Steve Barriault

December 01, 2017

Q4 is in full swing! With it comes its share of craziness. That is because some clients may need to proceed with last minute purchases while the yearly budget is in effect. For others, it is planning for next year's budget. Add team expansions, vacations (Diwali, Thanksgiving, Christmas...) and the development of cross-departmental links between the VectorCAST people and other parts of Vector Informatik in the mix, and it makes for a busy season. Clients need to be met, miles will be accumulated, crazy schedules will be observed. This is the time to show determination and stamina to end things on a good note!

Except that life happens. And that sometimes makes things, well, more sporty than usual.

How can this happen in the field? Well, let us start with your best asset: your health. Take it away at home, and you feel miserable. You may want to take a day off or two. But what happens when you are on the road? Well, let us just say the threshold for a day off just gets higher. Because you are not home, you are alone, and even if strangers will help when needed, it still makes it a bit tricky. After 14 years of circling the globe, I got plenty of these situations, as you can imagine.

Now, I hear you thinking from here. Of course, eating what he eats, his stomach must be the culprit! Well, not really. See, fresh seafood such as the one below may seem like a bad idea, especially one that is that feisty. But it is fresh. And truth be told, I never got sick on these. My stomach did get queasy after McDonalds (in the rare occasions where there is little other choice). But raw seafood? Not really. So, advice #1: always go local, avoid Western fares to keep your stomach happy (albeit I admit to being partial to club sandwiches in India).

Don't forget to masticate well!

Second recommendation: take care of your body so it can take care of you (and by extension your clients). In some locales (Seoul, Tokyo, Beijing among others) hiking is excellent for burning calories, and it is readily available for little or no money at all! Excellent if you are spending the weekend abroad and you need to train. And sweating all the way to the top of a mountain has its rewards, such as beautiful scenery.

A bird's eye view of Seoul

Training on flat grounds also make sense and is a beautiful way to explore a city. I hate to run, but I do indulge from time to time. For example, in Suzhou - a district without too much to do, but right next to a huge park. Ideal for training. Too bad I injured my right knee a bit - I guess I overindulged because I underestimated just how big the park really was. So, instead of 3km-4km, I got 6km done. But then I had to take a break as I was not walking straight. My engineer Yan was freaking out a bit - how are you going to be able to get back to the US hurting like this?  Well, carefully. And lesson learned: bring a knee brace, just in case.

Still, all the training and precautions in the world cannot prevent illness from interfering with a trip. Airplanes are really flying petri dishes, so while you may be worried about your stomach, a good old nasty cold or flu is much more likely to leave you sorry you are on the road. Which is exactly what happened to me two weeks ago: while touring Japan, I got a nasty flu, and then a longer, equally nasty cold which left me nearly voiceless during a trade show. And in September, I did not feel great, just before speaking Chinese in front of a few hundred people. Something about these fried eggs in the morning just did not agree with my stomach. When I said avoid Western food when abroad, well when I don't obey my own rules this is what happens!

So, what to do when on the road and sick? Some advanced preparation may help: it is still not as easy for me to explain in Japanese what ailments I have, and medication available in China is definitely not the same as in the US, so I always bring flu medication and a few other necessities in my "mobile office" (A.K.A. my backpack). That helps.

Here are a few other things that help:

1- The realization that you need to keep the show going. I just traveled so many miles, let us get this done! Sure, give yourself permissions you wouldn't usually, make sure you get plenty of rest, but try your best to get the job done.

2- Don't give yourself additional pressure. What happens is through no fault of your own. And people are human. They understand. Just apologize, and go on.

Headwinds on the road may not only be physical. They may also be related to the work you are doing. Far from the home office, 12 hours away or more, you can sometimes face issues at customer site you just cannot figure out. Code that just doesn't want to cooperate. Gremlins in the debugger that make the behavior unpredictable. That happens too. In my experience, it is as unavoidable as the flu. Just like sickness, advance preparation can certainly help, but it just doesn't guarantee success.

Here, I like to remember a lesson that the Commandant Piché, the pilot that landed an Airbus 330 that ran out of fuel over the Atlantic, learned from landing on small, icy strips in Québec. Make a decision and try something. If that something doesn't work, make another decision and try something else. Come up with alternative plans and assure the customer you won't quit until the job is done. Realize that if there is a way to do it, you will find it - it is just a matter of time. Of course, faster is better, but getting it done is ultimately the goal.

That is what we do here at Vector: we deliver value and we don't give up easily. We don't stop for nasty viruses or complex code.

And after you got it done, don't forget to enjoy the scenery. Ours is really a beautiful planet.