fredag 10 september 2010

The Little Spanish Girl

In spite of what I said in my first post, I just to have to write this in English. The young woman I'm dedicating this to is, just not yet, so good at Swedish that it would make any sense writing it in Swedish.

This story probably is not going to break any tears, cause many laughs, or even be very interesting for other than a limited number of people, but never the less, let's start from the beginning of the chapter in which I give my view of meeting the little Spanish girl.

In the beginning there was a grumpy IT Manager (that would be me), and an ambitious outsourcing manager, let's call her Christine Thaarup, which feels pretty obvious since that's her name. There was also the outsourcing manager's coordinator and assistant, Petronela, who played a vital role in this meeting. Christine Thaarup had a vision (or at least an idea) of a logistic system handling electronic graphical assets, to keep track of them and allow flow control, approval of delivery, etc, etc. She let her assistant make a requirements / design document out of her ideas, and for some reason everybody believed IT would be the best to develop this system, not only the infrastructure for it, but the entire system. The grumpy IT manager realized this would be a full time job for many weeks, and he did not have any resource, apart from himself, qualified enough to do it. He himself did absolutely not have the time.

As everything started to look pretty dark and the tension between the unusually grumpy IT manager and the Outsourcing Manager started to become solid, the coordinator came up with an idea. She had a Spanish friend she had been studying together with some time ago. That friend had recently, or should soon (can't remember which) start to study in Copenhagen and was a skilled programmer ... maybe she could implement the system. "YES! Great idea!", the grumpy IT manager exclaimed and felt really satisfied that somebody helped him out of this assignment. At least, he felt relieved and satisfied up until the point when he realized he was to mentor this student girl. He painted for himself the picture of a girl with more ambition than skill (had been teaching those at the University many years back, and had also been assisting the assistant in her programming attempts), that would demand his presence and help many hours a week, if not every single day, in best case, producing some kind of prototype the poor grumpy IT manager could use when he had to rewrite the system himself. Well, he decided that was not going to happen! He would just not put that many hours into something that most probably would end up in just a prototype.

When he first met the student girl he was full of suspicion and prejudices. The girl was a skinny little pierced girl, that in spite of, or maybe thanks to, her very quick talking and heavy Spanish accent seemed pretty nice. After talking to her an hour or so explaining the project and discussing the platform to be used, ending up with an agreement that embedded PHP in Apache on an Debian (despite she knew Ubuntu better) machine running MySQL as backend, the view was slightly improved. But decided to be grumpy from the start, he kept onto that, and made it as clear as he possible could without being rude, that he was a very busy man, and had time for prebooked meetings with a very strict schedule only. He also tried to make it clear that the girl would had to find the information she needed by her own as far possible, but would of course answer questions if need be. She seemed satisfied with this, and indeed the meetings where few even in the beginning, and became fewer over time. Only in the end before the system was to be put into production the meeting frequency increased.

She mostly needed help with how to integrate and communicate with existing systems, etc. At one point the IT manager was annoyed with himself that he had not involved himself more in how to authenticate users, etc since once he got around to that, the student already had implemented a full standalone system that he really did not have any insight into.

All of a sudden Cristina, the little Spanish student girl - not to be confused with Christine Thaarup, the outsourcing manager, had grown a lot in my, the not any more so grumpy IT manager's opinion. We also had some sessions debugging her code, and together finding out why certain parts of the system did not work as expected. I would like to believe that I was the more senior even though PHP is not really my field of specialty, but she was indeed a good player to ping-pong ideas with.

As a last requirement put upon the project, it was to be reimplemented on a RHEL installation before being put into production. That last test showed that the system she implemented was implemented in a good way without any specific dependencies on the platform it was implemented upon, etc. Just a piece of good work!

Alongside her studies, she stayed with the company on an hourly basis. One day I found myself in position where I was forced to replace the CMS that our intranet was built upon, and needed a person with a skill set slightly different from what we already had in the department. I did not see the use of trying to reeducate the person responsible for our current CMS, as it would give him better opportunities somewhere else if he instead evolved even further within the system where he already was an expert. In short terms, we had a vacant position for somebody to build our new intranet, and also could relieve me taking on some tasks involving MySQL, perl CGIs, etc, etc, that I really didn't have time for anymore.

Cristina, came to mind and a few discussions showed she was interested in the position. Soon she was a full time employee reporting to me, and the IT department decided to have a great kick-off in the nerdy cheap kind of way IT departments do Kick-Offs. We ended up at a boring 9-hole pay and play course in pouring rain. The more knowledgeable (in golf) members of the department felt the competition and had some fears of her capabilities, since she once told her father had taking her golfing a few times. Cristina, however fiercely denied any skill in golf, and once again proved herself right - the worries about her playing with a 54 stroke handicap being unfair was not in the slightest justified. In all honesty, Cristina's golf skills is very very far from her programming skills ;-). Anyway, we had a good evening getting to know Cris a bit better using a shabby place near where I live as the 19:th hole. The youngest (<25) and oldest (>50) member of the team even took the opportunity to take a swim in the place's pool, drowning the land lady's flowers in chloride mixed water ... but I'm certain she forgave us all once we manage to settle the bill. Never before had so few drank so many drinks at such a shabby place ;-)

As the years have run by, Cristina has proved herself a real asset to the department, not only by her technical skills, but also by having strong opinions and a Mediterranean temperament. I, and think the rest of department agrees, have enjoyed our conversations and discussions. The last year and a half or so, Cristina have been more and more involved in the development of our Intranet, not only at IO but also worldwide, and the European HQ in Wimbledon did start to see what a treasure she was. With Cristina's best interest in mind, I did reluctantly agree that she made best use to the company, and had the bigger personal gain by reporting to the IT development team, instead of to a studio-local grumpy IT manager who (mis)uses her abilities by letting her sometimes do trivial work and handle and maintain uninteresting systems, dropping far to many tasks in her lap because he knows she can unattended handle them. According to the original plan, she wasn't even to relocate, but stay at her current desk in my department. She would be close by for questions and a gradually slow transition into the more corporate world that I myself have been more and more involved in over the years.

As will be shown, matters took a slightly different direction.

IO closes three weeks for summer holiday each year. To be able to trim systems, and do other stuff that, done at another time, would interfere with the studio's daily work to much, I usually do work the last of these three weeks, together with one or more persons from the IT department. This year was no different, and during the last week of Summer Holiday, Cristina, who was still off, suddenly called and asked if she could come in and talk to me. As I knew we had some practicalities to settle before we would be able to change her reporting line, I thought she would like to talk about those, but found it strange that she would come in on a holiday to do that. Anyway, after a few hours she showed up, and we sat down in a very quiet office building to have our chat. It showed that Cristina, for personal reasons did need to move back to Barcelona and more or less did quit there and then. This was not at all what I had expected or desired. The possibility that somebody quits for a better or higher payed job offer is always there, and you are, especially since we had had some rough years, always prepared to hear that. But it showed that this was not entirely to Cristina's own liking, but was something she just had to do for reasons I don't want to spill over these pages.

We went up to talk to our local Finance Director, which also was at work, to see what possibilities Cristina had and how she best could end her career at IO. But all in all it was a sad day. It was, to start with, annoying that she was going to report somewhere else, but now she was leaving the company altogether. Thinking a bit more about it, and about the tasks Cristina primarily was supposed to deliver upon for the Development team, I didn't really see any reason why she shouldn't be able to perform those remotely, and if she needed to come in, by flight, Barcelona is not much further from Wimbledon than Copenhagen. I therefore had a chat with the Global IT Director which seemed very open for the suggestion of having Cristina work from Barcelona. A few phone- and live meetings was arranged, and soon it was a matter of fact that Cristina was to stay with the company, working out of Barcelona.

Now, a bit more than a month later, Cristina has found an apartment in Barcelona, which she, in a few short weeks, is going to move into, together with her Swedish boyfriend (I, by the way, saw her, on facebook, state that Boyfriend Jens had not "YET" proposed ... interesting what a little three-letter word can imply ... but I hope he does soon, that way more trips to Scandinavia, with visits to IO, seems obvious ;-).

The grumpy IT manager's relationship to the little Spanish girl (not so young anymore though ;-) has been overall mostly professional, but I hope it's ok I do consider you a friend Cris, because whether you like it or not that is something you will have to live with :-) You have been a fresh breeze, many times lifting the spirits of the rather boring IT department. You have, apart from the professional side, also improved my knowledge about the relationship between Catalonia and the rest of Spain, and Spain in general, alongside having had some interesting discussions around music, religion, food and other things. I also hope you have learned some things over the years and bring that experience and memories back to Spain with you.

The years at IO have changed your accent slightly, it's probably a bit more Scandinavian nowadays, but it is still not possible to be mistaken of your origin. You still speak as fast as you did the first time I met you and that is just one of the things that will be missed at the IT department when you no longer are there every day. But we will not loose you. We know where you are going, and we will probably, at least to start with, have rather regular contacts. You moving also brings some other good things, e.g. I personally now have yet another reason for the trip to Barcelona, that I and Tina has been talking about for ages! We probably will need a guide ;-)

So, maybe a bit premature, but time flies, I wish you the very best of luck in moving back to Barcelona. Cris, we will miss you!