Sunday, July 22, 2012


And so I struggle with my job. My manager asked me once if I was comfortable being the one on the team that challenges everyone else. I told him it’s an interesting question because there is a type of person who prefers to have people around her who agree with her. And there’s another type who is comfortable being the only one of a certain opinion. I told him I’m usually the latter as long as there are some small victories. The problem with my job is that 90% of the decisions made are in a direction other than that voiced by me. This are in two general areas—education and development.

For many reasons my project changed before I arrived. However none of this was communicated to me before coming. So I was in for a surprise. The biggest change is that though I’m an instructional designer, I would not be designing the material. An outside firm was contracted to do the work. I would just review their work. Well, the problem with that is that the firm is more traditional on the pedagogical/educational spectrum. I’m much more progressive pedagogically and always looking to see what the latest research says about how people learn or pulling it real experiences from the classroom. So we often clash professionally and I would have designed the curriculum differently. So usually if we disagree on something we go with them, even though I represent my company. If different reviewers from my company disagree, we don’t go with my choice we go with the choice of the program manager for that course. So I don’t really have a place where my progressive stance can be supported and adopted in any considerable way.

The other area in which I disagree is a fundamental one—development. I come from international development and took the job because I thought we were doing development and that I would be working partly in the philanthropic arm of the company (I’m not at all; I was even told that we might move there when I came, but this also isn’t true). Being in the normal part of the company we are not shielded from company profit goals even though we work on a project that is not directly related to profit. So there is natural tension there, even if it is felt most greatly by me (an assumption). I remember meeting with a vice president who explicated how good we were at community engagement but not so good at profit. Someone asked if there wasn’t another way to measure impact, but the problem is that the vice president has to answer to other people. So it’s a sticky situation. As it stands, the project doesn’t seem designed from my development perspective which is to help the people who need the most help, the people with the least resources who would not be helped if we weren’t there (high impact). In fact it seems designed with more of a visibility and product-adoption mentality so that we help people but mostly people who would have been ok without our help anyway. India is 60% rural – 40% urban (some say 55/45 now), so by targeting urban we are missing the rural. And by targeting tier 1 cities we miss tier 2 and 3 cities. It’s sad, but even our courses have pre-requisites that eliminate all people who don’t have the entry level knowledge. I am trying to change this but it’s hard. Here are some of the changes that occurred before I arrived.

·         I was told I was to work only in Africa. Due to some reorganization before I arrived, I now work all over the developing world. It’s not bad for me but it is bad for the work itself because it’s harder for me to develop a regional focus or regional expertise having to consider so many countries. This effect has been softened somewhat by the fact that we are focusing on one country to start, but none of the team has regional expertise there.
·         I was told I was going to do 50% internal education work and 50% external (developing world) education work. The internal part was cut. Again, it’s not bad for me, I like focusing in the developing world. However, I now see the importance of having a group of instructors and instructional designers who understand you. Right now, I feel like a lone black sheep in my part of the company.
·         I was told that we were going to teach both company products and general technologies to help people. That is not true. We only teach company products. Now, that may not be bad or good. It depends on the products. And it’s possible that we have the best product for a particular business function or internet function. However, that’s not always the case for each individual user and what the person needs. Moreover, I took the job because I 50% was going to involve teaching general technologies. Now that’s gone, and I’m having to adjust to that. For instance, we are not teaching basic HTML, JavaScript, Java, Python, etc. But the problem is that in order to take a course in which we teach about certain technologies we offer, you will need to know some of those languages. So if you grew up in a place or went to a school that didn’t teach those languages or teach them well, you won’t be able to take our course. I want to open up access.

1)      I don’t create anything. My title is instructional designer but I don’t design anything. All day long I review, critique, edit, comment, opine. What I want to do is create.
2)      I’m development minded while others are business minded. (These don’t have to be mutually exclusive but in this case they are opposed at least from in the way they are business minded and the way I’m development minded. I actually think that the direction I want is more beneficial profit-wise in the long run, but it’s hard to predict and show.)
3)      I’m pedagogically progressive while everyone else is more traditional.
4)      I’m criticised for criticizing my project. This is strange because I criticize the things I love and try to make it better.
5)      I’m criticized for not speaking. First, I’m not like in others where I’m quick to speak. It’s always been an asset in other companies. Here it’s not so much. I am quick to listen and learn from others especially what people are thinking. But not everyone around me is like that. The problem is that if you constantly say no to everything I say or if you’ve said no to what I’ve said, why should I say it again? I also don’t like to repeat and rehash. I rather speak if I have something new to say. So for instance, I was in a meeting two weeks ago Friday. We were discussing a topic we had talked about on Thursday. I had given my opinion which didn’t agree with a programme manager. We were talking about it again. I was listening. Finally the programme manager asked what I thought. I cringed. I knew if I spoke, my opinion would not be welcome. But I couldn’t avoid speaking because no I was asked to do so. So I had to oblige and give my opinion. Of course, the programme manager disagreed and made the decision to do things the way this programme manager chose. That’s the usual pattern. It happens over email. I general hate giving my opinion, but when someone asks a question in an email you have to respond.
6)      None of my medium or big suggestions are considered or adopted. This is strange. I think it took about 4 months, but by sometime in April and definitely by the end of April I realized I didn’t like my current situation. I realized this because I noticed that I don’t come up with ideas anymore—at all. I wondered why that was, I thought long and hard about it, and I realized that everything I say and suggest is always discarded. I’m always told “no” or “later” or “maybe for a later version” or “maybe we can do that for a future iteration.”

When I give my opinion or idea over email, it usually elicits two responses. It is squashed immediately in a nice email that responds very quickly to my email. However, the email doesn’t change my mind because it never addresses the point I made. This type of quick response bothers me because it means the responder didn’t really listen or listen-read to what I wrote. The responder just responded immediately and quickly holding to a particular ground. This is what I mean quick-to-speak, slow-to-listen. I notice this in meetings. I might be sitting with a VP and the VP says something, and I’m taking it in, meditated on it, chewing on the idea. It’s ruminating and percolating within me. And I realise that the VP has said something because the VP sees the project from a different perspective, and it’ an interesting one. Or the VP has a different motivation. Before my thoughts have even begun someone in our group has shot back a quick answer (this is encouraged in my group). I don’t like it because it doesn’t allow that time to listen to understand. I think that’s important and needed, partly because I see how my points are never listened to deeply.

The second response I get is “If you feel that way, Victor, why don’t you go and write a proposal or do it yourself.” I really don’t like this because if a director or VP has said no to my idea, why would I write a proposal because someone else has said to and then take it to the director who already said no. No, I have to first have buy-in or direction to write a proposal from my director. Then I’ll do it. However, the biggest problem with this response (and the hardest for me, a communal person) is that it keeps the issue I’ve raised as some problem for Victor to look at. I raise the issue not because I have all the answers and solutions but because I’m inviting my close team of friends to join me in the process of solving this, to help contribute to a solution. And this response prevents that from happening. If I can’t get my small sub-team to see what I’m saying then I can’t go to a higher person (VP or director) with a consolidated proposal, suggestion, thought, improvement.

Needless to say it’s tough. The lead of my project told my or suggested to my manager that lack of passion due to the project going in a direction other than what I wanted caused me to not be as productive as possible or just do what was required. The suggestion was that I met expectations but didn’t exceed them. It was quite a surprise to me because I saw no connection and thought it ludicrous. I actually still give my all even though I disagree with it. So I talked to my project lead. I asked for examples since I didn’t see it, ready to admit that it was true if she pointed out something I didn’t realise. Nothing. Everything she pointed out was just a case of her having a difference of opinion and then blaming my difference of opinion or action on me wanting the project to go a different direction. For instance, the lead said that I sent updates from India each day that included feedback but no solutions. I said of course; it’s a feedback email not a solutions email. Solutions are discussed with the content developers later on. The rest of the comments were more of the same. I felt better that it wasn’t actually true. After my project lead talked to me and I disagreed I had to have two talks with my manager that week. Can you imagine that our talks (they were very nice and cordial) got to the point where he said “this is not a threat, just advice. To succeed here you have to have your manager give you a “exceeds expectation” rating. This is even required to move between jobs.” I told him if someone said I met expectations and I looked at what he said and disagreed, he’s free to do that, but if someone said and it had merit, then I would make the changes. Here there were no changes to be made. So I said I’m fine with it. The strange thing about my manger is that he’s also the manager of my project lead. I asked him for a 20% project doing some actual disaster mapping work in developing countries. He said no because he thought I would like my 20% project more than my main job. Though this might have been true it was the wrong response for me because it would have been a very helpful release valve for me. But he denied me it. Anyway, he has left our small technology company for a really big company in Switzerland. We wish him well; he’s a very nice man, and he actually said he really likes me and my analytical mind. He also said I’m a very artist person and passionate person. He always encourages us to disagree with him but I think in practice, it’s not as easy. J

At some point, not sure when, we’ll receive an interim manager. I’ll try for a 20% project with him. Other than that I've volunteered my time to help Ashoka social entrepreneurs on the ground around the world with digital online marketing for their social enterprises (so I'm trying to put the curriculum I've worked on to good use). And I've volunteered to help a human trafficking organisation in Bulgaria with fundraising ideas. Both of those are through a "Serving" programme. I volunteer for various random things but sometimes get thwarted. There is a programme to encourage high school students (especially women and ethnic minorities) to feel more comfortable with computer science and perhaps to even think about studying it. However, my manager wouldn't let me help speak at the next Teen Tech event and they really struggle to get speakers. It meant I would be out of the office for a day, so that was a bummer. Always pushing as I try to “keep the faith.”

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