Improve your office skills

This blog entry, How to Improve your Skills at Office Politics, contains some very good advice for being successful at work, though I take issues with the author’s choice of the term ‘office politics.’ To me, that term has very negative connotations.
I’ve been thinking about these tips in regard to working in software quality assurance. One of the toughest office dynamics is between experienced, alpha geek developers and more junior and/or less technically skilled quality assurance engineers. As a QA lead, I spend a lot of my time helping both sides to bridge this gap.
One of the best skills a junior QA engineer can develop is knowing when and how to ask for help: before you ask a developer for help, make sure you’ve tried everything possible to figure it out or find out for yourself, and when you do ask for help, explain what steps you’ve taken. This explanation helps the developer to understand what you do and don’t know, but more importantly, it shows him that you’re taking initiative and not wasting his time by running to him first (I’m consciously using the male pronoun here, since such alpha developers are usually male).
I had one QA engineer who was having a particularly tough time gaining credibility with a senior developer on her team. Despite employing the tactics above, the developer was still giving the QA engineer the impression that she was annoying him. So I designated myself her safe go-to person. After trying everything she could think of, she would come to me without worrying about her credibility.
If I could help her, then she didn’t have to go the developer. If I couldn’t help her, then she didn’t have to go to the developer. If I couldn’t help, then I reinforced to the developer that she had taken a lot of initiative, and helped him to understand what she did and did know.

The high cost of veterinary care

We certainly view our pets as much like kids as anybody, but when it comes to pet health care, my country upbringing reveals itself. Lately, we’ve been grappling with the high cost of veterinary care. We like our current vet a lot, but we feel like he prescribes optional services without informing us that they aren’t absolutely necessary. Today, I found an article on Slate about this very subject:

It’s just that if we’re coming to the point that we think of our pet’s health in the same way we do our own, I wish the vets I see would treat my pets more the way our doctors treat us. For example, over the years the pediatrician has heard a mild heart murmur when she has examined my daughter. But since my daughter is obviously in excellent health, the pediatrician has reassured me it’s nothing to worry about. But when the veterinarian detected a mild heart murmur in one of my cats, she immediately recommended I make an appointment with the veterinary cardiologist. What would happen to the cat if I didn’t do that? I asked. She had to acknowledge: probably nothing, but the echocardiogram only cost $300, and since my cat was a member of my family, surely I would want to do everything.

On Censorship

Back at the first of November I received the following email from someone who is in somewhat of a position of authority with the youth and parents of my community:

Subject: Fwd: Request of CAUTION
You may already know about this, but I just learned about a kids movie coming out in December starring Nicole Kidman. I believe it’s called The Golden Compass, and while it will be a watered down version, it is based on a series of children’s books about killing God (it is anti-Narnia).
Please follow this link, and then pass it on. From what I understand, the hope is to get a lot of kids to see the movie – which won’t seem too bad – and then get the parents to buy the books for their kids for Christmas. The quotes from the author sum it all up.

This email really rubbed me the wrong way, so I sent this response:

We (Katie, Hannah and I) have read and enjoyed the entire trilogy.
Yes, Pullman is an atheist, and yes, the books in this trilogy contain ‘anti-religious themes,’ but I think the concern is way overblown. In typical fashion, Christian fearmongers are implying that this book and movie are part of some nefarious plot to undermine Christianity. Give me a break!
Hannah read the trilogy maybe two years ago, when she was 11. After she finished, we discussed with her the ‘anti-religious themes’ in the trilogy. She didn’t see any of it. Frankly, the theological implications were WAY over her head and frankly, probably over most people’s heads. Hell, I have a Ph.D. in literature and I didn’t think much about it until Katie brought up the topic.
In fact, you could argue that people SHOULD read the book and see the movie as a stimulus for important discussions. A reviewer that was quoted on the snopes page you linked to wrote: “[Pullman’s] fundamental objection is to ideological tyranny…”
Lord knows (so to speak) that the Christian church is constantly in danger of committing ideological tyranny and has frequently gone far across that line. Discussion and awareness of the topic is one way to ensure we don’t get near it ourselves.
You are in a position of authority. People listen to your recommendations. In the future, please don’t pass on such concerns based on hearsay.

It was the tone of this email that really got me: the explicit mention of well-known (apparently former) scientologist Nicole Kidman, the suggestion of conspiracy.
Well, apparently author Brandon Sanderson, who writes science fiction for young adults, received a similar email. He addressed his concerns about such censorship in a blog post. I’m glad to see that he brought many of the same points that I thought of–but of course, he expressed them much more eloquently than I.
I also agree with Brandon Sanderson on another point that he makes: if your faith is so weak that it can be influenced by a work of fiction, then you’ve got bigger problems than the work of fiction itself.