Monday, February 25, 2013

In which I refuse to make any puns involving the word "Epic"

And in which I try and answer the question "What in the world was Suzanne doing in Wisconsin?".

First of all, I lived in Wisconsin from November of 2011 to January 2013 and worked as a project manager/implementation specialist for Epic Systems Corp, a software company that develops and implements an electronic medical record system. This was my home for 14 months (no seriously, I was here or traveling more than I ever was at my home) :

Aerial view of the campus. The buildings included the main administration building, a gourmet cafeteria, a building devoted to classrooms and an auditorium (not pictured above), and buildings devoted to offices and meeting rooms for the implementers, software developers, technical services, writers, QA-ers, statistical gurus, hardware and network systems managers, doctors, interface experts, lawyers, etc. that make up a large software company. When I left, there were over 6000 employees.

That auditorium I mentioned. It came in handy when we invited all of the bigwigs from our customer teams to come for a week and take classes, share lessons learned with each other, and just generally geek out overs electronic medical records and Wisconsin culture. This building is now too small to hold everyone, so they're building a much bigger one. They're always building something.

Big fans of going green. Between the solar, thermal (and potential wind!) energy and organic food grown on the company's farm, Epic is looking to be fully self-sustainable.

The tree house used for team retreats. No heat. No wifi. No electricity. Just a time to gather together and be creative.

Hubris? Ambition? Humor? Probably a bit of all three.

A river ran through it.

What do you get when you cross the architectural stylings of the contracting firms that built the Microsoft headquarters and part of Disneyland, respectively? Well, classroom decor that looks a little like this.

And this.

And this.


And, yep, this.

Such unique buildings need unique artwork. Enter Madison's flourishing local artist population. Flourishing partly because Epic buys so much of their stuff.

 All of this was the backdrop to what became some of the most stressful, most intense, most high-living months of my life. Epic pays well and offers great food and great benefits, but the life of an implementer can be very intense. The company brings in young-ish people from all backgrounds who show potential for leadership, creativity, critical thinking, perfectionism (and a whole host of other things I don't know about that they evaluate) and teach them about customer relations, the ins and outs of a very complex piece of software, being effective and organized people, etc.

I learned to appreciate software design in a way I hadn't considered before. We always think of developers as very unique people - sometimes lacking in social skills, sometimes lacking in hygiene, sometimes super nerdy hackers - but I think that is because such design takes a unique type of person (that stereotype is very wrong in some instances, but very right in others). True software design, in that it goes beyond coding, seems to be an exercise in world building. You have to create this world of cohesive logic and design that functions consistently in an understandable, approachable, intuitive way. it's part math, part language, part architecture, part culture creation. No wonder people who do this are interested in world-building games online and inter-personally. If such people are so marginalized by society, I think it is partially society's fault and its loss.

My ability to do much on little sleep came in handy here, and I met a bunch of people all like me - over-developed sense of responsibility, good in front of a crowd, creative problem solvers, etc. However, I met a lot of people who took all of this and ran with it. There are some crazy, organized, goal-oriented people out there. I have personality traits. They have turned them into a lifestyle. Some went overboard (and were basically living off of adrenaline, coffee, and alcohol-induced relaxation on the weekend), but many people were just efficient and effective at being human. Definitely something to learn from.

Like all implementers, my team traveled very frequently, we had good team moments, frustrating team moments, moments of panic, moments of triumph, frustrations with doctors and customer team leaders, moments of synergy* and fantastic collaboration... We just did it all with a smaller-than-usual team, a shorter time frame, and one of the biggest customers ever. No big deal. Cue no more exercising, no more having much of a social life, and cutting my hair very infrequently.

I also ate more sushi at this point than I ever had. And salmon. And other good food while on trips. I stayed in nice hotels. I drove nice rental cars. I was reimbursed for all of it. I saw interesting places. I racked up great frequent flier miles and Marriott points. I also started to get used to - and expect - the lifestyle. It's a nice lifestyle - one I definitely worked for - but it was a fake life in so many ways. Yes, I could live like that again, but I never want to come to think it is required. I can, and should be, content with less. My happiness does not depend on king-size mattresses and free breakfasts and room service whenever I want it. Such things were nice with a busy life, and made it so I didn't have to worry about those things, but not necessary for my happiness. I'm glad I left before it became too much of a habit for me.

This life was full of tender mercies as well. I got staffed to a customer who was implementing at a hospital in Salt Lake City. My customer had an initial go live before I left so I didn't feel like I was totally abandoning them or missing out on a learning experience. My outpatient clinicals team had a secondary application coordinator who worked with me so I could fairly easily transfer my knowledge and responsibilities to him without my customer feeling like they were being left high and dry. I was scheduled to be on a trip right around my sister's wedding so I didn't have to pay for the ticket. I was scheduled to be on a trip around Thanksgiving so I didn't have to pay for that ticket, either. Or the one that took me home for my birthday. Or... All in all, I probably saw members of my family more working in Wisconsin than I did while going to school in Utah.

It was an eye-opening experience in which I saw some of my faults under a magnifying glass, learned new skills, came to better understand a whole industry, came to see doctors as people - flawed, normal people - who deserve respect but maybe not the awe that the white coat sometimes confers, stretched, grew, laughed, almost cried from exhaustion and stress, and came to know new people who came from new parts of the country. I don't regret it at all. The job was an aberration from where I saw my life going, but a necessary one.

*Yep, I worked in the business world. I used terms like "synergy," "action items," "follow ups," "reportable metrics," "key performance indicators," and "let's take a deeper dive here". Frequently. Unironically.

(P.S. I don't own these pictures. I got all of them from my friend Google. Never got around to taking many pictures. I should work on that.)

Thursday, February 21, 2013

A moment in my head

When I'm riding the metro and listening to a great song with my headphones in, on the outside I'm like

But on the inside I'm like

And this has been a moment in my head.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

All about EFY, part 1

How do I condense all that was EFY into one post? I don't. I can't. I'm not sure how long this will take since I continue to look back at my experiences the summer of 2011 and learn from them.

I'll begin with the good stuff.

My last summer of doing EFY was a multi-state, multi-position, multi-team extravaganza.After applying to be a building counselor (BC), I was invited to be a field coordinator (FC - one of the peeps in charge of the sessions) that summer for the Idaho team after the girl who had been selected decided not to work EFY. I was thrilled. Overwhelmed. Excited. Nervous.

Because of my complete lack of experience in the upper echelons of EFY-dom, the office staff tacked me on as an extra BC/extra FC to another team in Provo for the first two weeks so I could learn the ropes. It was a great team to be with. They were close, they were funny, they were experienced. We had some pretty crazy moments those weeks with scheduling conflicts, weather issues, kids missing, false reports (luckily) of abductions, etc. that the team handled incredibly well.

Even though it was a whole new look at EFY, I was thrilled to be back. Those first weeks I had boundless energy. Boundless. I was just sprint places sometimes because I had too much energy that I had to work off.

This year I embraced my half-blindness and wore a scull and crossbones eye patch to games night. Counselors often dress up that day with crazy hats, funny sunglasses, weird suspenders, etc. I was just going to go with the patch and leave it at that...until the first group of youth showed up to my station ready for me to teach them a game.

Now, I'm an extroverted person who gets a lot of energy from people paying attention to me. I like the attention. I like performing and making people laugh and cheer and have a good time. That being said, I should not have been as surprised as I was when my already-high energy level combined with the attention of eager teenagers, funny games, and an eye patch to produce a dirty, old Scottish man pirate voice out of nowhere. I truly was not planning on it. It just kind of popped out. And lasted the rest of the night. I was yelling, I was haranguing, I was explaining twists on the game, I was announcing winners all in this dirty old man pirate voice.

The teenagers - especially the teenage boys - loved it and responded in kind. I had kids saluting me the rest of the week and yelling "Oy there, Cap'n!" whenever they saw me. I felt a little sheepish about it the next day when we were all dressed up and supposed to be spiritual. The kids would call out to me in pirate-ese and I would quietly answer back, slightly chiding them for being irreverent,  but chiding them with a twinkle in me eye and a burr in me throat and a slight grimace to me lips. Because you can't not play along. If someone trusts you enough to invite you to play pretend with them, you just gotta.

Another bonus to the patch was that it was cool enough to land me a spot on one of the front pages of the counselor training manual the next year. I'm a big deal.

Also, please ignore the hair. It was the summer of trying to grow my hair out and never having time to go get it trimmed. It looks bad in about every picture, but particularly bad in this one because I had been running around.

It wouldn't be a true post about EFY fun without mentioning the dances. I've always loved them. I have injured myself several times at them, but I have always loved them. I love seeing kids come together and let loose and forget about stresses or concerns and just have fun for a few hours. My heart always warmed when I would see particularly mature kids - guys and girls - seek out those who weren't having a good time and ask them to dance. I couldn't help but smile watching guys conference together and then boldly split up to go ask girls to dance. They thought they were so cool. And they really were.

Being part of management, I saw dances a little differently this time. More people sitting in corners, more concerns about modesty or inappropriate dancing, more stresses setting up and taking down equipment, more frustrations with counselors who weren't paying attention to their youth or not quieting them down after the dance was over. But I also had the chance to float between groups and dance with lots of kids and counselors. I had the power to see problems and then work to correct them. Plus I got to DJ sometimes. Turns out DJ-ing is really fun. It's about power and control and playing cool music you want to listen to and leading dances. All at the same time.

Counselor freeze! The kids would get so weirded out when all of the counselors suddenly stopped moving. And then they realized they could pose us.

Line dances! They're only not cheesy at EFY.

Double Dream Hands with some youth on stage. If you don't know what that is, look here. Yes, I do know that whole dance.

I loved being able to teach counselors, to buoy them up, to offer advice, to laugh with them. I wasn't as intimately involved with the youth anymore - which I missed terribly - but I had some great experiences being able to teach large groups of young women about the empowering doctrines of their eternal identity, the true nature of an eternal, equal, celestial marriage, and about the blessings and lessons from family through The Family: A Proclamation to the World.

I met incredible youth and counselors and saw new places as I floated from Utah to Arizona to Utah to Colorado to Idaho. I tried a burrito with fries in it down in southern Arizona (and P.S. it's really good. It will kill you, but it's really good). I mastered completely unloading and loading a bag of technical equipment at airport security in record time. I drove all night through the Arizona desert and danced in the sunrise to the Black Eyed Peas with one of my health counselors. I cooked hundreds of pancakes for counselors after Fast Sunday. I invited 60 counselors to my house for a movie night outside with a movie projected on a sheet hanging from my deck. I tried to learn how to break dance from a real DJ. I slept little, fretted much, laughed more, got a horrible hacking cough for several weeks, organized, planned, surprised BCs with late night Taco Bell runs, felt cool using walkie talkies, lived in ill-fitting polyester polo shirts, felt the Spirit every day, and made unforgettable memories.

I have finished my EFY counselor run - it felt right to end it when I did - but I would love to come back as a teacher (maybe session director too...???) in the future. I have a lifelong love for the youth of the church, and can't wait to work with them again. Our future is in good hands.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Graduation (Mis)Happenings

Even though I graduated in December of 2010 (still 2010! Still graduated the year I was supposed to!), I decided to walk in April 2011 to have The Experience. I'm a big fan of tradition and rites of passage.

My parents came down for the event and my older sister sent me a lei - because we Mormons like to pretend we're all Polynesian. I kid. The flowers were lovely.

After lining up with the rest of my graduating group from my department, they asked me if I would lead everyone in. Mostly because I near the front of the line anyway.

This was their first mistake.

I said yes, and eventually they signaled me to start walking around the Marriott Center to the entrance we were going to use to get onto the arena floor. 

But here's the thing about being in the Anthropology department - "anthropology" begins with an "A". They line our departments up in alphabetical order. I was the front of the front of the FRONT. I had hundreds of people behind me. Keep this in mind.

So the Corps of Graduates and I start walking and some official comes and puts the Master's students in front of me. I'm fine with this because it means I don't have to lead everyone anymore. We continue walking. I feel like the weight of responsibility is off of my shoulders.

We get to the entrance of the Marriott Center. We get inside the Marriott Center. The Master's students confidently walk in with admirable order. The officials stop me from going in. They instead have the students who will be sitting on stage walk in instead. Which makes sense and is all orderly and good.

The problem is that once those students walk in, all of the Master's students have already taken their seats. I am supposed to sit right behind them. AND I HAVE NO IDEA HOW THEY GOT TO THEIR SEATS. There is no usher waiting at the entrance to direct me where to go. All I have is a sea of chairs in front of me. I can't tell where there are (or if there are) aisles. I know nothing. I try to signal the usher across the way to let her know I have no idea what I'm doing. She doesn't pay attention because she is busy directing the graduates who are streaming in from the other entrance. So I'm standing there. With hundreds and hundreds of people behind me.

Here is a rough model of the Marriott Center to help you understand. Diagrams done in Paint always make things clearer.

The stage you can see. The yellowish lines on the edges are the bleachers. The Marriott Center, lest we forgets, seats about 22,000 people. And it was full of excited parents, grandparents, and significant others all paying hawk-like attention to the graduates walking on to the floor. The grey lines in the middle are the chairs for the graduates. Except there were a lot more of them. The "X" marks the entrance I was dithering at.

Now, I'm not one to give up if I don't know what I'm doing. I usually just make it up and forge ahead. After a quick conference with my friend Courtney behind me, we decide that we couldn't just stand there. We had to  do something. So I gamely walk forward. This is close to the path I took.

The green is the path that, looking back, is the one I *think* we were supposed to take. The red dotted line is how they eventually got us sorted out.

But, remember, we weren't the only ones walking into the Marriott Center! There was the other equally long - but better organized - line on the other side of the floor. They were filing in at the same time! And if you throw one cog in the graduation seating process, it messes up the whole delicate machinery. This is what the place probably looked like as a result:

The dark green lines are concerned and angry parents storming on to the floor to see what (or who!) messed up the careful choreography of the Most Important Day of My Child's Life.

Now I don't know if this is exactly how it looked, of course. I had my head down in shame until the first speaker stood up.

The upside to this is that unlike other parents who had to crane and use binoculars to find which be-gowned blue dot what their child, my parents had no such problem. They could easily point out that their Wonderful College Graduate was the one who messed everything up. You're welcome, Mom and Dad. I did it all for you.