Yuzu assisting


Yuzu “assisting” during a call for work with a colleague in the UK. Sometimes she also walks on the desk in front of me, demanding head scritches. Then her tail is visible on-camera, but this time she was content to rub her cheeks against the monitor that had the call going on.

Getting up to speed at the new company is quite the adventure. Not only do I have to learn about the products, I’m also learning a lot about the underlying technology. Meanwhile, I’m having 30-minute long video calls to introduce myself with up to five people per day. I’m soaking it all up as a sponge, and I’m starting to see patterns emerge. I’ve been able to help a few colleagues too, which is both surprising (so soon!) and rewarding (my hard work is paying off!).
But it’s hard (mental) work. At the end of the day I’m tired and beat. It’s fun to learn new things, but maybe I should be pacing myself a bit more.

New job started

Last Wednesday I had the first day of my new job. Unfortunately it rained, so I went to the office by car instead of taking the bicycle. I had been there once before, to sign my contract (which was also the first time I met someone from my new employer face-to-face!), so I already knew a bit about the layout.
There were a few bumps in getting all set up: the laptop and access pass were waiting for me, but there was a snag with getting the SIM card for the phone, but that got resolved later on in the day.

It was a bit weird: the office was mostly empty, as people are still working mostly from home. My two direct colleagues had come to the office, but had to leave around noon — so I sat alone in a completely empty office. But there was enough to read on the intranet, so I wasn’t bored at all.
It’s exhausting to work again after six weeks of ‘inactivity’, especially in a new organisation, with a new product and new people. But it’s really interesting to look at all of the things happening with a fresh view — with a group of people who are interested in what I have to say about it.

Of course I posted about it on LinkedIn, and I got many heartwarming reactions from former colleagues who are really happy for me that I found another job so quickly.

New notebook

Some time ago, I realised that our large collection of beautiful Japanese washi papers would do us no good when it’s stored away.
So I devised a way to force myself to actually use those sheets by creating a cover around an A5 notepad, with the washi on the outside. I use it for taking notes and todo-lists, and if a page is filled, I take it out. That means that there is an end-of-life for this: once all the pages are gone, I’d chuck it and make a new one with a different paper on the cover! The transience is precisely the point.
I’m sure it’s symbolic that the notepad I used has run out of pages, and so last week I made a new cover for a fresh notepad. I look forward to taking it with me and make a fresh new start at my new position later this week.
Notepad cover with dark blue Japanese washi paper depicting Daruma dolls
The paper depicts Daruma dolls. Daruma was one of the foundational fathers of zen buddhism, and a legend tells that he meditated for so long, that he turned blind and his arms and legs fell off from dis-use.
The Daruma doll has two empty eye sockets, and if you want to work hard towards a wish, you color in one of the eyes and place it somewhere it can see you work. Every time you see the doll, you are reminded of your goal and encouraged to work hard for it. Once you have achieved your goal, you fill in the remaining eye, to thank Daruma for his support.
All these dolls have their second eye filled in, which makes it double symbolic, because it’s certainly a goal I achieved in very short time!


Last year in April, we visited the temple in Takasaki, Japan where the custom of the Daruma dolls originated. They have a little museum with all kinds of dolls and interesting variants — sadly you were not allowed to take photos inside. But the giant doll on the outside does provide the perfect photo op!


Next to the museum was a hall that was used for ceremonies, and there were nets around the veranda around it. To me, it looked like worshippers who had their wishes fulfilled would bring their doll to the temple and chuck it onto the veranda. I’m guessing the priests would burn the dolls (they’re often made of papier mache) once per year, just like the wooden prayer plaques at Shinto shrines.

One more week

And suddenly, you realise with a shock that you only have one more week to be the lazy slob you have become after not working for six weeks, before your new job starts on July 1st! I had so many plans, and I did do some of them — but certainly not all.

There are three large software companies in Nijmegen, situated close to each other. I’ve worked at two of those, and I’m really pleased that I can continue to develop myself as a Product Manager at the third! I just can’t believe my luck, with a position that is such a good fit being open at this moment. The only drawback I can think of is that it’s about 300 meters further away from home… 😉
But I have no idea how it’s going to play out. The advice is still to work from home, and while I’ve been to their offices once (to sign the contract), I’ve only spoken to the people I’ll be working with most closely through a video call. I will have to come in on my first day to get all of the tech like laptop, SIM card, logins etc, but I don’t know if I’ll be sent home to work from there or not. And if I’m the only one in the office, that doesn’t really make sense either. I guess we’ll see: I’m going to receive a letter with instructions beforehand.

In the meantime, I’ve made good use of my training budget to polish up my skills. And in a sense it’s great that in-person trainings can’t be given right now, because there are now trainings I can participate in online that I otherwise not could have gotten! So far, I’ve gotten my PSPO certification — I really had to study for that one! It’s interesting: many organisations claim that they ‘do scrum’ (an ‘agile’ method for doing complex work (such as developing software)), but
I’ve also finished up the Launch module from Pragmatic Marketing — Pragmatic Marketing consists of six modules, three of which I already got during my trip to Cambridge in 2017. Those courses are rarely given in Europe, so I’m really pleased I could join an online course! It’s given over the course of two days: for the instructor it’s the morning, but for me it’s the afternoon/early evening. Works out very well, and I’m going to do their Market module early next week. Unfortunately, there was no time nor budget for the sixth module, that will have to wait.

Well, you know what they say: there’s never a dull moment!

What with COVID-19, a lot of our customers (mainly financials like insurance etc) have stopped their projects, because it is/was hard to collaborate remotely on something entirely new. Which means the revenue took a hit: fewer software sales, fewer consultancy projects. And the ratio between revenue and costs is holy for our CEO, since that is what the stock price is based on. So he started using the tools available to him to reduce costs, and one of those is laying off people as part of a reorganisation.
I’m in a particularly vulnerable position when it comes to reorgs: I’m the only person in the Nijmegen office that is doing product management, so it’s easy to state that that work is going elsewhere, leaving me without any work to do. If you want to surgically cut costs, then that’s an attractive way to do it. And my work is easy to spread to others: one of my products is now a ‘small’ product, so someone else could take that on in addition to their own small product, and I’m a co-PM for another product, so there’s someone to take that work on as well.

So I wasn’t really surprised when I was laid off three weeks ago.

It was clear from the severance settlement proposal that my (now former) employer wanted to get everything resolved as quickly as possible, without any lengthy legal proceedings (just as it was the previous reorgs). Of course I had the proposal checked with my legal assistance insurer, and there were a few things that needed a bit of attention. So in my reaction I went through those points one by one, and formulated a counter-proposal. All of my points were accepted, so in about one and a half weeks there was a signed severance agreement.
I’m using my time by following trainings to get some professional certifications that should help land me a new job. Last week, I had a quite intensive online training for two days: start at 08:45 and end at 17:00 both days. It was amazing how well the course, which was originally designed for classroom teaching, was adapted to online. We used an online whiteboard and all, and it really worked out nicely (except for that one time when the four of us all were dragging a hundred virtual post-it notes across it…) There’s an exam involved, which is quite similar to most of those certification exams: multiple-choice questions, and you need to get a certain percentage right in order to pass. I did some trial exams (with much fewer questions) and when I could pass three of those in a row with a scoe of 100%, I decided to go for the real exam — best get it out of the way, right? So now I also have the Professional Scrum Product Owner certification.

Other than that, I do have some other projects, but I’m also spending a lot of time in Animal Crossing too…

The New Normal

We’re starting to get to grips with our new normal. On one hand, it’s been easy on me, but I also miss certain parts of my routine that I do not have an equivalent for at home. I only live ten minutes away from the office, but that bicycle ride back and forth always gave me the chance to clear my head, get out of ‘work mode’ and into ‘home mode’. That’s now missing, and it’s been taking its toll on me. I’m very sure I’m not unique in that, and I need to develop some kind of ‘ritual’ to set my mind.

Animal Crossing continues to be a delight. All decisions about the setup of our island are made by the both of us. Like always, we always agree on what the next step is. We’re going for a park-like environment, with lots of (fruit-)trees and flowers. We also installed an outdoor bath (though sadly you can’t get in it — missed chance here, game!). Apparently you can get up to ten animal inhabitants on your island, but it’s already pretty full with the five we have. There’d be no place for all our trees if you get that many houses!
And yes, we did get the online option for the Switch. The family membership is not that expensive, and we’ve had lots of fun playing together with friends. Visiting their islands, showing off ours, and exchanging materials for crafting and sending those along has proven itself to be a lot of fun.

At work, we’re trying to keep being social and feeling connected. The company Teams and Slack channels are used extensively for this. One group has a daily challenge: show your pet (or the pet you wished you had), show your nerdiest T-shirt, etc. One day, the challenge was to show your favourite book — and of course my favourite book is the one I wrote: my D&D scenario! Immediately, I got interested reactions. And so I’m going to run the scenario for six players (spread across four countries), and four had never played before! I’m really looking forward to it.
And with people having more time on their hands, online RPG’ing is really taking off. I’ve played in a two-session game of the Dragon Age RPG with a group I used to play with a lot. But then we kind-of drifted apart what with the demands of work and family — but now people have time to game again!

So far, we’ve been adjusting pretty well, but even for complete homebodies like us, we still had to adjust. And I’m not sure we’re all done with adjusting just yet.

Social distancing

I’ve read people stating that it should be called “physical distancing” because we’re keeping our physical distance but keep being social. But you’d also say that we’re distancing ourselves but in a social way…

Anyway, I’ve been working from home for more than a week now. Last week Thursday the Dutch government, in a rare moment of vision and statemanship advised people to work from home. This was late in the afternoon, but the next day our whole team was working from home. The team in Denmark had been at home for a few days before.
It’s been relatively painless. I work for an international software company, and we’re already used to remote cooperation. My boss is in Germany, a direct colleague is in Denmark, the programming team in Russia — for them, it doesn’t really matter whether I do the video-call from the office or from home. And we have a terrific home office: I have an electrically adjustable desk, so I can either stand or sit, and my deskchair at home is better than the one I have at the office.

And I love it: I love having lunch with my partner, I love being able to give the cats headscritches, and I love having all my stuff at hand. There’s not much time savings for me for not going into the office: it’s only 10 minutes by bicycle, so that doesn’t matter much. I love being able to focus on my work.

Another thing I love is how everything is moving online and the creativity that brings. People are finding new ways to work together, to teach, to learn, to be social. Meetups I would not be able to attend because of the travel involved are now becoming viable for me to attend.
And I wonder what this will mean for the future of the way we work and socialize. Now that we will learn that remote work is a viable long-term solution, how will that affect the way work is organised?
Teachers and nurses and delivery people got the short end of the stick in regards of salary and job prestige — but right now they are heroes. How will public opinion have changed when this is over? Will people realise that emergency socialism could become everyday socialism if we chose that?
Things could change for the better — the opportunity is there.

Two weeks back, a colleague wore a shirt with a text that also included ‘NEO-TOKYO’. I asked him if this was a reference to Akira, and it turns out that he hadn’t seen that movie. In fact, he didn’t know what I was talking about! So I told him Akira is an iconic anime movie, set in ‘Neo Tokyo’. I offered to loan the DVD it to him, and he was curious enough to take me up on the offer.
So when he returned the disc, I asked if he liked it. He had been very interested, and had watched the whole movie through in one sitting… I offered to loan him that other cyberpunk masterpiece, Ghost in the Shell, which he also had never heard about… And now he has the second GitS movie on loan too, and he told me that he wouldn’t mind having a movie night every Sunday evening…

So now I’m planning out the whole list of movies I’m going to loan him, and a logical sequence between the movies… It’s great when you can share your interests in such a way.

ProductTank

Last week, I was in Copenhagen to visit our office in Lyngby. I’m going to take on some of the product management tasks for the product they make there, and my visit was mainly to talk to the product manager there to see where I could contribute.
They had already planned to go to a meet-up of ProductTank, a local chapter of a global (IT) product-focused group, loosely affiliated with two annual product management conferences. As PM, you’re often working in isolation, so it’s always interesting to meet up with peers and talk about our work and learn from each other. So we went to the meetup together, to see what it is about.

At the start, I thought it was a bit intimidating: lots of people who do the same work, but have lots more experience. The person giving a presentation also used phrases like “As we all know…” and I didn’t know. So it felt like I was a newbie who still had so much to learn.
But during the informal discussion, there were quite a few things that some of the other people attending said that told me otherwise. Apparently, some things I find completely obvious were received as interesting suggestions to improve their way of working. Of course, I have the advantage of having a process defined that helps me: it is the result of many years of product experience, so I don’t have to re-invent those wheels myself. But I also understand where those processes come from and can sometimes point out improvements.
So perhaps I shouldn’t be so intimidated after all: I do my work well, and perhaps I have more to bring to the table during such discussions.