Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Unexpected difficulties from life on the road

As far as career highlights go, this past month has been one of the best. I'll never forget my trip to Source Barcelona where I hobnobbed with Really Smart Dudes™, had conversations that may well have changed the course of my business model, and convinced Wim Remes to be EU Director of the InfoSecMentors Project.

But the name of this post is about unexpected difficulties in traveling, not in its virtues.

Nobody will be surprised to hear it when I say that I made a rookie mistake. The conference was actually only two days, but I've been to Europe before, and I knew that if I was going to be human I would need two days beforehand to get over jetlag. Then, as long as I was in Europe, I decided I would stay through till my cousin's wedding. And I'd always wanted to see Italy. And I was set to coordinate Security B-Sides Atlanta in October. Before I knew it I had racked up 26 days away from home.

Now, you industry veterans know before I even say it what my unexpected mistake was. In my excitement to experience the whirlwind
jetset of a lifetime, I had completely abandoned my loving, dutiful significant other. By the time I realized what my trip was really costing me, the damage was pretty severe. I'm grateful to say that all is well now, but it left me thinking "I wish someone had talked to me about stuff like this." The InfoSecMentors Project blog is about advice for careers, but it's also about the ephemeral stuff that you may never realize, but really need to survive in the bigger game. So, thanks to some of the awesome supporters of the project, below are some thoughts from people I respect in the industry on the subject of traveling for work, and keeping that perspective on *what's really important.*

Does traveling for work put a strain on your relationship/family life?

Chris Hoff, someone who regularly crosses continents, said,
"Definitely. There are two aspects that are most difficult; logistics and emotional connectedness. I have 3 kids (6, 9, 14) and another on the way. My wife and I really do work like a transportation team when I'm home and I do most of the cooking so it's very difficult for her to maintain all of it by herself. She does a fantastic job but it's a nightmare trying to plan around three different schedules given the kids' activities.

Then, of course, there is the issue of not being there; not having a spouse, a friend, a dad. That's a terrible price to pay, but given how big of a part of my job this is and has been for some time, we learn to cope and try to quickly settle back into a routine when I get home."
How likely are you to forgo work travel for family reasons?

Following up on a topic he actually covered at
HacKid Con in Boston, Josh Corman said,
"I travel BECAUSE of family, because I am the provider. I hate getting on a plane for work (although many friends/colleagues don't even have income right now.) I travel BECAUSE I love my family. The trade-offs between the Provider, Parent, and Spouse roles are very difficult."
Martin Fisher adds,
"I may not forgo the travel but I work hard to minimize impact. I plan for day-trips instead of 2 day events...2 day events versus a week away...and so forth. Sometimes long trips can't be helped but working hard to minimize the impact pays huge dividends."
How often do you "call home" while on a work trip? Which technologies do you use?

Ryan Russell said,
"At least daily, usually several times per day. At least one voice phone call, frequent texting, sometimes an email. My wife isn't into any social networking, but I see many other couples use that. I will sometimes interact with my older kids on Facebook. When I went to Germany a couple years back, I found my cell not working, and hotel phone ridiculously expensive. I was happy to find that Skype worked really well. (On the really expensive Hotel Internet, but that's not optional. ;) ) We have toyed with gmail video chat, and found it workable. We would probably use that in the future."
So, what's the secret, really?!?!

In classic
Nickerson style, Chris weighs in on this one, touching on points I hadn't even considered.
"HAHAH... I really wish there was one. More than anything, it has to do with the level of understanding of your family. If they have always known you to fly 150k miles a year and only be home on the weekends.... they have their expectations set ( hell, i think Jes gets sick of me being home for more than a few weeks in a row) =)

If you are new to the
JetSetting... communication is the key! Bust your butt on the job... so you can catch that early flight, plan your trips wisely, check in often, speak your mind... (this one is huge) Let them know what you are doing and why. They love ya and will understand. Sometimes there are compromises that can be made (a day here n there) that help them feel like they are part of the process ... not just collateral damage.

The gifts.... well..
thats lame. No need to try to buy it back. Instead... buy 'em gifts at random. It's more fun, and will always be unexpected. This way you are not trying to make an excuse for why you got them some crappy Barcelona t-shirt and a package of gummy bears from Berlin.

But in all seriousness, I have had many first timers work for me in the past and I always tell them that they need to make family first, and take care of them at all costs. (PS. for all you managers out there.... It's on you as well... don't be slave
drive'n your employees just because "you can" and "they don't mind." You have to have some respect for their family life. If you are not sure if you are doing it... read their schedule to your spouse. See if they say "If you had to be gone that much I'd..." or something like it. Employees and partners alike, all need the checks n balances. Spouses, Bosses, and all you Jet Setters... you all have a responsibility to be vocal and make it work together. NO ONE can do it alone."
Hopefully this was helpful, or at least sits in the back of your mind. One of the topics I hear people worry about in this industry is "burn out." I've learned first hand that it's a real concern, and unless you keep your home life happy you'll never survive it.

1 comment:

  1. This is a HUGELY appropriate topic for our industry (and likely so many others). I recently left a job primarily because of the impact that travel was having on my family and personal life. I was fortunate to find a job that was close to home and still doing something I enjoy, even if I never did make it into pen testing.

    It's tempting to send Chris's last paragraph to my old bosses with a note saying "SEE! This is what we kept trying to tell you". Ironically, half my old team has left in the past 6-8 months for the same reason, too much travel and time away from home/family with little consideration for the impact it was having on them. These were all senior pro services people as well. Hopefully companies take note of this fact and consider what it will cost them to replace people that burn out more quickly due to the traveling.