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Archive for September, 2010

Now in our 6th year of Helping to Build the Career You Deserve!

September 26th, 2010 Comments off

Career Opportunities podcast logoSix years as a podcast. Thirteen years as a column. Hundreds of thousands of words and several hours of audio. Advice. Interviews. Video….and more! This is where Career Opportunities has been. September 24, 2010 marks 6 years to the day of the posting of my first podcast, which happened about 2 weeks after the term was coined. I have seen podcasters come and go, and seen the slow burgeoning of the New Media market. Who knows where the next 6 years might lead us, but I am guessing I will still be there, writing, recording and releasing through whatever technology comes along.

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What is Career Opportunities about?

I was talking with some fellow social media folks at a recent event here in LA, and the discussion turned to my Career Opportunities. I found myself explaining what it was before I really thought about it, but I think the description fits better than many others I have come up with over the years.

While you as a reader may have a different description, for me, Career Opportunities isn’t about writing resumes, interview skills or pay raises. It is all about you. It is about finding a career that fulfills you and makes the best match to your skills and desires. It is about taking the right job, not just the job that presents itself. It is about doing what is right for you, even if your company doesn’t think it is right for them. It is about thinking and working as a freelancer, even when working for a large corporation.

Your career is all about you. You take all the risks, you do all the work, you face all the consequences of your decisions. You should be able to build the career you deserve, not labor under someone else’s idea of what is best. They don’t have to live with your career — you do.

What would you like Career Opportunities to be?

A n anniversary is a great time to review the past and look to the future. This is your opportunity to tell me what you like best about Career Opportunities and what you would like to see in the future. Many of these columns grow from my own personal experiences in my career and I am sure you have great examples, questions and ideas that could serve as the basis for future columns. What challenges are you facing? What successes have you had? What advice could you use? Could you give? How is your career changing in the 21st Century and how would you like to change to meet it?

I know it can be hard to ask for advice or guidance about your career. I face that every day. We don’t want to reveal doubts or issues for fear that people will think less of us or use those doubts against us. I would still love to hear what you have to say. Send in your questions using direct email and I will craft an answer directly for you and an anonymous one for the other readers of Career Opportunities. You will doing everyone a favor. I can guarantee you that if you are facing an issue, many other readers and listeners are facing a similar issue and could benefit from bringing that issue to light.

If you have questions or comments you can and send them to blog posts on the web site, post them as discussions on the Career Opportunities Facebook Fan page, send them to the @CareerTips Twitter account or email them directly to me at whoch ever makes you feel more comfortable.

What new developments are happening at Career Opportunities?

There are always new things happening here at Career Opportunities. One of my biggest projects recently has been founding and organizing a series of CareerCamp unconferences here in the Los Angeles area. Based on the comments by attendees, these events have been an unqualified success. I am thrilled and amazed at the energy and knowledge people bring to CareerCamp events and I am actively involved in organizing our next CareerCampLA and also planning events in San Diego and elsewhere. I have also been releasing the CareerCamp presentations in the Career Opportunities feed so you can have the benefit of the CareerCamp information no matter where you might be. If you would like to organize your own CareerCamp, check out the information at the CareerCamp International web site.

I am looking forward to another year of Career Opportunities and I hope you are, too. Send me your feedback, questions and ideas. Please spread the word however you can. Use the social media links on the web site to share on Twitter, Facebook and others. Ask your friends to read and subscribe. I thank you and I think they will thank you, too.

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Archive: Believing impossible things

September 22nd, 2010 Comments off

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“Alice laughed: “There’s no use trying,” she said; “one can’t believe impossible things.”

“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

— Alice in Wonderland.

The truth is, as Lewis Carol seemed to know, we often need to believe a great many impossible things every day of our life. Doctors once thought that disease was caused by “bad air” or lack of morality – astronomers thought the Earth was the center of the universe and scientists thought heavier objects fell faster than lighter ones. Knowledge is never static, but always in a state of becoming. Once you understand that, you can begin to explore what “impossible things” you need to be believing today.

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Question everything

If you really want to get your thought processes moving, questioning the “truths” of our time is a great way to start. Maybe viruses and spyware are a good thing. Perhaps managing spam email isn’t the best idea. Maybe faster isn’t better. The mind reels at the possibilities. The truth is, you never know what wrongheaded ideas you might be carrying around until someone points them out. Why not discover them yourself?

Start boosting your thinking today by questioning everything. Question whether the sky is blue or the Intel Core Duo chip is really what companies need. Question whether a GUI is really an improvement over a command-line interface. Question whether technology helps or hurts society. The more sacred the idea, the more profane your thoughts should be.

The goal of this exercise is to get you thinking beyond your average, everyday thoughts. Too often, we simply accept the “truths” of life without ever wondering if they really are true anymore. It can be mind-bending, but in an incredible useful way. Imagine how doctors felt when presented with the microbial theory of disease after hundreds of years controlling the bodily “humors.” What might have astronomers been thinking when a solar-centered universe solved all the problems of how the heaven’s moved? Remember, someone once thought that 64KB would be more than enough memory for any computer.

Maybe, maybe not

There are several ways of applying the concept of “impossible” things to your work and career. Do you often hear management or your co-workers explaining, “it has to be that way” or “we’ve always done it like that.” This is a clear sign that some deeper thinking needs to be done. Is there a form that everyone hates, but can’t seem to stop using? Why? Would the company fall apart? Dig deeper. Is this form still necessary or is it only an unconscious ritual from a long gone process?

Is your company expending tens of thousands of dollars on technology that really isn’t needed? Could entire servers be replaced by a simple, new procedure? Are you trying to automate your way out of a problem when human nature is really the culprit? You may laugh, but I can imagine that every one of you has faced just such a problem in your career. As high-tech workers we often believe in the ability of technology to solve any problem. We throw hardware and software at a problem when training, hiring and firing would be a better response. Perhaps we should be questioning this concept most of all.

If you want your career to flourish, you need to engage in a little impossible thinking. Too many ideas we carry with us today are out-dated, unconscious beliefs that may have served us well in the past, but now limit our thinking, our creativity and our productivity. Be like the Red Queen and start each morning by believing a few impossible things, or, at least, thinking about them. I am sure you will find that what you might think a fanciful exercise will become one of the most important aspects of your work. The greatest leaps in human history have come from those who dare to think the impossible and then find out they were true all along. What new horizons might you discover in your life and your career?

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Do you remember how unique you once were?

September 17th, 2010 Comments off

Career Opportunities podcast logoTake a moment to look around you while you read this column or listen to the podcast. Take in all your surroundings. Notice the clothes you wear, the furniture in your office, the books on your bookshelves. Look at the art on your walls, the DVDs near your player. Now, consider what all this says about you. Do all these things represent a unique individual or could this be the home or office of the mythical “Everyman”? Do these items present you as someone special or yet another cog in the world’s machinery?

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The fact is, the nature of the modern advertising world and the nature of our corporate work within that world is to make us all like those around us. Where we once started out with all sorts of unique points and edges and curves, the world slowly grinds these off, often leaving us as round and smooth as everyone around us. There was a time, though, when we truly saw ourselves as unique individuals in the world. Long before kindergarten, peer pressure, high school, job interviews, and years of work, we once reveled in our individuality, our uniqueness. There was no other Doug, Rosanne, Jenny, Tracy or Jennifer quite like us.

Holding onto your uniqueness is one of the biggest challenges of life. Everything we do, everywhere we go, everyone we meet threatens to mold us into something else — something more average, more the same. As Pablo Picasso was quoted, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” If you are not careful, without even noticing it, you can become the same as everyone around you. You begin to eat at the same restaurants, go to the same clubs, watch the same shows and listen to the same music. While some common interests help to knit society together, when taken to the extreme it can remove something special from your life.

So, how do you maintain, or regain, some uniqueness in your life. Let’s start at the beginning. Think back to your childhood. What activities did you absolutely love? Did you ride your bike for miles every day? Did you listen to all sorts of music? Did you love to just lie in the grass and watch the clouds drift by? After you create a list of these activities, make a note of how many you still take the time to enjoy. Has part of your identity slipped away over the years of becoming an adult? What joy might it bring to you to re-visit some of these activities and include them in your life once more?

Now, look at your current activities and give some deep thought to why you engage in them. Do you really enjoy that hip sushi bar down the street, or is this just where all your friends hang out? Do your clothes reflect your own personal choices or are they overly influenced by your friends and acquaintances or do they serve as walking advertisements for the latest hip designer? It is ok if you really love something that is very popular, as long as you are loving it for your own reasons and not simply because it is what the in-crowd has made popular. My goal is not to convince you to reject anything that is popular — only that you consciously evaluate your decisions based on your own, personal, unique preference and not just “go with the flow.”

Why is is important to revisit your uniqueness? In the workplace, if you are just another nameless, faceless cog in the machine, you will be treated as such. Even worse, you might actually begin to believe that you aren’t important in any special way. Cogs are destined to remain cogs and to management, cogs are easily replaceable with little more thought than might be required for changing an air filter. You do not want to be a cog in any way, shape or form. Even in your day-to-day interactions you must find some way of exploring and celebrating your existence as a unique human being with unique thoughts and unique ideas. This is how you protect your position and also how you grow in your professional life.

Being a team player is fine and appreciated up to a point, but being unique leads to people thinking of you in different ways. You aren’t just “Doug in IT”, you are “Doug, that guy who plays guitar and likes to go hiking on the weekend who happens to work in IT.” Go out and craft your own unique story, bit by bit and day by day. Both your life and your career are sure to benefit.

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I Like This – September 17, 2010

September 17th, 2010 Comments off
    A collection of career items I found interesting this week.

  • A Chaos Theory for Change – September 17, 2010 – Some more short, yet great, thoughts on change. They think of it much in the same way I do.
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Elsewhere Online: More on Change – A Slideshare presentation

September 17th, 2010 Comments off

I seem to be coming across a lot of information on change lately. Here is a Slideshare deck on that topic which I found to be quite on-target.

Audio: Tech Nation interview with Chip Heath on How to Change

September 16th, 2010 Comments off

I listened to this interview while driving around on consulting calls and I almost had to stop by the side of the road so I could make some notes. Even in this short interview, Chip Heath, gives some great, though-provoking, information that I was able to put into use immediately.

Heath talks about how important it is to use emotion when attempting to change anything. I think that over time I have fallen back more and more on analytical defenses and arguments instead of starting with the emotion that makes the change so important to me.

Listen to the interview, and read the book, to find out more about “the elephant and the rider” and how they work in combination to encourage or discourage change.

I will be picking up the book as soon as I can to explore these concepts further.

Tell me what you think about the interview and the book in the comments. I would love to hear your insight.

Chip Health – How To Change
Author of Switch

Dr. Moira Gunn talks with Chip Heath, Stanford Professor in Organizational Behaviour, about his new book, Switch, and learn the key to making real change in our lives, no matter what the change is.

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Laboring for yourself

September 6th, 2010 Comments off

Career Opportunities podcast logoThis long weekend brings the Labor Day holiday here in the US. This holiday marks the end of summer for most people and brings everyone back into the office, and back to school. Each year, I end up writing something about Labor Day because it seems an excellent time to contemplate our work and our career. Many of us have had the benefit of a recent vacation from our work and with the kids back in school, a little time to quietly think.

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This Labor Day leaves us with a host of issues. Unemployment and underemployment are at an all time high. We have many people who have been out of work for so long that their benefits are also running out. The economy is stagnant at best, and government is thrashing about for any possible solutions it can find. When everything is in such turmoil we need to turn to the one place where we have direct control, direct influence over our lives — ourselves.

I know that many of you might feel powerless in your career today. Everything, it seems, buffets you from left and right, pushes you from job to job or off to unemployment. What possible control do you have over your career when the usual forces are so out of control? It may sound strange, but the only true control we have over our lives comes from within. Regardless of the external situation, the choices and decisions we make each day effect us deeply and more directly than anything from the outside.

If you are unemployed, the biggest choice you need to make is how to get working, and stay working, in a world where traditional jobs are hard to find. In this particular case, I think the future has arrived, even if we are not yet ready for it. In the coming years, the concept of a person holding a long-term position at a long standing company is going to be shaken even further. As workers, we will be called on more and more to create a career out of a succession of smaller jobs or projects — moving between them as needed. This is a foreign concept to all but the most entrepreneurial among us although perhaps less so for younger workers who are already enmeshed in this change.

What does this mean for you and I? First, it means that not only do we have to take responsibility for finding and building our career, we also need to find ways of creating jobs for ourselves and others. This might mean convincing an existing company that they need your skills in X, Y, Z, even if they don’t officially have a job description that matches those skills. It might mean starting your own small company or consultancy to sell your skills to companies who can’t or won’t hire you into a full time position. It might mean working part time for a variety of companies instead of full-time at one.

These changes will assuredly mean that your work life will consist of a number of smaller projects, rather than one, well-defined “job.” In this case you need to remember one important fact. Make sure you are laboring for yourself much more than you are laboring for any particular company. Sure, you will do the best work possible for all your employers, but you also need to do the best work possible for you. Make sure you are adequately rewarded for each position or project before accepting the work. If not, don’t be afraid of turning down work that doesn’t meet your needs, either financially or emotionally.

In the past, we often continued in a job because of the other benefits it might have offered. Your work today is stripped bare of any traditional sense of loyalty or stability. You have to do what is best for you at all times. There must be clear and direct benefits on each side of the employment equation or you are risking your future career and livelihood. Labor for yourself first. Insure you are getting what you need from a job. I can guarantee that your employer will be doing exactly the same thing.

Take this Labor Day as a starting point to a new view of laboring for yourself, regardless of your current job situation. Remember that, in the end, you are selling your skills, knowledge and time to your employer and deserve to be well compensated for them. Anyone or any company that does not realize this fact probably isn’t deserving of your time.

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I Like This – September 6, 2010

September 6th, 2010 Comments off
    A collection of career items I found interesting this week.

  • Smalltopia: A Practical Guide to Working for Yourself – August 31, 2010
  • The corporate conscience – August 31, 2010 – I have written about this in the past. We do things, and allow things to happen, within our businesses that we would never do, or allow to happen, as an individual. Corporations are sociopaths and must be treated as such. They will gobble up anything and everything they can. In fact, that is there job…to increase shareholder value. We, as people, though, need to inject humanity into the process.
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Archive: Future-proofing Your Projects – March 10, 2006

September 1st, 2010 Comments off

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The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) recently launched their latest space probe, New Horizons, which will be the first such probe to visit and study the planet Pluto. While you probably don’t need to worry about ensuring your latest network server is still operating 10 years from now and a couple billion miles away, taking a long-term approach to your projects, like JPL, can help to insure their success. I call this future-proofing

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Too often high-tech workers live and work at the end of their nose. This server has crashed. That PC has to be re-built. This program has to be written now. There simply isn’t the time, or in most cases, desire to look beyond the next release, the next milestone, the next upgrade. Unfortunately, this can hamper a company’s ability to do business and lead it down dead-ends that might have been easily avoided.

Keeping your options open

While it is impossible to predict the future, there are ways to make your project more adaptable to it. Often, I see projects that are locked into one particular piece of software or hardware. Everything depends on this one item, which is usually only available from a single source. If this is the case with any of your current projects, you should be making some important decisions. If you are truly locked into one program or device, you need to develop a plan so your project doesn’t stop in its tracks.

The data

The single most important way to help insure the long-term success of your project is to think first about the essential purpose of the project…the data. Hardware and software may come and go, but the main reason your project exists is the data that it stores and manipulates. Don’t lock up this data in proprietary formats or database structures. Build in, from the very beginning, the ability to export your data in any number of ways. Start thinking today about what you, or more likely, you successors, might be doing with this data 5, 10 or 25 years down the road.

If you can provide a migration path for your data, you are well on the way to future-proofing your project. Instead of facing a dead-end, you are creating a hallway of open doors. Data portability will allow you to face an impending company failure, discontinued hardware and buggy software upgrades with aplomb. Such events become more of a “so what?” proposition instead of a major crisis. Sure, there will still be problems associated with the changes, but you will have already prepared for the worst eventualities.

Thinking of others and yourself

Long-term planning can effect your career in another dramatic way. We have all faced projects where we were responsible for upgrading an existing system. I am sure you have also experienced the frustration of discovering that previous workers provided no information, or even clues, to how the system operates. Like an archeologist studying hieroglyphics and trying to tease out their meaning, we are forced to dig through obtuse code to try to reconstruct the operation of the system.

Be kind, to yourself and others, by clearly and completely documenting any system on which you work. First, do this for yourself. Who knows how many times you might be asked to change or add functionality to this system once it is in production. Are you confident that you will remember the reason for every tweak and compromise that went into its creation? Send notes to your future self by documenting everything fully. This will mean the difference between a quick fix and long, frustrating hours trying to understand your own work.

Documentation also helps to insure the future of your projects by insuring that others can pick up where you left off and keep the project moving forward, weeks, months or even years later. Your successors will quietly praise your name instead of cursing it, as we curse those who came before us. Providing a roadmap to others should be considered common courtesy. If enough of us do it, perhaps those that come after us won’t have to suffer as much as we have.

While projects come and go, you can help to insure their continued success by allowing data to move freely and by documenting the systems themselves. These two, relatively simple, concepts can insure that you, your successors and your company will enjoy the benefits of your work for years to come. Even more importantly, protecting your projects and helping them to stay productive does wonders for your reputation and your high-tech career.

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