Monday, January 17, 2011

My Most Interesting Job

One of the most interesting jobs I ever had was in a company that developed customized payroll software. It wasn’t the work that was interesting but rather the diverse group of people I did it with. We were a small team of about 11, mostly women, and aside from the sales manager and receptionist, the rest of us were all programmers, including our boss, which gave the majority of us something in common. So our work was not what made the group distinct, nor was it our personal status either, because even though it involved a variety of categories (married with kids, divorced with kids, married with no kids, engaged, common-law union, and single-and-loving-it), most included more than one of us.

What did do it was our cultural heritage. Although nearly all of us were born and raised in Canada (with the exception of our top programmer who had moved here from China a few years back), and we were all Canadians, not one of us shared the same ancestry. Our group consisted of eleven different people who had descended from eleven different ethnic groups from countries such as: Poland, Sweden, Portugal, Greece, France, England, Italy, China, Barbados and India. (Yes, that’s only ten, but I honestly don’t remember the eleventh one).

Anyhow, from the ancestral perspective, we were quite a distinct bunch, descendants of so many different countries that we formed our own little United Nations. After working there for a few weeks, and coming to the realization of this fact, I wondered if our boss had in fact purposely engineered his staff that way. Perhaps he didn’t want any of us to be able to team up with someone of similar background, which could end up dividing the staff into tribal units - some more dominant than others - that would battle with one another and create a hostile and cutthroat environment, which in turn would lead to an unproductive and inefficient company, which would ultimately lead to the company’s downfall.

So maybe when the time came to hire a new employee, the selection of candidates to interview was based on an applicant’s surname, which can sometimes provide a clue to an individual’s ethnic lineage. And while carefully examining the job applications on his desk, my former employer would think to himself: “Now here’s a good German name. I don’t have any employees with a German background. I should call this applicant and set up an interview” or “This is an Italian name. I already have an employee of Italian descent so I’ll skip this one”

Or maybe it was just a coincidence and I’m on another one of my paranoid, ‘conspiracy theory’ tangents.

In any case, that diversity was a lot of fun because we all had some type of inherited custom or tradition that we shared amongst one another, usually in terms of food around the holidays and other special occasions. And even after the company fell into economic hard times and we were all sent on our way, we continued to keep in touch. For a long time after that, we made it a point of meeting for dinner a few times per year, and we always had a wonderful time together.

Now that I’m living 280 kilometers (174 miles) away, I’m no longer able to join these old friends and co-workers for dinner like I used to, but I think about them all the time. I do keep somewhat in touch with them through email and Facebook, and will make it a point of setting up a dinner date with them on one of my trips to Montreal to visit with my family.

There are some people that you meet while you journey though life that touch your soul and stay with you forever. And that’s what these good people have done – touched my soul. I look forward to seeing them again.


  1. They sound like good people, Martha!

  2. How wonderful that you all still get together, Martha! It's rare that you hear of a work group getting on so well with so little conflict---it's refreshing to hear of one.

    One of the things I liked best about the church my daughter was in in college was the diversity. Seems like that's how a church should be, although I realize that it's not always possible in areas where there isn't much diversity. I just loved that she worshipped with people from so many different cultures.

  3. They are amazing, Liza! I'm so glad I met them :)


    Beth, I think it was one of the best places I ever worked at. We all got along so well; it's too bad the company lost business. Anyway, you're right: the best way for any place to be is with a mixture of cultures. Unfortunately, it's also true that that's not also possible. In my old city, the diversity was enormous because there was such a large population. In my new city, not so much. There isn't enough diversity here, so it's hard for people to learn about others, and to shed biases.