My New Blog “”

I’d like to thank every one of you who has followed the Kitengela Report, 2013.  As much as I love being in Africa, there is a constant stress associated with being there.  Just ask Pat – as awesome as Africa is, it’s different in, well, every imaginable way.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Africa, and I think Pat will tell you he loves being there also – but the stress is always there.

And so my way of dealing with the stress of being there is to write.  And without you, the readers, that writing wouldn’t mean much.  Thank you.

But I’m back now, and the stress has subsided, so I’ll say goodbye for 2013.

In the meantime, I’m back to the stress of being an engineering manager.  Again, don’t get me wrong, I love being an engineer, and I love being an engineering manager, especially when it means I get to work with the likes of Dwight and Geoff and Paul and Ingrid and Priya and Jason, and well, all of the amazing men and women in the Tandem software team.

But make no mistake about it; being an engineering manager is stressful.

And that got me thinking – I have a pretty good formula for dealing with the stress of Africa – writing.  What if I deployed that same strategy for dealing with the stress of being an engineering manager?

Let’s find out.  Check out my new blog, “Engineering Leadership” – I just posted my first article, only moments ago.  I start out with a fairly serious post, just as I did with the Kitengela Report, 2013.  But stay tuned, humor is inevitable.



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Day 12: Kwaheri Africa

Day 12:  Kwaheri

I thought some of you might like to learn some Swahili, so here goes:

Kiswahili – this actually the real name of the language that we usually incorrectly refer to as Swahili.  It’s the trade language of East Africa.

Kiss Kiboko  – this is actually a very dangerous initiatory rite required by fraternities at the university of Nakuru (guys – this is American humor based on sounds)

Jambo – this is a greeting that roughly translated means “hi, I am a white person who wants to pretend to speak Kiswahili.”

Karibu – literally “welcome” – sometimes used in game preserves when greeting large moose like mammals  imported from Alaska.

Ugali – a corn based staple food in Kenya, popular with marathoners and pretty much everyone.  Imagine eating white Playdough for lunch.

Kwaheri – good bye for now.

Rafiki – friend.  Yes the name of the nutty baboon in “The Lion King” means simply “friend”

Kwaheri Africa.   Thanks for reading.


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Day 12: Speaking Lahhk a jan-u-wine Frenchman

Many of you know that my son, Tim, and I are fond of speaking with foreign accents.  Tim is actually much better at it than I am, but I enjoy it none-the-less.  For me,  spending four hours in the Paris Airport is like hitting the “speak like a french guy” jackpot.  Just boarding the airplane, I got to say “bonjour” five time!  I wonder if they notice I am over pronouncing it like Steve Martin in “The Pink Panther” – pursed lips and all.  With an accent as good as mine, they probably wonder why I wear an NFL cap instead of a beret.
I purchased a croissant in the shop next to the one that sells macaroons.  For this I worked in a “bonjour”, a “merci” and a “ahh-huh” (I don’t know how to spell this – it is the total french word often heard next to oui-oui).
I’ve discovered that having “oui” be the way to say “yes” is actually something that Louis XVI’s junior high son came up.  Hey dad, wouldn’t it be a kick in the croissant if we got everyone saying “wee-wee” every time they wanted to say “yes”.   Historical note:  Louis XVI’s great-grandson “Jacque” later emigrated to the US, studied zoology at Yale, and eventually named the “sperm whale”. In turn, Jacque’s grandson (Costeau) was a French aviation pioneer and was the first to suggest the term “duty-free”.
They have military museum here – their proudest display is their new tank  – it has a seven speed transmission – six reverse gears and one forward gear (in case they are attacked from the rear).  But no, i’m kidding – I made that up.  Their tank is made by Renault and therefore only has 3 reverse gears and one forward gear, and none of them work more than 50% of the time.
But I will give props to the french for this – they have been very influential in world history – they were not using deodorant long before anyone else.
Oui oui
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Day 12: More Bits and Pieces

When we were up on Baboon Point in Nakuru, quietly admiring Kiboko, another van pulled up – obviously Americans – the noise level change from adding 5 Americans to the crowd of about 15 people already there was amazing.  I turned to Peter and told him I was embarrassed.  He said “this is the American’s trademark – noise!”   Ouch, but of course he is right.

We’re flying over the Alps right now.  What a sight!  The fact that we can get from Africa to home in a day and a half is amazing.  100 years ago when a missionary would travel from the US to Africa they did so knowing that they would almost certainly die in Africa within a few years, assuming they survived the journey there.

Pat seems to be getting over the pain of not being addresses as “your greatness”.  Perhaps out of respect to him I should let the Kenyans know his title at Tandem is ” bishop of testing” and accordingly calling him “father” is also acceptable.

I’ve read that humor is one of the hardest things to translate across cultures.  That certainly seems to be the case.  Now that I’ve been to Kenya five times, I think I’m finally starting to get a handle on how their humor works.  On each of those trips my primary responsibility was to teach – and for the first couple of  trips I was totally without the ability to get people laughing.  Certainly humor featuring the absurd does not work at all.  And humor relying on obviously false statements doesn’t seem to work either, but just as I like to invent technical terms at Tandem, it does provide the ability to alter their understanding of western culture, as Bishop Pat will affirm.

Here’s a really good example of Kenyan humor.  I mentioned that on Baboon Point they have these large, foot long,  lizards with bright blue bodies and bright orange heads.  When Henry saw one he said to me “if a chameleon walked in front of this lizard, it would have a heart attack – it wouldn’t know which color to use”

We’ve just landed in Paris.  I’ve only been in France for two minutes and already I feel more arrogant.

Ok, now we’re in Paris Airport next to a macaroon shop (yes, the french have a shop completely devoted to macaroons).  The price of a single macaroon is 3 Euro!

Looking out the window at the runway reminded me of something funny Henry said at Nakuru.  There is an airstrip in Nakuru.  On the evening Safari I wondered aloud how they keep the animals off the runway when a plane wants to land – this is an unstaffed airstrip – just a half mile long asphalt strip and a windsock.  On the morning safari we saw two giraffes walking on the runways.  Henry said that was good; with the giraffe there we don’t need lights to identify the runway.


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Day 11: Bits and Pieces

Internet here is really slow.  I know I have a few typos (I have a “bread” instead of “breed”, and a “kibobo” instead of “kiboko”).  I just can’t find the patience to spend the 20 minutes of upload to fix them.  I’ll fix them on Tuesday.

On the drive to Nakuru, we saw many interesting sights.  Driving across rural Kenya is amazing.   For one thing, we saw a secondary school for girls with a giant advertisement painted on the side of the building – it included their school motto “We teach tribal knowledge”.  Hmm, that takes on a whole new meaning in a country with 42 distinct tribes.

In Kenya the national language is English, but they tend to say things quite differently than we do.  On the highway are warnings against “overspeeding”.  At Grays Oak the waitresses would ask “will you take your dinner now?”  Take my dinner?  I haven’t even ordered yet…

They use the word “bacon” in the most capricious of ways. One morning they served “Beef Bacon” and the next “Pork Bacon” (they are very meticulous about placing labels on all dishes in the buffet line).  On neither morning did they serve anything that would interest Kevin Tran.  For one thing, whatever meat that actually was (hey Pat, have you seen the monkey that was hanging around out back yesterday?), it was clearly boiled – a complete breech of bacon protocol in most civilized countries.

We did actually see a Shell “filling station” today, but the more common brand is “OilLybia”.  Wait, I thought the Kenyans were our friends, how can they do business with Lybia?

Oh, the guys here found my website and “The Kitengela Report 2013” (Hi Guys).  That was a little awkward.  I quickly reread everything with “new eyes” and I realized we’re good.  No mention of B.O.E. this year – phew. (Hi again – that stands for, uh, Buffalo Or Elephants – yeah, that’s it – it’s a, uh, common expression in the US meaning “we want to see large mammals on Safari”) .

One last note, the guys haven’t yet learned of that all important western culture of calling your customers “your greatness”, as in “Excuse me, Pat Your Greatness, may I ask Your Greatness a question?”  I didn’t want to embarrass them so I didn’t include this in the training.  I mean, if they don’t know about it, it’s really not that bad, although we all know how very important that is when dealing with medical device companies.  Of course it hurts every time they fail to address us this way, but we can’t hold them accountable for a tradition they clearly know nothing about.  Let’s just keep it our little secret that this is how business is done in the West.


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Day 11: Kiboko


As a team building exercise, Pat and I took the five Kenyans on Safari to Lake Nakuru Game Reserver.  We were assured it would be a short two hour drive.  Five hours later we were at Nakuru (oh, yeah, this is Kenya).  But it was worth the long drive.

For Safari, you go in the evening for a few hours, and in the morning for a few hours.  So we arrived in Nakuru, had lunch, and went on Safari.

By the end of the evening Safari, we had seen more than we hoped for.  I knew we would see giraffe, zebra, gazelle, antelope, impala, baboon, rhino and cape buffalo, and we did.  It always defies description to be in a Nissan minivan surrounded by all that.  But we also got a real treat – Lion.  This was my fourth visit to Nakuru, and I’d never seen a Lion there.  But Pat is a good luck charm, and so there was the Lion.

As we drove back to the lodge, we were happy; the fact that we did not see the Leopard was not disappointing – we know that is even more rare than seeing Lions.   And as for the hippopotamus, Kiboko – my favorite animal, well, everyone knows there are no Kiboko in Lake Nakuru.  I always wish to see Leopard and Kiboko, but that is not too be.

After dinner, Pat and I were sitting on the porch watching the sun set.  A beautiful sight – sunset in Africa.   And then, about 100 yards from the porch I saw movement.  Pat grabbed the binoculars — it was a leopard on the prowl looking for dinner.   To see that big cat walking with its muscles flexing where they attach to the torso is an awesome sight.  Absolutely amazing (and a bit scary) to have less than a football field between yourself and a hungry leopard!!

The morning safari was no less spectacular.  More rhino, more giraffe, more zebra, more buffalo – to the point that it almost became common place, until we drove to the top of Baboon point were we could get out of the van.  We were greeted with small hyrax and the most amazing lizard ever – the orange headed lizard – a bright blue body with a brilliant orange head.

And so I have only Kiboko to see in Afrida, maybe next year.  As a child I wrote many stories about my first fictional character, George T. Hippo who lived near my home in the Biola University creek.  I started to mentally plan a trip for next year, one that will take me back to the Maasai Mara where I will more likely see Kiboko.  Just then again my peripheral vision spotted motion on the lake below.  Pat grabbed the binoculars, and there they were – three kiboko.

Now I’ve been to Africa.


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Day 10: Game Changers

I haven’t yet said much about our five Kenyan partners.  They are impressive young men.   There are two companies between them, Jahmhuri Software and Pamoja Engineering.

Pamoja consists of Denis, Kennith, Peter and Henry.

Jamhuri consists of Kent, whom many of the long time Tandem employees met when he visited the US four years ago.

I am convinced that these five young men will  be instrumental in big change in Kenya.  They are the pioneers setting upon the task of placing Kenya in the same group as India, Eastern Europe and China with regards to software testing.   I believe there will be a day when phrases such as “we outsource our software verification activities to Kenya” will sound normal.

Contrary to what you may believe, Kenya has an amazing supply of natural resources.  In terms of education, they are second in Africa only to the nation of South Africa.  It’s rare to meet a Kenyan who is fluent in less than three languages (1) their mother tongue, (2) Kiswahili – the trade language of eastern Africa, and (3) English.  Another British thing (this time not so stupid) is that all education in Kenya from grade 3 and up is in English.  This gives them a significant advantage over India, China and Eastern Europe.   And most of these five actually speak at least one additional language (French, German, etc).

So what is Kenya still lacking?  An opportunity – a seat at the table of global economy.  And what is Tandem providing Pamoja and Jamhuri?  An opportunity.  But it’s not just charity – they are doing work which we need done, and they are doing it with remarkable economy.   They are saving Tandem money and we are giving them the one thing they most need – an opportunity.

So is it crazy to believe that one day Pamoja and Jamhuri combined will employ over 1000 software engineers?  Is it crazy to believe that one day Pamoja and Jamhuri will be sources of a cash influx from medical device companies all over the US and Europe?  Is it crazy to think that this will have a measurable affect on the Kenyan economy?

Yes, absolutely it is crazy.  Just as crazy as thinking that four engineers huddled in a small store front on Cabot road could grow into a company with over 300 employees – a company that is shipping insulin pumps all over the US – a company that is completely disrupting the market place.

So yes, it is crazy.  But these days, I’m all about crazy.


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Day 9: Loud Americans

Kenyans are a quiet people.  You can be in a restaurant with 100 Kenyans and all you really notice is how quiet it is.  When they speak, they speak in a soft, deep accent.  Of course their view is that we all speak in a loud, squeaky high accent – I think most Americans strike the Kenyans as the Chipmunks strike us!   ALVIN!!!!!

One funny thing at meals, however, is that they always turn the TV on.  When we walk in, they rush over to turn on the tube.  I guess the advantage of being quiet is that you can hear the TV even when there are 100 people in the room.   Well, from my view that is the DISADVANTAGE, but none-the-less, that’s how it’s done in Kenya.

For every meal until breakfast today, the restaurant has just been our five testers, Pat and I, plus three waiters.   Occasionally all three waiters will be out of the room simultaneously, and I’ll sneak over and turn off the TVs (there are two TVs – the room is no larger than the Tandem lunchroom in building 2, but we need two TVs none-the-less – and 3 waiters).  Upon their return, when they realize the TV is off, the waiters react with the same level of embarrassment that junior high boys do when they realize their fly is open – and they rush over to right this injustice.

The most striking thing about the TVs is that they are always tuned to Mexican Soap Operas badly dubbed into English.  I marvel that the producers could find that many actors – how on Earth did they find that many people who are both (1) extremely good looking and (2) completely devoid of acting skills?   Statistically this is an anomaly worthy of Charlie Epps’ analysis.  And the dubbing is awesome – it reminds me of the old Godzilla movies from the 60’s.  Yet, pretty much no matter where you are at Grays Oak, you can find a hotel employee wearing a hooded parka and watching the soaps.

The normal quiet was broken last night around 10 PM – about 30 Americans arrived on a swank tour bus – all ready for safari.  They all had black hoodies with the words “Kenya Safari 2013” on the front in large fluorescent letters.  They looked ridiculous – but give them some credit, by wearing hoodies in 75 degree weather they are making some attempt to fit in…

But man, you talk about a loud bunch of people – just three of them together were making more noise than the entire Tandem software team combined ever has – LOUD.

And at breakfast this morning – yikes!  I was actually quite embarrassed – I think this sort of thing breeds the whole “ugly American” thing.  I found myself not wanting to make eye-contact with my loud countrymen.

But on the humorous side, one waitress quite obviously mistook me for one of the loud ones and asked me for my room number.  Another waitress immediately said something to her, and they proceeded to obviously have a detailed discussion about my identity.  I’m guessing all week they were using a simple algorithm to sort out the muzungu:

|         if (white == TRUE) and (skinny == TRUE) and (hair = TRUE)
|              then name = Pat;
|         else if (white == TRUE) and (skinny == FALSE) and (hair == FALSE)
|              then name = Tom;
|         else
|              pretendNotToSpeakEnglish();

It’s good to know that I’m not the only one with faulty algorithms.


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Day 8: No Starch, Please

One of the really odd things about Kenya is that there is dirt and mud everywhere, and the people always seem to be walking through it, but their clothes are always immaculate.  I look like a complete slob compared to most Kenyans.  Just a few moments ago Pat and I were looking out the window of the training room while our Kenyan friends worked away at their assignments.  We noticed two beautifully dressed women in business suits walking through a muddy field.

So how do they do this?  How do they stay so clean?  I have no idea, but I do have an idea as to how they keep their cloths so perfectly wrinkle-free.  It’s the food.

Just about every meal includes Ugali, Chipati, White Rice, Sliced Potatoes, Bread, Rolls and Pasta.  And I don’t mean “every mean has ONE of these”, I mean “every meal has ALL of these”.  This is a South Beach nightmare.  Carbs and more carbs.   Ugali is like playdough and is a favorite among Kenyans – the Kenyan marathoners say it is the secret to their success.  Chipati is basically an Indian tortilla.  And well, you know what the rest are.

And then between meals they have “tea time” (again, “stupid British”).  For “tea” they bring two large trays of carbohydrates to go along with the tea.   Yesterday we had cookies on one plate and arrowroot slices on the other.  And by “cookie” I mean a baked mixture of flour, water, and no taste.

At any rate, here is my theory – they eat so much starch that it actually seeps through their pores onto their clothes!

My tee-shirt is seeming unusually wrinkle free today.


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Day 7: Shocking

In Kenya, they don’t have the concept of “water heater”.  But hotels such as the one we are staying in do provide hot water for showers using “Instant Heaters”.   Each instant heater installs right into the shower.  It kinda looks like the base of a blender, and it’s about the same size.  In Kenya, they don’t use 110 Volts AC, they use 240 Volts AC.  And they connect all 240 of those volts right to the Instant Heater inches from your head.  In fact, the instant heater attaches to the water line right where a shower head normally does.  So the pipes go into the heater and the shower head attaches to the instant heater.   So basically the water passes through a device connected to the 240 VAC power line.

On the instant heater is a temperature setting.   It seems reasonable to want to adjust that setting while the water is running.  Last year, Priya told me that she thought she was getting shocked every time she touched it.   Eventually she decided to report it to the hotel.

So, of course, this is potentially a very dangerous situation, and you would assume that the hotel would do something about it, and they did.  This year, the hotel put me into the room that Priya was in last year.  As the bellhop brought in my luggage, he explained to me that it is very important in this room to not touch the Instant Heater while the water is running.


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