Week 4 – Final Countdown

While our last week wasn’t nearly as bad as the video above, it was quite intense. This week will include finalizing our action plan document, presenting to our customer, the other faculty and researchers as well as our final presentation at the closing ceremony. This was the week, where all our hard work came together.

I will admit it was a bit difficult and tense on the team, at least from my perspective and it sort of relates back to week 1, when we did not want to have a project plan with target dates. This week felt very rushed and last minute. Kind of like all those group projects you did in university / college. It’s a shame it was this way, as I felt our group was positioned well to avoid the last minute/day before rush. Which we all know tends to bring in mistakes, arguments within the team etc. This week saw the longest working days so far of the deployment. The Cage got put to use this week by our team, which was rare as we were mostly on site doing our work.

Oh, for reference about The Cage, this was the nickname for the suite we had available to us at the hotel. There was a bird cage or something outside in the lobby of that floor but thats the name Chrys gave the room and it stuck around for the entire trip. We felt like caged animals some days in there. By some days, I mean most days and by most days i really mean everyday. That’s not to say we didnt have a lot of fun in The Cage. Lots of dance parties, Singha, laughter and tears.

Picture break!

Silliness occurred
Party’s occurred
Chirada Selfies occurred
Work occurred

One of my favourite things to come out of The Cage was the battle to get WiFi. This seemed to be one item that only impacted the CSC’ers from “Less Developed Countries”. (Please note: they termed this saying, not me…). As most people know, I have a serious love affair with The Lion King movie. It’s one of the first movies I remember going to see in the theater with my mother. There’s also that time my father gave away my VHS copy of the movie to a colleague from the Philippines. Here we are almost 20 years later, and its still something I bug him about. Anyway, our dear Chrys always had problems with her WiFi in the cage and the poses to try and get signal instantly reminded me of a classic scene in the Lion King.

The whole group eventually got involved and it evolved from laughing, to singing the song to having a dance for the WiFi gods provided by the always wonderful Matthias. This is one of my favourite memories from the trip.

The ladies loved the hair

The photo above… I still dont really know what to say. I mean, its clearly obvious that everyone involved enjoyed this. Back in my counnnnnnnnnnnntryyyyyyyyyyyyyy (@Moncef) the women don’t do this. It took almost 2 weeks for Linda to be comfortable enough to ask to touch my hair. I guess the guys in China dont have curly thick hair? Either way, I was quite lucky, or were they? You decide.

Back to the Week 4 story… last minute, losing my patience, unable to focus on one task given the workload. We continued to work through all the remaining sections of our Action Plan document and by Tuesday we were quite happy with where we were but there was still quite a lot of work left to be done. We had to create a couple presentations still, but those were a lot lower priority than our final deliverable. One item that became apparent at this part of the deployment was how lucky our team was. While other teams had to think about translation of their final deliverables, we just worked on our English copies and didnt think about it. Other teams had to coordinate getting their documents translated and approved, whereas we just kept working and submitted. Thankfully this was the case, given the last minute rush on our side to get our document completed. I found this to be both a good and bad thing, as compared to other teams, we were never really immersed in Thai language, so it kind of felt like we were missing out on some of the experience.

Lets take a pause. Around 1.5 years or so. What the hell happened? Well the typical answer is ‘life’ but thats only half true. This isnt really the place to explain it all, but here we are in November 2018 finishing my final blog post. Back to the story!

We continued to hammer through all the various tasks that remained in our project and action plan. The team split up to work as needed in an environment that allowed them to focus. For me, this was putting in headphones and hammering away on the keyboard. Just like back home, I prefer to be in the office with others and then just blocking myseslf out using headphones. The reason I like this, is when I need a break, I can take the headphones out and chat with any of the various people who may have been in the Cage. The other benefit here is that you have people to bounce ideas off and get some advice and guidance from those who have more experience.

With our Action Plan done and reviews done with our client, it was time to get working on our final presentations. We had a presentation to give at the University to the staff and some identified students who are in the DR field. Each of the team members was tasked with generating some slides based on the assigned they completed. The benefit of generating this initial presentation is that we could reuse some of the content for our final presentation at the CSC Closing ceremonies. This helped reduce some effort for us, which was quite good, considering we were working on these presentations at the last minute. Literally. The morning before our presentation we were finalizing some items! Nothing like last minute to get everyone on the same page, ignore any previous issues and simply just unite to get it done!

 

Our team and our customers

The Final Presentation day was upon us. It was a bit of a stressful day, not just for our group but for us all. I don’t typically get nervous or anxious, but this was one of the first times I would be giving a presentation to 100+ people, including some high ranking city officials, military, IBM and university officials. We had a small amount of time allotted to each group for their presentation, which had me a bit worried. I practiced my presentation several times ensuring I knew the content without needing any notes. I also took this opportunity to time myself to ensure I would respect my 3 minutes.  After several timed practice sessions I was confident in the  material and my timings.

As we watched other teams present it was beautiful to see us all dressed up nicely and presenting the last 3.5 weeks of intense workloads. Many nervous smiles turned to relief after they were done the presentation. Lots of happiness all around, from the IBM’ers to the customers when they finally saw the end results. Now, even though I and the team practiced and had our timing down, as with anything, things change when you get on to that stage. And boy… did we have some moments! We totally blew our time allocation. Like really badly according to Chirada and the other teams. We were all guilty of this on our team. Even though I had practiced and timed it, when I got on to the stage, i went from talking way too fast to talking way too slowly. Other than nerves, I really have no reason or explanation as to why this occurred. IT happened, we cant change that, but we can all learn from these situations. I hope if the opportunity arises in my future to present to a large group, that I will learn and improve. After all the teams were done presenting, we got some final photos and then we were invited to a final lunch with our customers. After some lovely discussions about our time and our plans going forward, we headed back to the hotel.

It’s over. You can sense the relief on our faces
Appreciation from IBM and our Client

The next couple days were difficult as people began to head home. We had one last night of fun in the cage, which will remain as one of my favourite memories of this wonderful experience. I didn’t think I’d get as emotional as I did as we said our goodbyes, but I’d also be a liar if I said I didn’t drop of a few tears. I think it was the realization that it was truly over. The assignment that is, not the relationships and connections made. The friendships made are something I will treasure for the rest of my life.

When it was finally time for my departure… well. There were many tears and they flowed when I was giving my final hug to Chrys. When I got in to the car to get dropped off at the airport, the driver even stopped and asked ‘is everything okay sir?’ due to my current state. I was okay. I was sad to be leaving my friends, but I was happy that I was able to have this tremendous experience.

Nov 2018 – The final bits likely feel rushed / missing connections back to the other posts but thats what happens when you dont finalize your post until 1.5 years later. I had plans to detail more of the frustrations at a general level during my CSC deployment, but there is no need or point. What I was annoyed with back then, is not relevant and not important any more. What I do what to acknowledge is how we grow over time, when we are in the right mind set and surrounded by positive people. After my CSC deployment, I definitely fell in to a depression. While I thought it was pretty evident, which it was to my closest friends, I personally did not want to acknowledge it. This was not healthy and it led me to a few month long funk. I thought I would come back to work more invigorated and interested, but those first few months were very difficult. I wasn’t in the mind set to realize that life isnt always going to be a CSC deployment. I was back to work with people who were constantly negative, working on projects that had no real bearing or benefit in my opinion. While there were many people who were excited to see me, hear about my deployment and the adventures that ensued afterwards, there was one person who wasnt happy and that was myself. Even the things that made me happy before, like riding my motorcycle, seeing my family, seeing my niece for the first time,  and friends, I just couldn’t shake this depression. It took me some time to realize why I was in this state, and its still something I deal with to this day. I don’t want to end this post on a sad or negative note, but these are some of the realities I had to deal with. I can’t thank some people enough for sticking with me, even during my most negative of days, but its thanks to you and your constant support that helped me. Whether it was a simple whatsapp msg saying ‘hi’ or the various zoom video conferences we had after our deployment, you were and are a constant reminder of one of the best experiences in my life.

To the entire CSCThai2 team – i cannot thank you enough. I miss you all and I hope our paths cross again in the future. I look back at photos of this time and it fills me with joy. I believe I’ve grown a lot since my deployment and while we may be on different paths and different countries, our CSC connection is something that will stay with me for the rest of my life. 

-Nader Doleh