Not Just a Job: What Being an InfoFamily Means to Me

Not Just a Job: What Being an InfoFamily Means to Me
Estimated Reading Time: 11 minutes

Reed Hastings of Netflix fame made headlines back in 2009 when his Netflix deck hit the internet proclaiming that at Netflix, they were proudly like a “pro sports team” and “not a family”:

In the years since, the general thinking around what a workplace should be has evolved rapidly. Hastings’s deck itself has garnered nearly 21 million views and various publications and blogs have trumpeted its message. Somewhere between 2009 and 2022, the idea of embracing the workplace like a “professional sports team” took hold. And personally, I’d drunk the kool-aid, too, during my 20s. But a decade-plus later, as I reflected on the years that were, and looked for a career transition to something new, I feel like the dichotomy that Hastings had presented to us was a false one.

Sure, true: A workplace is not a family. A family is a family.

But also equally true: The spectrum of workplaces that exist is manifold. And biological families aren’t the only kind of families either.

In March, I started my fifth month at InfoTrust and in my short time here, I think I’ve been remarkably fortunate to have found a company that shares my values around not just workplace environment and professional goals, but also around outreach, community, and educational growth.

Yes, the work I do is challenging and fulfilling; we are an agency that does right by our clients. But I’m equally as proud to be an InfoTruster because of the various initiatives that happen outside of the office—initiatives a galaxy and solar system away from the province of “professional sports teams.”

The American Dream?

In my personal experience, there’s something peculiar about the American Dream that nothing symbolizes more than this Cadillac ELR Coupe commercial from 2014. In it, American actor Neal McDonough strolls around his lavishly furnished McMansion and extols the virtues of “only taking two weeks off in August (as opposed to four)” and the romanticism of a relentless pursuit of excellence (driven, apparently, partially by restlessness). At one point in the commercial, McDonough quips:

“We went up there [to the moon] and do you know what we got? Bored.”

And while the TV ad may be comical, at least from talking with friends and family, and reflecting on my own experience in my 20s, there is a seed of truth here; a kind of strange American fixation and point of pride in “working long hours” and being “constantly and tirelessly on the hunt.” Obviously, perseverance and hard work are good things. (More banal truisms have never been offered.) But to live the entire human experience, an intricate tapestry rich with all of the wonders and miracles of what it means to be alive—just breathing and living on this little blue planet—could it possibly be that there’s more to life than inventing the next iteration of the iPhone? More than becoming Ali and the next boxing world champ?

Contemplating a Transition: Being 30-Something vs Being 20-Something

When I was looking for my next job and career transition, I was by then in my mid-30s and wanted something different. I’d spent much of my 20s putting in long hours at my previous place of employment and “in the trenches.” And it was terrific; I’m infinitely grateful for the experience and to have had it so early, right out of school, in a big gleaming office tower that overlooked the Hudson. Daily, from my cubicle in Jersey City, I saw the Manhattan skyline.

But for my Second Act, I was curious about what the rest of America looked like. Growing up in Bozeman, Montana (a town with a single high school, back then), I’d yearned to see “a big city,” and so I’d done exactly that. But after a near-decade of Broadway shows, the AMC Empire 25 theater in Times Square, the PATH station and metro, restaurants, and city-life, I’d sought a change of pace and found myself in Cincinnati, OH. And more specifically, I’d sought to further entwine my work-life and my personal-life. We honestly spend so much time at the office; wouldn’t it be convenient to also be really good friends with my coworkers? To consistently eat lunch (that is catered!) in the office kitchen? To be on the same rec-league volleyball team? My wife and I had watched the TV show, Man Men, during the pandemic and seven seasons of watching Jon Hamm find his family on that show, not biological, but in every way else, had really connected with me. I wanted that.

Adopt-a-Class (AAC)

The first stop was mentorship and interacting with the community. One big reason I’d applied to InfoTrust was because of all of its Foundation and community outreach. To that end, the company has actually adopted two classes at Hartwell Elementary School in the Cincinnati region. Once a month, we spend an hour on a Friday morning at Hartwell and take over Ms. Hiatt and Mr. Armstrong’s 7th grade classes.

I won’t sugarcoat this: I think Adopt-a-Class helps the teachers nearly as much as the students. It’s a fun bunch of kids and, to state the obvious, it’s been a challenging two years for teachers everywhere, and so for them, having just a little help on a Friday morning is very welcome. Teachers, in the United States at least, in my humble opinion—are paid way too little to do way too much. If we care even just an iota about society and are grateful to our local community in which we live, isn’t doing something—anything—to this end, a simple categorical good?

For February’s class, we played “The Price is Right” with the seventh graders; one of our AAC leads, Corey Chapman, had prepared a great deck and for that hour, we called the kids up and they took turns guessing how much grocery staples cost: a gallon of milk, a loaf of bread, a monthly car payment. As seventh graders are wont to do, it got competitive. Everyone wanted their turn and the winner of each round (three up front at a time), got to stay until the next round.

Every month, the games are always like this—something light and fun, but also pedagogical in its own way. One big goal of Adopt-a-Class as outlined in its charter, is simply to expose kids to adult life and letting them know of all of the variety of possibilities that simply exist in the adult world. That adults do this and need to worry about that (think about budgeting for example). I often think about the Christopher Nolan movie, Inception—we’re there only for a single hour each month; but it’s fresh, exciting, and different for the kids. And if you remember anything at that age—it is a novelty. We, InfoTrusters, are there to just plant the seed of an idea in hopes that it may in a future day flourish.

Small but mighty—Corey put it best: “I love teaching/mentorship and I just wanted to be another positive influence in their lives. Even if it’s a small one, I believe every little bit counts.”

Community Meetups

Changing gears, February also saw the month of our first community Meetup event in two years. This was a glorious return—after two years of Zooms and remote fatigue, the community committee at InfoTrust decided to make the call: Hell or highwater, it was time to try getting together again at a physical venue.

So after much planning, our wizards of community engagements, Lisa and Stadt, organized a cross-Meetup function at the local Firehouse Grill. For a single evening, across six different Meetups, folks from across Cincinnati convened and we shared the various projects that we’d been working on during the pandemic. Stadt had built a real-estate commerce site with his buddy; I’d gone on an ambitious (but ultimately brief)  journey on GitHub to commit to various open source projects around the world; and Lance—a Meetup attendee!—showed us his chore scheduler/music/and Wordle solver apps.

For a single evening, over InfoTrust-sponsored food and drink, we all got together and hung out, talked about code, and shared stories. What I’ve always loved about Meetups is that they are places where you’ll meet folks from all walks: people at other firms, people in transition, newbies looking to get into tech for the first time, and veterans through-and-through. What is a society without people engaging and interacting with each other? And where would we be if we never reached out to interact with the larger community?

What’s always stuck with me most, and why I work at InfoTrust, is what Julie Delphy said best all the way back in 1995 in Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise: “I believe if there’s any kind of God it wouldn’t be in any of us, not you or me but just this little space in between. If there’s any kind of magic in this world it must be in the attempt of understanding someone sharing something.”

Fields Trips: February’s Trip to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center – Cincinnati, OH

Finally, every month InfoTrust’s CELEBRATE committee organizes activities to remind us of the various cultural milestones and achievements that have paved the way to where we are now. Celebrating diversity in its myriad forms, combining it with camaraderie and education, is one of the continuous underlying currents at InfoTrust whether it be in the form of monthly book clubs or guest speaker events. Yes, data analytics is our day-to-day and how we actually generate revenue, meet payroll, etc. But what I’ve found since joining InfoTrust is that our co-founders, Alex and Michael, really wanted to build a company where we weren’t only excelling in our specific professional domain, but also being well-rounded humans overall.

And so to this end, to close out Black HIstory Month for February, InfoTrust sponsored an event where any interested InfoTruster could visit the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center here in downtown Cincinnati. Last Friday afternoon, we all got together downtown during working hours and explored the history of freedom and slavery in the United States, and the world more broadly. It was an educational and sobering reminder of everything that had come before to make today possible.

And afterward, we got food and drinks downtown—in the age of remote, it was wonderful seeing everyone. 

In Closing: Imagine That

Professional athletes on professional sports teams make millions, if not tens of millions, of dollars and dedicate their every waking moment to their craft, mastering their three-point short or running the fastest mile. These are an elite bunch, a fraction of a percent of the world population. So with all due respect to Reed Hastings, I doubt the average Netflix employee is on the order of Lebron James with respect to their respective output and ability. 

Put another way:  There are 11,800 professional athletes in the United States. And in 2020—even during the pandemic—there were 165.7 million adults working in the United States according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Rather, I would frame it more like this: Like the rest of us mere mortals who are not Nathan Chen or Simone Biles, you—yes, you, reading this right now!—are in all likelihood not a professional athlete. So why join a workplace that operates like a professional sports team? Maybe—just maybe—there’s more to living life than burning hours of your youth and lifeblood at the altar of capitalism so multi-billionaires can hurl themselves into space on phallus-shaped rocket ships

Instead, I modestly propose: Maybe allocating working hours to volunteer at the local public school, or to attend a Meetup to interact with the community, or just to go on company-sponsored adult field trips with your coworkers, who happen to also be your friends, isn’t absurd. And maybe—just maybe—actually treating your place of work where you spend tens of hours a week as a fun and cool hangout place you actually look forward to being in, isn’t so totally, unthinkably insane.

Just imagine that.

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Originally Published: March 9, 2022
March 9, 2022

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