The first time I stepped onboard a vessel was in 1980, on the mighty MV Mikhail Cheremnyh (built 1973), when I was less than 1 year old. My father was then 3rd mate, in the days when crews on such vessels were more then 20 people, every vessel had a doctor onboard at all times, and a maid. In the years that followed, I grew to realize what it is like to be a seaman’s daughter, where your father would be back every 8 months for a couple of months, the time home filled with guests, food and joy. And bananas, green bananas from Cuba ripening in our cupboard that you would check on from time to time whether they were finally yellow and ready to eat!
We would occasionally receive a telegram, all written in code, with no dots or commas. Something along the lines of, what is the size of shoes now of the kids so perhaps a visit can be paid to C&A in Rotterdam to buy a few pairs. Kids grow fast when dads are away for 8 months at a time, feet grow pretty fast too. There was a radio operator onboard every vessel, that would be there deciphering all the communications between the company, the agents, the families. He was the only point of contact with his skills and, armed with headphones, ready to write down any stocking sizes, cargo orders or demands.
I never did leave the transport world, sailing with my dad in the North of Russia, being thrown around the cabin like a feather in storms, mapping out course of the vessel; then working as a translator for the Russian woodcutters supplying timber to the Norwegian paper industry; working summers during studies in forwarding and shipping companies trying to figure out what a cargo manifest is or how does a sale of a vessel take place.
Then finally entering the proper job market, at a desk in Rotterdam, with ships to operate. Having a good idea what a ship is, but having no idea about bunkering,checking proformas, you name it. Hearing the sound of the telex machine working hard printing yet another message from a very communicative captain, not only typing out position reports, but writing a bit about life at sea, curious to find out more about this Russian operator girl that suddenly popped out of nowhere. One thing, those telexes were expensive!
Telex is actually a network of teleprinters used to send text-based messages. The speed, if one can imagine it nowadays, was about 66 words per minute. From what I remember, the cost per word was about USD 2, so money went pretty quick, one message, one minute and about 120 bucks later, one was extremely cautious as to how many characters did a telex contain. The wonderful world of abbreviations that were known exclusively by the shipping world came into play. Try some of these:
* WP/AGW * NAABSA * MOLOO * WIBON * SHINC
If you know what they stand for, congrats, you are most definitely at home in the shipping world. If you don’t, well, google has all the answers!
Imagine, being at sea, months away, some were away for more then a year. With the ability to exchange only a few words with family and friends. Surely there were written letters, posted in every imaginable post box in every harbour. Maybe a phone call that cost a few days salary. Romantic, right? Maybe in a way it was. I know the old timers are nostalgic of those days, they talk and their eyes get a bit watery, maybe they see in front of them vast seas, angry storms, long talks in the captain’s room, rum and girls in the ports. Who knows, I did not sail as they did, nor will I ever nor anyone else.
That world is gone, although the business remained the same. The physical transportation from A to B. Goods need to be moved, across borders, be it by sea, land or air. I am definitely not an economist nor do I aspire to be one, simply due to a lack of proper set of skills and intellect, but every graph you see in terms of growth of international trade looks something like this. The immense growth that we are all effected by, but actually hardly notice on a daily basis, has been something of a Bang or a Boom for all involved.
That’s why, albeit the act of transportation remains same and straightforward, the demands on this world have changed. Here I briefly mentioned the services of telex, and how slow, expensive and limited it was. Many moons later, and we are in a world where we can see Panama Canal, live, while sitting behind my work desk in Holland, whilst paying only for my internet connection which is peanuts in comparison to how much I spend on wine on a weekly basis (Lidl wines, mind you).
Anyway, years of wandering through the world, living in different countries, I have seen huge changes in the way that our transportation world communicates. Both the ones at sea with their families, and in the actual business of shipping. The phones are silent, chat boxes are glistening with action, fingers ready to type up any claim, instruction or cheeky email to a prospect.
You want a report within minutes, you got it, in your format with your logo, with my boss’s signature that is somewhere in Siberia, yet able to check and approve same easily without much hassle. Everyone wants everything yesterday, preferably in their preferred font, and want to be able to access it in every bath, restaurant, factory, island etc. Show me, send me, give me, and do it immediately. Please.
And now, why I wrote this, my first little story, to share with you, is that I knocked myself over backwards end last year, when I joined a software company. Me, who didn’t figure out that to get to another screen of the touch phone I had to swipe, 3 weeks after buying it. Me, who is terrified of new phones, new computers because WHAT IF I lose all my kids’ photos! But hold on, they are on a cloud!
Anyway! Its daunting upon so many of us. But I joined, because its looking into the future. Working with people that have vision of which direction the world is heading. People with vision full stop! People who speak my language (in this case English) but whom I do not understand as its terminology is unfamiliar. It is both exciting and extremely challenging to be part of this world and this environment, but with every day, you see how easy it is, how everything we do, is basically simplifying our old ways, making our jobs and tasks less complex and catering for needs that we didn’t know we had. I guess that is the purpose or at least the goal of every SaaS company, simplify. Its not a word that is hugely liked or accepted by some of the older crew, but with the pace of business, and the demands on any business nowadays, it is an extremely powerful one.