Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Globalization is le suxx0r

Alright, there are some really good things about globalization. Yes, someone is always working on your project, no matter what time it is. Yes, labor is cheaper in some countries. Yes, the talent pool is larger.

But this post isn't going to focus on any of that. It's going to focus on what I learned in my engineering position about why globalization sucks for morale.

Reason 1: You want me to call into this Asia meeting at what time? 1:00 AM in the morning? Haha, good joke. Oh wait, you're not kidding? And I'm going to need to attend this meeting for 10 weeks running?

Reason 2: So after waking up at 1AM, I read an email from HR. There's this little thing called "export control" which basically commands me to share as little information as possible with my Chinese co-workers. I'm not even allowed to share our meeting minutes with those Chinese employees who attended said meeting. Phew, our data is safe now.

Reason 3: So now I've dialed into my 1AM meeting with China and I've gone over what I'm allowed to talk about and what I'm not. But it's all fruitless. Because I can't. understand. anyone. And it's not just because I'm exhausted. There is a language barrier with people who speak two very different versions of English. It's like trying to get Mexico Spanish to integrate with Spain Spanish; it's difficult. It's uber painful because it is just as frustrating for my Chinese co-workers as it is for me.

Them: "The pistle make has dog gar"
Me: "Umm, I'm sorry, could you repeat that."
Them: "The pistle make has dog gar!"
Me: "Wait, are you even talking to me?"
Them: "Yeah, the dog gar shamble face."
Me: "Oookay. Ummm, I'm not quite with you."
Them: "What for too computer circuit?"
Me: "I'm so sorry, I still don't understand."
Them: *hangs up*

Reason 4: So now I'm thinking to myself, "No more meetings with Asia, let's have meetings with Texas and California employees." Easy, peasy right? We're only a few hours off from each other. So I schedule a meeting with 30 attendees, none of whom respond to my meeting invitation. Surely they will show up though, because this is a life or death meeting in engineering terms. Our computer chip will make it or break because of this meeting. Meeting time rolls around and no one shows up. Crickets. I call some of the attendees. Voicemail. I send an email reminding everyone that I am sitting in a meeting room alone, feeling a bit like I'm still in high school. No response. And it turns out, indeed, I am still in high school.

Reason 5: Alright, so, fine, no one wants to talk to me. I'll get this computer chip out myself! So I call a designer in Texas, asking for him to fix a bug. He adamantly refuses. I tell him how much work it's going to be for me, and why it is the right thing to do. He still refuses. I ask him why. He says, "Because." So I spend the next two weeks doing extra work because of his refusal. Okay, against all odds I have done it! Our chip works. 20 minutes later, I find out the designer in Texas has fixed that bug, and in turn, all of my Oh-So-Carefully-Coded-Work-Of-Two-Weeks has broken. I spend another week undoing all of my work. Why, dear God, why?!?

Reason 6: People are just plain mean over email. I needed some space allocated for me on a computer; a place for me to do my work. After I sent the request, I received a flurry of responses which included gems such as "You must not know how to operate a computer" to "No one else seems to have your problem". Thanks for the support guys! It makes me want to work with you in the future. So badly.

TL;DR: Globalization makes it all too easy for people to dehumanize someone over the phone or the internet. It's much harder to treat someone poorly to their face.  Globalization also puts strain on relationships because of the time difference and language barriers.

Maybe we'll remote control robots to see patients...
And while I recognize that "anecdote" does not equal "data", I am confident I could pool together experiences from my co-workers to present cohesive data.

That is one of the reasons I am drawn to medicine. I will be in the same room with the patient, and most probably with almost all of my co-workers. I will not have to call a different time zone for permission to move forward with a treatment option. I will get responses to my questions in 30 seconds as opposed to 30 hours.

Yet something nags at me a bit. Is this the way medicine is moving? In 50 years, will surgeons just operate from their study using a joystick and a keyboard while 2000 miles away their patients chest cavity has just been opened by little robotic appendages? Will doctor patient interactions happen through Skype instead of in the exam room? Perhaps that is a little too far. After all, someone who need to be present to prep the patient and there is no easy substitute yet for a physical exam (except maybe a robot).

But as the world gets increasingly smaller, keep this post in the back of your mind. Because there are two sides to every coin, and globalization has some awful unintended consequences.

PS. Comic is from SMBC; Zac is a very talented cartoonist.

1 comment:

  1. I feel you. It gets even worse when one among many attendees from China, one can communicate okay and then he tries to explain the others in their local dialect, I just have to assume that what he explained is what I meant and the cross my fingers that I can get my deliverables by the desired day. If not, then blame falls on me because the meeting that I attended was the meeting when apparently I said that the deadline was flexible.