In memory of Michael Yancey

As I awoke Friday on a chilly Denver morning, all I was thinking about was mentally preparing for the exam on this last day of my NICE Systems fundamentals training. I grabbed my iPhone and was surprised to see quite a few messages from my former coworkers and friends back in the ol’ days of Williams Communications Solutions.

Mike passed away Thursday night after years of fighting cancer.

I was shocked and deeply saddened… God must needed somebody to help deploy a contact center staffed with angels. Why else would He take Mike?

You see, if there ever was a mentor in my career, it was Mike. Coming out of graduate school, I envisioned a career in software development in its most traditional sense — designing, coding, debugging, etc. But when I interviewed and then got hired into Williams Communications Solutions’ CCAT group (Contact Center Applications Team), I was thrown into an unfamiliar world of circuits, telephones, IVRs, ACD, and other odd acronyms.

Lucky for me, Mike’s office had enough room to house a rookie. He was also the senior systems integrator of the team, so I had the golden opportunity to watch and learn from the best, just right across my desk. Besides, he was also a Yellow Jacket (played football at Tech, too), and I welcomed the chance to be in the presence of another Tech engineer.

The first week was spent reading through manuals and product guides, learning a new glossary and understanding our CTI software. I’d asked Mike a few questions, and he was always patient with me, and made very good use of the whiteboard in the office.

But he saw the glimmer in my eye every time he worked on that Nortel OPEN IVR box sitting in the office. Yeah, I was eager to get my hands on that thing and do some actual programming work. I had no idea how to tame an IVR but I was ready to take the plunge.

Well, the rest is history. Among my many calls for help, every time I had trouble figuring out the corporate IVR situated at Williams Tower in Houston, he was always there for me, ready to help. It didn’t matter if I was working on the weekends (a common occurrence in this business) — I could dial his number and he’ll answer enthusiastically. He was sharp, easy-going, and quite the optimist.

The glass was always half full to Mike. If the PBX was under a foot of water, Mike would probably say, “Good thing it’s not during business hours right now.” I recall when he first learned about having cancer he was smiling when he shared with us his conversation with the doctor… It went something like this:

Doctor: “Would you like a few days to think about the treatment options?”

Mike: “Whatever you recommend, I want to schedule it now and have it done today if possible.”

Fearless. Just get it done. That was his philosophy at work, too. He was my manager for a few years and when he found me troubleshooting a system, he often joked, “Hey, remember — IVRs can smell fear. Show no fear.”

In my early weeks of starting at CCAT I embarrassed myself by not being able to get the dial-up VPN to work in our temporary office. Mike politely pointed out that I cannot plug the phone line from my laptop modem to the wall because that jack is a digital port. He said I was lucky that it didn’t fry my laptop and we both laughed at my rookie mistake.

One day as I was ready to head out after work, I saw him and a few coworkers in a cube troubleshooting a system. This was when voice recognition was just emerging as a viable IVR technology. The issue at hand was that the system wouldn’t recognize Mike’s perfectly spoken English. Naturally, as good engineers would do, they asked me to talk to the system and see what happens. So I called the test number and blurted out a test account number — the system had no problem with my English when it’s not even my native tongue. Go figure. For days we gave Mike a hard time about his linguistic capability…

After leaving Williams I have crossed paths again with some former coworkers (it’s a small CTI world after all) but regrettably not with Mike. It would’ve been wonderful to hear him talk again about the Georgia Tech, the Falcons, or any of his projects, as I’m sure there’s still so much I could learn from him. It was truly a privilege to work alongside him, and to call him mentor and friend. Rest in peace, Mike.

Mike Yancey passed Thursday, December 6, 2012. He was 53.


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