New Job, New Adventure…In Which the Author Lands His Dream Job in an Exotic Location

Do you have a “dream job”—the kind that is guaranteed to make your colleagues drool with envy? I do. But read on before deciding whether you would like to trade places. In 2004, I was looking for a new contract, after completing three of them up to September. I have worked in IT and telecoms documentation for 20 years, both in Canada and England (and been an STC member throughout). One day, I saw an ad on an internet job site for a documentation manager “in one of the world’s most exotic countries” so I applied, not expecting any response. Instead, I was selected and within a month, flew to Port of Spain, Trinidad, to start work (the following day) with Fujitsu Transaction Solutions. The company is completing a $9 million (US) project to equip Trinidad and Tobago civil servants with email and internet access. My team’s role is to provide setup instructions and technical support documentation for the telecommunications equipment. So I have been learning more than I care to about servers, routers, and firewalls. The 20-person Fujitsu project team operates from a temporary office in an industrial warehouse—not very glamorous, but surrounded by palm trees and beautiful green hills. The office is air conditioned—a must when it is 32°C every day. Port of Spain is the commercial and industrial capital of the Caribbean, and is a real mix of new and old, rich and poor. I had hoped to pass along some of my technical writing experience to my team of four, but quickly learned that their interests were more technical than writing. They yearned for better job opportunities in IT support, so left for better jobs as soon as their contracts ended. They had better educational qualifications than me, but very little business experience. I focused on teaching them things we all take for granted: planning your work, setting priorities and goals, how they should escalate issues, and so on. The job has been full of challenges. It takes ages to get anything done in the Caribbean; instructions are misinterpreted (or ignored), and people are reluctant to ask for help or admit that there is a problem. Coming from North America, I am fairly organized and self-motivated, and assumed that others would be too. In hindsight, I should have delegated more strictly: set clear targets and deadlines, reviewed assignments daily, and followed up when the work did not materialize. Despite that, the job has been a good career move and I am still learning a lot. The management team comprises both locals and UK expatriates, and we have been coping with high customer expectations, a contract workforce, and little in the way of support. I have coped by reading management books from the library and gleaning support from the internet and STC. One of the books gave me the idea of publishing a project newsletter, so I suggested it to management, who were very enthusiastic, and I delegated the task to my team. I cannot complain about the treatment I have received from Fujitsu—the job came with a two-bedroom apartment in a nice suburb of Port of Spain, a new car, and weekly maid service. My wife Louise and I appreciate the lovely surroundings—our apartment is on the side of a hill overlooking the Caribbean Sea, and we’re close to beautiful beaches and rain forests. But living in a developing country is not like being on holiday. We’ve had plenty of frustrations, such an intermittent water supply, power cuts, and bureaucratic hurdles with banks and the immigration department. My main area of cultural shock was the way people drive. They seemed to break all the rules of etiquette and decency that I had learned in the UK—although I did perceive more patience and no road rage. But my alarm at what occurred on the roads left me a nervous wreck, until one day, I decided the only way to retain my sanity was to stop getting upset and just accept it. (You know the old saying, “Accept the things you cannot change”? Well, that’s a lesson we’ve learned repeatedly here.) Before coming, we had read the government’s travel advisories and were therefore very afraid of being robbed, kidnapped, or murdered. However, we learned that most places are completely safe and our confidence grew as we travelled around and found out how friendly and welcoming the people are. Louise walks around downtown Port of Spain by herself and has not run into any problems. I must give her credit for sticking with me, despite all the adversities. She is at home and not working, but has met other Canadian and UK women and made friends with neighbors in our apartment complex. The first six months involved many difficult adjustments, but since then, we’ve started to feel more at home. We’ve put a lot of effort into learning about the country’s customs and culture. We still miss many of the amenities we used to have, particularly clubs and associations. Trinidad is a developing country and wants to become “first world” by 2020. We had read many books about cultural adjustment issues, and read about others’ experiences in Intercom. But nothing quite prepares you for the reality of poverty, inequality, crime, corruption, and racially motivated politics, not to mention real-life inconveniences like mosquitoes, ants, stray dogs and roosters barking/crowing all night, unreliable services, traffic jams, and shortages of things. It has been wonderful to escape the northern winter, and we will definitely miss the climate, the beaches and the swimming. Would we do it again? Yes—it has been one of the biggest challenges we’ve undertaken, but an experience I am sure we will remember fondly. If you want to see some of my pictures of Trinidad, navigate to my website.
Brian Keith and team
Brian Keith (seated in the above photograph) moved to Trinidad as manager of the Fujitsu documentation team in October 2004. He has been an STC member for 20 years, and was a technical author and team leader in England and Canada. He is currently working and living in Denmark, where he is the lone writer for Nangate, a leading provider of electronic design automation (EDA) software.
This article was first published in the January 2006 edition of the STC UK chapter newsletter. Reprinted by permission from the author.

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