Looking back. It was like having 4 Years in the Time it takes to live One. The Year that was 2020

As I reflect on 2020 I am truly amazed that it was only a single calendar year as each quarter felt like a year in and of itself. The pace of transformation was incredible both personally and professionally as life accelerated in 2020 and the year certainly had more than its fair share of hardships, surprises and change.

Q1

All new years kick off with optimism and 2020 was no different. My year started with a data analytics bid that saw me working with colleagues in Oceania (FAST), GDC India and GDC Portugal to design and propose their cloud based analytics solution (VDH) on Azure to one of our major telecoms customers in the region. This was another great experience in global collaboration and created the ground work for using MS Teams and other productivity tools to deliver on a project proposal within Fujitsu despite being across time zones as well as working with an entirely remote and distributed team (6 countries, 6 time zones). I learnt many lessons during this engagement and the best part about it was that I was able to educate and give the local bid, sales and project management team real hands on experience in how to co-edit documents and manage flexible works hours and scheduling (meeting at 5 – 6pm to catch Australia mornings, 10pm to catch India mornings, 8:30am to catch JA, USA, India and 1-2 to catch Portugal, USA, JA). Little did I realize how important this hands-on distributed and remote work experience was to become in the following months. Although,  I wouldn't recommend working around the clock as a consistent habit.

Unfortunately, while we were not ultimately successful in winning the bid I took comfort in the fact that we were recognized and commended by the customer for the strength of our technical proposal. I also learnt a great deal more about data architectures and collaborated with some awesome internal talent.

Looking back on this experience I now realize that the most amazing part of the whole engagement is that we also travelled to deliver this presentation and I had the privilege of hosting the customer representative from Trinidad and our teams from Australia and Portugal in Jamaica. Living in the Caribbean I have grown very accustomed to welcoming and interacting with a wide cross section of cultures and people as Jamaica being a small island has always been very outward looking. In a typical year I usually travelled overseas between 3 – 5 times but 2020 has now taught me how fortunate I was and I will no longer take this little blessing for granted. Thinking back to this moment makes me smile as I reflect how glorious it was to be able to freely travel, not wear masks, shake hands, hug and exchange food and drinks with no social distancing given all that has happened since.

Photo with some of the bid team (Nneko, Phillip, Nicola, Mariana, Soraia, Jose, Zeus-Ng, Ashley, Stacey) members at dinner in Jamaica.
Some of the bid team (Nneko, Phillip, Nicola, Mariana, Soraia, Jose, Zeus-Ng, Ashley, Stacey) members at Dinner in Jamaica. 

Q2

Initially, the plan for this quarter involved mostly customer engagements which would necessitate travel. However, that plan was quickly scuppered the minute COVID-19 arrived in the Caribbean. The first two engagements with Microsoft planned for Trinidad and Jamaica were cancelled as countries scrambled to impose tight border controls and restrictions on movement even inter-regionally and within country. At the time I expected these measures to be temporary but as we have all learnt the spread of the virus was at this point already an epidemic. It was way beyond control and its deadly impact would be felt all over the world. Given the new reality I quickly switched my focus into adapting to working permanently from home which was made easier for me because I had already been leading a geographically distributed team and had gotten used to frequent calls and video conferencing which was bolstered by some thorough first hand experience from the freshly minted bid proposal work using the exact tools the company decided to adopt wholesale.

Despite the dramatic nature of the shift to remote work in reality the most significant change to happen in Q2 was actually the following:

  1. The technical teams starting hiring outsiders again
  2. The technical team leaders, my self included had to coach more and be much more customer facing and outward looking

Number 1 above brought fresh energy into the teams but also highlighted where we had gaps in documentation and processes which had to be filled. While number 2 affected how I prioritized my activities. I made an explicit decision to step back from some of the presentations and meetings which prior to I would have handled solely and instead allowed my team members to grow by pushing them front and center. Giving them the new responsibility to engage while I supported from behind by helping with presentation skills, communication and networking. I am especially proud of the webinars and Tech Expert Hours which were started during this period with many first time presenters. Even though I was forced by the circumstances, looking back, I feel forever privileged to have had the opportunity to connect with such a wide range of customers and challenges while also working daily with these brilliant minds.

On another note, one other important lesson I learnt during this time is that remote work requires a proper chair, laptop stand, good lighting and quiet spaces. So the house retrofit was in overdrive.

Home Office

Q3

Bids, Bids, Bids, Bids. There was no end and no work life balance during this period. It was all consuming and thoroughly exhausting. Producing quality documents when time constrained is not fun and can be brutal at times. However, I did get some great feedback/criticisms from my team members which absolutely helped me to grow and listen more. I also improved my dispute resolution skills and everyone survived. In the end we won a few, lost a few and still have high hopes of winning the majority that are still waiting on a decision.

The other major thing that happened during this time was that I became a node.js expert and built an online platform (I plan to make it open source after I do some cleanup and will host it on my GitHub) from scratch on the back of expressjs and a bunch of other packages while working with a friend and former colleague based in the USA and now Canada. This exploration also taught me that startups are very hard, burnout is real, and on the technology side building an e-commerce app is way easier than it seems while simultaneously being way harder than it seems after you get the essential basic features out of the way and start to move on to recommendations, searching, analytics, review moderation, ordering and payment workflows etc.

While stressful this period of the year provided me with a refresher and reminded me just how much I still love using but also building technology. Additionally, it reminded me why I love being a part of the Technology Industry/Business because it is about solving real world challenges for people and organizations. Our solution designs for the bids covered proposals for Airlines to Governments and Universities that were all dealing with challenges related to how could they survive and become digitally enabled and improve the services they provided to their communities. In parallel my side project was about how it is necessary to be entrepreneurial (even with big companies) to effect change sometimes as well as how much more infrastructure and platforms are needed to simplify the process in the Caribbean for businesses to do e-commerce. It also taught me that plans are necessary but all fail when they make contact with the real world and our vision of what people want is often times way different from what they actually want or need. Which means that technology is only as good as the number of people that use it or are affected by it.

Q4

Rest. Focus and Execute. That was the mantra, but it was also necessary to recharge. Fortunately, I am blessed to lead a high performing team of talented individuals who were able to continue executing and delivering on commitments while I took necessary breaks. Additionally, I also had the pleasure of welcoming a new team member into the fold. Who is solid at the crease and already putting runs on the board.

The intensity of the year picked up as it went along but it was rewarding to have a series of projects to implement during the latter period that were proposed and contracts signed within the very year. This provided plenty of work and kept us busy implementing solutions for data analytics as well as migrating one of the regions largest financial services institutions into the cloud for the first time thus building positive momentum for Digital Transformation in 2021 and beyond.

In Summary

Overall, it was a hard year but the only constant in the universe is change and it is not the fittest that survive but instead those who adapt.

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