To my colleagues and friends at Merck and on the Internet,
Due to a corporate realignment, my last day with Merck is the 9th of May. I thought I’d take a few minutes to reflect on my career at Merck. In the over sixteen years at the company, I have grown, both professionally as well as personally. To those who are reading this blog post, whose paths have crossed with mine in real life, there is no doubt that I learned at least one thing from you. When I started at Merck I was a mere twenty six years old and realized that there is a lot to be learned. Starting at the old Technology Support Center (TSC) I got to meet some great people who have become more than co-workers, but friends as well. Working at Merck has been a truly wonderful experience for me. Professionally, I learned so many great skills. I learned about proper help desk methodologies in an industry that was still young and developing. I’ll never forget the “tap taps” I’d get from Cathy Wilson when I misclassified a ticket in Vantive. Who can ever forget the evening staff meetings after working a long 8 or 10 hour shift? Merck was not always about work. I remember playing indoor golf or video games as part of our weekly team building events. The beeps of the SYMON board when the queue got high will forever be ingrained in my brain as well as how quiet the phones got on September 11, 2001. Christmas at the help desk was always a fun time. We had the support team of Cohen and Bernstein (yes, it does sound like a law firm) waiting for the phone to ring. This gave us practice for Y2K when absolutely nothing happened and I mean nothing. I think we were on “ready” for 90 minutes before a call came in and it was a minor issue with some obscure Oracle database in China.
I developed so many new skills and found ways to make good ideas better. I remember how David Wilson‘s Techtionary (aka “technical dictionary”) was a giant, 100 page Word document that was printed out every few weeks. Oh, how I would frantically flip through that thing to find out what app the customer/client/end-user was calling about just so that I can sound reassuring on the phone that I knew what they were talking about. I then made it easier by introducing the new Techtionary and as a result, my skills in MS Access, IIS, Oracle (and thanks to Jason Victor‘s expertise), JSP grew. I admit, that it was one of my greatest “claims to fame” at Merck. Yes, at this point I was still not known as the “Outlook guy.”
Not all of my development at Merck was technical. There were a lot of personal growth and “new chapters” in my life. In 2005 I took a major leap of faith and bought my first home (well, a condo) and went through all the stress of construction delays, lawyers, inspections, mortgage approvals, etc. In April 2006, I became true to myself, my family and my co-workers and told them I am gay (see my post about that here). Thanks to a supportive family, friends and co-workers, this opened up a whole new world for me and I embraced my true self wholeheartedly. With the encouragement of my family and my best friend Neil, who is like a brother to me, I became a member of GLEAM, legacy Merck’s LGBT employee resource group. This opened up a whole new world of Merck people in my life. I got the opportunity to get out of my “IT silo” at Merck and work with other people from the business side of the company. As a result of this, I made some new friends like Shari Johnson, Brian Bernstein (no relation), Eric Thalasinos (via Schering), Dean Hancock, Kar-Chan (Casey) Choong, Alex Kelly, Rachel Feller and countless others. Thinking to myself that GLEAM’S web site could use some work, I decided to run in a contested election for the Technology Chair. To my complete surprise, I won the election and became a member of their Steering Committee. It was the only time I ever won a contested election.
2005 was also an interesting year in my Merck career. I remember getting a call from Lorraine DeBrodi on Valentine’s Day. I knew something important was going on because a director never calls me, much less at home on a weekend. Apparently a VIP was having a remote connectivity issue. This led to the establishment of the Expert Help Desk (EHD). Without so much as an interview, thus began my second job at Merck. Being a founding member of the EHD brought new challenges and new experiences. I now wasn’t so tied to phone metrics and was afforded the flexibility to be on new and interesting projects. I handled the tough tickets and got those we could not resolve to the right folks who could. I got to interview people for the first time. This was new for me, after all, I have had lots of experience being the “interviewee.” My role at the EHD allowed for some personal growth and adventure as well. I flew by myself for the first time and it was an international trip to Canada. I got to provide in-person EHD support to the Australia help desk located at Ajilon in Montréal.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Schering-Plough. While I am considered a legacy Merck employee, my career started at Schering-Plough, first in Union and then in Kenilworth as an intern doing deskside support. The merger was an interesting and exciting time for me. Despite the world becoming smaller with the Internet and social networking, seeing “long lost” Schering colleagues was a bit like a high school reunion. I don’t know what they got in the water over at S-P, but I swear none of them aged in the intervening years. This merger gave me the opportunity to be involved in integration activities. I got to be part of “day 1” hyper care support. I remember needing to test “Merck Today” with a corporate vice-president to see if it worked with people at various levels of the company but I was a little afraid to “annoy” a VP with a “friend request.” Luckily George Llado was sitting next to me and I got to “annoy” him with my friend request. The merger also allowed me to take my first trip to Mexico and meet some truly wonderful, dedicated and hardworking analysts of the Americas Help Desk (AHD). I had the opportunity to provide integration support for when the AHD started providing support for our new co-workers from Schering-Plough.
The merger afforded me the opportunity to work with new colleagues from the Rainbow Alliance Network (RAN), Schering’s LGBT employee resource group. Due to my role as Technology Chair, I got to work on integration activities as we merged GLEAM and RAN to form the Merck Rainbow Alliance (MRA). A new web site was created using SharePoint which allowed for prospective members to electronically join the group, plus each chapter got its own web site which allowed for more member engagement. Eventually I would go on to be the New Jersey co-chair of the group, which allowed me to have new opportunities. I got to learn leadership skills, organization, and planning. I got to meet new colleagues from other companies and industries thanks to participating in the Out & Equal Workplace Summit in Los Angeles, Dallas, Baltimore and Minneapolis.
The merger brought new management for the Expert Help Desk with Mike Landsman. His new way of doing things lead to a more engaged and cohesive group. The mix of Merck and Schering cultures had a good synergy that made our team a successful one. As we moved away from Expert Services and the Hands on Helpdesk, I got a new job (again without so much as an interview) as I learned Service Management. My role evolved from being an incident manager, to a problem manager. This is where my ITIL certification and Six Sigma Yellow Belt training really came into play. I got to learn how to find solutions to prevent them from happening in the first place, sort of like putting out the fires before the first spark. I got to learn a new way of thinking and analyzing and as result; my skills with PivotTables have never been stronger.
As I look back at my career at Merck, I also look forward. No one can predict the future. Who knows, perhaps my path will someday intersect with Merck again. My Merck experience has truly been a wonderful time in my life. I know there are lots of people I didn’t mention who have been so influential in my Merck career, but they’re playing the music and it’s time for me to get off the stage. I have often wondered what I would write, when the time came for Merck and I to part ways, though Markella Saliaris mentioned it first and wrote about it in her own farewell statement, the video below pretty much is how I feel. Be positive! Always look on the bright side of life! Most importantly, be well.
Contact me at mbernste at gmail dot com