The other day I got this call – “How ya goin’ Col? Keepin’ alright? Listen mate, we’ve got this really difficult client. You know the sort, crap culture, poor user management. We can’t trust anyone else. If you’re not too busy could you help us out by going in and sorting it out?“.
This wasn’t the first time I’d taken this sort of call – and it probably won’t be the last! No prizes for guessing why I get these calls. You don’t have to be an Einstein to see that I have a reputation for this sort of thing. Do I mind? Of course not. We all like to feel wanted, even if it is to shovel the shit that no-else wants to!! The truth is, I love a challenge and the worse the situation the bigger the upside when I succeed. Don’t get me wrong, I won’t do anything. I’ve walked away from crazy projects, but that’s been because the Project Manager hasn’t respected me and/or my team.
Reputation touches our lives on so many levels. There is the reputation of the country we live in – I live in Australia, which has a reputation for sunshine and beautiful beaches. When I tell people that we have wonderful ski resorts just a few hours from those beautiful beaches they look at me very warily.
Then there is the reputation of companies – the ones we would walk over coals to work for or those we wouldn’t touch with a barge pole. I have my own lists, I’m sure you all do.
Even our profession (software testing) has a reputation. In my personal experience, software testing has had the reputation for being unnecessary (our software developers are brilliant), expensive (compared to what?), difficult (to understand the value of), easy (anyone can do it), and the list goes on and on. How can something as nebulous as an activity gain a reputation? Well, the truth is, it usually has something to do with the personalities of the protagonists.
As Shakespeare once wrote – “Reputation is an idle and most false imposition; oft got without merit and lost without deserving” (Othello, Act 2, Scene 3).
A few weeks ago I ventured out into social media land and asked folks to provide a single word that encapsulated how they think of me. I wanted to get a (simplistic) handle on my current reputation. I wanted a single word because I felt that asking for more would take away the spontaneity of the reply. I didn’t want platitudes or kudos, I just wanted the truth. Also, I didn’t care how well those people knew me, because reputation doesn’t have boundaries. The greatest number of responses came from LinkedIn, which is interesting in itself as that’s my professional reputation we’re talking about.
I was going to list the feedback here, but then I thought “maybe that will influence how others think of me”. If you really want to know what others think you can find the list on my LinkedIn profile, under the request I posted on April 21, 2016.
So, what did I make of these responses and do they matter? First of all, they matter to me because someone has taken the time to think about how they view me. Secondly, these responses make me feel humble and vindicated. Humble because I find it hard to see myself in these terms. Vindicated because I’ve spent most of my life bucking the system and refusing to bow to a herd mentality. I do not hide behind agendas or play politics, I just keep it simple and act within my abilities – never afraid to say “I don’t know” or “What do you think of this?”. If you are a regular reader of my Blog you will already have a sense of these traits through my writing. I’m no scientist, psychologist, engineer or poet, but I understand enough about each of these roles to successfully navigate my way through most of what my professional life has thrown at me. Of course, it hasn’t all been plain sailing, but then if it had been, I wouldn’t have learned so much and I wouldn’t be the person I am today (warts and all).
Just over twenty years ago I learnt a very salient lesson that has stood me in good stead ever since. I was leading a small team of developers and testers at a second tier bank in Melbourne. We had (the usual) tight deadlines and crazy management expectations about what we needed to achieve. Fortunately, we were a tight-knit bunch and we had a great vibe going. We worked hard and played hard and met every challenge thrown at us.
One particular Monday morning (after working most of the weekend on a late software release) I was called into my Manager’s office. I was expecting some recognition for meeting another milestone. What happened instead bewildered me. My Manager told me that we were gaining a reputation having “too much fun” and that this must be (adversely) affecting our work.
How do you call your team together and tell them that they are having too much fun and that they aren’t working effectively enough? How do you ask them to back off and tone down the behaviour because the other teams around them aren’t happy? My answer? I didn’t do anything of the sort. In fact, what I told them was that we would step up our game even more, have more fun and work even harder (when we had to) – and we did!!
I used to be almost flippant about any reputation I may or may not have, but these days I am far more measured and circumspect and therefore my message (based upon what I have learned over the past 40 professional years) is this…
Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant, for they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time. Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism. Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love, for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is perennial as the grass. Take kindly to the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive him to be, and whatever your labours and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.
Dateline: Melbourne, Tuesday May 3 2016
* Final paragraph is from Desiderata by Max Ehrmann