Friday, March 24, 2006

Second Teachings of Douglas

When I first arrived in Taiwan in December of 1997 I had already decided I wasn't going to teach English. Despite the siren's call of easy money, based on my experience in Seoul, at 23 I knew teaching English wasn't my calling in life.

Decent non-teaching job pickings were few and far between and without Chinese language skills or a technical degree what could I do? After a few months of being unemployed I was granted an interview with a computer company for the position of a technical writer (when I think about the quality of that resume, Douglas was already either very open or desperate, thinking latter).

Technical what?

As I mentioned, my technical skills back then were somewhat limited (using Word to create a crappy resume, Hotmail, and surfing the Web) nor had I done any real professional writing. Even the role that I was applying for was a mystery. Prior to coming to Taiwan I had never met or even heard of anyone who was a technical writer.

The Interview

On the day of the interview I was surprised to see that it was an American who was going to interview me and be my future boss.

Lacking the prerequisite technical skills and with non-existent experience I even lacked a little bit of knowledge to try and bluff my way (which was probably a good thing).

Given the situation I had to resort to the ol':

"golly, I shore don't know much about 'puters sir and haven't done much writtin', but I shore am a hard worker and learn puh-lenty quick. Just give me a chance you'll see... you won't be a regrettin' it."

I can only imagine what Douglas was thinking that day as he sat across from me.

In the end he took pity on me and offered me a job. As you can imagine there wasn't much hardball salary negotiations. That was March 1998.

Forming the DNA

During the next year and half he not only taught me about the nuts and bolts of technical writing (Douglas holds a master's degree in technical communication), but more importantly during those oh-so-impressionable early career years he instilled in me a sense of high quality and excellent standards that has become part of my DNA. It wasn't easy and in the early months Douglas let me know in no-uncertain terms what was acceptable and unacceptable. He used a specific style that might not suit everyone or even myself now, but back then I couldn't have created a prototype for a more suitable teacher/mentor/boss.

Off to startup

After a year and half Douglas started spending half his time in the US and half in Taiwan. And a few months later he left the company to join a small start up still based in Taiwan. When my second year contract was up Douglas contacted me and asked me about the possibilty of joining him at the small start up doing Web work. I jumped at the chance to continue to learn from him in a different environment and in a different role.

After a year I left (difference in philosophy with the owner) to begin at the company that makes PC-cillin. By that time Douglas had already moved back to US. That was 5 years ago and like most people when an ocean divides you, over the years contact becomes intermittent.

Second teachings

I was pleasantly surprised when I received a flickr invitation from Douglas. This was surprising because I remember even though Douglas had studied photography in university and had done some work photographing hockey games I knew he hadn't picked up a camera in a loooooong time.

And so begins the second teachings of Douglas. This time it's remote and through images, but no less influential.

Anyone who wants to see beautifully composed, consistent excellent photography stop reading this silly post and look for yourself:

Lots of people take excellent pictures on flickr, but of the hundreds and hundreds I've seen, few can match Douglas's consistency. All the more amazing/scary is that he took a 25-year hiatus from photography and has only been back at it for a few months. Doesn't seem very fair.

As the Chinese say, 'when you drink water, think of the source.' Douglas, this is a long-winded way to say thank you, and that I really appreciate what you did for me.


I have dozens of clear memories about times with Douglas, but ones that belong in the highlight reel include:

Watching a Pacer vs. Bulls game in the afternoon and my father-in-law insisting Douglas stick around and spend the next few hours eating and drinking whiskey on the rocks (Pacers won that game, but ultimately lost the series, grrr). Never been that drunk, that early in the day.

Seeing Douglas deeply moved at my wedding.

Him and Michael visting Kate in the hospital after she delivered Griffon.

Reassuring my friend Jamey that my father-in-law was just expressing affection (another whiskey session).


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