isn’t a holiday here). So what changed isn’t the amount of time I work, it is when and how I work. That means flexibility during the day, but it also means a blurred line between “home” and “office”.

  • The last thing that I thought when I first entered the corridors of business was that I would EVER be unemployed. Looking back on the experience I would like to think that six months of forced retirement made me a better worker, but I think it made me more cynical. If anything, six months of unemployment deepened my hate of HR departments.

  • My MBA was one of the best things I ever did. I got about twenty years of business experience in three. Which is why I tell people to get them early in their careers. If you get to 40 without an MBA, going and getting one is a waste of time.

  • I figured out I am not CEO material, but that is okay. Not everyone can be a CEO, and after being around a lot of them for the last eighteen years I really don’t want to be one.

  • I also figured out I am not an entrepreneur. I have had tons spare time over the past few years where I could have started something on the side, but never had the urge. I rather go biking, go to a Tae Kwon Do class, jog, blog or do something else with my spare time. The urge to build a business just isn’t there.

  • I’ve traveled to Asia so much that I’m more comfortable going to Tokyo than New York.

  • One thing hasn’t changed for me, and that is the concept of “retirement”. I knew people at TI who were counting down the years, and that isn’t for me. I wouldn’t know what the hell to do with myself, so I just don’t see myself doing it voluntarily. I see myself cutting down and doing part-time consulting, but I have three more decades to go before I have to worry about it.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Pathetic Dog Owners

A post over at OTB got me thinking about dogs. Now I don't have anything against dogs. But I don't have anything for them either. They're just animals, and animals can be classified as useful (horses), tasty (cows), or other adjectives that describe their utility (some can even be inspiring).

But most of the time dogs are simply annoying. But it's not the animal's fault, it's their annoying owners, who fall into several main categories:

Oblivions - These are the owners that have dogs that bark for 30 minutes to an hour non-stop in the middle of the night and don't do a single thing to stop them. These are the owners that let their dogs jump all over you when you enter their front door. These are the owners who assume that everyone has the same attitude about dogs as they do.

My Dog Can Do No Wrong - You know these types, the owners of dogs who dig up your yard, knock over your garbage, or do other types of destruction and just smile and shrug their shoulders like it isn't a big deal.

The Law Doesn't Apply to Me - Leash laws and curbing (i.e. "clean up") ordinances don't apply to these types. One time I kept finding crap in my yard, and figured it was from someone's morning walk. I started reading the paper while sitting by my front window, and sure enough I saw a woman I didn't know walking her dog straight towards my house. I went outside and stood in my yard and folded my arms. She quickly turned around and walked briskly away. I didn't have any more problems after that.

It's A Rat But I'll Pretend It's a Canine - These are the owners that own little yelping, rat-sizes creatures, but pretend its a mighty wolf (okay, they are related genetically, but they need a different classification since they look like they are descended from a mop). This group is actually worse than the owners in Japan who thought they had poodles, but actually had sheep.

It's a Dog But I'll Pretend It's a Child - One time Mrs. Director and I received a Christmas card with a couple and their dog. All three were dressed in the same matching sweater and hat. Mrs. Director and I looked at each other with the "how pathetic" look in our eyes. Luckily the couple eventually had real children and we never saw the dog again, but many, many people never leave this stage. I understand, somewhat, anthropomorphizing a pet, but let's not get carried away.

Are there good dog owners? Sure there are. They are the ones who you don't realize own a dog.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Even In Tech It Is About Cheap Labor

...high tech industries that need skilled workers complain that (the immigration bill) doesn't give them flexibility to recruit workers with the specific skills they need from abroad.

- WSJ, today

I have worked in tech for nearly two decades and let me tell you a secret: there is no shortage of engineers. There is a shortage of cheap American engineers.

Every job opening that a tech company posts is flooded with resumes. Some of these come from older, experienced American workers who carry a hefty price tag that tech companies don't like to pay. So tech companies instead like to get "H-1b" workers who do the same work at much cheaper pay.

I know specific examples at HP, Broadcom and dozens of other companies where they pay Eastern European engineers 75 cents or less on the dollar. A Korean friend of mine has a personal story he tells where a tech company offered him a job well below market rates. He told them he was a permanent resident (i.e. "Green Card"), not H-1b, at which point they apologized and offered him a higher salary.

So when you hear "not enough U.S. engineers" from U.S. tech companies, don't believe them. All they have to do is pay higher salaries and get U.S. citizens without any problem. I understand wanting to keep costs low, but when companies like HP pay $21 million when they fire a CEO, I have a hard time feeling sympathy.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Engrish of the Week

I think Foodium is a perfectly good word myself and don't understand why it's only used in Japan. It is perfectly obvious that it would be a place where you go and get food.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Book Review: Discover Your Sales Strengths

This book is really just a specialized version of NOW, Discover Your Strengths. And what both books are really about is taking an internet-based test from Gallup that is supposed to find your five key strengths.

The premise of both books is that the key to career happiness and success is not to improve your weaknesses, but to build on your strengths. To build on your strengths you have to know what they are, and they just happen to have this handy test on the internet to find them for you. You basically buy this book if you want to take the test (each book has a unique password for getting into the test website)

That's about it. About half of both books is nothing more than an appendix defining the 34 "strengths" they list. In the case of the sales version there are some chapters on "sales" and "sales management" which don't have anything earth shattering other than stressing that improving weaknesses is sure way to career misery and building on strengths the way to go.

The test is analogous to Meyers Briggs in that it requires you to sit down for ~25 minutes, go through questions, and presto your personality is laid bare for you. The basic premise is that these strengths are "hardwired" during our formative years and therefore can't be changed. And since they can't be changed, why fight them? My strengths came out as:


I guess that sounds like me. But like a horoscope, the descriptions could sound like anyone in the right situation or mood. My top one, Deliberative, is described as:

You are careful. You are vigilant. You are a private person...You sense many risks (and) draw each one into the open. Then each risk can be identified, assessed, and ultimately reduced. Thus, you are a fairly serious person who approaches life with a certain reserve.

Isn't everyone like that at times? Or is it just me?

The main problem about the test is that once you have these strengths, it doesn't really say what you should be doing. The Sales version has examples of happy sales people for each and every strength, just different kinds of sales (for example I should be doing strategic sales with a small number of large, unchanging accounts - which is what I do), but it doesn't say what other sorts of careers that I might enjoy (not that I want to change, but I am curious).

The other problem I have is that the test web site has lots of come-ons for more books, "personal sessions" and the like. Essentially the are using both books and the test as an entry-level advertisement.

So I would give this book 2.5 stars out of 5, more if you are really into self-testing. If you want to save twenty bucks, Meyers Briggs tests are out on the web for free.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

DirectTV DVR Review

When I upgraded to HDTV I was a little worried about dropping Tivo and getting DirectTV's DVR, called the HR20. But after a couple of months of use I have to say that I am pretty pleased. As Rorschach commented, in some ways the HR20 is better than Tivo.

  • Record two things at once - This could be done with Tivo, but required additional equipment. I get it automatically with the HR20 and DirectTV HD. I didn't think this would be a big deal, but now that I have it I have to say that it comes in a lot more handy than I thought.
  • Preview Window - Whenever you are navigating the HR20, whatever you were watching - either recorded or live - goes to a little corner window, so you can watch and browse at the same time. The Tivo had a grid come over live TV, and you couldn't watch anything when looking at recorded features
  • Filtering - The HR20 has nice automatic filtering features for watching live TV, like "HDTV Channels", "Sports", and so one. Tivo had some of these but were not as obvious as the HR20.

Stayed The Same:

  • 30-Second Skip - This was THE feature I didn't want to lose. The HR20 has it, although it shows the video during the "skip" rather than just skipping over it. Since it takes about the same amount of time, it is not a big deal. The nice thing they added was seeing how many "skips" you hit, so you can see how friggen long some commerical breaks really are (more than five minutes isn't uncommon).
  • 3-Second Back - Exactly the same

Missing a Little

  • Thumbs-Up and Down and AutoRecord - The one thing I miss is Tivo finding stuff I "might" enjoy and recording it for me. It would record a lot of crap, but everyone once in a while it would find something that surprised me. And I really miss giving three thumbs down to stuff I really hated.
  • Navigation - I heard reviews that the HR20 navigation isn't as natural as the Tivo, but it isn't THAT bad. It is "okay", and does have deeper menus than Tivo for some tasks, but isn't terrible. Tivo did have an edge.
  • Controller - The Tivo "Dog Bone" controller was pretty nice and better than the HR20, but is a minor gripe.
  • Set-Up - Setting up my channels, etc. was harder with the HR20, but that was a one-time deal.

Overall I miss the Tivo less than I thought I would and am fairly pleased with the HR20. Of course the awesome HD picture is probably helping the transition. I didn't realize how much better it really is, especially for sports.