Long Back Guy and his Adjustment to American Life

Long Back Guy is someone that I really enjoy working with.  He is smart, excitable (in a good way that makes me smile), and he happens to be really, really funny.  He is from India, and has been in the US for 6 or 8 years, I think.  When we were out at our holiday lunch last week, he shared the story of his first experiences here.  At the table was Long Back Guy, myself, QA Guy (who probably needs another name, but I haven’t written about him yet, so I haven’t thought of one yet), and CEO.

Long Back Guy was pretty fresh out of college when he got the opportunity to come to the US, and like any smart young man anticipating a complete change in culture, and wanting very much to succeed upon his arrival in the US, he spent the month prior to his arrival “studying Dallas,” the place he was headed to.  He says he studied it and studied it, like he would have studied any subject he was assigned in school.  He spent hours learning about Dallas.  I’m not sure there is that much about Dallas that could occupy me for as many hours as Long Back Guy spent on it, but I have to admit, I don’t like the place.

“When I got off from the plane, I couldn’t understand.  I was so much confused!  It didn’t look like New York,” he said,”and I thought everything in US was like New York with buildings everywhere, miles in all directions!”

“Seems like your study materials were pretty crappy,” QA guy responded as we all laughed.

Long Back Guy continued.  “Dallas is not buildings.  Dallas is very flat, no one walking anywhere, only highways, and I never saw any people at all.”  Long Back Guy’s eyes are big now, and his voice becomes more and more emphatic as  he seems to relive his initial incredulity.

“I stayed in an apartment in downtown and saw no one for the whole weekend I was there.  Maybe a couple people came in or out of the building, but it was like ghost city!”

“Wait,” I said.  “You were only there for a weekend?  I thought you were going to live there.”

“Yes, me too.  But, after all my studies, my company called me and said, now you are going to California.”

I personally am glad they sent him to California, because now I know him, and I have a feeling he’s happier here than he would be in Dallas.

My office holiday lunch

Last week, our CEO announced that the company didn’t have enough money to do a real holiday party, so instead, we would all go out to lunch together this week.  Our office manager proceeded to send an email telling us where we would be going for lunch, and asking everyone to reply only with their preference of date – Tuesday or Wednesday.  He was very precise in his instructions.  “Please reply back to me only with preferred date.”  Granted, he could have meant, “Send your reply only to me, do not reply to everyone on this email chain.”  Whatever his meaning, it didn’t matter anyway.  The average office worker doesn’t have the self-control to only do what the email says, especially when a restaurant is involved.  A minor argument ensued.

One guy (a transplant from China that now works with us in the US) was particularly disappointed at the lunch plans.  He emailed back to everyone with this:

If we really have to eat Indian buffet, I am not a big fan of it.

My little suggestion is that we should try the [ABC of India]

In 123 4th St

At least it has a better rating than [XYZ of India] in the yelp.com

We also have one woman in the office that is from India.  To disgruntled guy, she immediately retorted:

Hi All,

I know, which the better place to eat Indian food as I am from India myself. Don’t go by the rating on Yelp. I have eaten at [ABC of India] can say that It’s worst I ever had.

[XYZ of India], was previously “Bombay Something or Other” food was good then, not sure how it is now. Anything other than [ABC of India] would be good choice.

It’s very clear this woman is from India.  You’d never guess anything else, so why she had to assert that she was from India escapes me.  In the end, though, we did go to the original restaurant proposed by Office Manager and endorsed by Indian Woman.

When it came time to go, though, none of us really wanted to go.  That’s the thing about holiday parties – you don’t really feel like going, but if the company didn’t plan something, everyone would be pissed off.  So, we went.  It took an inordinate amount of time to figure out how people were going to group up into cars to share rides, but we eventually got there and dove into the Indian Buffet.  The CEO decided to sit at my table, which meant our conversation was initially a little stiff.  Another guy at the table who I really enjoy working with, the Indian guy who always says “long back” when he means “a long time ago,” decided to tell us a few stories of his arrival to the U.S. from India.  Pretty soon I was in stitches.  The stories were funny on their own, but this guy is funny and his ability to laugh at himself is wonderful.  More soon…

Gopher-man delivers

So, last weekend, I had a huge software release pending and was waiting on gopher-man to get it ready to deploy.  Besides the fact that gopher-man works slowly, he is very pessimistic, and always acts as though there is no way he has enough time to do what he needs to do.  It’s a stressful job, but we all have stressful jobs in this industry, and he makes me want to just throw my hands up in the air and walk away.  The Thursday before the deployment, I stopped by to see how he was doing.

“Oh, it’s awful.  There are so many errors.  I’ve tried to run the build over and over and over and it’s taking forever,” he moaned.

I paused, took a deep breath.  “I’m sorry it’s such a pain.  That sounds frustrating.  Do you think you’ll be done by tomorrow?”

“Define done,” he says.

[Level of effort required to contain my frustration increasing steadily.]

“Um, done.  As in, finished.  Ready to hand off to China to deploy on Saturday.”

“Do we have a choice?”  His question is equal parts sarcasm and a misplaced glimmer of hope that I’ll tell him we might have a choice.

“No. We don’t.”

“What can I do then?  I have no choice.”

“Well, if you need some help, I’d rather know that now and see if I can’t find someone to assist instead of find out tomorrow that we can’t get this done.”

Defeated, he sulks, saying “There’s no one that can help.”

“Maybe [a senior guy who doesn’t normally do this, but can figure out just about anything] can help.  Let me see what I can do.” I try to reassure him, as I walk away biting my tongue.

I get gopher-man some help and let them work it out over the rest of that afternoon.  Friday, though, still no final product.  I do get a reassuring email from the person that normally do this work (excuse me – broken English almost slid past me) – does this work – and is away on family business to tell me that it is “all sorted, and we’ll be fine.”  He’s from New Zealand and a very reassuring type.  Sure enough, Saturday morning I wake up to the news that we’re ready to go.  Score one for gopher-man.

Not only does he finish, but that night, when I expect to work from 4pm til 8am the next morning monitoring the deployment happening in China, gopher-man’s work was so well done that we save hours, and I am actually done by 2:30 am instead.  Senior executives at the company and at our client say it is the least eventful and most on-time deployment they have ever had, even though it is also one of the largest, which is exactly as it should be.  Score one for the whole team.

Everything is riding on gopher-man

And that’s got me really, really nervous…  I have a huge release going into production tonight – in fact, lucky me – I get to work from 5pm Saturday evening to 8am on Sunday.  That’s right – no sleep for me tonight.  The thing is, tonight only happens if gopher-man gets his work done.  Which was supposed to be done yesterday.  And I was supposed to hear from him last night.  And I am still waiting…

While I am waiting, I will share a few more office updates.  I have to admit that I think I found just the right name for gopher-man.  We have a development meeting every Wednesday, and every person involved with this particular client, who happens to be our biggest client, is required to be at this meeting.  Gopher-man is one of those people.  At the start of the meeting, he was not present.  So, barefoot boss asked someone sitting near the door of the conference room to go fetch gopher-man.

“K,” he said. “Will you please go get [gopher-man].  He is going to tell you he is too busy and cannot interrupt his work, but tell him he has to come anyway.”

K leaves the room, returns thirty seconds later, waits for the next break in conversation and says, “I told [gopher-man] to come, but he says he is too busy and can’t stop his work.”

Many of us sigh and roll our eyes.  The meeting continues.  Perhaps two minutes later, gopher-man appears.

“Ah, there you are,” says barefoot boss.

Again, the discussion continues and a few minutes later, a question is raised which gopher-man should answer.  Barefoot boss turns to look at gopher-man, who has disappeared into a hole.

“Where’s [gopherman]?  Darnit – he escaped again!”

So now I know I am not the only one that thinks gopher-man is sneaky and disappears into some invisible  hole none of the rest of us can see.


I wrote this post last Saturday, then forgot to publish it…  So, the unknown ending I began with is now known – but, you’ll have to wait to hear how it turned out…

My boss is a sprinter

I’ve introduced you a little bit to my boss – the one that takes his shoes off all the time, and uses elaborate vocabulary it doesn’t seem normal people use.  It occurred to me a few days ago that I never shared the fact that he is a sprinter.  The odd thing is that he does his sprinting through the office.  Maybe he also does it outdoors or at a track somewhere, but I kind of think he limits it to the office.  For some reason, he can never remember to bring his cell phone with him, and it tends to ring just when he couldn’t be further away from it.  A conscientious guy that doesn’t want to put anyone out, he will run at lightning speeds through our office, in an attempt to pick up before a caller has to leave a message.  I wonder if he realizes how disturbing it is to hear his feet pounding across the floor as though he’s trying to escape an axe murderer.

Our office is really quite long – in fact, he might even be able to manage the 100-yard dash if he went from end to end.  The first time I heard him, I thought something had gone seriously wrong.  Why on earth would someone run like mad through the office?  I wandered out of my cubicle and looked around to make sure no one was hurt or anything, but found nothing amiss, so I went back to continue staring at my screen.  Now, when I hear his cell phone ring in his office, I know to expect the stampede coming immediately thereafter.  I don’t keep myself in very good shape, so I am probably not capable of doing the 100-yard dash in my office.  But even if I were, and even if I had the unfortunate habit of leaving my cell phone far away from my present location, I just can’t imagine running at top speed to catch it before the 4th ring.  Maybe I should try it – I could certainly use the exercise…

I really love broken English

Maybe that makes me a little weird, but it’s true.  Since I started working at this company where we have lots of employees in China, I have regular happiness handed to me on a plate – well, in email, or Skype, or in meetings, or on the phone.  I’ve pondered why I like it so much, and actually given a lot of thought as to whether this is just plain politically incorrect, but I have decided I just don’t care.  I like it, so it’s good.  A few examples I particularly love follow:


“Sorry for cost so long time since my unclever mind.”

If I tried for a week, I wouldn’t be able to come up with such a clever apology for missing the point of someone else’s e-mail (well, multiple emails over multiple days).



This is an affirmation I get of most any statement I make in Skype to one particular guy I chat with all the time.  I guess in this case, my Chinese counterpart is not using English incorrectly at all.  He is just using it in a way no one else uses it anymore, and hasn’t really in fifty-some years.  I only know this because I decided to google it, though.  I knew “Roger” was a term that meant you understood what someone had said, and it had some association with pilots in the military, so I googled “roger as an affirmative statement.”  Turns out it comes from a radio alphabet (A = Alpha, B = Bravo, C = Charlie, etc.) that was the official alphabet of the US Navy until 1954.  One day I will ask where he picked up this statement.


“need go to sleep…pain…headache”

Again, a simple Skype chat.  This time with someone who was trying to explain why he couldn’t answer my question.


On the slightly serious side of this subject, I think I like seeing and hearing these mangled statements because I like language, and warped as these things seem, they give me an opportunity to look at language differently – to consider how it is entirely possible to get your point across in ways that aren’t supposed to work.  Add to that the sort of puzzle-solving aspect of translating the translation and it ‘s a perfect fit for me.  As a kid I loved to watch Jeopardy and I solved logic puzzles for fun all the time, so I guess it’s no surprise I take so much joy in capturing these little tidbits.

Tales from the office

I know you have all been dying to hear more about what’s going on with my co-workers.  You are probably especially interested in the small man that is cold all the time, so I will indulge you and share a few more tales.  Well, my impression of the little library mouse has changed.  I now see him as more of a little gopher.  I had to put some thought into that.  Well, I guess I didn’t put a ton of thought into it.  I admit I went to google to find the right term.  I googled “semi-intelligent ground digging animal” and “gopher” was the best match for how I see my freezing office-mate.  Gophers aren’t horrible, but they aren’t great, either.  Those of you that don’t work in software might not be aware of how demanding the industry is.  I’m sure plenty of other jobs have their demands, too, but when you write software for other people, it’s expected to be perfect all the time, and when it’s not, you have to do whatever it takes to make it perfect, day or night, no matter how much time it takes.  As the project manager of software projects, it is compounded somewhat by the fact that you have to do whatever it takes to get others to do whatever it takes – and my office gopher is very good at finding a little hole to dive into whenever it seems we might need him to do what it takes.

Last week, we needed some work done on a Sunday.  The guy that would normally do the work was not available because he had to leave Saturday to travel around the world to be with his ailing father.  Gopher-man wasn’t amenable to working on Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend, and as I thought about it, I decided that was reasonable, so I changed the deployment schedule for our system, which affected tons of other people, in order not to interrupt his Sunday.  On Wednesday, the three of us talked numerous times about this schedule and my decision to move our deployment to Monday.  This would give gopher-man all day Monday to do what we needed him to do in time for me to have the people in China finish the process.  On his way out of the office Wednesday night before Thanksgiving, he stopped by and said, “So, we’re on for Monday.” I said, “Yep.  Have a good weekend.  See you Monday.”  He took a few steps towards the exit, then dramatically remembered he had jury duty on Monday.  I wanted to shoot myself in the head.  I had to run into a meeting, though, and a few minutes into the meeting I saw him sneaking towards the exit.  Good thing we have glass walls to our conference room.  I almost tackled him on his way out.  In the end, though, I really could do nothing, so I let him leave.

When he first mentioned jury duty, I asked him if he knew he had to report on Monday.  He said, “Yes.  I’ve rescheduled it two times already.”  [Insert image of small balding man with large glasses that should come with a sign for his forehead that reads, ‘Objects behind glasses are smaller than they appear.’]   “They wooon’t let me oooout of-it.  It’s really upsetting because I-won’t-get paid, but they said I still had-to-go.”  [Splice in a rather whiny voice for a fifty-something guy that articulates his t’s as though they are ice-picks while also running words together randomly.]  It still seemed odd to me that he knew he had to actually report to jury duty that early.  Normally you call in the night before and listen for your group number, fingers crossed that your group doesn’t have to report.  After he was gone, I brainstormed with his boss about some other solutions to our resource problem, and we came up with only mediocre solutions that none of us thought would work well.  After I got home that night, it occurred to me that maybe gopher-guy didn’t realize he had to call in to check if he had to report for jury duty.  He is not of American origin, so perhaps he didn’t get how the system worked.  So, I called him.

When I got him on the phone, I explained to him that he might not actually have to go to jury duty on Monday.  He insisted over and over that he did.  I patiently asked him to get his jury summons and just look it over a little more closely.  He reluctantly agreed, then lightened up a bit, and I asked him to read it to me.  He mumbled in his accent that I can’t really place, and as he read, his diction became clearer, he read with more emotion, and by the time he got to the part that said, “Call in or check http://www.countycourt.com after 4:30 p.m. the night before your summons date to see if you have to report for duty,” you could even say he was passionate about what he was learning.  With utter surprise and gratitude in his voice, he said, “Oh, so maybe I don’t have to go after all!”

I should try to explain here how gopher-guy talks.  It’s difficult to characterize.  His accent is different than the typical accents I hear.  It’s not Indian, it’s not Asian, it’s not Hispanic – I really have no idea.  But, he cannot pronounce ‘in’ if it is part of a name or other word.  Someone named Dustin would be called Dus-teeeeen by gopher-man.  Heavy emphasis on the second syllable.  He speaks at a slow pace, not because he’s translating as he’s speaking – he speaks English quite well – he is just very deliberate about everything – nothing can make him rush, and he likes to talk a lot.  Sometimes it is all I can do to sit still long enough for him to get the point I knew he was trying to make five minutes earlier.  Anyway, back to the story.

Again, I began to explain this part of the American legal system – getting a jury summons doesn’t mean you actually have to do anything – and he just kept repeating that he had no idea, he’d never done this before, and it was good I made him read it or he would have just showed up on Monday.  At that point, I took a little leap of faith and said, “You know.  I bet the courts are closed for Thanksgiving and the day after.  And I bet that means that they’ve already posted which groups have to report on Monday.”

“Reeee-ally,” he said.  “Hmm….  I wonder if you’re right.” (Spoken with the wonder of a child realizing Santa is coming tonight)

“Why don’t you check,” I said. (Spoken patiently, matter-of-factly, only slightly encouragingly)

“Well, if you really want to wait, I guess I can check now.”

“Sure, I’ll wait.  It’s no problem at all.”

I waited for quite some time as he checked the website, read silently to himself, started reading bits of it aloud, mumbling.  “Just give me a minute….  I want to make sure I’m reading this right….”  More silence.  More mumbling.  More pausing and restarting.  “Group 116.  No, that’s not my group…  Oh, here.  Group 117!  No, that’s not my group, either…”  And so on, until, “There it is!  There’s my group number!  And I don’t have to go in on Monday!  Oh my God, I don’t believe it!  Wait, let me read it again to be sure.  Wow!  This is so wonderful!  I really don’t have to go!”

“Yes, it’s really great, isn’t it?  OK, well, I’ll see you Monday then.  Have a good weekend.”  With that, I finally got off the phone, failing to tell him he might just have to go Tuesday, and settled in to watch some TV and relax.

And that is the end of this gopher-man update.

Kudos from my co-workers

It is uncharacteristic of me to share something like this because I tend not to want to toot my own horn, but I have to share this email that was sent to my boss because I’ve been posting some about the challenges of communicating with my offshore co-workers.  It’s probably completely un-PC for me to say this, but this I thought this email was adorable – and speaking of vocabulary, ‘adorable’ is not a word that would generally come out of my mouth.  Not even when looking at kittens.  Anyway, read on…  I will use [M] to represent [My name].

Hi [My boss that takes his shoes off all the time],

As I talked to QA leaders these days, some feedback from them for [M] are that she’s a very responsible PM who’s always ready to step out answering/resolving project related questions/problems, she doesn’t hesitate to ask around to help if she doesn’t know the answers, she always tries to make project plan better and detailed including bugs and risks.

Although [M] is a new PM for [our main software system], she represents us that she’s willing to make this project better, which encourages us a lot to work towards the same goal with her.

I want to say Thank You here to [M] and report these to you as [M’s] good behaviors.

Needless to say, I’m grateful for the feedback.  Perhaps even more so because of the not-so-perfect English.  It sure is nice when people make an effort to share positive feedback about the people they work with.  We should probably all try it a little more…

Vocabulary Lessons

Recently at work, I’ve been privy to a number of conversations or emails that are really amusing vocabulary lessons in disguise.  Or, at least I like to think of them that way.  It’s my automatic defense to the ridiculous level of intelligence I am surrounded by every day.  If I look at it as entertaining, I won’t think so much about how much my vocabulary just plain sucks in comparison.  Most of the work I and my immediate coworkers do involves making changes to a prodigious software system.  Each project gets named with a phrase that is meant to explain what the work is about.  Fix such-and-such file, or modify file processor to accept .xyz file type.  These names are not very exciting, and sometimes they border on obscene in their length or phrasing.  Like this one:  Reports for ABC jobs should indicate they are reports for ABC jobs.

In a meeting where upcoming projects were being discussed, my boss that doesn’t like to wear shoes took issue with the name of a new initiative.  It is called, “ABC Process Tuning.”  Tuning, to him, and probably to lots of other people, means tightening, optimizing – somehow making something run better.  But, apparently that is not what this project is really about.  It’s more like a housecleaning project.  Get rid of extra junk that’s not needed.  That project name would work for me, but my boss’ argument was this:

“That title is a misnomer.  It’s misleading.  I mean, you’re not really tuning anything, are you?  You are simply removing detritus!”

Now, I had heard that word before.  I could immediately spell it in my head.  And, it was fairly easy to determine the meaning based on context, but I didn’t really know what it meant.  Last night, lying in bed, thinking I was telling a rather funny story to my other half, I recounted this situation in some detail, and as soon as I got to the detritus punch-line, she sleepily said, “Oh, I know what that means.  It’s used all the time with regard to plant biology.”  Come on!  Am I the only person surprised to hear this term used in everyday speech?

According to dictionary.com, the meaning is:




1.  rock in small particles or other material worn or broken away from a mass, as by the action of water or glacial ice.
2.  any disintegrated material; debris.
I guess between those two, I like the first description best, because I can imagine our massive software system being slowly ground away by an ancient glacier.  The only way to survive being a software project manager is to find humor and entertainment wherever you can, no matter how cheap or weak it is….

The micro-climate of my office

Not long after I started my new job, I wrote a post on a few other new guys that started soon after I did.  The techie-from-a-cave guy works from another city, so I haven’t seen him since that first week.  The small guy with strong glasses, though, works in my office and I see him every day – well, almost every day.  Sometimes it’s hard to find him because he moves around a lot.  It seems that every cubicle he’s tried has some climate issue associated with it. He gets cold very easily.  None of the rest of us has this problem.  It’s not to say we don’t notice the temperature fluctuations.  We do.  In fact, my office seems to be a tiny indoor representation of the Bay Area climate.  You need to dress in layers because it goes from warm to cool to too warm to a little too cool.  Layers don’t work for the small new guy with the strong, large glasses, though.  In addition to moving his location frequently, trying to find just the right cubicle that doesn’t come with a draft, he’s taken to climbing up onto desks and taping papers and manila folders over the air ducts in the ceiling near whichever cubicle he is trying out.  One day last week I realized he wasn’t in the office – not because I didn’t hear him or see him in a meeting, but because I never saw him climbing around taping things onto the ceiling.  I see him as a little library mouse gopher-man now.  He’s small, and he scurries around climbing on furniture, wearing his strong glasses that make his eyes look larger than they should.  One day I suggested he bring an extra sweatshirt or sweater to work to help when it gets a little chilly, and he continued past me, muttering under his breath that another shirt wouldn’t help because it’s his bald head that’s the problem – he loses all his heat from there.  I thought about suggesting a hat, but thought I might be crossing a line, so I just watched him wander away looking for the perfect place to sit.