The Thin Line Between Colleagues and Friends

Looking back at my two-plus decades of working life, I can recount three periods of my career when I am truly happy. All involve me having a phenomenon rapport with my team. All involve me being able to operate at the peak of my performance. There must be a correlation between the two. Or three, if counting opportunity or luck as well. At one point in my career, I have stopped socializing with people from work. Because corporate life can be brutal. It is not unlike a playbook written by Shakespeare. Full of tragedies and treacheries. At one point, I have decided that the best way not to get affected by the transient work entity is to detach myself from the people within. In retrospect, life is about taking risks and accepting the consequences of the decisions made. To the least, I have lived. And not just zombied my way through life.

I Was The Architect

Rising up the ranks from a new recruit a.k.a. fresh graduate to a lead architect of enterprise-level trade finance software was quite a feat. Started off my career with Accenture as a support consultant on a job that no one wanted (read: maintenance), I managed to learn everything I needed to know about trade finance. From accounting to interest and commission calculation, from letters of credit to banker guarantee, from front end user interface to batch programs, reporting (back then, it was line printer) and invoicing, from visual C++ to C to PLSQL to Oracle Report Writer and many more. I was so good with version 4 of this proprietary Accenture / Deutsche Bank joint venture that I was enlisted to implement version 5, which was an object-oriented design by the same partnership.

Technology evolved. Accenture has decided to create her own trade finance product using the latest technology from Microsoft. Since I had been persistent enough to survive through version 4 and version 5, I had landed the job to be the lead architect in designing and building version 6 with a large team of people working with me. Looking back, while I seriously do not recall implementing the final product, I had fun building it. My team from diverse gender, social, and academic background was fantastic. I really connected with my team. Many have become my friends and some, I still keep in touch with. Many crazy, crazy things we have done. There were happy times; there were sad times. Memorable nonetheless.

I Was The Trainer, Facilitator

Good things don’t last. That’s a universal rule. After Accenture went public, it wasn’t the same organization I have grown up with. There was an office move. And I left.

For a long time, I was detached from the people in the workplace. Because eventually, the organization will disappoint (that could go both ways too, I suppose).

Then I met a group of the younger crowd at Ernst & Young Associate whom I enjoyed coaching them (perhaps that’s my calling?). We got close, almost like a family. There were peers too, whom I still keep in touch with today. The peers, we formed a band. I remember the days when I shared my recorded music in the car with my juniors. Oh yes, we were that close. I was the trainer and the facilitator as I moved to the defense industry. Absolute freedom. We could be in one military camp in the morning, had lunch at Sentosa (as I drove), and headed to another military camp in the afternoon. We were seldom in the office. The clients loved us. But the people at the office didn’t.

Politics.

Project Management Was Born During Egyptian Era When Pyramids Were Built

Good things don’t last. That’s a universal rule. Office politics doesn’t exist when it is working for you. Office politics becomes prominent when it is working against you. There was an office move. And I left.

After EY, I joined Standard Chartered Bank. For a long time in my career, I have stopped caring for the people at work. There is a line clearly drawn between colleagues and friends. There were nine to five. And I detested socializing with my colleagues after working hours. When you live through the countless disappointments at work, the natural defensive thing you could do is to have a clear mindset on what is work versus what is life.

And then something magical happens. I am gifted and blessed with a team of good people with a team size surpassing anything I have had in the past.

I guess, looking back, putting your heart out there can be risky. It doesn’t always pay off. But when it does, it is memorable; it is magical.

My beloved team sent me a bunch of gifts and written messages for my birthday, in the time of Covid-19.

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