Why I do what I do.

Hi my name is Josh O’Brien.  I am the CTO of Language Access Network.  We provide remote video language services to hospitals and clinics across the United States.  Blah Blah Blah….I go through this at least once a day and sometimes as many as ten times a day.  Also every day I hear about all the cool new milestones that Language Access Network is reaching.  Most of these go something like today our interpreters provided 70 more interpretations than our last high water mark a week ago.  My answer has always been that’s nice please let me get back to work making sure everything is working, scalable and supportable.  I know I am a cold bastard, but it has been the reality of what I do.

Don’t get me wrong, I 100 percent believe in our company, what it does and the profound impact we make in the medical market…I really do!  But I am not an interpreter, doctor or customer advocate my job is to make the zeros and ones fly down the correct pipe at the correct time and to so as efficiently as possible.  I just don’t have time for all the slaps on the back an congratulations for doing what I was brought here to do which is to massively grow the company and win.  Even my own staff does not get me, they love reveling in the record breaking and I am thrilled that they are because at the end of that day it is one more amazing testament to how good they are and the hard work they put in.  But I am a geek, not a mercenary in it for the cash but just a flat out geek, nerd, packet pusher whatever you want to call me.  I get excited about the tech.  I have always been that way.  If I won $100,000,000 in cash today I would renounce my salary, hire more staff, reduce my travel load and then out of my pocket buy all sorts of cool gear for Language Access Network and my team.  I just freaking love what I do!

But then yesterday I fly out to see a client with my COO and my CEO and it messed the whole damn thing up for me.  I hear the heart warming stories all the time of what our interpreters do.  Due to HIPAA compliance I never see it and and I sure can’t talk about them.  But suffice to say we help our client healthcare organizations and their limited English and American Sign Language patients win every single day.  But again it does not do much for me.  But yesterday…as I stood in a hospital waiting area waiting for the network director to come whisk me off to another wonderland of LED screens, routers and access points I saw something that will change me forever.

As we checked in there was a Hispanic woman a few years older than myself there with her two sons.  Her boys were about 6 and 12.  At first I just thought the the older was just harassing her in their native tongue as she was trying to take care of her business with the folks at the payment desk.  But due to my nosiness and the close proximity I quickly realized that he was doing a word for word interpretation between his mother and the woman behind the desk.  So now I was interested because this is what my company does right?  Quickly this interest turned to horror and then a sudden deep sadness as I realized the immense pressure that this young man was dealing with.  Young man at 12 you ask?  Yes, absolutely because I have never met a child who stoically took on the intimate knowledge of their parents finances and medical situation because it was their duty.  What I have seen is as an adult in my 20s that both my father and I had to take on similar roles with my ailing then dying grandparents and as my own parents have aged I have take on similar roles with their health when need be.  So the point is that what that young man was doing was something well beyond call of his youth.

My heart simply broke for them, because I could see my 7 year old in his eyes innocent, full of hope, full of wonder but I also saw that this young man was mature well beyond the years of many college students that I have met because he had to be.  You may think me melodramatic, you may say come on Josh he was asking how much their insurance copay was its not a big deal.  That is simply the end of the the visit…I have no idea but what if the had just left that facilities cancer clinic and his mother had just been told that she has weeks to live and it was her 12 year old sons role to not only hear that before her but then break that news her not only her but his little brother as well.  What if god forbid the mother had a feminine issue that hat to be dealt with and he had to relay incredibly private information between a care giver and his mother.  All of these are what ifs and to some degree they are moot because guess what language interpretations services are MANDATED to every hospital in the United States.  There are strict rules governed by The Joint Commission who is tasked with auditing healthcare providers to ensure that they are providing these services.  But on a daily basis I am part of conversations about we are trying to provide better coverage to generate higher percentages of compliance to these organizations.  At least monthly we are engaged by an organization that goes something like, hey the joint commission is due to audit us any day or he we just got sued because we are not providing this service we need your service NOW!

So this morning I woke up and got dressed in another hotel in another city heading to another meeting and hoping to get home in time to tuck my kids in kiss my wife good night and wake up to do it all again tomorrow.  But today I now know why I do what I do.  I do it not simply because technology is cool and I have the attention span of a dead gnat.  I do it because technology solves problems.  My technology that I bust my ass on every day, that my staff and I loose days worth of sleep over and weeks away from our families, changes the equation for a 12 year old boy who gets to be a kid, who does not have to know that his family owes hundreds of dollars to the hospital at the same time they can’t pay rent, and for a parent to be a parent and choose to protect their kids innocence while the do the hard work of raising them.

I am lucky, very little of what I have done in my career has really counted for much.  Don’t get me wrong I am good at what I do and I have gone above and beyond the call for every employer and client I have ever had.  I hold nothing back.  But now I am making a difference and it may have taken me twenty months of doing it to realize, but I no longer get to wake up and just go to work.  I have to get up and I have to keep making it faster, better, and easier to access language services because what I do makes a difference.  I can tell you this is a shift of the soul, if you have not had this experience find it.  Being driven by what you do is great, being driven by who you have helped is better.


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