Category Archives: career

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Surround yourself with exceptional people

Steve Pavlina advises people to surround themselves with exceptional people. It’s advice found in many self-improvement books as well, and something I firmly believe in. High-energy, successful, happy people around you will inspire you to be like that too.

It started with my family. My dad’s passion for his work taught me
that you could reach greater heights if you’re doing something you’re
passionate about. My mom’s books and stories taught me to appreciate
the business that supports and is built around such passion. My
sisters showed me what it was like to make your own paths and take
those adventures. My godparents showed me how wonderful a supportive
group of friends can be. My high school friends were also supportive
and inspiring, and they dreamed big dreams too.

I fumbled a bit in first year college because I was more focused on
fitting in, but when I went back to my roots and joined the dorm
network team, I found another amazing group of geeks. And I don’t
really know how we all got together, but the friends I made while I
was teaching totally, totally rock as well. We face different
challenges and we may not face all of them successfully, but I really
admire their attitude towards life. They are fundamentally happy.

I seek out groups like the Toastmasters. I want to be a professional
speaker, and being surrounded by people working on their communication
skills is absolutely fantastic. I love talking to people who are
passionate about teaching and research; they give me an idea of what
lies ahead. I am inspired by people who are making a difference or who
are working on doing so, like Lawrence Hughes and Maoi Arroyo in terms
of Philippine IT opportunities. I admire Mario Carreon for his passion
for teaching even as he gets heartbreaking results from students. I am
surrounded by excellent people, and the more I learn from them, the
more people I find.

Surround yourself with exceptional people. It isn’t easy. You can’t
just say “I want to get to know you” and leave it at that. A daily
“Hi” is much less effective than the occasional “I’d like to know more
about …” or “What do you think about …” that takes the person’s
interests into account. But you can do it, and you’ll learn so much by
doing so!

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The Power of the Human Spirit

Irine Yu pointed me to the speech delivered by Intel Excellence in Teaching awardee Dr. Josette Biyo:

When your job becomes your mission, your primary concern is giving your best in everything you do. Knowing that you have contributed
significantly towards the creation of a product which can make a difference in your company and the larger community is reward in itself.

We can make a difference no matter who or what or where we are. If we know _why_, then the _how_ follows. =)

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Connector, Maven, Salesman

The Tipping Point – excellent book! – describes three kinds of people who are critical parts of massive change: the maven, the connector, and the salesman. Connectors are “people with a special gift for bringing the world together.”(p.43) Mavens are information specialists.(p.59) Salesmen have “the skills to persuade us when we are unconvinced of what we are hearing.”

I’m _supposed_ to be a Maven. That’s what computer geeks do – they geek. They grok. They learn something inside out. Strangely, though, I have the feeling that this isn’t quite my thing, that this isn’t quite what I’m meant to do. I guess it relates to my teaching philosophy. I’m not the expert! <laugh> I don’t know everything, and I’m
much happier helping people learn than trying to teach them everything they need to know. Besides, hanging out with people far more brilliant than I am makes me feel decidedly un-Maven-ish. =)

You know what I have _tons_ of fun doing? Connecting people with other people. I really, really want to help people make things happen, and if I can connect them with other people with similar or complementary passions, that would be totally awesome! I also _really_ have a lot of fun listening to people. I sell, sell, sell – not stuff, but ideas,
passion, confidence… I sell people themselves. I sell dreams of what they can do. I _love_ doing that! (And to think I used to be an INTJ…)

So I need your help figuring out what I’m going to do with my life. =) Software developer? I can do that, but there’s just so much else I _also_ want to do. I’d love it if you could help me imagine what my future can be so that I can prepare for it better. =D It’s not exactly the kind of thing you’d find in, say, What Color is Your Parachute…

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Also not entirely hopeless in a corporate setting

Would I fit into a large company? I really, really love doing
technology evangelism. An internal technology adoption role or a
new-products development role might give me that mix of technical and
social challenges that I so enjoy. I love what I’m doing as part of my
research, and I wonder if it’s at all possible to get away with doing
that for serious…

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On programming as a career

Raj Shekhar reminded me that software development is a career too, and that there are software companies that use exciting things like LISP.

My background is in computer science, and I spent almost all my
summers in high school training for programming competitions. I was a
geek’s geek, with algorithms and code coming out of my ears. I still
enjoy writing code to make things work. =) I’m much more comfortable
reading other people’s code and making sense of it than other people I
know – apparently, a rare thing. ;) I also enjoy writing
documentation. These two factors cause most people to doubt my
existence. What, a programmer who likes reading other people’s code
_and_ writing documentation?! Right up there with unicorns and
dragons, mate. ;)

But that’s not all of who I am, and I get the sense that’s not what
I’m best suited for.

In yesterday’s conversation about the meaning of life and other
things, Simon Rowland pointed out
that I’m more relationship-driven than technology-driven. When I
argued that I’m still a technologist at heart, he laughed and pointed
out that even my Emacs Lisp coding is motivated by contact with
people. The reason why I enjoyed working on Planner so much was
because I could make people really happy by writing code to fit their
editor and personal information manager to their particular needs. And
it wasn’t people in abstract, people in general, but rather one person
at a time, with completely idiosyncratic code that I might never
reuse.

I like working with technology on a human scale. I love personalizing
things. I love working one-on-one with people. I don’t like being
abstracted away from users. I want them to be able to yell at me when
something goes wrong, and I want them to be able to express their
appreciation when things go right. I don’t want to deal with market
studies and hypothetical users. I want names and faces and stories.

I guess that’s why software development or system administration don’t
really appeal to me as careers. I know a lot of developers and sysads
who enjoy their work and are doing cool things, but their work doesn’t
strike a chord in me. I love developing skills that aren’t part of the
traditional developer profile. I love writing and public speaking, and
I want to do that as part of my day job instead of just something I do
on the side.

Some people have advised me to take a code monkey job, just for the
heck of it. Just to gain experience and give myself more time here in
North America, you know. As tempting as it is, though, my instinct?
feeling? sense? tells me that there might be a better path. If it’s at
all possible for me to follow my passion at each step, I’d rather do
that and be exceptional rather than be a mediocre programmer.

When I ask myself what I’d do if I could work without thinking about
money, what I’d do even if no one paid me to, the answer that
consistently comes up is: spend the entire day reading, learning,
teaching, writing, speaking, meeting people. I don’t see myself
building robust, featureful systems or crafting beautiful code. I see
myself drawing attention to other people’s stories, connecting
different ideas, introducing people to people and things that could
change their lives. At the end of my life, I don’t want people to
remember me for some program I wrote, but rather for the changes that
I helped them make in their lives, what I inspired them to do, who I
inspired them to be.

So yes: although I can code, a job that involves only that aspect of
me will not be able to make the most of me.

This probably disappoints some of my college teachers who’d rather I
were in “hard” computer science – cryptography, graph theory, whatever
– but that’s the way it is, and I want to explore that aspect of
myself.

How does that translate into a career? It’s not exactly the kind of
thing you’ll find advertised on Monster.com. I’ll probably spend the
rest of my master’s thinking about enterprise social computing and how
people can make the most of blogs, wikis, social bookmarking,
podcasting, and related technologies. I would like to stay in North
America for at least a few more years because I’m learning so much
from the tech culture here, so I’ll need to offer enough value to a
company to sponsor my work permit. I’d like to think that I can create
enough value to justify the paperwork. ;)

In particular, I’d probably fit in well as someone who can support
consultants and other people whose job it is to know about technology
but who are too busy to learn about all these different things. I’m
good at reading about lots of different things and looking at the
connections. I’m also good at searching for supporting information and
recommending things that might be useful. I’ve been complimented on my
ability to get people enthused about something, and that extra boost
might help people close sales. If you know any company that would be a
good fit for me and that I would be a good fit for, I’d love to hear
about it!

I’m also interested in writing, but that might be more of a
medium-term thing. =)

If I can find a best-fit opportunity, all the better. If I’m not quite
qualified to do that yet and I can’t find a company that will take a
chance on me and train me up, I’ll consider other opportunities – but
I definitely want something that engages not only my technological
skills but also my social ones. =)

(Thanks for the comment, Raj! I love being prompted to reflect more
because that makes me clarify my thoughts.)

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Random Japanese sentence: 私は犬の方が猫より好きです。何故なら前者の方が後者より忠実ですから。 I like dogs better than cats, because the former are more faithful than the latter.

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Imagining the future

Wow. Don Marti has career advice for me. Wow.

Sacha, saying that you don’t want to be a programmer in
the 21st century because you don’t want Marketing between you and the
user is like saying you didn’t want to be a programmer in the 20th
century because you didn’t like waiting for the operator who carries
your stack of punch cards to the computer. The way software
development gets organized is always changing. It’s getting lighter
weight all the time.

And he’s right, you know. I enjoy stitching systems together and
thinking of just the right tool(s) to fit people’s needs. I love
working with people to figure out how they can make those tools a part
of their lives. I need more actual practice doing this, I think – the
technology evangelism I’m doing at IBM is barely a taste – but it
seems like a lot of fun.

I want to be a technosocial architect. From Thomas Vander Wal’s description:

Looking at the digital tools we have around us: websites, social computing services and tools (social networking sites, wikis, blogs, mobile interaction, etc.), portals, intranets, mobile information access, search, recommendation services, personals, shopping, commerce, etc. and each of these is a social communication tool that is based on technology. Each of these has uses for the information beyond the digital walls of their service. Each of these has people who are interacting with other people through digital technology mediation. This goes beyond information architecture, user experience design, interaction design, application development, engineering, etc. It has needs that are more holistic (man I have been trying to avoid that word) and broad as well as deep. It is a need for understanding what is central to human social interactions. It is a need for understanding the technical and digital impact our tools and services have in mediating the social interaction between people. It is a need for understanding how to tie all of this together to best serve people and their need for information that matters to them when they want it and need it.

Maybe I can hack code _and_ people. =)

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Random Japanese sentence: 彼女がドアを開けるやいなや猫が走り出た。 No sooner had she opened the door than a cat ran out.