Category Archives: toronto

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Looking for female IT role models in Toronto?

Joey de Villa (Accordion Guy) has put together a great list of some awesome Toronto women in technology. I know a handful of them, and I’m looking forward to meeting the others. I’m a huge fan of Leigh Honeywell, for example, with whom I have the fortune of being good friends, and of Sandy Kemsley, whose insights help me learn more about Enterprise 2.0 and whose donated cat bed keeps our kitties cozy. =)

And I’m honored that Joey included me in the list!

Volunteer opportunity for teachers and retired teachers in Ontario

I know Deniz from LifecampTO, and I’m all for helping newcomers with their job search. Know anyone who might be interested in this, either as a volunteer or as someone looking for a mentor?

From Deniz:

I am wondering if you can help me on a project that I am doing for not-for profit org called Skills for Change. This is a community based, charitable org. providing educational programs and settlement service to newcomers. Currently I am looking for 20 experienced practising or retired teachers who can voluntarily coach newcomer, certified teachers in their job search process. Please see the message below and let me know if you can pass on to your network.

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Volunteer Opportunity for Teachers to become a Coach

Are you a practising or retired teacher? Would you share just 4 hours a month to help a newcomer teacher adjust to teaching in Canada?

On behalf of Teach in Ontario, Skills for Change is currently looking for experienced teachers to coach Internationally Educated Teachers (IETs) in their transition to teaching in Ontario.

For more information, please contact

Deniz Kucukceylan – Mentoring Recruiter
[email protected]
Skills for Change – Toronto, Canada
(416) 658-3101 ext. 203

Sketchnotes: Small business network meetup with Kristina Chau at the Toronto Reference Library

Notes from the Small Business Network meetup with Kristina Chau

(Click on the image for a larger version.)

I attended the small business network meetup at the Toronto Reference Library. The librarian (Margaret Wigglesworth) explained that the Toronto Public Library started hosting these events after people requested more networking time in the business classes that the library organized. Each session was structured as a short talk and a networking discussion. There were twelve of us seated around a comfortably-sized table on the third floor of the reference library. Many were thinking about starting a business but hadn’t taken the plunge, although there was a high school senior who was the president of his school’s business club and made some money buying and selling phones through Craigslist and Kijiji.

Kristina Chau (notyouraverageparty.ca, @notyouravgparty) shared her experiences in getting started. After working hard for someone else’s company, she realized that she’d rather work on her own. She did some freelance work as an event planner. At 29, she started her own event planning company. She applied to the Toronto Business Development Centre for the Although her application was denied, she found the rigor of the application process to be very helpful. She eventually funded her own company through the services she offered.

Kristina shared examples of the evolution of her brand: the business card versions she went through, her current website, even the Starbucks cookie bag on which she and a friend had brainstormed the business. It looked like a lot of people were reassured by the idea that they didn’t have to get things right the first time around. Kristina also mentioned that getting her website together took a long time and a lot of investment, and people had many questions about that.

In the discussion, a few people shared that they had lots of ideas they wanted to work on, but they didn’t know where to start or what to focus on. If I can figure out these micro-experiments for entrepreneurship, maybe that’s something I can help people with.

I’ve read Work the Pond, the first book that Kristina recommended. It has a particularly good chapter on tag-team networking (see my linked notes), and is overall a good networking book. I’ll check out the other two books she mentioned and post my notes as well. In terms of books on entrepreneurship, Lean Startup is one of my current favourites, and I’m looking forward to trying the ideas.

I’m planning to attend the next meetup on March 13. Got any favourite small business events in Toronto? I’d love to hear your recommendations!

Optimizing for weather and other thoughts about self-employed time

Over a leisurely mentoring lunch, @height8 shared this interesting self-employment tip with me: optimize your schedule for weather. Warm and sunny weather is relatively rare in Toronto, so try to arrange your time to make the most of it. Depending on the kind of work you do, you can work in the evenings or during winter.

It makes sense to me. Although W- and I have set up a small office in the basement for me, I’m much happier working in a sunlit space, with the occasional break of a bike ride or a walk around the block.

I’m writing this blog post while sitting in the airy Bloor-Gladstone building. Earlier, I’d flipped through some of the children’s books for inspiration. Across the street, my bright blue bicycle is locked to a post, red-and-white panniers easy to pick out against the grays of the sidewalk and the brown brick of the Tim Hortons cafe. In a short while, I’ll bike to the supermarket to pick up ground beef and other burrito ingredients, sit down to a quick supper with W- and J-, then head out on my bicycle again to a tech get-together.

I have these days penciled in for business development, but that’s probably closer to self-development than specific business opportunities. I’m not talking to potential clients so that I can line up the next contract. I’m talking to mentors so that I can make sense of what I’m learning from business. I’m teaching myself new tools so that I can imagine and explore more ideas. I’m writing reflections so that I can take notes along the way and make it easier for other people who are trying things out. I go where my interests take me.

On some days, I don’t feel particularly productive. I’m not checking things off my list at a rapid rate, although I do manage to get one or two important tasks done. Well, that’s not quite true. I do feel somewhat productive, even when I’m trying to write my way around a thought like this in order to understand it. This is work; not client work, but life-work. This general feeling of openness in my day – that’s intriguing, potentially useful. It’s qualitatively different from vacations or staycations or weekends, and there are things that I can learn from it that I might never have learned in decades following the well-established paths.

It reminds me of what that other speaker was talking about. You don’t get that external validation of progress. You don’t get that gold star, that performance review, that thumbs-up from a manager or a client. I’m oddly okay with that. Maybe it’s because writing has gotten me used to asking myself questions and figuring out my own plans.

So, weather optimization, following interests. For me, I think that means going on bike rides or walks, and trying out different places to think and work. I already know that I work well at home and at the client’s office downtown. Does sitting in a library encourage me to think different things? There’s that cliché about writers and cafés, but maybe the ambient social atmosphere might be interesting. I haven’t done a lot of people-watching, but maybe with a sketchbook in hand, I’ll find inspiration for practice. What about just getting on a bicycle and cycling around, no particular destination in mind? (Okay, maybe some destination, and GPS. I still have to work on being more comfortable with spontaneity. ;) )

This is a different sort of life, and I’m curious about where it goes.

Tips for making the most of the Toronto Public Library

The Toronto Public Library saves me thousands of dollars of book costs and opens up an amazing trove of knowledge. Here are some of my tips for making the most of this wonderful library system. What are yours?

You can borrow more than just books. The library has a wide collection of magazines, audiobooks, and videos. Check out the DVD shelves of your library for recent releases, or browse the periodicals to see what catches your eye.

You can request items online and have them delivered to any branch. You have access to all the circulating books in the system. With a library card, you can request items and have them delivered to a branch. The library will hold the items for a week. If you don’t pick up the items within the week, they will return to circulation. (Watch out for the new $1/item fines.)

Check out electronic resources, too. The library offers e-books, downloadable audiobooks, online journals, databases, and other resources.

Avoid overdue fines by returning items even after hours. When a library branch is closed, you can return items through the book drop slot. These items will be counted as returned on the last day that the library was open. For example, if a book was due on Saturday, but you put it in the book drop slot on Sunday while the library was closed, you won’t pay any overdue fines. If Monday is a public holiday, you can even return it then.

This is one of the reasons why I check out most of my books or renew them on Saturdays, so that I have Sunday as a grace period.

Renew strategically. If there are no other holds on an item, you can renew it, over the phone, or in person. It’s easier to renew items online than over the phone. Even if you can’t renew an item because of an existing hold, try again closer to your due date. Holds may be filled by other people’s returns, allowing you to renew your copy.

Books can be renewed for 3-week periods, and videos can be renewed for one week at a time. I believe the renewal period starts from the day that you renew the item, so don’t renew things too early or you’ll waste the extra time on your account. I usually renew my items on Saturdays (see above). I wrote a Perl script that checks items due in the next week and renews whichever items it can.

Associate other people’s cards with yours in order to pick up books for them, or to borrow on their account. Ask a librarian for a consent form and present both cards. My husband borrows items from the library too, so we pick up books for each other if needed. This has come in quite handy when I’m on a book-reading sprint, too, as I sometimes exceed the limit of 50 checked-out items.

Ask about passes to get free admission to city attractions. Some libraries distribute passes for museums and other attractions. There can be quite a line-up for popular places, so ask the librarians when the passes are released and plan accordingly.

You can find materials in many languages. Learning a new language, or pining for movies and books in your native tongue? Check out the library’s collections for books, videos, and other items in different languages.

Ask librarians for recommendations. Librarians are happy to answer questions and point you to more resources. There’s also a Q&A service that you can get to on the website. Talk to your librarians, and you’ll learn a lot.

Check out events at different libraries. Many libraries have regular events: book clubs, group exercise, even yoga sessions. These events tend to be free or inexpensive. Find out if any of these match your interests, and have fun!

Check out tech resources. The library offers computers, printers, photocopiers, and scanners. Check out the free WiFi, too.

Book meetings. The library has many meeting rooms that people can rent for reasonable fees.

Support your local library. You can get tons of value from the resources at your library. Give some of it back.  =)

Do you use your library a lot? What are your favourite tips?