Tag Archives: Business

Business Travel

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I was in NYC for the past two days for work.  Coming out of the Battery Tunnel I saw the site of the new “Freedom Tower”.  So I took this picture while sitting in traffic.

My job requires me to travel to NYC every two or three weeks for a day trip to look at sites that I am doing design for.  For this trip, due to the number of sites that I needed to visit, I took a 5:40 am flight, which required me to get up at 3 am.  I was exhausted by 11 am.  It normally ends up being a long day rising at 4 and returning home around 9 pm.  This trip I was “lucky” that it was a two-day trip.  Which allowed me to return to my hotel by 5:30.

There are two things that I dislike about these trips, the traffic and how people interact with each other.  The traffic is horrible, many of the local drivers are “crazy”, and the parking at the sites and attending meetings is beyond difficult.  I rent a car for my travels throughout the Burroughs.  This is the first of my discomforts for my trips.  My primary concern is that something is going to happen to the car either driving between sites or at the sites.  As I said the drivers are pretty crazy with the things they do.  When parking the car I more often than not have to park illegally to get anywhere near the site.  So now while I am at the site I worry about getting ticketed or towed.

On top of the driving are the people and their standard approach to interaction, that is they immediately go into aggressive confrontation mode when something happens that shouldn’t.  No one gets the benefit of the doubt and they assume they are going to try to take advantage of a situation.  Two examples of encounters I had on this trip illustrate how living in NYC really impacts people’s attitudes and demeanor towards others.  In both examples I readily admit that I made a mistake and admitted as such when confronted, but the approach by the other person in both instances was not what I am use to.

The first was at the Verrazano Narrows Bridge toll plaza.  The signs as you approach say easy pass only and others have both easy pass and cash.  So based on how easy pass is handled everywhere else in the state, I assumed that you could use easy pass in any lane.  I was wrong.  So I pull up and the toll collect starts yelling, “Hey! Hey! Where do you think you are going?”  I explained I said I just thought based on the signs.  And he was still very aggressive saying that I have to pay in cash.  I said okay and for whatever reason he realized that I wasn’t going to argue with him and he turned into a nice guy.  Like someone flipped a switch and he explained to me how screwed up the bridges are and that they are different from everywhere else.

The second personal interaction I had involved a little fender bump I had in traffic (and I just said that I am worried about other drivers).  Very minimal damage, in bumper to bumper traffic going about 2 miles an hour.  Every accident I have ever gotten into (not many I can assure you) the parties were cordial and exchange information.  It was never confrontational.  This woman, on the other hand, gets our of her car and gets all up in my face like I was going to start arguing with her.  I thought, holy crap.  After about a minute of discussion, she was a completely different person.

Now both of these situations were my fault.  I would think that you go into a situation not thinking the worst of someone.  I guess I am naïve.  This doesn’t happen in Buffalo, at least it has never happened to me.  It is a foreign reaction to me.  How difficult it must be to go through life always waiting for an argument and confrontation.   Always looking for someone trying to take advantage of a situation.

Next trip in July.  Hopefully I will be a better driver.

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A Poor Way to Gain Experience

Today was the ribbon cutting ceremony of a project that I managed.  I wasn’t officially the project manager, but that is essentially what I did.  I was handed this project my first day on the job and thought I knew what I was getting myself into.  Looking back on it I was not prepared for what I had to do to have a successful project.

The first problem was that I hadn’t managed or worked on a design project in over 4 years.  You think you know what you’re doing, but you forget the little things that need to be done to have a successful project.  There was a lot of coordination between engineering disciplines that I completely forgot about, or thought that team members were handling, forgetting that as the project manager it was my responsibility to take care of that.

Next problem, when you start at a new company or an ongoing project you don’t know the discussions that have taken place or agreements made prior to you joining the project.  This was a huge problem.  Little did I know that there were a lot of deals and early discussions on the project that I was unaware of.  I would start something and then ask a question and either my boss or the other office manager would say, “Oh yeah we are doing something based on a discussion we had when the project initially started.”  Or unlike my other company where there was a lot of specialize support groups, I was responsible for things I had never done before.

In another issue it was the corporate culture, the way the office worked, the players on the team.  I was learning this stuff on the fly and sometimes too late.  For example, a week after things were done, the project manager told me, you have to be careful with so and so because…  Too late the budget was blown and the product was crappy.  We were correcting the problems right to the end of the build.

Lastly, on a similar project I was on at another company, the client was easy to work with and the team was awesome.  This team wasn’t awesome, and the client was very particular about everything.  I was complacent going in, and didn’t pay attention to detail.

Put all this together and I had a project that was over budget and had a lot of issues because of the above and my lack of attention to detail.  If I would have been more attentive, the issues I listed above would not have been a problem.

In the end it was a successful project for the client and they were very happy with it.  But it was tough on our company and we took a hit on the fee.  I was taken off the project because the client was pissed at me and it was up to my boss to make the corrections necessary.  In talking to my boss/PM today at the ribbon cutting I said, “I learned a lot on this project.  It was painful to learn this way, but I learned.” It was learning the hard way as my father use to say.

My boss’s response was great, and he was laughing as he said it.  It is a quote I will pass on many times.  He said, “You use experience to make good decisions, and you gain experience from poor ones.”

 

 

 

Clothing for an Engineer

Prior to becoming an engineer I was an accountant.  In that profession dress is everything, or at least is was about 20 years ago.  If you were not wearing a suit you were considered under dressed.  I remember talking to a woman at a bar about this topic.  I remember her being very nice looking and dressed very well.  However, on that day she was told the outfit she was wearing was unacceptable, and only a suit jacket and skirt were allowed.  Most engineers were the same way at the time.  Over the years things have changed in the engineering profession, with most firms moving to business casual.  Consequently, business casual has dictated my choice of clothing over about the past 10 years and have worn primarily dockers rather than suits or dress pants.  In the summer my Dockers are accompanied by a polo shirt, and in the colder months a button down collared dress shirt replaces the polo.  If I want to get really fancy I add in a sweater.

At my last place of employment, the owner was old school.  The dress was shirt, tie and pants.  Jeans were only allowed if you were working in the field.  Sneakers were never allowed.  Casual Fridays meant that you could remove your tie.  My current place of employment is just the opposite.  Jeans and sneakers are the outfit of choice for most of the men.

When working at the last job I always thought, what is the point of wearing a tie every day.  I would love to work casual, in jeans and sneakers every day.  Now that I have that freedom I don’t like it.  Although I deal with contractors a lot, and are almost always in boots and jeans, I feel unprofessional.  I took a serious look in my closet a few months ago and realized that my clothing choice and condition of those clothes has slipped significantly.  I wanted to change that.  Over my career as an accountant and engineer I have come to realize that no matter how your client is dressed, your opinions and statements are given a little more credence when you are properly attired.

Henceforth, I have made a committment to dressing more formal, more often.  My first investment was in shoes.  I bought some wingtips for the first time since I was an accountant.  Two pairs, a formal and informal pair.  The formal pair is slightly more formal, having smoother leather and a slightly more involved design.  The plan is to wear these with suits, of which I have one.  The less formal will be worn day-to-day.  My next purchases will be dress pants or as my wife likes to call them trousers.  These will replace my Dockers and become the day-to-day wear.  I will add in some new dress shirts.  Only button-downs work for me.  The non-button collars have never worked with my short neck.  No ties unless a client meeting is being undertaken and only for certain clients.

There you have it.  A plan for a new wardrobe for an engineer.  Wish me luck.

Act, I Mean Dress Your Age

This article is so appropriate.  It goes along with the piece I linked from Peggy Noonan.  When I read this I recalled that that morning I had a similar conversation with my daughter.  My daughter asked me why I get dressed up for work eventhough they don’t expect me to where dress pants and a dress shirt at work.  I said almost exactly what this article did.

My mother calls me an old fuddy duddy.  Oh well.

Economic Uncertainty

Here is an article from the Volokh Conspiracy about the uncertainty in government and its effects on business.

Many Obama supporters cannot understand why companies are not hiring.  They have lot’s of cash and there are no additional regulations that have been implemented in the last couple of years that are taking effect now and tax rates are still at the levels they were when Bush was president.

In my opinion and some others’ it is the uncertainty with government and regulation.  Although there are just as many that don’t believe that this is the cause.  However, why hire or expand when a year down the road that expansion or additional employees could result in higher costs from some unforeseen regulation.  Business owners can’t be sure that this type of thing won’t happen.  As a result people are holding their money close and waiting things out.