Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Of Eagles and Turkeys

There's a old saying that I love which states "It is difficult to soar with eagles when you choose to live among turkeys." Today I saw this axiom come to life as I reunited with my former colleagues from Sprint Paranet and once again took flight with my fellow eagles.

Let me provide some background and context for you. In 1997 I went to work for a company called Paranet, which was (is) an IT professional services provider based out of Houston, TX. Paranet had branch offices throughout the country, and was loosely organized into regions. The Western region was headquartered out of Salt Lake City, Utah and was lead by a dynamic pair of businessman name Brian Hazelgren and Mike Tippets.

Brian and Mike built a strong culture and ecosystem which fostered the creation of a cross discipline team capable of providing IT services to a large cross section of businesses. Back then, each branch office within the Paranet had a team mascot, interestingly enough, ours was the "Flying Eagles."

I loved working at Paranet for a multitude of reasons, one of which was the variety that being a hired gun afforded. One week I would be out at the Kennecott smelter working on a HP-UX box and the next I was in New Jersey bringing a Novell Groupwise server online. For a twenty something geek, this was like being a rock star on tour.

As all good things must eventually end, Paranet was sold to Sprint for hundreds of millions of dollars and became a business unit within that company. I will not bore you with the sad story of how Sprint systematically dismantled the company and suffered debilitating"brain drain" in doing so. Suffice it to say, I was lucky in that I got out when the getting was good and I have deep sympathy for those souls who had to endure to the end.

This brings us to the events of today. Bill Fisk, one of the Eagles, had an idea to get the team back together and hold an informal team reunion. This idea took hold and before long, a good majority of the team who were local responded that they would be there. Even those who had moved out of state lamented about not being able to attend and sent their regrets.

As the day approached, I found myself strangely nostalgic for Paranet and the time of my life that it occupied. You see, it was while working for Paranet that I fell in love with the diversity that IT presents. Being part of a cross discipline team, cross pollination happened organically, and was nurtured by the leadership as it made you "more sellable" to the company. Remember, this entire business was based around the billable rates of its employees, so the more you knew and the more initials (e.g CCIE, RHCE, MSCE) you had after your name, the more they could bill.

So it was at Paranet that I discovered that I had a passion for IT and I was determined to learn as much as I could from as many as I could in order to make myself more valuable to Mike and Brain, as well as to myself and any future employers. This strategy has been a core piece of my "Master Evil Plan" since then, and frankly is one of the secrets to my continuing success.

As I walked into Goodwood's today, standing at the door to welcome me was Bill (or the FIskenator as we call him). It was great to see Bill as he always has a smile on his face and a teddy bear persona. Soon other members of the team began to arrive, and as they did, it began to get a tad surreal as faces and names that I had not considered for almost twelve years suddenly came rushing forward at me.

There were names I remembered instantly and familiar faces with names that hung at the edges of memory. But as we all sat down together, I had the strange sense of familiarity and comfort, the team was back together again, even if for a short while.

As I sat there reveling in this fact, the "catching up" began (as it does at all reunions). Families were inventoried, job titles exchanged and stories of the "old times" dusted off and recounted. What struck me was that out of all of the gentlemen present, and those spoken about but not present, not one of them had stagnated or fumbled in their professional career and all seemed very happy with where they were in life.

In short, there was not a turkey among us, only eagles. Or in the immortal words of C. Sheen, we were all "winning!"

I prefer to call it "soaring!"

I would like to thank Bill and Sean for pulling the reunion together and Tipp for his unexpected, but greatly appreciated, generosity. I sincerely hope that it is not another twelve years until the next one.

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