Saturday, January 15, 2011

Define Under Pressure

During my life as engineer and consultant I have been dealing with many different types of customer in many different types of engagement and project, in many different countries. There are some good customers and challenging customers. Good customers are those who know their network very well, know many technology options available and the most important is they know what they want. So they are just looking for advices and best practices from a networking vendor like Cisco. Once the customers get those, most of the times they even implement the solution themselves. Tough and challenging customers usually are those who don’t know their network, who don’t have proper documentation of their setup, and most of the time they don’t know what they want. It’s not a bad thing for someone who works in professional services organization like me, as part of my responsibility is to become technical advisor to provide guidance and direction for such customers.

Some other customers just don’t make sense, in term of considering the timeframe to do the tasks or projects. They want the project to be done overnight. Some don’t want to listen to technical explanation of why some tasks can’t be done in short time. Others don’t understand how to put priority to the tasks in the project so they just put unnecessary pressure to complete some non-important task and don’t bother with critical task. Some put very high expectation and demand the vendor to deliver everything, within short time, despite the scope of work agreement has mentioned and limit the deliverables during the project.

For some other customers, they are just acting the way they think they should be. Several years ago one government and powerful customer told me they couldn’t accept any failure in the project and they would cancel my working permit and kick me out from the country if I make any mistake during the migration. And they showed they mean it by asking me to bring my passport during one critical migration night. One high rank officer from different government customer said he would put me in prison if someone was able to break the WPA mechanism that I enabled to secure his wireless network. Other customer (yes I know, I got lucky I had chance to deal with many different government customers ☺) mentioned he would send police officer to pick me up from home if I don’t show up for the meeting.

So after dealing with many good, tough, challenging and weird customers above I thought I have seen it all. I thought I knew the meaning of work under pressure. Until one day I had a chance to interview one guy from Iraq, later became my colleague and friend, for a network engineer position in my previous company. The time was around a couple of years after the US Army invasion of Iraq and they were probably still looking for the Weapon of Mass Destruction just like in Green Zone movie.

After asking series of technical questions, I came to a normal question that I always ask to every candidate I interview: can you work under pressure? He threw funny look to me and started laughing. I didn’t quite understand. Then he said: Himawan, define under pressure. I just came to Dubai from Iraq 2 weeks ago. For many years I worked there, everyday on my way to work I heard the explosions. I have seen shooting actions. And just week before I came here I was driving to go back home and didn’t realize there was a US Army checkpoint so I was a bit too fast when approaching them. Everybody was pointing his machine gun and yelling me to stop and they might have started shooting if I didn’t push the break as hard as I could. I may not know the technology as much as other network engineer does, but I can tell you that Dubai is like Heaven compare to where I came from. In Iraq, every morning to wake up and find yourself still alive is a privilege.

I was surprised to hear his answer. Next thing I know I put my highest recommendation to hire him immediately. He was a mere CCNP at that time so from technical skills he lacks several things required for the job but it doesn’t matter. Lack of technical skill can be improved. But the attitude and the ability to handle the situation, especially if you have to deal with funny customers (please read the third paragraph again), is what matters. I know someone like him would be successful some day. And after working with him for few years he proved that I was right.

So next time you feel like you are working under pressure, there are just too many loads to handle, you think you are in the worst project ever, you have to deal with a very bad customer and the world is completely unfair to you, please remember this:
define under pressure.


Tony said...

Puts things into perspective! I find the pressure is normally heaped on the workers by managers or sales people who don't know how to handle the pressure themselves.

Sheela Kishan said...

Definitely something to think about the next time we complain about stress at work