No, I Didn’t Actually Change Jobs

A few days ago I got around to updating my profile on various social media sites like LinkedIn and Facebook with my current employment information… and thanks to the wonders of modern algorithms, dozens of people I’m connected to on those sites promptly started congratulating me on my “new job”.

Thing is, I didn’t actually change jobs. I’m in the exact same job I’ve been in since May of 1998 (although the job has expanded and grown with me), but I’m on my third employer in that time frame.

“Wot?” you say?

I started at IDX Systems Corporation in May of 1998. IDX was a Vermont health care software corporation with offices in Seattle, Boston, Dallas, Chicago, and a few other places. We wrote and sold the software that did the scheduling and billing for hospitals and physician practices (we also had an imaging division and an EMR division, but I did very little work with those).

GE bought IDX in late 2005 and rolled us in under their “GE Healthcare” division. Unfortunately, GE a) didn’t always seem at home in the software business (its strength was in hardware), and b) the massive losses in the Great Recession in the GE Capital division caused GE to turn around and slash the legacy IDX workforce, getting rid of products we were developing, cutting back on new initiatives, and so on. We continued to operate, but I can’t tell you how many great co-workers were either RIF’d or took other jobs. GE had a tremendous sense of commitment to its existing and new customers, but the urge to grow, expand, and enhance our software products just wasn’t there.

So when GE started its serious struggles in recent years, we all wondered when the other shoe was going to drop. Were we going to be spun off, sold, shut down, what? The answer came in the spring of 2018, when Veritas Venture Capital agreed to buy the value-based care division of GE Healthcare (basically the legacy IDX products and staff with the exception of radiology and imaging systems) and spin it off into a new company. Veritas was an unknown to most of us, but we soon learned that Veritas has a track record of buying underperforming operations from other companies, investing in them, and getting them strong enough to sell off again. And as far as we know, that’s more or less the plan for us. Right now we’re all feeling pretty optimistic.

The sale to Veritas closed in July and we operated in kind of a weird limbo of sort-of-GE and sort-of-not under the name “VVC NewCo”. We’re still in that limbo (my email address is still ends in @ge.com and my laptop is a GE laptop, and so on) but as of a couple of weeks ago we finally got our new name: Virence Health Technologies. But my co-workers are the same co-workers I had before GE sold us, and in some cases, they’re the same co-workers I had back when I worked for IDX. Our customers are the same customers I worked with before the sale. Operationally, very little has changed. So far. I expect things to get interesting as the remaining connections to GE are severed and the company’s shiny brand-new leadership launches us on exciting and challenging endeavours.

Same job. Third employer. Life is weird.

Unread Email

 

I work for a software company. I travel all over the USA consulting with and training our customers. As a consequence of this, it’s not uncommon that I get a glimpse of someone’s email — usually because they’re connected to the projector and happened to need to go into their email to look something up. And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to restrain myself from going “you have HOW many unread emails?”

Earlier this week, I was at one such customer site. And one of their staff did exactly what I said above — launched their email while connected to the projector. And right there on the screen, next to their inbox, was the indicator that they had 20,000 unread emails.

Twenty freaking thousand.

And this was otherwise a very competent, intelligent person who was a pleasure to work with. We’re not talking some computer-challenged person who calls the Web “the google” or thinks that everyone still uses America Online.

I wanted to say “you know, it might be an idea to just mark everything older than a month read, and get a fresh start, so you can actually use the unread indicator for its intended purpose: letting you know you have new email.” But I didn’t. Wouldn’t have done any good. There are two types of people in the world: hoarders and non-hoarders. Even in the world of email. A hoarder is terrified of getting rid of anything because it might be important some day, and that includes all those unread emails. The idea of marking everything over a month old — or, heck, over six months old — “read” would be in their eyes equivalent to tossing out the chemical process for turning lead into gold.

Now, if you’re reading this and you have lots of unread email in your inbox, you may not fall into the “hoarder” category. You might just get a lot of email, or you might be one of those people who feels that every email deserves a deep and personal and well-thought-out response.

I try to keep my inbox all but empty. In my personal email, I have Gmail rules to file new emails to folders, and I use the “is:unread” search to review them. If I look at them and go “You know, I can live without that” I just mark ’em read. I recently started unsubscribing to every mailing list I’ve signed up for over the years because, in the sober light of day, almost none of them really added any value to my life. As for personal emails from actual humans, it’s generally not hard to identify those that do need a response from those that don’t. And I just don’t let myself fall behind on those. As a result, the only stuff that ever winds up in my “inbox” folder proper is stuff from people I’ve never heard from before, which therefore don’t hit any of my rules. And I file those, and set up rules if appropriate, and my inbox goes back to its pristine emptiness.

As for work emails, well, I’m terrified that I might miss something critical… which in my job, might mean that I show up 3,000 miles away from where I’m supposed to be. I have Outlook rules that file all the corporate heads-up messages and “we’ve hired a new VP for a region of the company’s operations you’ve never heard of and will never interact with in any way” emails to a folder where I can happily mark them read and ignore after a quick glance. Other stuff gets automatically sorted into folders by customer, so I can quickly review everything relating to a given customer without having to go searching for it all. If I encounter something that’s important that I be able to find quickly, I don’t leave it unread — I flag it using an Outlook category like “Critical” or “Project Code” or “Really Important To Not Forget”. And then I have search folders where I can quickly go to those messages. And when they’re no longer important, I remove the flag.

Marking things unread just because you think they’re important is so … weird. How can you then tell the true unread stuff from the stuff you’ve read before and just need to be able to locate quickly? Which, incidentally, you can’t because it’s all mixed in with several hundred or thousand other real unread email messages?

Makes no sense to me. But on the other hand, there are people out there who eat dirt and people out there who keep sewer rats as pets. It takes all kinds to make a world.

New Maps of Hell

In my office, at work, which I never actually go in to, I have a wooden bowl containing five plastic potatoes.
I have a lava lamp.
I have a Lite-Brite.
I have a wooden Vietnamese croaking frog.
I have a 2016 Cattle Mutilators wall calendar.
I keep thinking about taking in my TI-99/4A and my one remaining CRT-based TV and hooking them up and leaving them on my desk, just to confuse people.

Office as performance art.

Performance Review

I’ve worked for my current employer for almost 19 years. In that time, I’ve been through a vast swamp of performance review systems. You name it, we’ve probably tried it, from picking three co-workers to review you, to reviewing yourself and having your manager go over the review with you, to reaching into a bag of randomly selected biting crustaceans and … well, no, we haven’t tried that one.

Yet.

This year’s system is a bit less onerous than most. Rather than pointlessly setting goals for 2017 that are dead on arrival due to the unpredictable and ever-changing nature of my specific job, mostly I was asked to look back on 2016 and say that I worked hard, made a difference, reflected corporate values, and so forth.

Since I work really, really hard all year and take my job very seriously, there’s never really been much difficulty coming up with a list of all the stuff I did all year to make customers count, embrace change, promote innovation, and so forth… and generally each year my manager ends whatever subsequent discussion takes place with some form of “there’s not much for me to say, really, except ‘attaboy’.”

I just submitted the final version of this year’s review and got asked to complete a quick little survey from Corporate asking how much I liked the current process, did it make a difference, etcetera, etcetera. It ended with “Describe your opinion of the process in three words.”

Naturally, I put down:

  • “Zesty”
  • “Empowering”
  • “Pellucid”

I’m sure they’ll take my opinion under advisement as they begin to put together what system we’ll use next year.

I’m hoping for something that involves cheese.

The Weirdo On The Plane

As someone who spends a lot of time on aircraft (122 flights in 2016), I’ve gotten a lot of experience sitting in a semi-comfortable chair and staring blankly off into space.

I take a book along on trips and of course I’ve got my Nexus tablet, which doubles as a ebook reader, if I want to read anything I’ve downloaded. Often, though, neither gets any use. I hop on the plane, stow my backpack in the overhead, take a seat, and either go straight to sleep or I adopt a ten thousand foot stare that leaves me almost entirely unaware of what’s going on around me.

Yesterday we’d been airborne for about five minutes before I went “Oh. We took off.”

I think this behavior sort of creeps people out. You know how cats sometimes like to sit staring worriedly at something only they can see? I do that sometimes too, with much the same result on the people around me.

Friday night I found myself in seat 4B on a regional jet on the way home from Chicago to Burlington. I wasn’t at all sleepy and I didn’t really feel like reading, so for some reason I found myself staring fixedly upwards toward a light on the ceiling of the cabin, completely lost in thought.

The light wasn’t on — the cabin had been darkened for evening travel and most people weren’t using their individual reading lamps. The light was in no way remarkable. But I stared right at it, like a cobra trying to hypnotize its prey, for so long that eventually it freaked out the flight attendant. He came back and somewhat timidly asked me if there was some problem with the cabin ceiling; he even poked the panel with the light in case it was loose or something.

I replied “No, no, I was just staring off into space.” Then went right back to looking at the ceiling.

He stood there and looked worried for a moment, then turned and went back to his jumpseat, glancing back over his shoulder at me a couple times in case I gathered myself to spring (or something).

I don’t know exactly what that scores on the “Weirdo On The Plane” index, but I bet it’s pretty good.

Not Sure If This Is Good Or Not

Oort Cloud

Image credit: radiantskies / 123RF Stock Photo

So, today, a participant in a WebEx-based class that I’m leading this week asked me what “oortcloud” meant. I had to get her to repeat herself a couple of times before I realized that she was referring to the password I set up for the WebEx session some weeks ago when I first scheduled it.

My employer has asked that we always use new passwords for each WebEx session rather than endlessly re-using something banal and generic because people were visiting our corporate WebEx site, seeing sessions that looked “interesting,” and signing into them by successfully guessing the password. Why the heck a random customer would decide that their day wouldn’t be complete without crashing a session on hold bill/alert optimization in hospital billing is beyond me, but I’m assured that it was happening on a regular basis.

So I’ve taken to assigning passwords based on random whim. “Pellinore” came, for example, when I apparently had been channelling T.H. White, and “jumboshrimp” came when I was in a very oxymoronic mood. But I had completely forgotten that today’s password was “oortcloud”. So, when we resumed class after lunch and “Jay, what does ‘oortcloud’ mean?” came out of nowhere, I was caught off guard. Next thing you knew, I’d shrugged, decided that it was easier to answer than just say “oh, something random,” and had launched into a sixty-second lecture on the icy shell of protocomets orbiting our sun about a half light year out, which periodically gets perturbed by passing stars, causing comets to veer into the inner solar system, and about how some theories hold that periodic mass extinctions are due to said comets impacting the Earth, blah blah blah, blah blah BLAH.

There was a moment or two of stunned silence on the call when I came to a close. Then I got a cheerful “well, thanks!” from my student, and we moved on into the afternoon’s lecture.

I made it through the afternoon without concussing my participants with any other random orations on, say, horst and graben topography or the hibernation physiology of Cheirogaleus medius, and a good time was had by all.

Until half an hour after class, when the same participant instant-messaged me to ask a question about the class exercises, and happened to throw this in:

“ok. has anyone told you that you sound like Sheldon on the big bang theory?”

She assured me, when I asked if that was good or bad, that it was indeed a good thing, but still…

Maybe I need to switch to more ordinary WebEx passwords.