Steve Barriault

September 22, 2017

Being part of Vector Informatik means that Asia becomes an even more important part of our strategy in the world. Already, my territory has grown tremendously in the last few years, a reflection of the greater weight of the economic tigers that populate the area. It is certainly an exciting place to be these days, sometimes not unlike the Far West of yore - a tad wild, certainly ever-changing, but certainly fascinating and oh so much fun!

But then, getting more clients means expansion for my team, the International Manage Force (IMF). I already talked about how to recruit prospective team members in a previous blog post. But then there comes a time when this must be put into action. And this is such a time.

I introduce to you Lu Yan. You can call him Yan. This is his "first name" but then, Chinese style, it should be written last, but it not always is. Yan hails from Shanghai, a small fishing village that grew a few million people strong. He is my first Chinese team member, but then hopefully not the last!

After some extensive training in the US, when he had the chance to eat such exotic dishes like raw oysters and clam chowder (yes, from his perspective, that is exotic), we both went back to China for some client visits. Because, you know, there is nothing quite like customer visits to train someone. And there is certainly a lot to learn. Here some of the quirks we saw on this trip:

The art of surviving the airlines
Yeap, both of our flights (we were on separate flights) were crazy two-stops to Asia. Both went through Tokyo. And since Shanghai's weather was bad (rain, thunderstorms), flights were delayed. The result: we got where we wanted to go late at night, and got very little (precious) sleep. So, welcome to the art of going to see a customer and trying to make sense while speaking with precious little snooze. It actually went well. Our customer is happy and will use our product on incoming projects in Medical Devices. Makes our day. Life is good.

Well, almost. Because, you see, I got it worse than Yan. United and ANA claim to be partners but somehow miscommunicated in San Francisco. The result was that my luggage (and hence most of my clothes) did not show up on time. And in a show of technical prowess, local airline employees cannot "see" where the luggage actually is. Rumor had it that it was in San Francisco, but who knew, maybe it wasn't there? When would it arrive? What was the routing? Can't answer this sir, sorry. Well, that is a bit of a problem, you see I need to go meet customers, and tomorrow I am going to three other cities in two days. No problem, ANA has my back, remits 600 renminbi for me to buy spare clothes.

So, yes, after the customer meeting, Yan and I went shopping, trying to gauge how my size matched Chinese sizes, trying to find something decent. Bought more than 600 renminbi too because, well, don't know when my luggage would should up, so I need a storage medium for all that stuff (luggage).

That night, I get an SMS...the luggage will show up overnight. We will deliver to your hotel. Oh well. I have plenty of spares now.

The art of talking to different industries
This is what is interesting with our job - we need to develop a good understanding of our clients' needs. And obviously, they are quite diverse. On this trip, we called on accounts in Defense, Auto, Medical Devices, and Avionics. They all had very different needs. Some put emphasis on unit testing, others on system testing, some want both. Some have extremely detailed low-level requirements, some don't. Some have an immediate interest in Continuous Integration, some others are considering it but need more details from us as to how to implement it. Questions fuse from all directions, from the mundane question about tool usage to more high-level discussions about testing strategies, optimization tactics, and so on. This can sometimes be overwhelming since there will always be a point where even the best of us will not know the answer to every single question. And that is OK. Clients get it, and they understand too if you need to check things internally from time to time. I guess this job teaches you humility. But it also teaches you a lot about the software world.

The art of analyzing when and how technology fails
We are in Northern China. Time to get to the client's office. China changed quite a bit from before in that regard, and not always for the best. Before, it was very possible to just go on the side of the street and hail a cab. Not anymore - better to use an app (not Uber, but something Uber-like). Better, right? Well, not this time. See, the cab was running in the wrong direction on the map. Yan could clearly see he was actually going away from us. Why? "OK, just call him." The guy shows up five minutes later, and then gently berates us because the app on his side indicated we were located in another location! Because, you know, sometimes the GPS fails to give the correct location. Perhaps a map pointer on our application to indicate where we are would be useful? Just saying.

Anyway, lesson learned, if you see the taxi going in the woodwork on the map, don't wait and call him up, the app is probably leading him astray.

The art of investigating a client's environment
Our flagship product is a bit like an octopus: a strong core with multiple tentacles, each tentacle extending into an existing part of the client's technical environment. Into the compiler, the debugger, the board, the requirements management system, the system test tool (like CANoe!), etc. (Hum... that sounds ominous when I put it like this. But hopefully you get the analogy, and please imagine a nice, gentle, kid-movie-like octopus). That means asking a lot of questions. That means knowing our products to the nth degree. That means trying to think out of the box to come up with imaginative solutions that fit the specific needs of our clients like a glove. So our clients achieve optimal performance and ROI. Yan got a few good ideas in that regard. Excellent!

A slice of BACONIC, anyone?

The art of eating spicy in Asia
Well, only necessary when I am around I guess. But Yan dutifully obliged and brought me to a place to eat a bowl of Chongqing-style noodles, which ought to be spicy. I asked for medium spicy (Chongqing is one of the spiciest places in China after all), but then insisted they make it Chinese spicy, NOT foreigner spicy! Yan found it funny, but hey, he orders that level of spiciness and people will take him at his word. Me? They may as well conclude I am not accustomed to spices, that there is no way I can tolerate them, and that they should do less spicy. Wrong, wrong, and wrong. So, I make it explicit, with a smile. Also, it gives me the opportunity to speak Chinese with locals so they know I mean business.

Kaorouchuan, the Chinese version of BBQ. Better with spices, lamb, and squid.

The art of war
Eh no, just kidding, if Yan wants to learn about this, he can buy the book written by Sun Ce a few thousand years ago. That guy is the definite reference on the matter. But that is a lecture recommendation of mine anyway, it has nice ideas about how to deal with competitors. Figuratively of course!

OK, my trip is already coming to an end, and the plane is about to land. Time to close the computer. Time to go back home.