Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Cultures, End

I work at a large technology company. And one of the ways to make additional revenue is to file patents. And so, I have filed many patents for the company in my years there. As a result, I sit on a review board which does a preliminary assessment of ideas, called disclosures, and then gives a recommendation if it should be researched further. There are many, many of these types of review boards. Each has their own idiosyncraticies. Some treat each review of a disclosure like a masters oral exam. They make you wait outside the room and then you come in and present your idea and then they ask questions in realtime. Others, only communicate via email. They send their ideas to the other board members, they never discuss in a call and then one member writes up a final decision, representing the entire board. The boards I've been on have always been fairly transparent. We write reviews (if we want) where the inventors can read our remarks and then we meet on the phone to go over our votes and why. When I was coming up, I would submit an idea, and then months later it would be rejected, with no reason given - which is why I'm partial to explaining the reason why I would reject an idea.

This happened many years ago, so everything is a hazy summation.
Three inventors submitted two separate ideas. I read the first one, liked it, and marked it as recommended for further study. The second idea was an idea previously submitted years ago by others, and it was shot down because it wasn't significant or really a better idea than what was out there. I noted this in my recommendation to reject the idea.
About 90 minutes after I hit the submit button on my review, 3 people were at my door wanting to talk to me:
Me: Yes?
Them: Hi, we wanted to talk to you about why you rejected our idea.
Me: Okay. Ummm, you realize that I'm only one of 8 or 9 folks on the review board right? There's still 2 weeks to go before we meet.
Them: Right, but we wanted to talk to you about why you rejected our idea.
Me: Well, I'd rather you wait until the others had a chance to vote. But, okay. What about my review didn't you like?
Them: Well, we disagree that this isn't significant. We think this is a real problem and we offer a better solution.
Me: Well, as I said, I'm only one voter. And I've seen this idea before and I don't think it has value we want to pursue.
Them: Well, we think you misunderstand our idea.
Me: I believe your idea was this: [blah-blah-blah-blah]. Right?
Them: Yeah, that's it.
Me: Well, I've seen it presented before and I still feel it's not worth pursuing.
Them: Well, we think you're wrong.
Me: Let's see...didn't you present another idea?
Them: Yes, we did.
Me: And I thought that idea was good. So...when I agree with you, I'm a genius. But when I disagree with you, 5 minutes later, then I'm an idiot.
Them: We didn't call you an idiot!
Me: Right, but the same judgment that you have no problem with, because it's what you want, you have a problem with because you aren't getting what you want. It comes from the same brain people.
Them: Well obviously, you're not going to change your mind.
Me: Nope.
Them: Well then, can you remove your review?
Me: What?
Them: We don't want the others reading your comments and getting biased against us.
Me: What?!?
Them: You were first and it might affect what others think about when they read our idea.
Me: First off, I'm one of 8 or 9 voters. Second, the reason they don't put their reviews until the day of the meeting is that they don't want people like you guys coming to their offices while they are working and complaining about their review.
Them: Hunh?
Me: Forget it. I'm not changing my vote
Them: Well, is there someone we can protest to?
Me: You're going to go over my head and protest the single, negative vote 2 weeks before the final vote?
Them: We think you're biased against us.
Me: Fine. The attorney's name is [blah-blah-blah]. When you protest to him, be sure to go ahead and protest the first idea I said was good as well.
Them: What?
Me: Nevermind. Go away.
And as they were walking away, they were probably grumbling "Asshole!"
I know as they were walking away, I was grumbling, "Idiots"
When I started this series, I stated that this was a recollection, an opinion piece. When I read the anger or the agreements in the comment section, I am........bemused.
People forget where they are. They are in:
  1. A UT sports blog - biased
  2. A UT sports blog fanpost - unfair and unbalanced
  3. A UT sports blog fanpost written by someone writing under an alias - sketchy
  4. A UT sports blog fanpost written by someone writing under an alias who is a Longhorn Foundation member: v.v. sketchy (it used to be just "v", but the bastards made me double my contribution for better football tickets so now it's "v.v.")
My response is, "Meh, whatever".

Monday, March 02, 2015

Cultures, pt 12

Several times, while I was at A&M, this subject matter came up. Some were sincere and others were semi-taunts from grad school friends of mine. Two conversations I had:
Aggy: So, you going to be rooting for A&M football now?
Me: Whaa? What are you talking about?
Aggy: You know, because we're kicking your ass every year in football!
Me: No. In fact I drive to Austin on the weekends and buy scalp tickets for football.
Aggy: But you guys are losers! We're winners!
Me: Isn't A&M all about school spirit and loyalty and all that other stuff?
Aggy: Yeah!
Me: Then why would you expect me, a Longhorn, to start rooting for A&M just because our football team isn't doing so well.
Aggy: Yeah, well, don't you want to be on the winning side?
Me: If the situation we reversed, and you went to UT for grad school, would you suddenly start rooting for UT?
Aggy: Never, they're losers!
Me: Whatever.
And another one:
Aggy: So are you going to get an Aggy ring?
Me: Whaaa?
Aggy: You know the Aggie ring! You're graduating from A&M, so you qualify.
Me: No, I don't think so.
Aggy: Why not?!? You deserve it!
Me: No, I'm a Longhorn.
Aggy: Then why don't you have a Longhorn ring?
Me: I learned my senior year in high school that I hated wearing rings. I took off my high school ring my halfway my senior year because it hurt to wear it.
Aggy: Yeah, but the Aggie ring can help you in the future!
Me: If the situation we reversed, and you went to UT for grad school, would you suddenly get a UT ring?
Aggy: Hell No! What are you talking about?!?
Me: Then why would you think I would want an Aggie ring?
Aggy: Hmmm, I guess.......I see.......your point.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Cultures, pt 11

So with what I've described some might ask, "So did it suck?". The answer is, "No, not at all."
After you get your head around the fact:
  1. You are at a new school
  2. It's not your old school
  3. You chose this
  4. Hey, you could be at OSU
The mistake I made was going directly from undergrad to grad school without a break in-between. Thus, I got a two-consecutive semester job at BIG defense contractor under the Co-Op program. A&M had a strong Co-Op program, so even there they quickly eased me into a "rest" job so I could get over school burnout.

What made the situation "not suck"? First, they were very well funded. I couldn't figure out if they were very well funded or they didn't have enough students for the budget they had. At UT I learned, a masters student was paid between $750-$850 each month - either for TA or research. For PhD students, the monthly stipend was $800-$950. At A&M, the monthly stipend for masters students started at $1100/month!

Remember how I got in by telling them "My parents are paying my way through school?". I casually asked if there were any job openings and one professor told me to go ask Dr. W and he said, "Sure, I have a job for you after you get back from your Co-Op job. Come talk to me then." And when I got back, he had a job for me doing research, which turned into my masters project. And then one day, I got a call at my apartment from the computer science secretary. She was asking if I needed a job. I think she was going down the list of grad students in the department. I told her that I already had a job and she said that rules prevented grad students from holding two jobs. But after I hung up, I thought, "Wow, they have so much money they're cold-calling grad students offering them money!"
So my masters adviser was Dr. P, who was a gruff, scary dude. I think he got his degrees from Notre Dame and spent time in the Pacific with nuclear weapons (we think). His best bud in the department was Dr. W, who got me a job. He was a corp cadet in the early 60's (??) who got his degree and was going into the Air Force. They told him to hold off on entering the AF and why not stay in school and they would pay for his masters while he waited? Sure, he said. And then, he got his PhD sometime in Florida while working in the AF research labs there.

I worked for Dr. W, but my masters was going to be checked over by Dr. P. A week before my oral report, Dr. W asked if he'd like me to speak to the committee before my orals started. Sure! So he showed up, went into the room, and spoke to them for 15 minutes. And then he came out and wished me luck. Then I went in, full suit on, with my 4 inches of slides (Powerpoint may not have actually been invented yet).

The oral exam was a complete farce. They asked me two questions:
  1. Where are you going to work?
  2. What do you think about Unix?
And then spent the rest of the 1 hour and 45 minutes debating Unix and it's future amongst themselves. I think one of the professors checked out mentally and was working on lesson plans in his head.

I stepped out, waited 15 minutes, and then they came out and shook my hand and congratulated me on achieving my masters degree.

Later, as I was celebrating with my friends at Deluxe, I saw Dr. W. He stopped by and shook my hand. I told him that the oral exam was bizzaro. I asked him what he said to them. He just smiled and winked and congratulated me again.

Halfway through my last semester, I was job hunting. By then, I had a bachelors in Electrical Engineering and I was about to get a Masters in Computer Science. Not to be immodest, but I was beating off job offers with a stick. I had people going through the resume piles cold-calling me at my apartment asking if I'd be interested in an interview.

I went on a trip to my current company and I had 5 interviews and 4 offers. I was sitting in the office of one interviewing manager. She said that she loved hiring programmers from A&M and Southwest State. I said something (jokingly) that she must have been an Aggie. She said no, she got her degree from Southwest. She said that Aggie and Southwest programmers were better because they were more blue collar - ready to jump into programming, whereas CS majors from UT were not as fast to jump into the grind of programming.

I have to say that this assessment was absolutely true. I don't know about Southwest, but I know that the first year at UT, CS students spend time (at that time a long time ago) learning Pascal - which is very good for learning theoretical things like storage, recursion, records, etc....In fact, you don't really learn other languages until later. It's like saying you'll take 3 years of piano, and then once you know music theory inside and out, you should be able to pick up the guitar or the violin. Cause, you know, the theory is most important.

A&M had their freshmen semester class learn 4 languages in once class. That's the better blue collar approach to real programming.
So, with an A&M degree (although I only knew assembly, C, and Pascal), I had an easier entry to my current company.

Oh, and part of what made my time good in the CS department at A&M was that I quickly became "part of the family". Maybe it was working for Dr. W. It certainly wasn't because of Dr. P. When I saw Dr. W before I left for the real world, I asked him about coming back for a PhD. I said I wasn't sure my old GRE score would be good enough to get me into the PhD program. He just looked at me and said, "You just take it again and it'll be no problem".

Translation: You're part of the family, you're in.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Cultures, pt 10

So when I got to A&M, I needed to get some books to start research on some subject. I started a conversation with a fellow student:

Me: "So, where is the engineering library?

Them: "Ummm, the library"

Me: "Right...the main library is...?"

Them: "Evans. The library."

Me: "Yeah okay, got that. And the engineering library? Where is that?"

Them: "Whaaaaa?"

Me: "You know, at UT we had the engineering library, physics library, math library, law library, architecture library"

Them: " I TOLD YOU, the library"

I sit there thinking for a while

Me: "You mean, you have ONE library?"

Now, they're getting miffed at me because they think I'm mocking them.

Them: "What is your problem? I told you the library!"

Ohhhh. They have one library. I've been there. It is a BIG library to be sure. It was essentially two large buildings joined together with a mult-story bridge. It was obvious that the buildings weren't built at the same time. Okay. Well, this is a new school and I'd only been to one other college before this. So this is the way they like to run this. Well, when in Rome....

And of course, I used the library. One day, I noticed a sign:

"Bus to additional library services in Austin leaves Tuesday/Friday at 9:30 and returns at 3:30"
(the dates and times aren't exact, just from fuzzy memory)

I stood there and wondered...."What does that mean?"

Are they going to get books from the Austin Public LIbrary? No, that wouldn't make sense.
Are they going there to get books or research from the state archives? Possibly.

Wait, could it be that they are going there to get additional books and research materials from the UT library system? I know that by state law students from either campus can borrow books from either system.

Hmmmm. Do they hate UT so much or not willing to admit that they have to go to Big Brother to borrow books that they list it as "additional library services" rather than listing UT libraries?

I never figured it out and I was too lazy to ask a librarian.

But I've always remembered that sign.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Cultures, pt 9

So when you get to a new school, you realize you have to figure out what the rules are. You just kinda ask other grad students, "So, uhhh, what's up? What's the deal with [whatever]"

What I learned that the seniors, graduating that Spring semester were PISSED OFF. Apparently, they changed the rule that year and required seniors to take final exams.

Excuse me?

Tradition had stated that seniors were exempt from final exams their last semester at A&M. You know, a reward for all that hard work, to make their lives easier as they were interviewing for jobs and such. Hunh.

At UT it was FU, take your final unless you want to flunk and not get a degree.

When I mentioned that, uhhhh, well at UT it doesn't matter when you're graduation, you always have to take a final.

Well, FU sip! You're not at UT anymore! 

Actually it might have been, "WELL FU SIP, YOU'RE NOT AT tu ANYMORE!!!"

Yeah, that sounds about right.

And then I found out (yes!) that finals were only two hours. After 4.5 years of finals that lasted 3 hours, I finally found a school that had short finals. Wheee!!!! When I said I came from a place with 3 hour finals, they said, "Well ladi-da, you're not at Texas anymore!"

And then, they said, "Oh yeah, got get a senior parking pass."

Hunh? So they explained that the big parking lot across the street from the Engineering building was broken up into two sections. The back half of the lot, the furthest away from the building was for freshmen and sophmores. The half that was closest to the building was for juniors and seniors (and grad students). I think that was a yellow sticker, whereas the other was green.

OMG, this is like high school. Do I get a senior letter jacket too?

The net of this short snapshot that it was a school society heavily favoring your age or seniority: the boots for the seniors in the corp of cadets, the excitement of ordering your Aggie ring. The...picture you took with your date under the big ring prop(?). I know I've seen that picture on many an Aggie desks....did they have a senior prom? I don't know, maybe I misspeak.

Whereas at UT it was the political/money society where Daddy could bail you out of sco-pro or jail with a big check written to the right frat brother from years before.

Ehhh, different strokes for different folks.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Cultures, pt 8

This about "Howdy". I never went to Fish-camp (where the brainwashing starts, apparently). I had to learn this via my high school friend.

The rough rule is, if you are within 4-10 feet of someone and your eyes, somehow lock on the eyes of someone else, you have to day "Howdy" to them. Not "Hi". Not "Morning". Not "Good Morning". Not "Hey".

Now, the viewpoint of someone raised with Southern manners, but going to a school of 46,000 in Austin is, "What a friggin pain in the ass". You don't say Howdy once or twice a day. As you go through your school day, and you walk from one building to another, you end up saying it about 15-20 times a day.

From their viewpoint the "Howdy" symbolizes:
  • We are friendly. You are going to be taught/forced to be friendly. You WILL be friendly.
  • This draws out the shy people. It makes us get closer to each other. [really?]
  • We are COUNTRY. This is COUNTRY. We are rural and proud of it. Don't go saying that fancy "How do you do fancy talk"
  • This will weed out the 2%. Those that aren't with us 98% will be shown up.
The equivalent of "Howdy" in the rest of the world is if you don't say "Excuse me" or "Paredon me" or "Bless you" [on sneezes]. By not saying "Excuse me (howdy)" as you encounter someone during you're day, the other person will think "How RUDE!" in their minds.

The odd thing about this is that I had some grad school friends who were undergrad at A&M and continued there for grad school. A few of them "confessed" to me, the outsider who wouldn't leap up and shout "Two Percenter!!!". They said, "You know, sometimes I get so frickin tired of saying Howdy to everyone. Sometimes I just pretend I have something on my mind and walk head down, looking directly at the sidewalk so I won't have to say Howdy to someone."

Well, duh.

Howdy symbolizes this forced, communal behavior. If you're not "Howdy", you must be the 2% of non-believers who somehow slipped through the cracks and should have never been allowed in and should have gone to that hippie school in Austin. Howdy is the instant litmus test that tells us, "If you're not with us, you're against us."

And, unless I'm in East Texas, in REDNECK country afraid of being lynched, I never have said 'Howdy" every since I'd left the 98% forced collective known as College Station.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Cultures, pt 7

Okay, so we get into the meat of the cultural differences. This is my first semester on strange ground, Jan 1988. Let me break it down into various categories:
Boo & Hiss
As a graduate student, I was allowed to take up to 3 undergraduate classes. Thus, I looked for the easiest ones to help make sure my GPA would allow me to stay in grad school since I was under probation. I took a course in computer science that I didn't take at UT. It was a class for sophmores and juniors. And so when I was in the class, the prof asked if anyone was a senior (later about that) or a grad student. I raised my hand. And as typically happened, they always ask where you got your undergrad. I said, "I got my Electrical Engineering degree at UT". As I finished this, I heard booing and hissing. I heard people say, "booooooo. boooooo. booooo" and I then I literally heard, "Hisssssss. Hissssss." LIke someone imitating a snake.
And in the background I heard a little, tiny voice say, "Yay!" and a small bit of clapping.
Okay, after this bizzaro incident class was over and I found the young gal who actually clapped for me. I said, 'Hey, uhhh. Why were you clapping for me?" She said, "Well, I went to UT. I just transferred this year." And as I looked at her quizzically, she said, "Oh. Yeah. It was my boyfriend. Well, actually now my ex-boyfriend." So I said, "Ahhh. You left UT for A&M for your high school sweetheart." She nodded her head in confirmation. I said, "Wow. Sorry about that." Not implying her breakup, but that she left UT for A&M and it was all for nothing. She said, "I'm not. If I was still at UT, I'd still be dating him. So, I'm glad I figured it out by coming here."
And then, about a year later, my old high school friend asked me if I would go to church with her on Sunday. I hemmed-and-hawed about it. And then she said, "We can skip the sermon, let's just go to Sunday School." Okay, sure why not.
So, we go to this nice, big Baptist church and we're in Sunday school. And she introduces me and they ask me where I went to undergrad. I said, "Oh, UT." And then, I heard BOOING and HISSING coming from the group of 10 or so people in that room (but not my friend)!
About two weeks later she asked me if I wanted to go to Sunday School again. I said, "No WAY. I got BOOED and HISSED at in church! You people are seriously crazy!" She replied weakly, "Well, they were just joshing you."
No, they are obsessively crazy about UT.
In Sunday School they booed and hissed me.
Dudes, re-think your priorities.