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谷歌工程师:我从阿富汗战场归来

Patricia Sellers 2011年11月29日

一名工程师的战争亲历

    她没开玩笑。2007年1月份,谷歌公司录用了我。我工作了8个月,到秋天的时候,我请了15个月假,去参加海军陆战队的军官培训。2009年差不多一整年,我又回到谷歌工作。在此期间,谷歌退伍军人协会为我重新适应环境、赶上工作进度提供了莫大的帮助。后来,我收到了赴阿富汗报到的命令,此行是为了培训阿富汗国民军(ANA),帮助他们接管美军撤离之后的防务任务。我知道,这跟我在谷歌公司的生活相去甚远。

    我在阿富汗南部的赫尔曼德省呆了7个月。我学会了两件让我深有感触的教益。

    其一是耐心。阿富汗文化特别讲究礼数。他们碰到一个人总想他们的身世,打听他们来自何方。在美国,人们拿起电话,聊上15分钟后就会自称了解对方。在阿富汗,新结识的人们坐在一起品茶,谈上几个小时,逐渐了解彼此的家庭和个人历史。要适应这一点,需要做出相当大的调整,对于一位偏重于行动的海军陆战队员来说尤为如此。尽管我们的确提前做了一些文化适应训练,但就像生活中的许多事情一样,除非亲眼所见,否则真的无法为之做好准备。

    我学到的第二点教益就是包容。人们对军队往往有一种误解,认为军营生活会扼杀一个人身上的个性。并非如此。事实上,团队协作的精髓就在于接受多样性。阿富汗军队生活的多样性是我生平所未见。我们的“嵌入式合作团队”皆为男性(因为阿富汗国民军中没有妇女)。但这些成员有着广泛的背景。我们的队长在玻利维亚出生并长大,十几岁时移民到美国,随后参军,并最终成为一名军官。“嘿,谷歌小子!”他总是这样叫我。

    我学会了接受人们不同的特质。我意识到,他们并不一定会用你预期或建议的方式完成某件事情。没有人会命令一位海军陆战队员“把那个箱子搬起来,再从A点挪到B点。”只要箱子最终被移动了,军队并不关心移动箱子的方式。相反,军队只会训练海军陆战队员做出明智的决定,以符合道义的方式采取正确的行动——要在当时的环境及其掌握的背景知识下,做到最好。军队提供反馈意见,并再次培训——打肥皂、漂洗、再重头来一遍。我们当然不能要求阿富汗人按照我们的方式去做事情。他们会用自己的方式做事——对他们来说行得通的方式。毕竟,阿富汗是他们的国家。

    去年秋天我重返谷歌,这是一个艰难的转变。突然间,我唯一需要担心的一个人就是我自己。我又开始写代码,而不是运营护送队。我已不再是一位指挥官了,因此我必须重新训练自己如何跟同事相处。幸运的是,谷歌退伍军人协会再次给予我支持,帮我学着适应公司的生活。拿着薪酬,做自己喜欢的事情,也挺不错的。我想,“哇,这是世界上最棒的事情了:整天写软件,还有免费午餐吃!”

    阿富汗的军旅生活让我懂得了团队协作的价值,也让我明白了个体的贡献如何融入一个更宏大的图景之中。战场上的日子也让我开始思考,除了写代码外,我还能在谷歌公司做些什么。最近,我一直在跟我的经理讨论如何把我在阿富汗的经历和教训分享给全公司的管理者。我们在军队就干过这个的——为什么不在公司里也尝试一下呢?

    译者:任文科

    She was not kidding. Google hired me in January 2007. I worked eight months, and by fall I was off for 15 months of Marine Corps officer training. Google had me back again for practically all of 2009 (and VetNet, the employee resource group for Google veterans, helped me enormously to reacclimate and catch up). Then I received activation orders to report for duty in Afghanistan, to help train the Afghan National Army (ANA) to take over after the withdrawal of U.S. troops. This, I knew, would be a far cry from my life at Google.

    I spent seven months in Helmand Province in southern Afghanistan. And I learned two big lessons that have stuck with me.

    The first is patience. Afghan culture is incredibly civilized. When you meet someone, they want to assess you and understand where you come from. In the U.S., people jump on the phone and profess to know each other after 15 minutes. In Afghanistan, new acquaintances drink chai, talk for a few hours and gradually learn about each other's family and personal history. This was quite an adjustment, especially for a Marine, as we have a bias toward action. While we did have some cultural immersion training, like so many things in life, nothing can really prepare you until you see it.

    The second lesson I learned is acceptance. There's a misconception about the military--that it strips away individuality. Not true. In fact, teamwork is all about accepting diversity. And I've never seen so much diversity as in Afghanistan. Our "embedded partnering team" was all men (since there are no women in the ANA). But it was a mix of guys with a broad range of backgrounds. Our team leader was born and raised in Bolivia and moved to the U.S. as a teenager, enlisted, and later became an officer. "Hey, Google!" he called me.

    I learned to accept people for who they are. And I realized that they're not necessarily going to do things the way you might expect--or advise. You don't tell a Marine to "take that box from point A to point B by picking it up…." The military is way less concerned with how you move the box, as long as it gets moved. Instead, you train your Marines to make good decisions, act morally and do the right thing--as best they can given the circumstances and their knowledge at the time. You offer feedback and train again--lather, rinse, repeat. And you certainly can't tell the Afghans to do things the way we would. They're going to do things their own way--the way that works for them. After all, it is their country.

    Returning to Google last fall was quite a transition. Suddenly, the only person I had to worry about was myself. I was writing code again, not running convoys. And I wasn't a mission commander, so I had to retrain myself on how to interact with my peers. Fortunately, VetNet was there once again to back me up and help me learn to fit in again. And it helped that I was getting paid to do what I love. I thought, "Wow, this is the greatest thing in the world: I get to write software all day...with free lunch!"

    Afghanistan made me understand the value of teamwork and how individual contributions fit into a larger picture. My time there also made me wonder whether I can and should do more at Google than produce code. Recently, I've been talking with my manager about how I can share my experiences and lessons with managers across the company. This is what we do in the military--why not try it at home?

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