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Archive for April, 2009

Archive: Get it done

April 29th, 2009 Comments off

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Sometimes, despite our best efforts, we can lose track of our goals in the midst of the chaos of daily life. We work and work on our projects without ever getting them done. No matter how much work you do, if you don’t complete your projects, what have you really accomplished? Your career depends on providing solutions. Don’t build a career that saddles you with never-ending project after never-ending project. Get on with it. Get over it. Get it done!

A Good Experience

The importance of being able to complete a project was brought home to me again this week, when I was working on a project with my podcasting group, Friends in Tech (http://friendsintech.com). We were producing a special production for only the second time in our short history and yet it was a great experience. Despite being scattered across the country, we wrote, edited, recorded and audio edited a 40 minute show, using all our voices and those of our family and yet still completed it 2 days before our scheduled deadline. This was a major feat, but even with all the work, we still followed our #1 Charter Guideline, “Have Fun!”

Why was this such a good experience? As you may have discovered in past or present jobs, completing projects makes everyone happy. The client is happy. Your company is happy and you are happy. Just when you start to get tired of the project, it’s over. Compare this to one of your previous projects that seemed to go on and on until everyone involved was sick of it. Never-ending projects make everyone unhappy and usually end with someone being fired.

One of the biggest assets of our group, and any good project group, is the ability to complete projects and complete them on time. If you can do that, you can do almost anything. But how do you find or build a group that can make it happen? There are a couple of key elements that can show you whether your project group is on the right track.

Get It Done Checklist

First, and most importantly, do you and your fellow team members have clear goals and deadlines? Are you all in agreement on what needs to be done and when? If not, prepare for a long, long project. You can’t possibly know when a project is over, if you don’t have a clear and concise picture of the end result. Lack of goals, or poorly defined goals, lead you astray from the very start. Plans change, features change, jobs change and even the entire project can change. A perfect scenario for a never-ending story. In a project like this, you are destined for months of “just one more feature” or “just one more change.”

Next, does everyone on the project team have multiple skills? Can they take on whatever role is required of them, even if it isn’t their primary talent? This is one of the great strengths of our group. Sure, we all have our specialties, but each of us can “jump in” when needed, to move the project forward. Even more, everyone is ready to jump in whenever they see an issue or need. No one waits for someone to cry for help. They are usually aware of the problem from the start and are already helping out even before their co-workers reach a breaking point.

Finally, any issue that isn’t directly related to the project at hand is ignored. Bureaucracy, paper-shuffling, unnecessary meetings are forgotten, and, if everyone is thinking clearly, no one cares. Great projects take on their own momentum and can, for a time, shunt aside the typical office politics and constraints. Build the momentum of your project and fewer people can distract you from its completion. Any project that slows too much begins to be picked apart by turf wars, bureaucracy and critics who never wanted it to happen in the first place.

You only need to experience one bad project before you see the wisdom of focusing on completion. Bad projects are like chains around your ankles. Everything is more difficult than it should be and you find yourself moving slower and slower with each passing day. In the worst cases, you might find yourself trapped within the project forever, toiling away on something that no one finds interesting or even useful, but which no one can seem to stop.

Great careers are built on great projects, so do everything in your power to find or make projects that improve your high-tech career instead of trapping it in a never-ending cycle of going nowhere.

Question of the Week: In what ways can you keep your projects on track and moving towards completion?



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Out of time

April 26th, 2009 Comments off

Career Opportunities podcast logoOut of time
By Douglas E. Welch

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How does it happen? We look up from our work one day to notice that there simply isn’t enough time left to get everything done. This project has pushed out that project. Rehearsals went late and crept into the time we set aside for finishing that article. A family crisis erupted and took up whole swathes of our day. The stress level starts to rise and the walls seem like they are about tumble down. In case you haven’t guessed already, this has been my life over the last week or so. Too much to do in too short a time, but like most crises, I only have myself to blame. You might find the same thing happens to you on occasion. As they say, though, the only way out is through.

The need to say “No!”

Since my career goes in so many directions at once, I usually have more requests for my time than actual available hours. In any given week I could be involved in computer consulting, New Media speaking, teaching podcasting classes, performing for my son’s school fundraisers and much more. Like any good careerist, I want to take on as much of this work as possible, to move ahead each facet of my life. Of course, conflicts often arise. With such a variety of projects, they can often step on each other and even defy any logical scheduling. Still, I am loathe to say “No” to any of them, lest I miss some important opportunity. In many ways, this is exactly the wrong thing to do.

All of us have to practice the fine art of saying “No”, even when we would love to do the thing we are being asked to do. We have to be honest with ourselves when certain projects simply don’t fit into our already crowded schedules. We may truly “want” to do something, but if it only adds stress to our lives we will not enjoy it and, even worse, not do our best. In these cases, saying “No” might be the best thing we can do.

You might be thinking, “Well, unload some of your previous commitments so you can take on this one.” While that is an option, I am loathe to renege on a promise I have already made without a very good reason. Backing out of a commitment to others, even in favor of a better project, can be very damaging to your career. Trust is fragile and if those around you don’t think they can rely on you, you might find them unwilling to work with you in the future. Be very careful in renegotiating commitments. You might find that you hurt both yourself and those around you. We can only live life forward and accept commitments as we are offered them. It is important to remember that some opportunities must be missed if we have already committed to something else.

Watch your calendar

If you feel you are running out of time, it can often be because you are too focused on the short term. Many of us manage our lives on a daily or weekly schedule when a monthly or yearly focus would be more appropriate. I do everything I can to place items on my calendar as soon as they are known. For example, I already know of 2 large commitments in November of this year. By placing them in my calendar today, I will be less likely to let other projects encroach on that time. When I am presented with new commitments, I already know what time I have available and will be able to say, “No” with full knowledge of my schedule.

The truth is, many projects “sneak up on us” even though we know about them months in advance. They are not really sneaking, of course, we have simply chosen to forget about them in lieu of other work. You can’t fool time, though, and those projects will quickly come galloping down upon you. Wouldn’t it be better to be secure in the knowledge of your complete schedule instead of living your life stress-filled day-to-stress-filled day?

While running out of time can certainly happen, too often we are the creators of our own stress. We take on too many commitments in too short a time and then ignore future commitments until they force our attention. Learn to say “No” when needed and manage your calendar with a longer focus and much of your stress can be alleviated. This will then allow you to focus more on the task at hand, secure in the knowledge that you have your work, your life and your career under control.



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Event: Douglas speaks to Tuesdays with Transitioners, May 12, 2009

April 16th, 2009 Comments off

I will be speaking on The importance of Visibility to Tuesdays with Transitioners on May 12, 2009.

Complete information on the group, and their regular, weekly meeting follow.

Douglas


Have you been laid-off or downsized?

Is the economic meltdown making you uneasy in your current position?

Are you looking to transition to a different career?

Then Tuesdays with Transitioners is the place for you!

We meet every Tuesday for lunch, support and encouragement, and to discuss ideas, share stories and resources, and garner tools that can lead us to new work, and unlock the potential for a hopeful future and career.

This week, we are going to talk about how to transition from one career to another, so come join us!

When: Every Tuesday, from 12:00 noon to 2:00 p.m.

Where: Congregational Church of Northridge, Fellowship Hall
9659 Balboa Blvd., Northridge
(818) 349-2400
www.northridgechurch.net

Contact: Jennifer O’Connell at joliveroconnell@gmail.com.

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April 14th, 2009 Comments off
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We must stop lying to ourselves

April 12th, 2009 1 comment

Career Opportunities podcast logoWe must stop lying to ourselves
By Douglas E. Welch

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During the toughest times in our history, there always seems to be a contingent of people who want to believe that nothing is changing — that everything is going to be just fine — that all this turmoil is just going to pass and life will continue just as it always has. They don’t want to hear what you have to say. They don’t want to see the facts and figures and charts and graphs. What they are often saying is, “Please, lie to me!”

Too many people want to believe that this recent downturn is an oddity, an aberration, some short bit of madness that will quickly pass away. To believe that, though, they have to deny thousands of years of history — thousands of years of rise and fall — thousands of years of cyclical change ranging from one extreme to another. We have seen this all before, many times over, and denying it only makes it worse. It gives circumstance a power over us that it should never have. We are critically thinking animals with deep abilities to learn and reason. Surrendering ourselves to lies squanders our talents and makes us culpable in our failures. We have the intelligence to survive this downturn if we only remove the scales from our eyes and the fingers from our ears.

I always endeavor to speak the truth from these pages, even when it is unpopular. I will guess that nearly everyone reading or listening will find something to dislike here. The truth is sometimes hard to hear, but it is all important that we hear it, and more importantly, act on it. Power comes from a clear understanding of our circumstances and denial causes the waste of our time and talents. Let’s seek to access the “better angels of our nature” and start our recovery today.

First, it is almost certain that certain jobs, certain careers and certain industries will, and by all rights should, be discarded. As a child in the 70’s I witnessed the first death throes of the automotive industry where many family members, and families of my friends found work, careers and financial stability. For nearly 40 years we have propped up this ever weakening, ever stumbling, falling giant. Unable to see the future, we held on to the past until such a time when the future is being crammed down our throats. If you work in the automotive industry, or any manufacturing sector, you need to look elsewhere for succor. Like the last great herd of buffalo to roam the plains, the beasts of the automotive industry have fallen and will no longer provide us food, clothing and support. Will they return? One day. Maybe in time for our grandchildren or great grand-children to once again make manufacturing an important mainstay of America, but not in our lifetime. We must return to the days of the many and the small instead of the big and the few. Only then can we rebuild manufacturing in this country while, hopefully, remembering the lessons of this collapse.

Second, for years we have stretched the American Dream to ever more absurd limits. What began as a quest for home, land and family has been warped into greed, avarice and excess in almost every way. As a people, we have lost any concept of the difference between enough and all. Where a soldier returning from World War II wanted mainly a home for his family and a good, decent job in a safe community, today many of us want a huge house, ludicrous pay and power of life and death over those around us. Our love of prosperity left us without any understanding of the many levels of success. You were either a superstar or nothing, with no grey areas in between. This has led to many of the abuses we are seeing today, from Enron to the real estate crisis to our seeming inability to govern ourselves politically.

Today, I regularly talk with musicians and others in the entertainment industry who seem most infected by this superstar myth. Even they are beginning to see that being able to support your family, comfortably, while doing what you love is a far greater goal than any form of super stardom — and far more likely. While we may never stop reaching for the brass ring, we need to recognize the simple success of a life well lived and the benefits it brings to us as individuals and society as a whole.

Third, we need to stop looking for some external force, some outside factor, some knight in shining armor to fix our problems. We are the source of our own solutions, our own changes, our own imaginative creations, not our government, our corporations, our political parties, our God. If change is to happen, it must happen down deep in the psychological soil of our own being. We have to decide to change. We have to recognize reality. We have to seek the truth even when it is difficult, despairing and ugly. We can no longer abdicate our lives to someone else or we risk the very basis of our humanness. We can no longer depend on government, corporations, and other entities to look out for our best interests. Current events should show us the fallacy of that. Large entities will do what is best for them, not what is best for the people. Sometimes our interests converge, but at others they diverge at the detriment to both.

Despite what you may see and feel today, the future is bright. With the future comes hope, and time, to accomplish great things if we stop lying to ourselves and start doing the work that needs to be done. We have the power in our own hands to shape our future, even if we have denied, forsworn or simply forgotten it. The power does not reside in some mythical “out there.” It is held here, in our hands and only desires that we wield it. Like a new shovel in untouched soil, we simply need to take the tool, turn over the soil and create the future we desire.



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Archive: Thinning the Herd – January 27, 2006

April 8th, 2009 Comments off

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No, I am not speaking of layoffs, plant closures and terminations, but rather thinning your “herd” of out-dated projects, failed initiatives, worthless bureaucracy and old hardware and software. The New Year is a great time for taking a hard look at your work and getting rid of everything that no longer fits with your current vision, workload or budget.

Hangers-on

Every company, every department and every high-tech worker has some project, some task, some system that needs to be put out of their (and your) misery. I can practically see you nodding your heads from here. There is the ancient mainframe that continues to run the one application that everyone depends on — the desktop PCs that can barely run the corporate email application – last year’s quality initiative that survives as nothing more than a binder on the shelf. All these items slow you down, wear you out and otherwise hinder your ability to get on with other important work. Now is the time to thin the herd and get back to a more productive state of mind.

First, you have to remember everything that is getting on your nerves. For the next 2 weeks you are going to make note of everything you encounter that needs to be replaced or retired. Take a notebook, maybe even one specifically for this task, with you wherever you go. Use it as your “outboard memory” capturing all those items that annoy you on a daily basis. If you work in an IT department, have everyone do this at the same time. Then, at the end of the week, gather all your notes into one central document that everyone can review and add to if necessary. Have one, 1 hour meeting and place some sort of priority on each item on the list. Keep the meeting as short as possible. Remember, this is designed to kill off time wasting problems, not waste more time. Now you have your game plan. Your task is to remove as many of these annoyances as possible.

Easy and Hard

Some of your annoyances will be easy to kill off. Move the data off that old server to a new one and then unplug the thing. Donate it to a worthy cause. Move some PCs around so that Mary in Accounting doesn’t feel she is working with a dinosaur of a computer, even if she doesn’t get a shiny new one. Stop using that 3 part form that requires the last, barely functioning, dot matrix printer in the company.

Other problems will be more difficult to solve, but merely taking action on them is a step in the right direction. You aren’t going to replace 40,000 lines of COBOL code overnight, but maybe now is the time to put a project team together and start moving forward. You can’t stop tracking purchase orders, but you can start investigating the process and how it might be better automated. For these more intractable problems, making any progress, no matter how small, is the goal.

In some cases, it is the extremely difficult problems that you want to attack first. Is there something that has been bothering you for months, or even years? Try to make some progress on it. You may not succeed this time, but you will feel better for trying and it is almost impossible to not have some small effect. Too often, these projects are considered so difficult that no one even tries to change them. Maybe your small push will create some momentum that might finally produce some change.

Finally, once you have gone through this process once, continue doing it, at least once per quarter. Even better, make it a constant on-going practice. It usually requires moments of re-dedication over the years, but making it part of your daily work will ensure a constant reduction in your most annoying problems. You will never solve everything, but you will feel better, and be much more productive, than had you not tried at all.

Every so often, you need to face those nagging, bothersome and, seemingly impossible problems in your work. You may be uncomfortable digging into old problems, but “thinning the herd” is the only way to insure the quality and productivity of your high-tech career.



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All a-Twitter

April 5th, 2009 Comments off

Do you Twitter?

Career Opportunities podcast logoAll a-Twitter
By Douglas E. Welch

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All the world seems to be a-twitter about Twitter these days. (http://twitter.com) The mainstream press has discovered Twitter and it is leading to an explosion of new users, and new uses. I had been mulling over a column on Twitter for a while, but a question from a Career Opportunities listener moved me to action, because Twitter can be one way to build your career, especially during this economic downturn.

Twitter is a service which has been described as “micro-blogging” and a public form of instant messaging. Instead of speaking to just one other person, your messages go out to the world at large. Other Twitter users can then decide to “follow” you — meaning that they find what you say interesting and want to see each message you post.

Twitter ties in perfectly with the concept of “visibility” that I have written and spoken on in the past. (See A Year of Visibilitycolumn – audiovideo) This important way of building your career is designed around letting others know what you do and how well you do it. Posting 140 character updates on Twitter might seem a difficult way of spreading the word, except for the fact that these updates are quickly absorbed by your followers and others that stumble across your “tweets.” These small messages aggregate to paint a more complete picture of who you are and what you do.

One question I get almost every time I talk about Twitter is, “Is it useful?” In some ways, that is a very personal decision that each person needs to make for themselves. For me, though, I have booked billable hours based on Twitter conversations, so I definitely see value to be had there. There are other, less tangible benefits as well, such as raising your profile, engaging in enlightening and useful conversations, asking the advice and opinions of others and more.

At its most extreme, your Twitter message might even end up getting you a job. Your tweet about working on your latest (insert your own type of work here – iPhone application, new program, whatever) could lead to a conversation with someone who is interested in your work and might even need to hire you for a project or full-time job. Of course, direct and immediate results like this don’t happen every day, but your regular updates still have the power to educate, enlighten and entertain readers. Those are worthy goals, too. The fact is, you have no idea who might be reading your tweets or what benefit you might bring to them. You have no idea who your audience is, so your job is to put your information out there and let people find you.

I often tell my writer wife, “scripts, novels, articles don’t sell themselves in a drawer.” Your work has to be sent out to those that might purchase it. The same rule applies to Twitter and other forms of social networking. With each message, you are making your work visible to those who might be in a position to buy — or hire — you.

Of course, the everyday benefits of Twitter can be even more subtle. Your tweets allow readers to build up a deeper understanding of who you are, what you do and what you find interesting. People only need to follow me for a few days before they learn that I LOVE coffee, geek out on wine and food and run several groups here in Los Angeles. This isn’t because I am shouting these messages out, but rather because I mention them in my daily tweeting. We are in a world of global opportunities today and Twitter provides one method of cultivating these opportunities no matter where you — or your followers — are geographically located. I have Twitter conversations with people all over the globe and I find that simply amazing. It brings me a better understanding of the world.

Twitter, and other social networking services, provide many important functions. It raises your visibility in the world. It allows you to present a well-rounded picture of yourself, showing all facets and not just one specialty. This helps to keep you from being pigeonholed as one thing or another. It introduces you to new people, new ideas and new worlds. While face-to-face meetings are both fun and useful, the ability to create long distance, loose connections with people all over the world is a wonderful new tool in building your career and your life. Once you engage in this activity, whether via Twitter or other service, I think you will find new doors opening up to new worlds you might never have imagined.



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