My week started eleven days ago when boarding the plane back to Amsterdam, marking the very end of a year working and living in Florida. I’m not even sure how often I took that particular flight, but with two bicycles, five suitcases, and four carry-ons, this trip was nothing like any other. (Skipping over the fact that I was moving away back to the European side of the pond again)
The fun started in Tallahassee airport. Everyone traveling by plane can smell trouble when the first thing you notice is the check-in attend looking for a measuring tape while you drop off your luggage. My wife and I couldn’t believe our luck when it turned out our plane to Atlanta was basically a school bus with wings. So there were some ‘limitations’ with the cargo door if we wanted to take our ridiculously large bicycle boxes. “Yes, I know you’re Dutch sir and that you take this cycling business very seriously, but these boxes are just too large to fit in our bus, I mean plane.” I would eat my bike helmet if this wasn’t an insurmountable ordeal in any other airport in the world, especially Amsterdam. But Tallahassee airport is small and Southern Hospitality stands for something, so with the help of no more than five attendants were able to take the next flight without any extra fees or fuss. Inconvenient for sure, because we had to warn our welcome party we would arrive a couple of hours later, but it could have been a lot worse. And it was a perfect opportunity to go out for one last Southern Lunch.
Fast forward 14 hours: deboarding the plane in Amsterdam. Because of a long story, I will tell you when I’ve had a beer or two, my wife is currently unable to carry heavy things and walk long distances. That includes three large suitcases and long trips across an international airport. So we pre-booked wheelchair assistance along with our flight and we were assured this was taken care of even after our changed flight plan. But regrettably, there was no one to greet us with a wheelchair when arriving at the gate in Amsterdam. Where we had five friendly faces earlier that day to help us out with a mistake that was arguably our own, there was no one this time to give us the service we specifically asked for and couldn’t really do without. The best part? When asked the attendants, all responses were related to ‘the system/computer’ Which is Dutch for: “It’s not my fault, quit complaining to me about it” Make no mistake, these were the very same people that were supposed to help my wife to the luggage belt and carry some suitcases through customs. There were some feeble attempts in politeness with words and phrases like “sorry” and “Yes, I understand you are frustrated” But those were all followed by “but the computer…” and not by “I’ll do my best to get you to your family and friends you haven’t seen in over six months.” We waited for almost an hour after deboarding the plane when we were finally brought to the luggage belts! All I could think about was that excellent lunch I had earlier that day…
A year abroad is too long for a two-word summary, but the return trip is best described with ‘Personal touch’ A year ago I was surprised and somewhat disgruntled that I needed to go to the bank to deposit a check instead of a convenient mobile app payment most of the modern world is used to. But when I went to the bank to close my account, the bankers were disappointed I was leaving and that I didn’t give them a heads-up so they could’ve given me a farewell card. A farewell card!? I visited you just once a month! I’m surprised you even remember me. (Although, how could I not stand-out with my tall body and silly accent) Very different from a cold ‘enter your code to complete the transaction’-popups.
It’s sad to see that with the (Dutch) drive for efficiency, we put everything in a rigid computerized system. True, it makes sense for most things, it’s often less error-prone and provides services 24 hours a day instead of 9 to 5. But it seems we’ve lost our personal touch somewhere along the road as proven by my ‘computer says no’-experience. As an IT-professional I love building these systems and make them better every day, but at the end, they are just tools for human beings. It’s disappointing to see that a lot of customer service departments are losing their focus on people in favor of automated procedures. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad I’m back. It’s very gratifying that I have something new to complain about again.
What got me really excited this week is the result of the DevCon Call for papers. I have to admit that I was slightly panicking when I heard my talk was accepted. Our venue is not small and I don’t have a lot of experience in public speaking. I resolved to file that under ‘temporary emotional instability’ while still settling in. Reading through the list of accepted talks makes me very proud to be part of that group. Most of the proposals I looked at were very good and it’s always saddening to see only a minority can be accepted. Good luck to everyone preparing your talk. To those who got rejected I would like to underscore the advice Jeroen sent out and try to send it in somewhere else. We have an abundance of IT-conferences these days so plenty of opportunities. If you want to visit this year’s DevCon, I think we have some early bird tickets left, but you have the be lightning fast. The final program will be released soon.
For me, 2017 also started eleven days ago. Fireworks in a t-shirt with 25 degrees centigrade doesn’t really count, right? One of my new musical discoveries this past year was Avishai Cohen. Fair warning, it’s not for everyone, but I encourage you to give it a shot with this very tight performance at the Blue Note.