December 12, 2006

Bulk view

50 e-mail messages today

Okay, my fingers are tired. No more e-mail. =) Someday I’m going to
have to learn how to scale, but today is not the day. I suspect that
it involves a more ergnomic environment. Maybe a larger keyboard (my
Lifebook would do perfectly) and a slightly higher monitor so that I
don’t get a crick in my neck from looking down.

No more blogging, too.

Shower, then book, then sleep. That’s the ticket…

Random Emacs symbol: syntax-after – Function: Return the raw syntax of the char after POS.

Inbox meter

I should have one of those almost-real-time inbox meters that count
the number of messages I’ve promised to respond to. That would be fun
to add to my contact heading…

Random Emacs symbol: mm-w3m-safe-url-regexp – Variable: Regexp matching URLs which are considered to be safe.

Found my vertical: HR

I ran into Pete Forde at
Andrew Burke‘s birthday party last night. He
explained to a number of Andrew’s friends in other industries that it
was really the technical strengths and reputations of tech evangelists
that made them much more effective than non-technical marketing or
sales people. After all, many developers can easily detect marketing
hype, and they don’t like it one bit.

IBM consultants are always talking about “verticals”, or industries on
which people focus. Banking, real estate, pharmaceuticals, education –
for salespeople to truly excel in any of these areas, they need to
invest time into learning the industry inside and out. They need to
know the vocabulary people use, the concerns people have, the
opportunities for growth, and even the competitive context around
their clients. Focusing on an industry allows people to develop deep
competence and strong relationships both within and outside the
industry.

On the walk to class the next morning, I thought about how that deep
knowledge of an area helps me make deeper connections. I love having
read most of the Toronto Public Library’s holdings on social
networking. I can quickly recommend appropriate books and tips. I’d
love to have that kind of knowledge on a business area. So I started
thinking about what I should focus on…

A friend once told me that he had no idea what he wanted to do at the
moment. I told him that if you know who you want to be, then you can
figure out what to do. I want my career to help me be the person I
want to be. I don’t want it to just pay the bills until I accumulate
enough money to “retire”. I want it to factor into my personal growth.

So the real question is: who do I want to be? What do I want to
learn?

At some point in my life, I’d like to know a lot about real estate. I
won’t be able to make the most of it right now, though. Microfinance?
Investing? Education? None of these really hit me as the right next
step given my passions, skills, and the needs of people around me.

Then I started thinking of it in terms of who I want to be and what
I’d love to do. I want to help people think, and I want to help people
connect.

The first explains my interest in personal productivity, notetaking
strategies, etc. The second underlies my passion for social computing.
One standard business area that covers both would be HR. Human
resources – seems to be a fantastic fit for what I’m doing right now
and where I’d like to head in the future.

At networking events, I perk up whenever people tell me they’re in
recruiting—not because I want a job for myself, but because
recruiters know how to manage lots of relationships and get a sense of
who fits into what positions. What excites me about my research at IBM
is the idea that I’ll be able to help people find and connect with
other people within the company.

I think the second part – helping people connect – is what I’m going
to focus on for a while. We’ll see if I need to further niche myself.
Large tech companies that need social knowledge management tools for
internal use, such as IBM’s offerings? HR consultant for lots and lots
and lots of small companies to help them grow professionally, source
people, etc.? We’ll see. Whatever space I choose, I want to learn
everything that I can learn about it, and I want to own that space. =)

So that’s my vertical, and my ideal job description for the next step
is getting clearer and clearer. I want a sales + evangelism job (both
aspects!) focusing on HR products and services that help people
connect. I should find people in the area and ask if they niched
themselves even deeper (HR for real estate companies? HR for campus
recruitment of technology companies?). Then, just as companies post
job ads describing their ideal candidate, I’ll get a better idea of
what an ad for my ideal company would look like… =)

On Technorati:

Random Emacs symbol: mail-header-set-id – Macro: Set article Id of HEADER to ID.

Personal contact relationship management

It’s a good thing that computer geeks appreciate automation. They can
sniff out form e-mail in seconds, but they don’t mind as long as it
comes from a very clever technical hack. Such was the case with the
form letter engine I put together just in time to ask people for their
postal addresses for my holiday updates. Paul Lussier wanted to know what kind of Emacs Lisp magic I was doing
behind the scenes. Simon Ditner got his
revenge by obfuscating his reply with 1337sp34|<. People humored me and replied with their addresses and birthdays, knowing that although the e-mail they got may have been mostly automated, my interest in them and my replies to the replies they sent me were very much real.

Good magicians never reveal their tricks, but I like talking about the
crazy Emacs wizardry that goes on behind the scenes. Let me lift the
curtain:

(concat
 "Hello, " (or (bbdb-record-getprop record 'nick) (bbdb-record-name record)) "!

I've actually managed to write my 2006 life update / holiday
letter somewhat in time, and will be mailing them out soon. I'd
love to find out how your year has been and what you're planning
to do next year, and I'd be happy to keep you up to date too!

"

(cond
 ((= (length (bbdb-record-addresses record)) 1)
  (concat "Is this address the best one to reach you at?\n\n"
          (sacha/bbdb-address-string (car (bbdb-record-addresses record)))))
 ((> (length (bbdb-record-addresses record)) 1)
  (concat "Which of these addresses is the best one to reach you at?\n\n"
          (mapconcat 'sacha/bbdb-address-string (bbdb-record-addresses record) "\n")))
 (t "I don't seem to have a mailing address for you, though. I'd
like to be able to snail-mail you postcards or holiday updates.
I promise not to use your address for anything evil! =) What's the best
way to send something to you?"))

(if (bbdb-record-getprop record 'birthdate)
    ""
  "\n\nBy the way, when is your birthday?")
"\n\nHope to hear from you soon!

Sacha Chua

p.s. No kittens were harmed in the writing of this message.")

That’s the source for my form letter – a Lisp expression, allowing me
to use the full power of Emacs. I used that as the input to the
following function:

(defun sacha/gnus-send-message-to-all (subject &optional text)
  "Compose message to everyone, with notes.
SUBJECT is a string.
TEXT is a string or an arbitrary Lisp expression starting with (."
  (interactive
   (list (read-string "Subject: ")
         (read-string "Body: ")))
  (let ((records bbdb-records))
    (while records
      (when (bbdb-record-net (caar records))
        (bbdb-send-mail (caar records) subject)
        (goto-char (point-min))
        (re-search-forward "--text " nil t)
        (forward-line 1)
        (let ((record (caar records)))
          (when text
            (insert (if (= (aref text 0) ?\() (eval (read text)) text))))
        (when (bbdb-record-notes (caar records))
          (save-excursion
            (insert "\n--- NOTES ---\n"
                    (bbdb-record-notes (caar records))
                    "\n--- END NOTES ---\n"))))
      (setq records (cdr records)))))

The function composed a message for each of the records currently
displayed. I edited the messages by hand, combining messages where
appropriate, and sent them off.

What else can I do with this? Because this function accepts arbitrary
Lisp expressions, it would be really easy to include a random
holiday-related greeting or poem. If I had a database of significant
events, I can include a random factoid about the recipient’s birthday.
If I had a local database of people’s names, I could send one-off
messages including the meaning of their names.

Yes, it’s pretty crazy, but that’s what you get when you have a geek
who cares about connecting with people. I’ve stolen all the cool
features from the contact relationship management systems I know
about, and I keep trying out more ideas. It’s a pity that the base
system I’m working on can be quite intimidating. If I found the time
to learn enough, say, Microsoft Outlook programming to implement a
similar system, I think I’d have quite a market.

Even with my idiosyncratic setup, though, it’s fun pushing the
envelope. =) There are a lot of other things I’d like to add, and I
don’t think I’ll ever stop coming up with new ideas. In terms of
personal contact relationship management, I’ve got one of the most
advanced systems I know—which just means I need to get to know more
people, so that I can find other inspirations!

On Technorati: , ,

Random Emacs symbol: previous-buffer – Command: Switch to the previous buffer in cyclic order.

Programming competitions

I always love reading Didith Rodrigo’s blog posts about programming competitions and my alma mater, Ateneo de Manila University. Her latest entry about Wilhansen Li and Thomas Dy‘s performance at Mapua’s PaC++klaban made me wish I could be teaching first-year computer science again! I think it’s amazing that Thomas plunged right into a C++ programming competition despite not having previous programming background in C++.

Wow, huh? I love the programming competition scene back home. It’s a great way to meet amazing people, and I hope Wilhansen and Thomas get as much (or more!) out of it than I did—and I learned a _lot!_

Random Emacs symbol: pcomplete/rlogin – Function: Complete a command that wants a hostname for an argument.