September 05, 2006

Placing group orders for food at work

In the essay described in the last post, one of the headings in the table of contents reads “TSMC shopping network: every day is shopping day.” Unfortunately, the section describing this phenomenon was not included in the forwarded email I received, but it is easy to understand what the author is referring to. At many companies, employees pool together to make huge group orders of things. By ordering things in groups, you can get discounts on the items and possibly free delivery. Some of the things that people order are not easily available outside of Taipei or wherever they come from and some things are ordered because the quality is better than what is available locally. Also, shopping while at work is a good way to pass the time. In short, it's one of the few genuinely fun things about working in an office in Taiwan. Some people or departments like placing orders so much that they gain a reputation for constantly ordering things.

Most of the things that people order together are food. There must be other things, but I can't think of any. Things that I have ordered or seen other people order include: cakes, pies, ice cream, plums, strawberries, nuts, chicken feet, duck heads, dumplings, pudding, dried seaweed, fruit-flavored vinegar, bottled juice, and some Chinese desserts that aren't so easy to describe. (There are also the usual lunchtime or afternoon orders for drinks, noodles, and other snacks that are delivered from within a couple miles.)

This is one thing that I have ordered at work, a mango flan (from here). I thought it was very good, although I prefer eating mine without the leaf.

Life at Taiwan Semiconductor

I recently received a forwarded email with a long essay attached. The essay is written by a production line supervisor who works at Taiwan Semiconductor (TSMC). It is a humorous look at what life is like for a new college graduate working at a high-tech company in Taiwan. The essay is about 33 pages long, and it appears that the piece is only a fraction of a much larger piece. As a production line supervisor, the author’s job is to keep the line running smoothly, trying to minimize machine idle time, scrapped wafers and operator errors, while dealing with machines that go down and getting high-priority (super hot) lots through as quickly as possible.

The essay was a pleasure to read, so I tried to locate the rest of it on the web. The content has been posted to a few blogs and message boards (here's one), but I found no official source for the story, and none of the postings had more content than the one I was sent by email. It’s likely that the author did not intend for the story to become public, and there are likely some people at TSMC who would be embarrassed by the story. However, the story has become public. I first heard about the article from a friend working at a high-tech company. Then I received the forwarded piece from an unconnected source a week later.

If I'm not feeling lazy (likelihood: low), I may do some quick translations of parts of it, even though they won't be as clever as the original.

Here's a sample:

Public Address System

When the phone line is busy or reception is bad and a connection can’t be made, or when the person you are trying to reach is not carrying one of the company’s PHS phones, dialing 180 will connect you to the PA system. The whole fab can then hear your call. There are a few ways that a call can be made:

"CVD area, Chang Hsiao-mo please dial extension 3030” is the normal version.
"Chang Hsiao-mo, please dial extension 3030 immediately” is the version when the line supervisor is about to erupt with suppressed rage.
“Anayou Momo-san, wakananai.” There is also a Japanese version when a Japanese vendor is searching for a lost countryman.
"Hsinchu rice noodles are oily and fragrant and delicious.” In the Taoyuan-Hsinchu-Miaoli area, there are many Hakkas. Over the PA system, the voices of a lot of employees and vendors carry an especially friendly native feeling.

In addition to the normal versions, the PA system is sometimes used to sing Happy Birthday. But there is also a version where some muddleheaded person dials 180 and then forgets to hang up the phone, letting the whole fab listen to the sounds of rubbing as he puts the phone in his pocket.

Sometimes the noise in the fab decreases the effectiveness of the broadcast and you can’t make out the name or the extension that was mentioned. At these times, you will hear things like:

“Whoever just called for Chang Hsiao-mo, please dial Chang Hsiao-mo at extension 1234.” Or,“Whoever just called for Chang Hsiao-mo, please page him again.”