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My plane ride back from San Diego

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I’ve always held that you can’t judge people by appearance. I also lament the dearth of women in engineering (and STEM in general). Here’s a little anecdote:

On a recent flight back from San Diego (for work), I sat next to two young blonde women. They were both remarkably pretty. If I were to broadly characterize them by their appearance (which I am loathe to do, but am trying to prove a point here): The one farther away (seat F) had a girl-next-door sort of look; the one closer to me (seat E) had a college-sorority look. (I had the aisle seat: seat D.)

As people boarded, I overheard snippets of banter from the two women about plans for the weekend and possibly a popular musician.

I started a conversation the way I start every conversation on a plane: “How are you today?” And the young lady closer to me smiled and said she’s doing great. I asked if they were going home, and she said they were on business.

I asked what it is that she does. We talked for a while, and I learned that they work for Abbott Labs. They are in a rotation plan that lasts 2 years, and each rotation lasts 6 months. She had done a few rotations, and one of them was in Chicago. They are both currently assigned to a location 45 minutes away from San Diego.

What struck me here is that this is how things used to be at Motorola (well, sort of—a better example is Intel). I was happy to hear of a company that still invests so much into young talent. That it’s a Chicago company was a nice bonus.

I asked what they do for Abbott, and they are both engineers. I asked if this was chemical and they said biomedical. Abbott basically spun off their pharma business as AbbVie and retained medical devices.

As we took off and I looked along the coast, I asked whether they worked north or south of San Diego. The young lady closer to me said north, ’cause 45 minutes south would be Mexico. I smiled at my obvious error.

For most of the flight, I put my headphones on as they talked amongst themselves. They were clearly traveling together, and I didn’t want to be an interloper. Plus, I had a Runner’s World to read and statistical data to pore over for work.

Closer to Chicago, I heard them talk about restaurants. I asked if they wanted a recommendation. The young lady closer to me reminded me that she had lived in Chicago and she knows the area. I took this rebuke to mean that they prefer to converse amongst themselves, and so I went back to reading the WSJ that I grabbed from the hotel. (I tend to be on the chattier end of things and have to watch it—especially with strangers.) I smiled and suggested that maybe she should give me a recommendation, seeing as how I don’t get out much.

Finally, near the end of the flight (when they were both quiet and seemingly bored), I asked where they went to school. They had both gone to Cal-Poly (the good one ’cause there are apparently two). I asked where they want to be when they’ve finished the rotation program. They both wanted to move to the Bay area when their rotations were over. The young lady closer to me reminded me that she was almost done with the rotation program.

They both agreed that Northern California was Better. (As a people-pleaser I said how Northern California is nice because it is cooler and that’s good for running—but honestly, I don’t have a preference.) The young lady farther from me talked about how in Northern California, they say “Hella”. Like, “Hella-fun day.” But they don’t say that in Southern California.

At the end of the flight, I told them it was nice to meet them and I hope they have a good time this week in Chicago. I said, “Would that be a hella-good time?” They young lady farther from me laughed and said that I got it. The young lady closer to me smiled and said that I don’t have to say “hella”; she’s from Northern California and she doesn’t.

So, here’s why I’m bothering to write about this particular conversation: I was absolutely delighted that the young lady closer to me acted like almost every other engineer I have met—correcting factual mistakes when dealing with people. Because if you don’t correct people, they will veer off in the wrong direction. And Bad Things will happen.

It made me feel glad that I had evidence for something I’ve long held—that there’s no inherent difference between men and women. And you can’t judge people by the way they look. And you can only know someone by interacting with him/her.

And at some point in the past, these young ladies would have been encouraged to be pharma reps, not engineers. (I do not suggest that being an engineer is necessarily better than being in sales—I do suggest that having more career options is better.)

Well done, America.

Written by PoojanWagh

November 4th, 2014 at 11:54 pm

Posted in Career/Work-Life

Tagged with

How to Lead

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You don’t need a title or role or permission to lead.

A few years ago, I was given the opportunity to be a project manager.

I left a very comfortable job to go to this company. After two years of challenging work, I was well established in a small management role. And then I was offered a new project management role. I took it, essentially risking everything I had built up to that point.

The new role wasn’t a good fit. And, of course, it didn’t work out. It ended abruptly after 3 months.

I was told that the job would go to someone name Matt. It was difficult for me to accept. I really wanted that project management role, and I had given up an equally important role (one that I spent a couple years working through) to take it on.

Anyway, here’s an email thread from about a week after this transition:

From: Poojan Wagh
Sent: Friday, March 18, 2011 5:24 PM
To: Boss; ProjectX; ProjectY
Subject: Re: ProjectX Technology updates 3/18/2011

… and awesome progress. ProjectX is in good hands.

—– Reply message —–
From: “Boss” <boss@company.com>
Date: Fri, Mar 18, 2011 4:46 pm
Subject: ProjectX Technology updates 3/18/2011
To: “ProjectX” <ProjectX@company.com>, “ProjectY” <ProjectY@company.com>

Awesome writeup…

From: Matt
Sent: Friday, March 18, 2011 11:22 AM
To: Boss; ProjectLead
Cc: Coworker, Coworker
Subject: ProjectX Technology updates 3/18/2011

Hey guys,

Below are some progress updates on our new network and software solutions over the last week. Please forward as necessary.

In case you missed it, Matt emailed the team a progress update. Our boss praised his reporting. I praised Matt’s progress and gave him my support.

I don’t want to overstate how hard it was to give Matt my support. I got along well with Matt, and most people did, too. I thought he was a good choice for the role. So, I wasn’t merely putting on a good face when I had to accept this change. But, it would have been much easier to say nothing than to give my support.

Leadership isn’t always easy. It often means putting the team or an organizational goal above yourself.

The most powerful leaders lead by example. And we need more powerful leaders.

Written by PoojanWagh

September 7th, 2013 at 8:13 am

Posted in Career/Work-Life

Tagged with ,

Questions & redundant answers

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When someone asks you a question, and you’ve already told them the answer, their question is redundant.
So is pointing out that you’ve already told them the answer. Just tell ’em the answer again.

Written by PoojanWagh

January 13th, 2011 at 1:44 pm

Posted in Career/Work-Life

Tagged with ,

Who I want to be (at work)

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If you haven’t heard it already, listen to this:

Ruining It for the Rest of Us | This American Life.

This episode of TAL contains some of the best audio I’ve heard.

They describe a study where they place a “bad apple” in a group “acting either like a jerk, a slacker or a depressive. And within 45 minutes, the rest of the group started behaving like the bad apple.”

Except one group was extremely resilient in the presence of this negativity. Turned out that group had a “golden apple”–a guy who “was particularly a good leader, and what he would do was ask questions, and he would engage all the team members, and he would diffuse conflicts.” (10:18)

I want to be that golden apple.

Written by PoojanWagh

January 4th, 2011 at 4:57 pm

Posted in Career/Work-Life

Networking: Whom, When, How?

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Introduction

What happened to making acquaintances? It seems like this sour economy has employment on everyone’s mind, and it seems to be impeding the formation of true peer relationships. I’ve caught myself in this regard. Here’s an example: Read the rest of this entry »

Written by PoojanWagh

June 15th, 2009 at 7:30 am

Posted in Career/Work-Life

Tagged with ,

Trends vs Anomalies | RFC: What happened to Motorola?

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I’ve heard more news of layoffs at Motorola (specifically, Motorola Labs—or what was left of it). These days, layoffs are nothing new. Pretty much every tech company seems to be on a layoff spree. In this post, I question whether the layoffs are a trend or an anomaly.

Caveats

To be clear, I am focusing on Motorola’s handset business. However, that seems to be what fuels Motorola’s rapid growth (when Motorola has it). I don’t worry about the public safety business. That business (as far as I know) has been on a steady growth trend for decades. One final caveat: I know absolutely nothing about stocks. This is not investment advice.

My mind goes back to the tech bust of 2001. Back then, people (at Motorola) said it was the worst they’ve ever seen it. I saw several people get laid off. Realize that this recession ocurred a little after I entered the workforce: it (partially) formed the basis of what I considered a normal market. I was in college during the go-go 90’s, where thousands of employers would show up on campus, looking to hire engineers. However, that was all I saw: I never really experienced any first-hand excess.

There were two points of view:

  1. The tech market would return to “normal” and we’d get on with our engineering lives.
  2. The tech market in the US was on a downward trend. Engineering careers would never return to what the used to be.

The optimistic view (#1) was confirmed in the interim period (2004-2007) when Motorola recovered. Motorola was buoyed by its success with the RAZR. Incidentally, this was when I returned to Motorola (2006). I didn’t have much of an opinion at the time. I thought it was good that Motorola came back with a hit. The question did come up about whether they’d need to do make a blockbuster every year, or if the market was just generally better and it didn’t matter. Honestly, I didn’t think much about it. I was just glad to be back.

Immediately after I returned, talk of downsizing returned. With our 2006 glasses, the 2001+ downturn was the anomaly. However, in 2008, it seemed to be the trend. In fact, the RAZR phenomenon of 2006 (then dubbed a trend) was now (in 2008) an anomaly.

I see an analogy with the US car industry: the large-car SUV craze now seems to be an anomaly. The trend now seems to be a decline in US car manufacturers.

So, where does that leave us today? I’d like to hear your comments: Is Motorola on a downward trend, interrupted by upward anomalies? Or is Motorola on an upward trend and two periods of this decade will be considered anomalies? Why?

Written by PoojanWagh

May 20th, 2009 at 9:24 am

Posted in Career/Work-Life

Tagged with

I’m Leaving Motorola

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I’ve accepted a position elsewhere. My last day of employment at Motorola will be Nov. 21st. Before I get into where I’m going, I’d like to reflect on / point out a few things with embedded humor:

  • I’m not dissatisfied with my position at Motorola. Indeed, I am in an ideal environment for someone who both likes to invent and innovate, and likes to see things ship. The role in which I found/positioned myself allowed me to investigate some really new technology, without the ridiculous schedules that plague market-reactive engineering environments. At the same time, the stuff we made actually gets shipped, tested, and developed further. It impacts customers.
  • I have learned how to present and explain things to external customers that aren’t up to speed with the daily tasks of the project. I’m still not great at it, but I am comfortable doing it–and I’m better at it due to mentoring by some amazing communicators.
  • I’ve learned a lot about making decisions and plans (strategy). It is always the case (and always going to be) that we can’t do everything. Figuring out what not to work on can be as essential as figuring out what to work on. It’s important to have some criteria guiding these decisions. Goal-setting is important to decision-making. You don’t have to write down the goals, but have them.
  • I’ve learned that it’s always better to be pleasant and kind about technical disagreements. Okay, all disagreements. Even to the people that bug you. They usually think they’re helping. Sometimes, the other guy/gal is right. Okay, more than sometimes. It’s very easy to think that what you’re doing is optimal, because you’ve already laid out the plan and can’t see the other alternatives. An open mind is essential.
  • At the same time, don’t spend time arguing with others if you’ve convinced yourself. There’s always going to be things you could do better. Accept that what you do won’t be perfect–and other people will point it out, but it wasn’t their decision to make, was it? You’re in charge for a reason. Take ownership of what you do, and you will do it better. Get someone else to write the project report, though.
  • The most important thing is the business. We’re not here to have fun. We’re here to make money for the company. Almost all the time, you can have both. Question if what you’re doing is what is best for the customer/department/business. You may have to do some things that aren’t fun, but most of the time, success will follow–and that’s always fun.
  • I have had the honor of being a member of very passionate groups that are doing amazing things with technology. These amazing things don’t get realized all of a sudden on a glorious day. The problems are so complex that one ends up solving very small problems for a long period of time to get incrementally closer to the goal. It’s hard work, and believing in the goal is helpful. Having a management team (and customer) that understands the labor of research is essential. Celebrating small advancements (for example, as feedback to your peers) makes for good teams.

I’m not leaving because things are bad at Motorola. In fact, it is the focus on technological work that makes me want to expand into more areas of technology. If I wasn’t happy at Motorola, I would probably be getting my MBA and be considering business instead. To all executive recruiters: I am not ruling the MBA out.

Where am I going? To a private hedge fund in Chicago. Why? Because:

  • I want a change. I want to learn something new. I want to broaden my knowledge.
  • I like the environment. Working in the financial industry is good. Working with technology is good. However, it’s more important to me that the firm invests in their employees. They’re willing to hire a person–okay, it’s me–because they think he’s smart. I like their attitude toward people.
  • The people I know at the firm are some of the most ethical and just people I know.
  • This opportunity isn’t going to come around again.
  • Free lunch.

Will I be a financial analyst? No.

Will I have stock tips? No.

What will I be doing? I don’t know: stuff. Smart stuff. Mostly software initially.

Is this change necessary? Absolutely not. However, there’s no reason to wait until change is necessary to develop and grow. If you–well, not you specifically–embrace change on your terms, rather than the terms of your environment, you get to pick how you develop, and you get to pick your strengths. There’s a school of thought that states that evolution picks convenient solutions, not optimal solutions.

I sincerely plan to stay in touch with the people I’ve met at Motorola and continue to keep up with my friends from Freescale. This blog is a good way to contact me (see voicemail page to the left). Or, consider subscribing (RSS/Atom or Email).

Written by PoojanWagh

November 7th, 2008 at 4:26 pm