Category Archives: Reflections

Working abroad and the English complexes and insecurity of non natives

I write this article thinking in all my friends that feel insecure about talking in English.

They think about if they are pronouncing correctly, or if they are building the phrases in the correct grammar order. That’s school’s system fault, I think.

As Catalans we learn new languages easily. We talk Catalan native, and Spanish, and in the school we are taught French and English, and if things have not changed, we can choose between Latin and Greek. (I studied both)

But doing 1 or 2 hours per week of English doesn’t grant you a good level of the language, and in fact, few people in Catalonia and Barcelona speak fluent English with a good accent.

I learnt English by myself, by reading programming manuals when I was 5 years old. I also learnt to play chess by watching others playing and when I won the first time I played, against a guy 5 years older than me, he could not believe it was my first match.

I was 10, I think.

When I started classes in the school I realized that I already knew English.

Commands in Basic, like list, run, print, goto, had the same meaning than in the human spoken language.

I grew and I saw that the translations of technical books to Spanish (no Catalan was available) were horrible. They were actually translating commands, so since 15 y.o. I only read manuals in English.

In several jobs, for multinationals, I had to talk with colleagues from different parts of the world, so I was talking Portuguese, some times Italian or French, I could read a bit of German (Was head of Department in Volkswagen IT, gedas), and obviously English.

Still it is not the same when you talk using a subset of the language, basically referred to Hardware and Software, than fully living abroad.

Starting English is easy, you can use present and will for the future and did for the past, and you can make it work. But when you start with the phrasal verbs, the irregular verbs, different time conjugations… English is a context language and it is not a phonetic language, words that are written exactly the same way, sound different, and words that sound the same are written different. So it has a lot of exceptions.

But in this, in the exceptions, and in the fact that is widely expanded, is where we can find the strength to grow without fear.

Catalan is spoken very differently if we are in Barcelona, Lleida, Girona, Tarragona or if we are in València, or Menorca, or Alguer or the country of Andorra.

So the same happens with English. It is not only very different from England to the States, to Australia, to Scotland, to Ireland… also is very different from Dublin and Cork, or from different parts in The States, like Texas and California.

Also there are many people that talks it in Europe, in India… and all of them have different accent!.

So in my experience everybody will understand you. Specially because English is fully understood by the context. Maybe they need you to end the phrase to understand, but they will.

There are also annoying differences that can make you think that your are making mistakes.

Like:

  • Data Center (American) vs Data Center (England)
  • Color (American) vs Colour
  • Humor (American) vs Humour

Don’t be surprised if many native people find your accent exotic, and they love it.

That’s what happened to me many times.

Also I think the school is terrible teaching. They teach children all those rigid grammar expressions, when the live language is much more fluent and free.

For example, one person from Barcelona, will be nervous asking to a colleague:

  • Are you going to the cinema tonight?
  • Have you finally had gone to Disney World?

And he will be nervous thinking in real time if he is building the phrase right.

When, after 2 years will realize that people say:

  • You go to cinema tonight?
  • Did you go to Disney World finally?

The latest are very close to the grammar we use with Catalan, and so hence easy to express fluently.

I can share with you the process I follow to improve my English.

Since the 15 y.o. I was reading all the manuals in English.

I was watching some movies in English, at the beginning with subtitles in Spanish (no Catalan was available) and later with the subtitles in English.

Since 2013, when I was invited by Amazon to Dublin and by Facebook to Menlo Park (US), I started to watch all the movies and sit coms in English.

At the beginning with subtitles in English with the idea to correlate pronunciation and writing. To get my ears used to it.

I went to conferences, and I saw some people, with living years in English speaking countries, that had a much more difficult to understand accent than mine. They were people with reputation. And I understood that IT guys, we are very lucky to be valued by what we know. By our brain.

After all my life reading in English and 4 years watching all the movies in English, my accent had improved, but when I arrived to Cork I had difficulties understanding some the Irish. So I had to get used to the music, the cadence, of the way they talk, and to some words and expressions, and to the humor sense.

I asked my Irish colleagues to correct me when I pronounced wrong, and they were so nice to do it. And they did in a very polite way, for example if I would say:

Is a new Engineer coming to the Team?

And I would put the emphasis on the i of Engineer (the accent), Kevin would repeat the word in the right pronunciation. So I had the chance to learn how it rightly sound.

And I would repeat to make sure I got it.

One thing I think is that one has to be thankful for the time and interest that others dedicate to you. We have all a limited time on the planet, so when somebody invests some time in teaching you or helping you to learn, is giving you something that he will not get back. Even if you pay him/her, still that time will not go back to that person.

So I appreciate when people help me, and I don’t appreciate it less because I pay them.

Talking, listening, is the best real way to learn.

With 100% of reading in English, 100% of movies being watch in English, and nearly 100% of talking and listening in English my language skills reached to the next level. So I can talk in conferences, I can write books and technical documentation. And still I learn a lot of English every day. New words, or rich forms to express the things, reading the newspaper, for example. I really enjoy it.

But is like swimming or going in bicycle: learn by doing.

I cancelled my Amazon Prime subscription

I was using a lot Amazon. Sending parcels to my previous job offices, and now to Blizzard offices, so I subscribed to Amazon Prime. With COVID-19 virus we were sent to do Remote Work, and now with the lock down basically I’m 99.99% of the time at home.

I did a test to see how it works sending to home during the pandemic.

I choose two different items, I reviews the order, they were going to be delivered separately, one day of distance.

I choose two items that will fit in my mailbox, separated or together. One USB3 3mts male female and a Blu-ray movie.

My surprise comes when I go to the mailbox one day before and I see that I have a paper from an-post telling that they pass by to deliver my parcel, and they did not leave because it doesn’t fit the mailbox and they did not want to leave it a common space. For my surprise both Amazon parcels were grouped and sent before time. Maybe in a bigger box. But the mailman did not ring my door.

The paper tells me to get my parcel in the middle of the city, during the lock down. No way! I’m not going to risk my health and specially from elders, just to grab a cable and a movie.

I had the chance to request re-delivery to an Post, so I do. I fill all the info, I inform my phone number, email, I indicate which door to ring, and two days after as promised… a paper from an Post!.

They did not even rang my bell again.

I go to Amazon to cancel the order, but the process is only created for if you got the items.

Fuck it. I’m not going to order anything else to Amazon until that COVID-19 passes.

I don’t know if the postman just avoids people for fear to contagion or the process of an Post is awful and he didn’t get any information. But I’ll not buy anything even if I cannot buy in other places cause the lock down.

I was going to maintain my Amazon Prime subscription, even if I know that I’ll not use it much with the lock down, but makes no sense. Also:

  • I use Netflix and my Raspberry Pi 4, I was not using Amazon Prime Video.
  • I use Spotify, I was not using Amazon Prime Music.
  • I like to read in paper, not in eBook, so I was not using the eReader options.

A nice way to loss a customer.

Datacenters, D&R and coronavirus

I’ve been working for years within Data centers, with D&R strategies, and then in the middle of COVID-19, with huge demands on increments of bandwidth and compute, some DCs decided to do not allow in the Engineers of their customers.

As somebody that had my own Startup and CSP and had infrastructure in DCs and servers from customers in colocation, and has replaced Hw components at 1AM, replaced drives from broken RAIDs, and fixed systems so many times inside so many Datacenters across the world, I’m shocked about that.

I understand health reasons can be argued, but I still have Servers in Datacenters because we all believed they were the most safe place, prepared for disaster and recovery, with security, 24×7… and now, one realise that cannot enter to fix or upgrade the own machines.
Please note, still you can use the remote hands from the DC, although this is not a good idea many times, I’m not sure this will still be an available option when the lock down in those countries becomes more strict.

I’m wondering if DCs current model have any future at all.

I think most of the D&R strategies from now will be in the cloud, in different regions, with different providers, so companies can resist providers or governments letting them down.

Remote working is here

So remote working is here.

After years in which many Engineers requested to the companies to be able to Remote Work, with most of answers No, now it happens that not only is good for the company, is the only way to ensure continuity of business, of many businesses.

One of my colleagues from Denmark, which government has shutdown the country by sending all the public servants to home, in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, told me:

“Yes, remote working is here, but has been necessary the four horsemen of the apocalypse”

It is curious, how Remote Working has arrived, no thanks to that was obvious, but due to external emergencies. And I’m glad that my company was prepared for business continuity.

I’ll be staying home, working remotely, in order to contribute to non-spreading the virus, specially among old people. I’m perfectly healthy but that’s a use case, many people will not develop the symptoms and still be able to spread to others.

So I have some plans related to technology to do at home, including few improvements to the blog. What are your plans?.

Update: 2020-03-13 23:16 UTC I’m thinking in all those business which are forces to close, and all the employees that will not get a salary, or will be fired, or will get a salary and the business owner maybe ends in bankrupt as is paying the salaries and no income is being generated.

Update: 2020-03-19 10:58 UTC Some of my friends, even in Human Resources/Recruiting, are starting to remote work for first time. So here is some advice:

I would recommend to get an external monitor, at least 22″, so you neck is not forcing position looking low and your eyes don’t suffer, good light (don’t in dark), a nespresso can be a good friend in the morning, and to have your hands and arms aligned correctly so you don’t suffer from a bad position. Watch the position of the wrists, your arms should be comfortably at the same level than the table, similar in an L, and your eyes be aligned to the top of your monitor. Finally I would recommend to follow a routine, like if you were going to work, so dress like you would do. Don’t stay at home all day in pijamas! ;)