Diaries - Travel - Photos
Previous Diary - Next Diary
December 8 , 2004
Dear Families and Friends,
Every once in awhile, we need a place to explain to family and friends just what it is John and Marianne do for a living. Marianne is, of course, a Middle School teacher and no one needs be told about that. We've all been there, done that, and feel free to give advice. This diary covers "John's Job" by describing a not-quite-normal-but not-unusual week, starting the Friday after Thanksgiving.
First, an overview: I work for Framatome-ANP (FANP), a designer, manufacturer, and builder of nuclear power plants. FANP is a joint venture between Siemens, the German industrial giant, and AREVA, a French-government owned firm with mostly nuclear segments. Actually, I work for the American part of FANP, referred to as FANP-Inc, or just "Inc." Locally, I function as part of FANP-GmbH or "GmbH", the German part. Of course there is a French part of FANP and it's called FANP-SAS or, simply "SAS". In principle, Inc, GmbH, and SAS are integrated operations but FANP is still only a few years old and remains an experiment in multi-cultural cooperation. That's the fun part.
As to what I do, that's harder but I'll just go through my week and try to illustrate. On Friday, I was at AREVA headquarters, on the western edge of Paris, in the La Defense complex. Headquarters is a tall black-glass tower, originally built a couple of decades ago as "Tour Fiat". It became "Tour Framatome" and now "Tour AREVA", as companies' fortunes and flagships changed. Meanwhile, La Defense is a huge complex of offices for companies that had been encouraged to leave central Paris. Tour AREVA is no longer the tallest or largest big, black box but is in a forest of similar glass monsters. The center piece of La Defense is The Arch, which seems to be a decoration that was unpacked from one of the black boxes. It's all very large, very dramatic, a bit confusing, but thoroughly French.
My other two trips to Tour Areva had started in Frankfurt but Thanksgiving night we had stayed with a friend a couple of metro stops away, so Friday transport was a snap. Getting in the door wasn't. At 8am, there was only a single AREVA receptionist and he spoke no English. Not remarkable for a multi-national operation, a number of the visitors, like me, spoke no French. I suppose it was a test: if you need to enter, you will know how to nod and grunt at the right times. Eventually, I passed the test and left for the 13th floor: Cultural difference; American buildings have no 13th floor.
On the unlucky floor, I found my colleagues and we started our telephone-conference. We had tried for a video-conference, because it conveys more importance I think, but were out-ranked by a couple of other groups. Our project has work going in five or six locations, so it seems meetings are all video, telecons, or everybody-gets-on-planes-and-looses-sleep. This was a relatively simple two-location call but, true to form, speakers or microphones work only marginally and everyone strains to guess what the other side had just said. As the only native-English speaker in the meeting, you'd think I'd have an advantage, but I don't think so - I worry about words I've missed but I think the non-native speakers only concentrate on words they get. Another cultural difference.
My job comes with the title: Documentation Manager. In fact, I manage no one, not even documents. They have a life of their own, fed by Information Technology (IT) specialists, particularly a whole team of folks who live on the software we use for filing, sending, and retrieving documents: DOCUMENTUM. I am always amazed at how complex it all is and remain skeptical that we may have added complex technology because we can, not because we should. But that's another story.
Friday ends well enough. No new Franco-German battles (yes, we do have them) and about the same number of "action items" at the end of the meeting as we had at the beginning. That's OK, we have years to finish the job.
Saturday was a pleasant day for looking a bit around Paris. Sunday, Marianne and I grabbed an early train for the eight-hour trip back to Frankfurt. It was a pleasant journey but this was not work so not part of this diary.
On Sunday evening I was back at work, flying up to Finland. At the airport, there was the normal mix up with tickets. It seems our travel department uses a different process each trip and I never know where my ticket needs to be picked up. Oh well, that's why I leave plenty of time before the flight. Of course, by the time I select a seat, there are only middle ones so I spend the next two hours smushed between two other crowded businessmen. Finnair doesn't show OUR part of the plane on their advertisements.
In Helsinki, I wait for a couple of hours for the connecting puddle-jumper over to Porii, our west-coast destination. Two colleagues join me, so this really does become a work session. Meanwhile, it's snowing, cold, and dark outside and I am not looking forward to our small-plane flight. We should build nuclear power plants in more convenient locations. When we board the plane, there are four people on the 50-passenger plane. It seems we will at least have space but, at the last minute, another plane load of folks join us. Not only do they join us to make sure we have no space, they aren't even going to Porii and we end up making a 50-minute detour to drop them off in the middle of the Finnish tundra. Actually it must have been some town or other but, at night, it all looks like empty ice fields.
We make it to Porii after 1 am. Half our bags make it, but at least mine was in the lucky half. Initially, the Hertz counter is empty but soon the agent shows up. One advantage of a small town is that everyone knows everything. He had heard of the delayed flight and had gone home. Apparently, all he had to do was wait to hear the plane flying overhead and then he knew we would be showing up. He even helped fill out the lost bag form, since the Finnair folks had long since abandoned the airport. Hertz gets points for his service. After all this, I hit the bed at 2:15 am, after train and plane travel for almost twenty hours.
Monday, it was up early and on the road. The Olkiluoto plant is an hour's drive south of Porii. There are two nuclear units working there now and we are starting the third, the largest nuclear power unit in the world. It's still dark when we arrive since, at this time of year, sunrise is after 9 or 10 in the morning and sunset will start around 3 in the afternoon. We head immediately into meetings. THAT's my job: prepare for, go to, and recover from meetings.
There were two days of this meeting routine. Much of the work was a struggle. Developing a common understanding among Finns, Germans, French, and me is always a struggle. (I'm easy, it's THEM.) Our group is discussing planning for our big project. There is a surprising amount of cultural bias in "planning", with the Finns strongly in favor of planning in enormous detail, the French in moderate detail, and the Germans in remarkably little detail. The teutonic explanation of this is "we know what we are doing, just get out of our way". Like I say, building the world's largest nuclear plant isn't the problem, communicating what we will do is the problem.
At Monday's lunchtime, we take a brief tour of "the hole". Olkiluoto, like much of Finland, is a granite rock and our power plant starts 30 meters (100 feet) below the surface. That has meant almost a year of blasting to make a hole huge enough for our large plant. Now we have to pour three billion dollars into the hole. It's a big hole.
Evenings were free on this trip, but it's not like I looked forward to seeing the tourist sites of Porii. I had looked up town history and learned that Porii was founded in 1558 on river Kokemaenjoki(or Kokemaeiki) by (Swedish) Duke John and chartered as a town in 1564. The Duke's estate is gone, as are the Swedish rulers, but the town survives. (Did you know that Swedish is the second official language in Finland? Highway signs are in both Swedish and Finnish.) In the 19th Century, Porii was the home of Finland's largest fishing fleet. Nowadays, there is reportedly a summer traffic in tourists and pleasure boats, but I saw none of them in our cold, dark, late-November visit.
I did see the Porii hospital however. A work colleague managed to get a touch of food poisoning. Nestor would say: "More than a touch, I was dying". I was nominated to escort him, first to a clinic near the hotel and, later, to the hospital emergency room. Both were surprisingly crowded. The hospital seemed to have a steady stream of victims of ice and alcohol and I was glad to leave there. Nestor was glad to just be alive.
On Tuesday, there were more unremarkable meetings, including a session of my favorite topic: documents. The Finnish customer expects us to say exactly when each of our 100,000+ reports and drawings will show up over the next years. My colleagues say "trust us, they will show up in time". I negotiate between the two positions. Incidentally, the customer is probably going to win this contest. It's a cultural thing: the Finns have defeated the Russians twice in war, so they are more than capable of holding out against our Franco-German alliance.
Wednesday morning, it was another pair of flights, one small and one crowded, as usual. I was home in the Frankfurt office by lunchtime. Most of the rest of the week would be spent catching up on email and on those infamous "meeting action items" where I transfer things-for-me-to-do to things-for-them-to-do. Eventually it all comes back, but that's work.
So, do I like my work? Well, the specific technical part ("documentation") is not very exciting. It may not draw on my 35 years of experience and pair of college degrees. But, the complexity of working within different cultures on a large and difficult engineering project is interesting and may indeed draw on a reasonable amount of my experience and training. And we get to live in Europe.
Take care, stay in touch, work hard, and work interesting.
John and Marianne
ps: No picture this trip (none of my work locations allow cameras) but lots of websites in case your are curious:
FANP EPR story http://www.framatome-anp.com/servlet/ContentServer?pagename=Framatome-ANP%2Fview&c=rubrique&cid=1049449651371&id=1049449651371
La Defense (French but ...)http://www.ladefense.fr/
Tourist Office : http://www.pori.fi
webcam in finnish http://www.pori.fi/kamerat/
Jazz? : http://www.pori.jazz
ps: new game: Google for "trotter" plus and see if we show up. works for trotter kyiv; trotter chornobyl; trotter FANP; trotter Jean-Loup" etc.
website: Lufthansa http://lufthansa.com
& Finnair http://www.us.finnair.com/
websites: TVO: http://www.tvo.fi/46.htm (plus overview picts)
Diaries - Travel - Photos
Previous Diary - Next Diary