Internship Week 9: Collaboration

This week I’ve decided to focus on something I should have long-since written about: my coworker. ODC’s team is amazing and diverse and incredibly skilled, and it’s about time they had a shout-out. One of the challenges of keeping a blog, especially one that delves a little bit into culture and a little bit into theory and is all about my own journey is keeping the people who are in my life in the spotlight too.

If you saw my daily activities at ODC, you’d see that more than half the time I’m being social with the folks around me. On one hand, you’ve got the fact that I’m sitting right next to four of them every day and ear-buds only go so far. On the other hand, there’s the collaboration of the work itself: being social is necessary to getting the library as powerful as it can be. While the library tasks generally fall onto a couple of teams, I make it a point to consider the greater implications of all the decisions: when you make one decision on one part of the site, how will that affect the other parts of the site? How it will it affect the overall organization of data and information resources? How will it affect the workload of colleagues? Is there any single way to make things more efficient?

I try to consider the team a “family” of sorts, because everyone is so close and the team is really not that big. And everyone needs help. And everyone needs a second opinion. The healthy of the community within the walls of the ODC is of utmost concern, and I think that’s considered by lots of the folks who work there. ODC is probably my second “work experience” where the identity of the community and the health of the team workers has been consistently considered. Nothing is perfect, however, and at times the amount of work and the amount of imaginative ideas becomes overwhelming. Like anywhere. But we make up for it with fun activities: from team meals and parties to sharing media to connecting on social media to exploring each other’s language, we really do make an effort to be as close as possible. For that, I am proud.

But for now: here is most of the ODC team in pictures. Those I didn’t get a chance to snap a shot of include IT lead Huy Eng, ODC founder Terry, ODC research intern Kimberley, and EWMI intern Phil. But more on them later!

The Mappers

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From left to right: Kalyan, Seila, and Naro. These guys are responsible for the maps on the ODC site, which could be considered one of the sexier types of content we make available. Technically I am half mapper, because I sit right next to them and am privy to their conversations and work more often than any of the other teams. These guys are probably the biggest joy I have when visiting ODC. From the jokes and the exchange of slang to the (probably) unnecessary Khmer vocabulary education, we have a really fun day every day. The room, by the way, is nicknamed the “Ice Cave,” because Naro prefers the place ultra-cool from the A/C (and there’s no mildly-cold setting).

The Outreach and Volunteer Coordinators

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Penhleak (or “Pinkie” as she likes to go by) is actually only one person, but I would say she does enough work for ODC to be several people at one time. Insert your “multi-arm Vishnu jokes” here. Penhleak’s become one of my closest friends in Cambodia, and has taught me more than anyone else on the team. She’s generally responsible for all the “outreach” (which you could probably exchange for “marketing”) and communication for partnerships with researchers, journalists, government, interns (including me), and so on and so forth. Though she will probably kill me for saying this, I often see her as the protective sister of ODC. But joking aside, it can’t be denied that much of the success of ODC as a project, whether through the encouragement of design ideas during group meetings, or the method and process of team communication and collaboration, are because of her. I only hope she doesn’t get completely burned out after putting in so much effort!

The Director

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Try (pronounced “Tree”) is the director of ODC. He joined shortly before I arrived as an intern, so I feel connected to him simply through time alone. But Try has been extremely helpful. While most of his work obviously goes on behind the scenes, and is administrative in nature, he does also provide a lot of the “face” to the organization. Whether it’s leading meetings, or supporting teams in their tasks, Try is the internal utility knife of the organization. If something needs to get done, Try’s there to figure out the way to make it happen. It doesn’t hurt that he’s an amazingly nice guy!

The Editors

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First: Vicheth. Just above: Vongseng. I tried to get a picture of them together, but they just wouldn’t let me! The editors are the fantastic mega workers at ODC. When it comes to reviewing news articles and briefings, or working on the site’s taxonomy, the editors are it. They’re responsible for the publishing. They’ve got responsibility for a lot of the translation too. In fact I’m really not sure how all of the work they do gets done, but somehow they manage it! When not swamped with work, they (and sometimes me, too) are out having great conversation over a beer, or watching Vongseng sing some tunes, or grabbing noodles around the corner. These guys bring a stability and seriousness and realism to the workplace that, when combined with their friendliness, raise the bar of my experience at ODC quite a lot!

The IT Team

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Above: Saren and Chomroeun. Not pictured: Huy Eng. The IT team is the team I’m most connected to in terms of actual work. Saren and Huy Eng especially are the ones who make my digital library dreams come true. When it comes to web design, it’s always a process. There are a gazillion things going on with the website, all at once, and to balance the library with all of those things is often a challenge. But the IT team is a great team, one that I love working with, and arguably some of the best communicators I’ve had the pleasure of working with. When the site goes down, they respond to it immediately. When there’s an issue with the library that they discover, they come to me and we talk about it. If it wasn’t for these guys, I’d be poking around the underlying infrastructure of code weeping silently. And because I don’t have to do that, I’m eternally grateful to these guys (and gal).

The Founder (and “Mother”) of ODC

Not surprisingly, I actually didn’t get a snapshot of Terry in the past two days because I didn’t run into her. She’s that busy. (If you really want to see what she looks like, you can check out this picture from my post last week.) Splitting her time between ODC and other EWMI projects, Terry is yet another example of someone who does more work than is technically physically possible. It’s like everyone here is blessed or really lucky or something. I don’t know what it is, but I’m thankful, because the standards for putting a lot of time and effort into amazing projects are always high. Terry’s also been a great mentor on management, organization, and the Cambodian/Southeast Asian culture. Every conversation I get the opportunity of having with her is one part history lesson, one part philosophy, and one part critical inquiry into the many sides of life in Cambodia. She’s been a great colleague, a great “boss” (I hesitate to use the word here, because it makes the relationship seem a bit too harsh), and a great resource for becoming adjusted to the local environment.

The Interns

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Okay, I obviously needed a picture of myself in here, so everyone an see that I’m gaining a little bit of weight and still happy and alive. Now that that’s out of the way, how about the other smiling face? Eric, on the right, is a Duke fellow who technically graduated from Law School (does that need to be in title case?) and is now hanging out in Cambodia for at least a few months. He just started this past week (or thereabouts) and has been pushed in next to me. Okay, so to be honest: the room is cramped, but it’s nice having another awesome person in there! I have had the chance to help him edit his work, give him updates on ODC tasks, and chat with him about what it’s like living in Cambodia on a daily basis. It’s been great, actually, because the other foreign friends I have I don’t see very regularly, including . . .

The Other Interns

Phil, who technically interns for EWMI, and Kim, who is a research intern that will soon be transitioning out of ODC (in December), have also been great friends. And while Kim didn’t want her photo taken, and while Phil wasn’t around to have his photo taken (he was off on some crazy moto trip to Udong), both of them are still great people. I forgive them, even though I wanted their smiling faces on my blog. I forgive them. But joking aside, these guys were some of my initial friends in Cambodia, and from the lunches and smoothies together, to the occasional partying, I’ve found them to be fantastic resources for social life after the work life stops at the end of the week. I think that interns should band together by nature, by their helpless natures, and so far that’s happened, and been a good thing.

Other Collaboration

I realize I haven’t really written about actual collaboration, but seeing how much text was needed just to introduce the “family” at ODC, I think it’s okay. There are other collaborations, though: from the librarians in Cambodia (my friends Kolap and Mao) to my adviser Margaret, working with and learning from others is a regular part of the daily flow. I think that’s pretty obvious and, unless you’re some crazy writer living in a lighthouse and working on your next novel in solitude, collaboration and communication with team members or coworkers is a pretty universe experience. Maybe next week I’ll touch a little bit more on the depth of the collaboration, but my fingers are tired and it’s time to end this week’s post.

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