2016 #AACA Eastern Regional Fall Meet- #Studebaker Style

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Colombia-CSC Friday (August)the 26th!


The Crew!

The first Friday of our assignment was one of the most memorable days I’ve ever experienced.  It was such as highlight that it has taken me a month just to absorb all that it entailed.  Before I tell you about the day, I should provide a background about our client, The Nature Conservancy (TNC).  It’s a conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. Regarding Colombia, TNC has created a conservation trust fund to protect rivers and watersheds  and help provide clean drinking water to Bogotá.  One way to protect areas is through the ecological restoration of farm land, so on Friday, we headed to the mountains for a tour.

However , before we could reach our destination, we needed to eat, so we stopped in a small town for a nice Colombian breakfast.  There were some friendly dogs roaming around and some farmers heading out for the day in their traditional ponchos.  Alas, before long , we were back in the 4WD vehicles and off to the farms.  As we rode along, I noticed that the paved road had turned to crushed rock and dirt.  As we traveled on, the crushed rock became a non-player and only dirt covered the tires.  Eventually, the dirt turned to mud and ruts in the road turned to puddles as rain had honed in on our location.  After a while, it wasn’t so much a road, but a path.

As we closed in on our first stop, we noticed that a stream decided to meander across the path at a decent velocity, making it impassable.  There was no way for us to continue on that path, so we turned around and headed to another farm.  After bouncing around for awhile, we reached our destination.  It afforded us a great view of the surrounding mountain and valley below.  While we had originally planned for a tour, it was decided that taking soil samples would be a better way to take in the sights, so that is what we did. We split into groups and armed with a shovel, a soil cutter, and a bag, we set off.  We learned that the key to a successful soil sample is to take many samples over a distance, so as to capture the general soil composition over a swatch of land.  As it was raining, I realized we needed another tool…an umbrella.  I even got a nickname – the umbrella man.  We did take time to watch the sheep and take in the field of flowers that glistened under the ever changing sky.

After we finished up, we packed up the tools and the soil and headed to the final farm.  This farm’s soil seemed to have more of an oil base to it as it was on volcanic rock, so we had already learned something just by going to another farm. Like the previous farm,this one had majestic views in all directions.  What made it even more special is that I was far away from home in a place where few have ventured.  It was then that I realized that the best places on Earth seem to be those less traveled.  After packing up our supplies and soils, we headed back down the mountain, bouncing merrily along the way.

We stopped at what seemed to be a roadside destination and had some Italian food, as it was the only place open.  As I walked around,  I also saw an Asian-themed restaurant and an American eatery.  As they say, wherever you go, there you are.  After dinner, we headed back to Bogotá.  As the sun set in the distance, and the leaves danced about in the gentle breeze, I realized that Colombia is quite a beautiful place.  For that moment, all the issues of the world faded and serenity filled the sky.




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Colombia-CSC: The Final (4th) Week in Review

As expected, the final week was a culmination of all the work and analysis done in the previous weeks; but for some reason, it seemed unsettled.  It could have been because the final week was all about finalizing and presenting the deliverables for submission.  More likely, it could have been that we could see the end and what had seemed to be some far away event was now in front of us.  Recalling the week, it did not have the cadence of the previous weeks.  Each day was unique, and the party atmosphere that had greeted us when we first arrived was now filled with introspection.  Meanwhile, the days piled on. On Monday, we worked to close the loop on any outstanding issues and finalize the draft.  On Tuesday, we presented to the internal clients, but it was a little more than that.

We decided that it would be nice to have some snacks for Tuesday, so I snagged two boxes of Dunkin Donuts, while my colleagues bought some Colombian snacks, as they thought that would be more fitting.  In any event, the clients were well fed.  We took the clients through our 40 + page document and it went very well.  There was good discussion and by the end of the meeting, everyone was on the same page.

Wednesday consisted of finishing a survey with the client and garnering feedback on the entire experience.  We also finalized our executive presentation, which would be presented in front of all the teams, some university students, fellow IBMers, and maybe some press.  As Wednesday faded into the past, Thursday appeared, and the final event  was upon us.

The presentation was divided into two parts: the first section consisted of clients and IBMers discussing the challenges and outcomes of each project, and the second section consisted of a fishbowl technique, which is when a core group has a discussion while others listen, knowing that anyone in the audience can join in. As expected, all the presentations went well and were well received.  Since we did have weekly meetings with all the subgroups, we all knew about each others projects and it was nice to be able to celebrate the conclusion together.

When we started the fishbowl technique section, the questions became personal and more about the overall experience.  There was one question that asked about when we felt the magic, which meant when we knew that this experience was something special.  For most it seemed to have happened early on, or when they presented their deliverables to the client.  For me, I think I’m still waiting.  I went into this experience with no expectations, so I have nothing to gauge it on.  If it impacted me or if it changed me, I won’t really know until I leave.  It’s been my experience most don’t realize the importance of a situation or a time until after it passes, so I’m guessing that eventually I’ll have to have a blog post about the cumulative experience that has taken place in Colombia, but that won’t be today.

For now, I know I had a rare opportunity to work in a country that was foreign to me.  I worked with many great people and really believed in the mission of my client.  I enjoyed working with IBMers from other parts of the world and hearing about their stories, while creating new ones.  It could be that after all this time (I’ve been waiting since 2014), I’m sorry to see it end. The fact is that the people I’ve spent so much time with over the last month, I may never see again.  However, I do take solace in knowing that memories will remain and through meeting them and working with them, I am a better person than I was before this all began.

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Colombia-CSC: The Third Week in Review

It was bound to happen.  There comes a time in most situations that if you do something enough times, it becomes a routine.  During the previous two blogs, I was able to provide a recap of each day.  For the third week, one day flowed into the next.  Project-wise,  it was the most intensive week thus far.  This was the week to bring all the information gathered during the previous weeks and create a logical framework in which to deliver a solution. The team was in sync and by the end of the week, we had a solid draft. We could have celebrated, but this was the first Friday where we did not have an excursion planned; so Friday was just like any other day.

Routine had found Friday and stripped it of its charm and randomness.  The only upside was that Friday has a night, and studies show that it’s better than most other nights.  All the teams had been busy during the week, racing to conclude their projects in advance of next week’s presentations. When Friday night finally arrived, we assembled on a dance floor and cut footloose. It was a great way to shed the weekdays and welcome the weekend.

You might be thinking that the third week seems to be lost in the shuffle and you would be correct.  Using The Brady Bunch as an analogy,the third week could be best described as  Jan Brady; however, I’m quite confident that the fourth and final week will be nothing but Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!

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Looming over the historic center of Bogotá, Monserrate is perhaps the Colombian capital’s most iconic landmark. The mountain itself towers a full 10,341 feet (3,152 meters) above sea level, casting an impressive shadow over the rest of Bogotá.  I spent the early evening walking the grounds and taking in the sites with some newly acquainted friends.  Looking down upon a city of eight million and only hearing the rustling of leaves brought to mind a quote:  “The silence of a mountain has the tranquility and serenity of peace.” ― Debasish Mridha

I will never forget that feeling.  Whatever the future may hold, I will always remember the time spent on Monserrate and how when viewed from afar, a rushed and hurried life only feels that way to the participant, but not to the spectator.

Click the link below for a video version of Monserrate!


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Colombia-CSC: The Second Week in Review

P1090037I was hopeful that the second week would start off well, since each day was becoming a little easier, both from a project aspect and from a social aspect.  However, I soon realized that a Monday in Colombia can be just like a Monday anywhere. For example,  did you know that most heart attacks occur on a Monday?  Additional research on the subject of Mondays led to this:

The good news was that I did not have a heart attack on Monday; the bad news was that I did not write a song about Mondays either; I could have used a quick 15 minutes of fame.  In any event, Monday was not as bad as I’m leading you to believe; I just thought you’d enjoy a soundtrack of Monday songs.  Like a 78 RPM record playing at 33 RPMs, it did start off slow as we were still shuffling through documents, awaiting final sign-off on the Statement of Work (SOW), and wanting to put together a workable plan.  On the upside, we did complete a template of the deliverable, along with a table of contents.  I could write more about Monday, but I find that day undeserving of my time, so let’s move to Tuesday.

Tuesday was better, as we developed a work plan and had several meetings that helped us shape our objectives.  I would tell you more about Tuesday, but I currently can’t recall much, most likely because I was happy that Monday had left the building. In fact, let’s speed things up and put Monday way into the shadows by having a mid-week celebration that is known as Wednesday.

You must be thinking that Wednesday was something special, but it was almost like Tuesday.  The one aspect I do recall is that we had a meeting with the Latin American Regional Water Fund and they were extremely enthusiastic about our approach.   We also made some more headway on some of our deliverables, but by this time Thursday was tipping its “T” in my direction.

Thursday, as expected, was a great day.  We met with one of our key clients for the first time since kick-off and I’m not sure what he was expecting, but he was “wowed”.  I know this to be true because when we unveiled our work plan and table of contents, he was surprised.  This project, at the very least should take a month, and our schedule just gave us nine business days to complete. In my mind, I started to think that we could have scaled this down, but it was too late; it was already out there.

Later in the day, we had a meeting with Bavaria Brewery, as they are one of the donors to the Bogotá Water Fund.  The meeting was productive and I even had my first Pony Malta, which is malt beer without the alcohol.  It tasted like chocolate milk with fizz.  I was thinking a little vanilla ice cream would make this drink perfect.

While we are there, Colombia was playing Venezuela in soccer or futbol (depending our your perspective).  The entire office was entranced as excitement transpired on the screen.  When Colombia scored, it was almost like being in the stadium.  It’s a great experience when one can watch a country unite behind their team and cheer them on. (Colombia eventually went on to win the game.)  All that remains is Friday.

If you recall, last week’s blog ended on Thursday as Friday was so special that it deserved its own post. The same can be written for this Friday as well.  I can tell you that we’ll be traveling to another part of Bogotá and visiting an elementary school to discuss and demonstrate Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM).

As I reread this blog post, I realize that there is not much detail, so if there is something you want to know, just ask and I’ll put it in for the third week in review.  Also, I have not mentioned another part of this experience yet, and that is the social aspect.  That will be forthcoming, so don’t fret.  As Mr. Sinatra sang, “Still, it’s a real good bet, the best is yet to come.”


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Colombia-CSC: The First Week in Review

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As Monday flipped into Tuesday, I wondered what the day would bring.  I did not sleep well and had set my watch alarm, my tabletop clock alarm, and my phone alarm to ensure that I would have a timely Tuesday arrival.  A punctual arrival was not an issue, but Tuesday tested me in new ways.  I cannot recall a time when I had to overcome language and cultural barriers while learning the clients needs and delivering a sound solution in a compressed time frame.

The good news is that our team strategized and developed a working plan in the morning.  When we presented it to the clients that afternoon, they not only approved of it, they embraced it.  By listening to the clients’ needs and finding the signal through the noise, we were able to pinpoint their current pain points and find a solution that will allow them to move forward.
While the day’s events were successful, I was just not adjusting well. In addition to the language and the cultural barriers, I was also part of an international team, and while we seemed to work well together, we were still unsure of what roles we would play as the week progressed. First impressions are difficult to break and no one wants to seem as if he or she won’t be able to deliver.
In addition, I was still suffering from Acute Mountain Sickness (AWS) and was extremely tired and  unable to concentrate. As the day wore on, I became angry and disappointed with myself for not having the stamina to overcome the AWS and the sleepiness.  For those of you who are younger, let me explain: you don’t age gradually; you age in one day.  One day you are a mountain, an immovable force; the next day you a pile of dirt.  I try to stay fit and had never experienced this before, so it just made me that much more frustrated. Fortunately, rest finally found me and the hope for better days were on the horizon.
Each sunrise brings promise and Wednesday was a complete 180 degree change from Tuesday.  The morning was a continuation of Wednesday, were we refined our initial idea and put it on paper.  In the afternoon, we attended a meeting with a partner of the Water Fund and discussed their current process and mapped out a way in which the new solution could be integrated. It was a very difficult meeting for me to follow as it alternated between Spanish and English. When they were speaking Spanish, my eyes would glaze over, then they would switch to English and I’d have to try to focus back on the  conversation.  The change for me happened when they brought in coffee and some fabulous pastries
The pastries were just the perfect blend of sweetness.  They even brought over some extras for me.  Then, in a spirit of spontaneity, I went into a riff about how great the pasties were and how I could not get enough of the coffee (and I’m not a coffee drinker).  I continued by telling them that this was one the best meetings I’ve ever attended and that we should have one every day. They all laughed*, and I was once again a mountain.  As long as I could relate to them through humor, all would be well, I thought. After work, our client took us to a bar-like facility to play Tejo. It was an explosively good time. Afterwards, I met up with some colleagues and we shared in drink and merriment.  Overall, it was a Hump Day to remember.
Thursday involved consolidating notes and reworking the SOW, so that we would be prepared for the next week.  Overall, the day was without issue and a cadence was finally being developed. As the sun crossed the sky, we headed out with one of our clients to La Candelaria.  We walked around and stopped for coffee.  Then we walked around some more and stopped for some crepes and waffles. Then we walked around some more and stopped at a deli for a beer and some sandwiches.  And then it happened.

As I sat there drinking a beer and taking in all that had occurred in the last few days, a sudden calmness surrounded me and entered my soul.  I’m quite sure that the beer was not an influence as  I’ve experienced this feeling from time-to-time, but it does not occur often.  It’s as if time stops, and for a moment;  life is complete perfection.  There were no worries, no cares, no past, no future, just the present and it was complete bliss.  As I looked over at my teammate, I realized that she was having the same experience. And that feeling is what will carry me though the next three weeks.   It’s also a good time to end this blog  because  Friday turned out to be a unique day and therefore it deserves its own special blog. 

*Humor is in the delivery, not in the content.


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