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.)

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