Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Work From Home Road Warrior

I had an interesting conversation on Twitter recently with Matthew Norwood(@matthewnorwood), David Gee (@VTEP42) and @cciejourney about commuting, work environments and pros and cons. I thought I’d blog a bit more about my perspective.  As I thought about it more, I think I fall into an unusual category of a Work from Home Road Warrior. The two seem to be diametrically opposed, but it's my life.

It's a lot less this

and probably a lot more of this:

First, let’s start with my background.  If you want all of the gory details, I did a fun author series post with Jeff Fry here:  The TL;DR version, I worked in a factory environment for a few months and *hated* it. So mind numbing doing the same repetitive thing day after day. Not for me at all….:) I worked for a PC retailer then some VARs before going to a large global financial then to Cisco and finally VMware. 

My early career was driving all over Ohio and Indiana doing network implementations and server installs. I loved it because the projects were short term and it wasn’t long before I had a change of pace and scenery. My time at the bank was super valuable to me, but the sameness of every day (commute, meetings, commute, repeat ad nauseam) didn’t work for me. I learned a ton on that job though and met some great people. That environment just wasn’t for me. 

Working for Cisco and now VMware I am back on the road with every day being a new adventure. It could be a few conference calls, followed by emails, WebEx on product updates, design sessions with customers, playing in the lab or all of the above! There is always something going on and at some point you have to draw the line as to when work starts and stops. Some weeks are easier than others but overall it's very well rounded if you do it right. 

Let’s be honest, is every day unicorns and awesomeness?  Nope. I’m writing this as I rot in Port Columbus, my home airport, with a delayed flight that is forcing me to get to my destination 4 hours later than I planned.  It is what it is, though. I’m trading being stuck in traffic for being stuck in an airport with the key difference being that I am able to write this while stuck vs. sitting in a car and getting my blood boiling!  

One of the neat benefits of working from home would be that I am around my family. Since I’ve had a flexible schedule for years my kids are used to me working from home and know to not come into the office when the door is closed. Otherwise I enjoy being able to pop in on them during school (they do online school) between calls or when I need a break. We are able to eat lunch together, share a coffee with my wife and be around more than I would if I had an office job.  The flip side is that when I am on the road, I’m not there.  Sounds obvious, but rarely is it not that binary. When I'm home, I'm home, when I'm not, I'm not. I think it’s a good mix for our family as long as it is kept in bounds and not on the road all week, every week.

One drawback is the lack of "general socialization" that you have in an office environment. When I worked for Cisco we had a local office and I would visit once a week or so and work in the lab, go to lunch with some of the SEs and stay in touch with the local teams. It was nice to stay in touch and also bounce ideas and conversations around with peers. At VMware my closest official office is in Reston, VA.  A quick 1 hour flight or 8 hours drive. Not exactly easy to pop in for lunch and chit chat.  So how do I deal with this? Good question, I am still sorting it out. I can be a loner pretty easily, it's been my nature for a long time but after talking with some friends in San Francisco while we recorded a video (separate upcoming blog post) I really realized how much I miss that peer group. I'll figure something out.   On a side note, I'm going to lunch this Friday with some of the old Cisco friends and am really excited about it. Good to know friendships can survive job changes.I also stay in contact with a few other close friends with phone calls, texts and funny emails.

Is working from home for everyone?  Not at all.  Some people need or want the separation between work and family. Others have told me there is no way they’d be able to work from home with their kids. It just varies depending on your job, focus and desires. As for me, I wouldn’t trade it for a “desk job” but who knows what the future holds.  Will I retire from a vendor role? Possibly.  Will I go work for a local company someday? Maybe. For now, I’ll enjoy the perks, take the lumps when them come and as the poster in my office says “Keep calm and carry on!”

Monday, December 14, 2015

Traveling with kids – Tips and Tricks to Success

This blog post has been something I’ve wanted to do for quite some time and apparently, now is the *right* time to do it. Let me start by stating that my wife and I love to travel. No really, I mean we love to travel. It’s something we’ve enjoyed doing together and our honeymoon was our first really big trip where we spent one month in Europe. We started in London and Rome was our departure point and we tried to see as much as we could in between. We were hooked after realizing International travel wasn’t a huge, scary impossible deal. Keep in mind this was pre-Euro and smartphone. Old school travel – books, talking with people and in general we were making it up as we went along and we still loved it! The next few years saw us have the opportunity to visit Peru, a long weekend trip to Monaco and a cruise. We were always saving money for the next trip and planning ahead.

After we decided to start a family, we assumed our days of international travel were through. How could you take kids on a trip like that?! We decided we’d stay a bit more local in our travels and with our first child, we traveled to San Antonio and then a cruise to the Mexican Rivera. We realized that with some planning and a reduced sightseeing itinerary we could actually make this work. As we had more kids we continued to refine our travel processes and planning and didn’t let the fact we had kids slow down our ambitions. Quite the opposite, the kids love to travel as much as we do. Is it always unicorns and puppies? No, but with planning and patience we make it work. Here are some tips that work for us.

First the most common question is what about the long flights on the plane? How can you survive and not go crazy? Quite simply – the art of distraction is key. The same things you like to do to make the flight faster work for kids too. Well, maybe if your idea of dealing with an international flight is hammer back 8 drinks and pass out – that won’t work well when traveling with kids. ;)

When the kids were younger a backpack of *quiet* toys, books, coloring books crayons, snacks and blankies, teddy bears, etc are key. As they get older, electronics with games, favorite shows and a set of headphones coupled with the in-flight entertainment go a long way. Let’s be honest, will this work for all kids all of the time? No – they have bad days just like adults do. Long haul trans-oceanic flights can be particularly challenging as not everyone can agree on the idea that adjusting to the time zone in your destination starts on the plane. Hopefully exhaustion kicks in and they sack out eventually. Common sense ideas like avoid caffeine and sugar are important too. At the end of the day, you know your child better than anyone and adjust accordingly. Also if your kid is a hellion in public chances are they will be one on a plane too. Maybe a road trip would be good for your family. :)

On the plane:
• Backpack full of quiet toys, books, coloring books, etc. for the kids
• Comfort items if the flight is during the night or a nap time
• Snacks – kids love to boredom eat. Avoid things that will get them wired with sugar and junk
• Older kids – electronics and headsets

Once you get to your destination, keep in mind things that interest your kids, too. Not every 5 year old is excited to spend all day at the Llouve or British Museum. Take things in small chunks and remember, it’s always good to have things to come back and see again! Right or wrong we don’t dominate our vacations with every kid friendly tourist trap or the swimming pool. Our idea of vacation is a good mix of sightseeing, fun, Geocaching and relaxing. We don’t slug at the beach for a week. We don’t go to the same place year after year. That’s just not us. If it works for you, rock on.

At your destination
• Don’t tackle the world with a 10 mile 24 hour sightseeing death march
• Mix fun things for kids with the educational, boring stuff
• Try Geocaching – see earlier blog posts for some of our adventures

Finally, patience is a virtue. Those who know me are probably laughing as my patience is in short demand, but I have learned that losing your cool with your kids when stressing about traveling rarely helps things. Hopefully, your spouse is as awesome as mine and can tell when things aren’t going according to plan and helps keep the kids in order while the situation gets sorted.

Given the news recently I am sure some are worried about safety. We are too but I am a firm believer in *not* letting the terrorists win by staying home. That’s exactly what they want. Get out there, be smart about your surroundings and enjoy the world. Carpe diem, life is too short to put travel with your family off forever.

Share your tips below!