Failure Is Not An Option

Egg Drop Failure
Credit: xkcd

Having admitted that I seek out a high level of stress, it’s timely that I have, once again, gone way past the level of stress that I like to operate and hit the “woah this is damaging to my productivity” bit. I wrote before about How to be Crazy Busy Without Losing Your Mind and apparently I should be listening to my own advice.

Or not, because flying right out of my comfort zone is one way to stretch it. Best not dwell on other likely outcomes though.

Over the next two and a half weeks I will:

  • Pitch at the Canadian Expo for Extreme Blue
  • Pitch at the North American Expo for Extreme Blue
  • Spend half a day in Toronto finding out more about GBS (do I want to be a consultant? Answers on a postcard, please)
  • Head to Waterloo for my 2nd on-site at Google
  • Pitch to guy working on awesome project
  • Interest interview with another awesome project
  • Leave for a 3 week trip to the UK

In order to get to New York, we’re taking the bus. What’s interesting is the thing I’m most freaking out about right now is not one of the Failure-Is-Not-An-Option items on the list. It’s the thought of 8-10 hours of enforced unproductivity each way. It occurred to me the bus might have power-outlets and wifi and I could use the time to Get Stuff Done. It doesn’t. (The distress this caused me was amusing to my teammates, and then worrying – their plan: get me drunk and/or medicate me. My plan: read The Algorithm Design Manual (Amazon)). The way back was going to be 15 hours on the bus, because we’re coming back via Toronto. I’ve ended up getting off in Toronto instead for this GBS thing, and, unable to bear the thought of 5 hours on the train will fly back to Ottawa after that.

Was the total of 25 hours or so on a bus distressing to me as a European, because my perception of distance is different? I think it’s just – what do you do on a bus? With no power or wifi, clearly not code.

HR Guy: What were you planning on doing?

Me: I was thinking about creating some wordles, but anyway it’s not relevant. The thing is I don’t cope well doing nothing.

He suggested I watch movies and sleep. I think he and I see the world very differently.

So, what is this other than another story as to how I’ve completely over-committed and over-scheduled myself, again?

I have put this huge stress on myself because I really want to have a job lined up for January by the end of September, preferably by the end of August. And I don’t want it to be just any job, I want it to be a great job. And this is a problem because my ideas of what I want to do are somewhat vagueI want to make things! I want them to be pretty! I want to make the world a better place! Programmers can do that, I know it!

IBM is not a place that deals in vague. I was speaking to this awesome woman the other week and she said, “I love PROCESS! That’s why I liked being a software engineer, because I liked the PROCESS!” Last week I saw her again at a lunch and learn – she was talking about how she found a great job at IBM and it was all about how she navigated the process.

I do not deal with the process well. I find it intimidating and overwhelming and confusing. I’m trying to create this mapping between my ideals, goals, priorities and things that will fit into the process. I’m asking for things – which I hate, preferring to operate on the “be awesome and people will notice principle” that has so often failed me and others optimistic enough to use it.

Our MBA is my career coach. He says things like, “When you’re in Toronto you should set up meetings with at least 6 people”, and I make a note that I must speak to multiple people, ask my Toronto-based mentor if she wants to have lunch, and ask more people if they are willing for me to email them my resume.

It’s a start. I’ll keep you posted. Meanwhile… can I send you my resume?
Cate Huston UK Resume Mod

5 thoughts on “Failure Is Not An Option

  1. What to do on buses:

    Last time I was on a long bus trip (Toronto to NY) going to a event I was paying my own way to, I printed out a sheaf of profiles and memorized interesting keywords about the people I was going to meet. Result: Knocked the socks off people.

    Sleep is good too. Bring a small eye mask and ear plugs, maybe an inflatable pillow. That can help.

    Writing and drawing can be done if the road isn't too bumpy. A small laptop can be used for typing or coding on the road. Power outlets are nice, but you can squeak by on battery and staggering your use of other electronic devices.

    And of course, there's reading. A small light helps when reading at night.

    As for a job:

    A great job is what you make of it. Find a good manager and a job description that doesn't make you cry. Good managers can often help you shape your role into something that plays to your strengths. You'll rarely find a job description written for awesomeness – by definition, awesomeness is hard to write job descriptions for. Look for a good team, work that's mostly in line with what you're interested in, and wiggle room in terms of what else you can do to be a star. Sure, part of your job might involve things you don't particularly like (for me, it was dealing with finicky cross-browser CSS), but in a good team, you can often swap things like that.

    Your project doesn't necessarily have to shout, “I'm saving the world!” But even, say, a small Drupal website to help IBMers transition into teaching or the non-profit sector (which I worked on!) can be an interesting challenge and a way to make a difference. An excellent career-related skill: discovering the greatness in any job. (See also: “Work Like You're Showing Off”)

    IBM can deal with people who are figuring things out and who like lots of different things. You don't have to know how to work the system yourself in the beginning, you just have to have advocates who do. That's what good managers do. They work the system on your behalf, taking advantage of their greater organizational knowledge. Ditto mentors. They can help you figure out what to call things, how to structure work so that you can get away with doing interesting stuff.

    Given an amazing job description with a so-so manager and a so-so job description with amazing people (manager and team), I'd pick the amazing people. Job descriptions are rewritten more often than people realize. There might be core responsibilities that must be taken care of, but if you knock people's socks off, they'll find a way to play to your strengths.

    Let's chat about this later! =)

  2. Mobile internet!
    I was a passenger on a three-hour car ride, but I managed to download emails and things. Also, get something with a good battery life, like an ASUS netbook with an N450 Atom processor. Those things can get over ten hours of battery life!

    I'm going to have to write up a mobility guide, sometime, because I've been getting into that lifestyle. My latest computer is six inches by three inches.

  3. Thanks Sacha! The bus trip wasn’t as awful as I anticipated – I read a lot and slept quite a bit.

    On the job thing – I think that’s good advice. Whilst I was away I read “What Should I Do With My Life” – and from what you’ve been writing and conversations I’m starting to get an idea of places where I could find a fit to create a great job – it doesn’t have to come to me fully formed.

    I’ll keep working at it!

  4. Yeah! In Canada the mobile internet was awesome!!! But once I got across the border… 🙁

    Yes! def write a mobility guide 🙂

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