Wednesday, June 29, 2005


I'm back. Sorry it's been so long since I've posted. It wasn't necessarily for lack of anything to say; but the last two weeks has been a period of big change for me (although it wasn't sudden change), and in what little time that has remained for "blogging", I've found myself in a condition not (psychologically) favourable for much in the way of "intellectual" activity.

Saturday I finished moving from the office I have worked out of for the last 11 years. The furniture and boxes have been dutifully stored away in the garage (yesterday I completed a major organization effort!). Hopefully within the next few weeks construction will begin on an addition to our home which will house my new office. Until then, I am a vagrant computer consultant, partly on vacation and partly unemployed.

The company itself has not strictly come to an end; but the closing of our office is clearly a major and definitive step that represents a radical change in direction. Just a few months ago we were managing 59 employees (mostly software and hardware support, DBA's, help desk, etc.) for one of Brazil's largest corporations. From now on, I will be working alone, out of my home on a consulting basis, whenever work happens to be available. What the future holds in store is a big subject, however, that I may address in another future post (or posts).

Closing the office represents the culmination of several months of contemplation, much discussion, and many decisions ensuing from our loss of a major contract at Petrobras. Those of us involved in the final decision weighed carefully the options; at stake was the future direction of the company (and, more importantly, our lives!). In the end, the decision practically made itself. While we could have pressed forward, focused strongly on sales, and tried to adapt to the new market, make the company more competitive, I think that both of us felt that the moment was appropriate for a change. Each of us has personal projects we wish to pursue, and with the new organizational model we will have the freedom to invest our time and energy as we see fit.
In a sense, we are returning to our "roots". We started out as a software consulting and development company; nearly all of the customers who contracted us in the beginning did so because they were familiar with our technical capabilities. Over the last two years, however, we had evolved into an organization whose success no longer depended on our own technical experience and knowledge. In fact, many of our competitors have a background purely in human resource management and outsourcing (receptionists, janitors, call center, etc.). We truly never had meant to go this route, but sometimes chance and circumstances lead us down paths that we don't expect to follow.

Don't get me wrong: I have no regrets about these final two years. The experience was interesting; it was challenging; and it was rewarding. However, we have come to the conclusion that to compete successfully in this market, we would have to be prepared to make sacrifices that we are not really prepared to make, and take risks that we do not wish to take. Even then there would be no guarantee of success; there is a lot of competition out there, and large multinational companies clearly have an edge on us.

One of the options we considered was keeping the office: just keep paying rent and waiting to see what happens. Things have a tendency to turn around, and what may seem hopeless today may be nothing more than a temporary setback. But besides the financial burden, for me, closing the office can be seen as a symbolic act. Sometimes to move forward you must be prepared to let go of the past, and that's not always as easy as it may seem. This aspect only really hit home when I started boxing things up; it was a melancoly moment, and a little sad. Funny how we become attached to the physical aspects of things. The office has come to physically represent a phase of my life, and it has been an extension of my "home" over the last 11 years. Leaving it is difficult, but once the idea of leaving it had really sunk in, and I had accepted it, the feeling was almost liberating. As if I were wiping a slate clean and starting over.

One of the big concerns is how this change will affect the family dynamics. The immediate consequence ... me being at home much more ... seems to be a "good thing"; but there is such a thing as too much of a good thing! Cristina is being very supportive of the change, which is not without its' risks. She herself is at a crossroads, with many decisions to make about her career and personal life.

For the kids, the hardest part was also the physical aspect of leaving the office. For them, going to Dad's work was always a "sure-fire hit" program. Looking out the 23rd floor window at downtown Rio and Guanabara Bay; playing computer games, drawing, writing, followed by the obligatory lunch at McDonald's. Just knowing the office was there and knowing I was there, and feeling part of it, was always very important to them. (Pictures of one of their last visits to the office, and the ferry ride downtown, can be seen in the gallery here.)

Adults tend to take these things for granted, but our parents' workplace can be a strong part of our image of our parents. Still today I can remember the images and even the smell of Dad's shop, Gramling Tool & Die (later Preco): the creaky wooden staircase that led up to the dark wood paneled offices; the coke machine out in the shop; the smell of grease and dust and the whine of power tools. These memories are an indelible part of my childhood, and undoubtedly had a strong influence on myself and all of us (brothers and sister).

James in particular had a hard time accepting the announcement. He is very attached to the past, and still becomes sad when he remembers the apartment we lived in before building the house. Saturday, I took him there to see how the office now is: without furniture, dusty and full of boxes. I also spent hours talking with him, explaining our decision and talking about the future and the past. It seems to have provide closure for him, and it just might have helped me a little too!

So that's that: on to the future! (If anybody needs a relational database consultant, let me know!)


Yesterday Cristina and I celebrated our 14th wedding anniversary. It's hard to believe it's been fourteen years! That itself has other implications: it means I've been living in Brazil now for 15 years; also, it's been almost 19 years since we started dating.

A quick google search tells me that the 14th anniversary is "Ivory". Whatever. I guess it's better than the 11th, which is "Steel", and the 10th which is "Tin". Next year will be "Crystal", so that's kind of cool.

Having left the kids with a babysitter (trustworthy "Iá-Iá"), we spent the evening reminiscing at what was once (pre-kids) one of our favourite restaurants (Guimas, at Rio's Fashion Mall). It was still good, but even that is another example of how we idealize the past: it wasn't all that I remembered, and Cristina felt the same way. Try as we might, we can't "go back" to the past. I think next year we will try out a new restaurant; somewhere we have never been before.

Still, it was a very enjoyable outing, and the conversation was good. With all of the changes and decisions we are facing, one thing both of us feel is that we haven't had enough time to talk, just the two of us (without the constant interruptions and demands placed on us by our daily life!).

Last week was Mom & Steve's first wedding anniversary ("Paper!"); since I haven't talked to her in several weeks, I'll take this opportunity to congratulate them!

Soon (tomorrow?) I'll get back to trying to clear out some of my backlog (backblog?), which is growing every week.


At June 30, 2005 7:46 PM, Romie Rassel said...

Jim, Thanks for the congratulations on Steve's and my 1st wedding anniversary. Congratulations to you and Cristina on your 14th anniversary. It doesn't seem like you guys have been married that long. Yet, thinking back on the first time I visited you and Cristina in Brazil,(for your wedding)that does seem like a very long time ago.

Boy those pictures of your office, out the window and the ferry ride, really bring back memories. I have some pictures just like those.

Well, you, Christina and the boys are in for some exciting changes in your lives. Maybe now you can start writing that mystery book you have been thinking about.

Love, Mom


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