This post is a bit different from my usual fare. Susanna Holt, a colleague I’ve known for more than two decades - and have a huge amount of respect for - recently posted on LinkedIn about an encounter we had soon after we first met. She was amazing throughout the process of sharing the information: she made it anonymous, was unnecessarily complimentary and even made sure I was fine with it being posted. So I have no idea why I feel the need to post something here. It’s just a bit of an itch I feel like scratching, I suppose.
I’ll set the scene by describing some context. It happened back in the spring of 2004, which was an incredibly intense period of my life…
Professionally, I was in the first few months of a position in Bangalore, India, where I was tasked with helping build a large, offshore development capability for Autodesk Consulting. It was the Wild West (but in the East!), hiring into engineering positions in Bangalore at that time: it reminded me of the challenges I’d had just a few years before while struggling to hire good people in the US ahead of the dot-com bust. Crazy times.
Personally, things were frankly all over the map: my wife and I had found out she was pregnant with our first child when we arrived in India in late 2003, and she was just a few months away from giving birth (something we were opting to do in India due to my professionally obligations, which is a story for another day). My father was in the last stages of terminal cancer: he ended up passing away just a month before his first grandchild was born, which remains a source of sadness to me, to this day. My wife and I were staying at his place to get some time with him ahead of the birth. Suffice it to say that this period of my life was off-the-charts in terms of emotional intensity.
Anyway, I was having to find some way to work while I was back in the UK, and very often ran into issues with the dial-up connection at my Dad’s place near Newmarket. Here’s a photo I found of me trying to get some work done during that period:
It made more sense for me to head into the nearby office in Cambridge: Autodesk was in the process of acquiring a company called D-Cubed who were working on the ShapeManager kernel. We still have a significant presence in Cambridge - where we have access to the immense talent coming out of the nearby Uni - and many (maybe all?) of the folks there are still working on ASM.
As it was not quite an Autodesk office, at the time, I didn’t have ready access to the building: my employee badge didn’t give me automatic access, at least. There were two people I relied on heavily - both for access to the building and just general help with stuff: Susanna Holt and Peter Charrot. I’d been introduced to Peter (from what I recall) as that team’s manager. I don’t recall Susanna having been formally introduced to me: she wasn’t my initial contact in the team there, at least, and I certainly wasn’t told “this is Susanna’s role in the team”. For whatever reason - whether due to the fact she was the only woman in the team in combination with my own unconscious bias, or the fact she was always in the office when I arrived and was both incredibly welcoming and human (something that isn’t necessarily the norm in male-dominated software engineering teams) - I made an unfortunate assumption about her role: I assumed she was the receptionist. Looking back this seems utterly ridiculous - at the time Susanna was also an engineering manager, and is now a VP - but it served as a great lesson to me, one that I’m actually really grateful for despite the feeling of embarrassment it occasionally still brings me.
This was the story I chose to share with Susanna when we bumped into each other again (something we do from time to time at Autodesk events) at AU 2023. We were sat at the bar at an internal mixer, and I thanked her for her support - her friendliness was so very welcome at a time when I really needed it - and apologized for my foolish assumption: I remember having somehow shared it with her, at the time, and despite her being very gracious about it, it’s awful to be belittled in that way, whatever the intentions or reasons.
So that’s it for my little story: thank you, Susanna, for being so very gracious and human, qualities I’ve continued to see whenever we’ve interacted over the last 20 years. I’m really happy we chatted in Las Vegas, and I’m relieved you have also found something positive to take from the whole episode.