As part of our ongoing effort to build a culture that promotes diversity and inclusion, we are spotlighting how we make it happen: our people. Introducing our series of Culture Blogs that highlight the stories and experiences of our fellow Couchbasers, Couchbasers Around The World. Learn about life at Couchbase, tap into our people’s insights, and get a glimpse into our global culture.
America, We Need to Talk About The Bacon
Authored by David Haikney
I am a UK-based employee of a US-headquartered company. As with any relationship, there are many little nuances that help keep things interesting. I once went to firmly shake the hand of a US colleague. He was fully committed to a fist bump. The result was an awkward “stump shake” I shan’t mention again. Every year when the American Football season starts, someone at Couchbase invites me to spend $20 USD (£15.46) to take part in some fantasy competition. I always reply with the same tired line “Of course! I’m a huge fan of the NLF. Chicago Bengals are my team”. Working alongside global teammates, from my home in Manchester (the real Manchester in England, not the New Hampshire impostor), I never miss a chance to educate my US colleagues on various matters of cultural differences…Here’s a quick recap:
What Date Is It?
I can’t write about cultural difference without starting with the ludicrous “Medium / Small / Big” date format. Even after several decades I still trip myself up figuring out which is the earlier of 6/7 and 7/6. [Pro-Tip: Simply set all of your milestones to wholesome palindromic dates like 6/6 and 8/8].
Is grey your organisation’s favourite colour? Admittedly I’ve long since lost the argument here, all of our product literature is exclusively American English. Though I still try to misuse a zed (not ‘zee’) to make an occazional point.
Assuming you are not a hobbit, place names ending in “-shire” are pronounced “-shurr” and not “-shyer”. “Cheshire” rhymes with “pressure”. I acknowledge this is not a one sided phenomenon. Apparently the people of Maryland pronounce their home town differently.
Misuse of words
Examples: “chips”, “football” (of course) and “bacon”. If that latter one surprises you, I am afraid you are part of the problem. Proper bacon is far more meaty and is best housed between two slices of bread rather than atop a stack of pancakes. I’m not disputing that American “bacon” is tasty or legitimate in its own right. I’m just saying it needs a different name to avoid confusing it with Bacon.
Despite disagreement over important matters such as bacon and the pronunciation of “Cheshire”, we are all driving towards a common goal. Beyond the goals themselves, the behaviours we demonstrate and how we achieve our goals are critical. Teams operate best when expectations are aligned and consistent. A few years ago we undertook a company-wide initiative using global employee-led groups to align our behaviours into a set of values.
When I learned we were to devise a set of Company Values, my British reflex immediately kicked in. Can’t you enjoy working for a company without having to explore your feelings and write it down? Attempts I’ve seen elsewhere were either bland or unimaginative. Or worse, they were desperate attempts to be portrayed as “edgy”. I was unenthusiastic. “Awesome! Then you’ll be perfect for the team!”, came the overly optimistic response.
Of all the reasons I adore working at Couchbase, the main one has to be our inherent “bias for action”. I have worked for other companies, where the most likely outcome of a meeting was the scheduling of another meeting. At Couchbase, the appetite to keep improving and make progress is incredibly infectious. Given the amount of time we all spend in front of our screens, how nice at the end of the week to be able to step back and say “we’ve moved things forward”. This is captured in our values as Make Tomorrow Better Than Today, Start Now. Behind this simple phrase are a thousand decisions driven by this notion. Thorough analysis of course, but always punctuated with a conclusion.
Another example involves the credibility of our technical claims. Benchmarking and Benchmarketing can become a shady area, where the losers tend to be those looking for relevant, authentic results. At Couchbase we take immense pride, not only in the level of performance we achieve, but also with the transparency of how the results are attained. This honesty and transparency manifests itself in our values as Act With Uncompromising Integrity, Period. Realistic workloads and environments attaining results we firmly stand behind and expect our users to experience themselves. It’s refreshing to have conversations with customers around how to achieve these results rather than how our two environments are different.
And so my weak British veneer of scepticism has faded. I can point to each of Our Values and legitimately say they mean something. We like the phrasing, but what is most important to us is the stories behind them, and the behaviours they drive. In short, we believe in living our values.
And so if my scepticism was off about Our Values, perhaps it is also off about other cultural differences. I was all set to let it go. But then we codenamed our next major release: “Cheshire Cat”. In the first few project meetings it became clear my pronunciation crusade remained a work in progress. And I plan to have that work finished by 10/2 Or 2/10, I forget which.
David Haikney, our VP of Technical Support, has been with Couchbase for seven years. Born in England, schooled in Wales and Scotland, he attended University and now lives in Manchester. Before joining Couchbase, David worked for another start-up where he gained experience in programming (C++) and put a few patents under his belt. In his spare time, he plays football and jokingly notes that he is a fan of all US sports including the NLF AND Major League Basketball.