Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Communication skills, people! Because today at work I spent an hour on the phone with some of our consultants, all of whom are Indian immigrants, and I understood maybe five words of the whole conversation. And while I'm sure they're wonderful nerds if you don't need to get critical information for your project from them, deciphering their accents and their geek-speak and the general conference call static gave me a headache. I don't know how to handle that kind of situation, since there's only so many times you can ask someone to repeat that before they suspect either you've got a problem or they've got a problem — and no one ever suspects that they've got the problem. I typically smile and nod, but that strategy over the phone makes it look like I'm having an absence seizure.

It's a skill though, communication in general and resisting your natural urge to aspirate in particular, and I can't blame our tech consultants for not bothering to pick it up. That's why one works with computers: they're easier to talk to then people. They're patient and unambiguous, and if you don't like one font, you can pick another and it's not like Abadi Condensed is gonna get offended or anything. But you get on the phone instead of the instant messenger, or you start up with the handwriting instead of keyboard clicking and there's just a mess of issues. My experience with Ravi and Vijesh (still not sure how to pronounce that name, but I'm about 85% confident that it's not pronounced like it's spelled) and Elango made me think about the surreal sequence in the "Outsourcing" episode of 30 Days, where our intrepid American hero is at a school in Bangalore teaching future "call center operators" — i.e., telemarketers — how to speak the King's English, if the king lived in Omaha. Sorry: I know how skilled tech jobs are disappearing from America and as they're being shipped over to India, they're not creating a rising middle class there so much as further enriching already bloated American and Indian megacorporations, but watching the Accent-B-Gone instructor switch from Apu's voice to Carson Daly's and back mid-sentence is downright hilarious.

The irony, of course, is that no one over here wants to communicate with someone in Bangalore interrupting dinner with an offer for a Visa Platinum card. (Among middle class Indians, however, telemarketing is one of the most prized professions you can get, probably only short of Bollywood extra and charlatan with an afro.) Here I am, on the phone after a month of negotiations with these guys, actually wanting to hear what they've got to say... well, not really, since the emails they previously sent me demonstrate little familiarity with basic English concepts, like the word "the," and I don't talk with people too busy for grammar... but I do want to know what's going on with our application and here are our consultants who literally can't tell me. Like communication isn't difficult enough.