So… more on the changes…

Well, I did say there was more to the story. There is, but not a huge amount. Truth is, I wrote up yesterday’s entry yesterday morning, got busy and ended up letting in languish until yesterday evening… today I’ve just been really busy but I’ve finally gotten around to typing something up.

Anyway, the Wednesday morning (last Wednesday), a colleague of mine swung by my desk. He looked at me with a grin on his face and said, “So, I heard you took my job.” I stared at him for a moment before I realized that he was referring to the Charter job. Yes, apparently the other person who interviewed for the same job also works at Citi… in the same department I work in. Now, there’s an irony.

But is it really ironic? I mean, given all the stuff that’s been going at Citi of late, is it odd that two people from the same department are interviewing for the same job on the same day? I think this is a result of the policies at Citi currently leading to an inevitable attrition of resources.

Anyway, we had a few laughs about it, and though I apologized for getting the job instead of him, I also felt good about it. Selfish of me, but now I have a job that I feel has a good future ahead of it. My colleague will look elsewhere… obviously just in case any of the management get wind of my blog I’m not saying who it was.

So anyway, last Friday we had a web conference with one of our senior managers. He basically confirmed something I had feared; that the company is actually intending to lose people by attrition. Senior Citicorp management have specified that a certain percentage of internal resources must be contract staff. We’re still a little short of that percentage, and though the comment was sort of buried in the web conference it was quite obvious; the management is aware of the current attrition and in fact is going to do nothing about it until they get closer to their magic number of contractors.

Now, this is where I start to have problems with what they’re doing. First of all, there’s the human element:

People are just that; humans with lives, feelings, hopes and dreams. Many of my colleagues for some time (and myself) have wrapped many of their hopes and dreams within the structure they’ve built at Citi. To suddenly be told that we have gone from being an “employee” to becoming a “resource”, and now we’re being treated essentially as numbers. This hurts, it causes bad feeling and causes the employee to act in a way that may be contrary to the good of the company. I can’t even pretend that I think this is a good idea; people are our most precious resource as a corporation and to alienate and isolate that resource is a fundamental error.

The second problem I have is with the whole concept of attrition. Quite simply, when you start to deliberately cause attrition either by action or inaction, then the first people you lose are inevitably those with the most marketable skills; in other words the first out the door are usually the most valuable. Often times, these people are the highest paid, but that is not necessarily the case.

A corporation like Citi tries to get away with paying the least amount possible for its employees. That’s actually good business sense, but then when you know you “low-ball” the employees you need to provide them perks above and beyond just the paycheck. That is often something like lots of vacation time (X), good working environment ( ), good bonus scheme ( ), predictable pay increases ( ), clear career path that is flexible and attainable ( ), and recognition of a job well done ( ). Hmm, my checklist seems to be missing a few checks.

The biggest problem with that checklist is that we had them all up until recently. The only perk we have left is a standard 4 weeks of vacation. That’s a nice perk, but it doesn’t make up for the standard for engineering staff being at least 10%-15% below market value for this area. 4 weeks of vacation is only a good thing also if you get to take it. This year so far I’ve scheduled 1.5 weeks of vacation, and taken less than 1 week. My vacation has in fact been canceled by the company because of projects that were so messed up that they couldn’t find anyone else to do the work that needed to be done.

Another beef with Citi, and one which to be honest was only a relatively minor issue until relatively recently was the lack of a clear career path. Now, my feeling is a good career path should contain clear career path for those employees who are technically excellent, but don’t wish to be managers. Until recently, I felt that the best way to move on in my career was to become a manager… so I pushed to become a team lead as a starting point. This provided me no pay increase, or even allow me to move up a pay scale but did allow me a taste of management. What did I discover? That while I can manage people, I am far happier as a technical person.

So then I looked at the career path for technical people. It appeared I had reached a plateau. Citi provides no career path beyond where I already was for those who wish to remain technical. If you’re already high up in your pay scale, then you’ll reach the top and stay there unless you move into management. What the hell is that crap? No offense meant to any managers out there, but I’d much sooner pay good money for good technical people than for managers. Sure, managers work hard too… but the job of a manager is to facilitate the work of the employees, and that teamwork makes the team itself look good. Where is the impetus for the employee to work hard if they know there’s no chance of a pay raise unless they want to get into management? That creates an environment where everyone is jockeying for management positions, and actually eventually leads to an environment like we have right now at Citi where there are almost more managers than there are employees. This is an untenable position, and one that is going to push Citi over the edge into a very painful position.

More happened in the aftermath. I heard more details about the upcoming NAIT goals; they’re creating a new IT organization and while St. Louis will be one of the major hubs, they won’t say how many (if any) of the existing people they’re going to retain. My odds of a position in NAIT were very favorable, but I decided to continue my goals to move on to pastures new. Realistically, it’s going to be months before the dust settles on this one… maybe if there’s a position available in the future I’ll at least negotiate. For now though, I have to do what’s right for me and my family.

Sorry for the rant here, but as usual… it’s the way I see it :)

All Change

Well, I did it. After a lot of deep thought and sincerely mixed feeling I have given my two weeks notice at Citi. It was one of those things where there was no specific pressing need to leave, nor was I looking for another opportunity. However, as seems common in this industry an apparently good opportunity presented itself to me unsolicited.

I’ll be honest, at first I was going to hand on the opportunity to another member of my team. I wasn’t ready to leave yet as far as I was concerned, despite the problems we’ve had at Citi in the last few months. However, there’s an old phrase that money talks… and when the person on the other end of the phone gave me a number I appreciated, all of a sudden the negotiations were on.

So I submitted an updated resume and hoped for the best… while at the same time somewhat fearing it. I got a call quickly to come in for an interview. It seemed they wanted to move quickly on this one, so I agreed. I enjoy doing interviews; it keeps my interviewing skills sharp and allows me a networking opportunity I rarely get elsewhere. So I went for the 45 minute interview.

I’ll not bore you with the details, but the 45 minute interview turned into a 2 hour interview as I felt I really connected with the members of the team during the interview process. I felt good about what was being talked about, and I felt extremely positive about it as I left. However, that positive feeling was tempered with a certain amount of trepidation. I had a feeling I’d be offered the job, and with my current job feeling uncertain, and the pay just not really cutting it these days I felt it would be inappropriate for me not to take it.

This had all been a on a Thursday. Didn’t hear anything Friday. I knew they had one other interviewee, but I didn’t know when the interview was taking place. So I sat and waited. Well, that’s not true; I continued to do my job to the best of my ability and prepare myself for news either way. I was still employed, that was a positive thing at the end of the day, so I didn’t really NEED the job. However, I did find myself over that weekend wondering what if.

Monday I still heard nothing. I realized I had gotten my hopes up a little, and now it felt a little like I had missed a good opportunity. Hell, the pay raise alone was significant enough that I felt it would get me “back on track” with the 5 year plan I had written for myself in 2000. At the very least it would get me to the financial position I felt I should have been in around 2005, or damned close enough.

On Tuesday I got the word. I had been offered the job, and though it was slightly less than they had been talking about before, at the end of the day the amount of difference was only in the range of about 3% or thereabouts. So long as decent raises are given (something they say they are), then I’ll make that up relatively quickly.

So where am I going? To be honest; Charter Communications. Yes, the Cable Company / ISP. OK, I’ll be the first to admit that their financial position in terms of stock price is a little shaky, but I have to say that I like what they’re doing from an IT infrastructure perspective. They’ve hired me for my knowledge of certain key technologies that they intend to implement… and of course I can’t say much more lest the competition get wind of it :)

So what now? Well, stay tuned for another update. Got more to tell ya…

The Human Memory and Triggers

It’s amazing how the human mind works, isn’t it? We can be going about our own business, doing whatever we do during a day and suddenly a single instant can change everything radically. Often we will encounter a trigger; something that makes us sit up and take notice, to remember something that maybe has lain dormant in us for some time. It’s a weird experience, and one that can throw us for a loop.

This happened to me yesterday while driving home from work. It was a nice evening last night, so I opened up the windows and sunroof of my car to enjoy the fresh air. I usually ride a motorbike to work, but this morning I took my car to work simply because it was raining. As much as I love to ride, riding in the rain is something I only really do when I have to.

Anyway, I’m driving home and end up at a set of traffic lights with a pickup truck in front of me; a diesel. Of course, having my windows and roof open the smell of the diesel exhaust immediately fills the cabin of my car. It’s running slightly rich, so there’s a smell of diesel fuel as well as normal diesel exhaust… then it hits me:

All of a sudden my mind throws up a memory, and I’m in England. To be precise I’m at the junction of the A55 and M6 on a motorbike just getting onto the M6 proper to head South toward Birmingham and Coventry (my destination for the day). The sky is cloudy with a few bursts of sunshine, a little drizzle has fallen on me earlier in the day and the small windshield on my bike is still peppered with drying droplets of rain. I’m still wearing my rain-suit from the earlier shower, but I’m thinking I’m going to stop at the next lay-by and pack up my rain-suit in my panniers.

I goose the throttle to get her up to motorway speeds, and come up beside a truck that’s laboring a little and going below the speed limit. Being on a motorbike, I’m hit with the smell of slightly rich diesel fuel, but it passes quickly as I also pass the truck and sail on down the M6.

I’m having a great day. I started this morning in Belfast and rode to Dublin at near freezing temperatures. The ferry across from Dublin had been uneventful and a chance for me to catch up on writing in my journal after spending a week with my family. I had ridden the bike off the ferry and had a wonderful afternoon riding along the A55 along the Northern coast of Wales. The views had been incredible, the traffic had been a non-issue for most of the ride and the air had been clear. Around Chester I had been out in the sun for a while, knowing full well I was going to be riding into showery conditions. I had split traffic on the A54 when an accident had caused a two mile tailback of traffic, and ended up in a convoy of about 6 bikes thanks to the tailback who pretty much had the A54 to ourselves all the way to the junction of the M6. At that junction, I had left the convoy (now down to only three bikes) and had waved to my unknown companions on this stage of the trip.

Today is a beautiful day. Still ahead is a night at one of the nicest bed-and-breakfasts I’ve ever been at in the countryside near Coventry. Then a morning in Coventry town center followed by a ride to London and dinner with a friend of mine who I had known since I was 8. This holiday would then culminate with a flight back to the USA on a 747 where I would get an unexpected (and free) upgrade to Business Class. But for now all this is in the future… now I am riding on the M6. My whole world at this moment is in the hard luggage, panniers and hard-shell backpack strapped to my back. My steed is a 2004 Honda Deauville that I have grown to really enjoy over the last two weeks. I am filled with sadness that I have left my family behind again for the second time in ten years, but excited at all the possibilities for the future.

Right now I’m only faintly aware of the wind rushing past my helmet; my earplugs doing their magic and keeping the noise from deafening me. I am alive, and I am having a great day. There’s much to be glad of on a day like today, but much sadness that it may be years before I can do this again.

That day was almost 11 months ago, now but the memories that came flooding back yesterday were incredible. I don’t even remember driving the rest of the way home to be honest, I think I was somewhere else. Another time, another place, another vehicle. Same me. How I yearn to do it again; to travel across the country of my birth on a motorbike. Next time I’ll share it with someone special, next time I’ll have arms around my waist and life will be better still.

Life tend to throw curve balls

This last few weeks has been strange for me. Interesting, but at the same time rather worrying.

It’s by now no secret that Citigroup is laying off a lot of their IT people. This is part of Mitchell Habib’s “NAIT” initiative. While I agree and sympathize with the stated objectives of the whole initiative, I have to admit that I find myself philosophically opposed to the methods he’s using.

Basically, the idea is to remove the existing staff and replace them all with contractors. OK, that’s a gross oversimplification that doesn’t really do the idea justice.

The idea is at least reasonable; to reduce our reliance on full time employees so that we may leverage contracting resources when work needs to be done but allow them to go when work is slow. The stated goal of NAIT is 60% full time employees, 40% contractors.

From a purely business perspective I find myself agreeing with the idea. It does allow the IT department to be more flexible; to allow us to staff up when needed and let them go when not. What I don’t agree with is the shunning of locally available resources in favor of purely Indian-based contracting firms. I am even more opposed to it because I can’t get people; every time I try to get contractors from either of the two firms that are available to us (Satyam and TCS), they inevitably fail to deliver because they can’t provide local resources. When they can, it takes them weeks or months. Wheres the problem here? I could call up Teksystems and have five resumes of local experienced candidates in my inbox by the afternoon. There’s a real problem here that needs fixing. We’re not making ourselves more dynamic; we’re burying ourselves in more concrete in order to meet a perceived goal that we are inevitably going to miss.

What hurts most of all is that once perceived goal is missed, who are the management going to look to? The full time employees of course. We’re responsible; we’ve made it too difficult to find local resources because we’re opposed to the entire process.

As a people manager this has to be frustrating. I am a team lead, so I’m not directly responsible for hiring or firing except to advise my manager that we need it. As a result, I know the pain we encounter, and I find it frustrating.

So what am I going to do about it? Don’t know yet. I’ve decided to keep my options open for other opportunities. That doesn’t mean I’m leaving, it just means that I’m ready to leave if the right opportunity comes along at this point. If it doesn’t, well who knows? Maybe I’ll go into business for myself.

It’s late on a Sunday night… so I’ll post more about this as soon as a get a chance. For now, ciao.