Thursday, 22 January 2009

My Friend at the Docks

For twenty years I worked for multi-national companies on the commercial and contracts side of life, within the defence electronics industry. But an opportunity arose to change my line of business, and I joined the world of ship repair. The difference is staggering between a blue-chip office, and the more (shall we say) grounded surroundings of a shipyard. I found whole chunks of my experience had become irrelevant.

At the docks, there was little use for my understanding of intellectual property, or for the subtleties of software licensing. However, ship repair has its own skill set, again complex and demanding. The new job required an expertise I had to pick up on Day One.

Of course, this didn't happen. But what did happen was that I made a friend. I palled up with a comical, quick-witted colleague who had bags of experience and showed me the ropes. What I had brought to my new industry was an ingrained business sense, and a safe pair of hands when it came to bidding and negotiating contracts with our customers. But Jez helped me so much with the vital tools of context.

He was a model of patience, and a great trainer. He would sit with me and go over first principles, then more detailed examples. Though he was always very busy, somehow he found the time to do this. He didn't have to bother, he had received no formal instruction to take me under his wing. But as I became more able to play a part we both began to get the benefit, and enjoyed working together in what was often a high-pressure atmosphere. We became firm friends and I was sad to lose contact with him when I left the company to return to education.

So, we managed not to lose contact. Recently we went for a quick pint that turned into an evening. Jez and Sam have become parents to Kate, the dockyard is still beavering away, we both had tales to tell and the time flew by. We're going to make a regular thing of going for a beer, putting our worlds to rights, and laughing.

After all, I do owe him a couple of drinks.

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