the best team

In the last party of the summer, I had a brief chat with Rayid. He said that we were similar to last year’s cohort individually but had different collective identity as teams. I thought that was an interesting comment as it highlights how even when everyone is chill and reasonable, there could still be strange team dynamics.

— — — — -

Teamwork can be tricky, and our team certainly had our share of drama this summer.

I was excited when I received the team assignment in the second week: H is the youngest on the team and also my roommate. She is always the life of the party and can make you feel like you are the most important person in the world when you talk to her. Y, whom I spoke to almost the entire time during the rooftop party in the first week, has done very interesting things in life. She was confident, direct and we hit it off immediately. R joined in the 3rd week. I was nevertheless impressed by his profile (wrote a machine learning textbook?! come on now. ). I was sure that our team was the best team. The Milwaukee project also ranked the highest on my preference list in terms of the issue I care about. Everything seemed perfect.

We had some initial success as a team, scoring high matching rate between the two datasets that were given to us. The ultimate goal of our partner is to set up a data platform where different public agencies can come together and share information. Being able to match individuals across was therefore crucial. Things became slightly more difficult when it was time to build a pipeline. No one has undertaken a software engineering-task before so naturally it was difficult to muddle through. Knowing that machine learning is not my expertise, I was hoping to sit back and let others do most of the talking and decision-making in meetings. But the plan was only half-fulfilled. I still let others to do most of the talking, only raising voice to ask dumb questions when I was lost. But it came a point when I realized everyone has equal responsibility and I somehow pushed through a suggestion. That was a confidence booster and somehow I felt that maybe i could be useful.

The real test came in August. Bugs were found. Our pipeline was not working the way it should. Pressure was piling. The air in the team suddenly felt dead, and it was visible to everyone that there was something wrong. I suddenly found myself needing to speak more which is not my strong-suit: responding to the partner in phone meeting, speaking to our manager about the team dynamics, checking in with everyone on their progress. It was a stressful week.

The air was cleared the next week but the pressure kept on mounting. With an approaching deadline and no actual deliverable planned, I became increasingly frustrated, and was led astray to think that I was the only one who cared. I was upset at everyone. But the frustration dissipated the night before our deep-dive presentation, when we all stayed late in the office to get everything ready while eating ice-cream. Yes, dessert definitely helps fight negative feelings but more importantly, I felt that we were in this together. That was all it took. “We pulled it off… and not a bad job too” I mused and was still in unbelief after we finished the presentation next day.

It was not always easy, but in the end, I am very proud of team Milwaukee. And by the way, I still think we have the best team.

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated Onyi Lam’s story.