Category Archives: career

Wrapping up projects and preparing for the next one

We’re in the final phases of our two Drupal projects. We’re writing test scripts, fixing bugs, and loading production data. In a week or two, we’ll finalize the source code and save a copy of the database. I’ve really liked working on these projects, and I’m looking forward to working on similar things in the future.

As I wrap up on this project and get ready for future ones, I can’t help but think how working in IBM Global Business Services helps me learn about different parts of consulting. We can help with proposals for new projects. We have an internal marketplace that lists openings and required skills. We can submit our resumes and set up interviews. We need to do a little marketing on our own, and we always have to work on keeping our skills up to date.

Today I attended a call with my resource deployment manager. Her role includes matching people with projects. She shared some tips on how to make the most of our tools, some things we might invest time in if we have some downtime between projects, and upcoming projects we might be interested in.

Here are some things I’m looking forward to doing if I have some time between this and my next project:

  • Help write proposals for Drupal and Web 2.0 projects
    • Compile case studies
    • Estimate Drupal projects
    • Prototype?
  • write up and share my Drupal notes
  • Create and compile assets (Drupal case studies, Web 2.0 overviews, etc.)
  • Learn more about Drupal 7, AJAX, information architecture, mobile development, project management, and other interesting things – discuss priorities with manager
  • Maybe work on a conventional skill set – J2EE?
  • Work on paperwork: project assessments, certification, etc.
  • Improve the Lotus Connections toolkit

Just like independent consultants need to always be building their pipeline, I should see if I can balance my future project work so that I’m always working on the pipeline for the next thing: helping out with bids, learning a new skill, and so on.

Fun!

More reflections on code and consulting

I catch myself talking and writing about consulting as if that’s the way for me to help organizations be more collaborative, as opposed to coding, which is productive and fun but which might have limited effect in terms of changing most people’s experiences of a company. In a way, I’m right. Other people are more likely to seek out and listen to consultants for ideas that they wouldn’t ask an IT specialist or web developer about, and the experiences and skills of consulting would help me understand the complexities better.

Sometimes, when I’m frustrated by internal hurdles to organizational flexibility, I envy other people’s roles. For example, Anna Dreyzin, Luis Suarez, and Rawn Shah get to work on improving IBM and sharing insights full-time. Isn’t that awesome? People tell me I help make a difference too, but it feels small compared to the difference I’d like to make.

But then there’s the joy of coding, the rightness of it, the value of it. Who’s to say that I’m not helping improve the organization’s capabilities, even from here? If I connect, collaborate, and share what I’m learning along the way, then I show what a possible future could be for organizations and the people in them. My work might not directly advance the goal of helping people work together better, but my work might be towards another goal I haven’t recognized and articulated, and there’s value in indirect contributions towards collaboration.

Maybe the model I’ve been using to think about the fit of work has been hiding something from me. Seeing fit as the vector projection of the organization’s objectives and of mine, to see what value we can capture and what value we waste, I can see the directness of contribution, but neither the value of indirect contributions nor the multiplicity of goals.

This realization matters to me because it hints at another goal, which might be to help people make a difference from wherever they are in the organization. That’s one of the things social media changes. I have a soapbox that isn’t circumscribed by my role. In the process of reconciling my love of development with my urge to more directly work on organizational culture, I’m learning things that can help me talk to and about the everyday evangelists of collaboration: those whose roles might not directly relate to helping their organizations be more collaborative, but who transform the way they and other people work by experimentation and example.

And as Torsten Wagner pointed out in e-mail (thanks!), bringing the tools and insights of one field to another (say, programming to consulting) can lead to something awesome and even revolutionary.

So I can guiltlessly enjoy building systems and mentoring developers, confident that this also fits into my big picture. =)

How to be dispensable, and why you should document and automate yourself out of a job

My out-of-office message links to wikis where people can get self-service information, and backup contacts in case people have other questions. I’ve helped the three teams I’m working with learn more about using the Idea Lab tools I built. I can take my two-week vacation without worrying that projects will be delayed. Heck, I can get hit by a bus and things will still be okay at work. (Although I’ll try not to be hit by a bus.)

Making myself dispensable is paying off.

It’s good to make yourself dispensable. It’s even better when you don’t have to do the mad scramble for documents and tools the week before you leave. I’ve been documenting and automating my work from the beginning.

In a recent presentation to a defense client, I talked about how to develop the habit of sharing. During the discussion, one of the participants asked how that related to job security.

I mentioned a good book on how to be indispensable: Linchpin, by Seth Godin.

But it’s much better to be dispensable and invaluable. Indispensable people are a big risk. Whether they’re indispensable for good reasons (always knows the right thing to do) or bad reasons (hoards knowledge so that no one else can solve that problem), they can derail your project or your organization. People become dependent on them. And then when something happens—vacation, lottery, promotion, sickness, death—the team stumbles. Something always happens.

On the other hand, invaluable people help their teams grow along with them. They make themselves obsolete by coaching successors, delegating tasks to help people learn. They eliminate waste and automate processes to save time. They share what they know. They teach themselves out of a job. The interesting thing that happens to invaluable people is that in the process of spreading their capabilities to the team, they create new opportunities. They get rid of part of their job so that they can take on new challenges. Indispensable people can’t be promoted without disruption. Invaluable people can be promoted, and everyone grows underneath them.

You might be harder to fire if you’re the only one who knows the secret recipe, but wouldn’t you rather be the person people want to work with because you can solve new challenges? The first might save you during a round of layoffs, but the second will help you grow no matter where you are.

So, how can you be dispensable and invaluable?

Document with your successor in mind. Write instructions. Organize resources. Make it easy to turn your projects over so that you can take an even better opportunity if it comes along. Document, document, document. Push the knowledge out so that you’re not the only expert. This will help you and your team work more effectively, and it will reduce the work too.

Automate, automate, automate. If you can automate the repetitive or error-prone parts of your work, you’ll rock, and you’ll help your team rock too. If you don’t know how to program, you might consider learning how to – whether it’s Microsoft Excel wizardry or Perl geekery. Save time. Cut out the boring parts. Make your work easier.

If you do this well, you will work yourself out of at least the bottom 10% of your job each year… and you’ll open up at least 20% in productivity and new opportunities–not to mention the multiplying effect that you’ll have on your team and your organization.

Be dispensable. Be invaluable. Make stuff happen.

Cate Huston has a great post about this, too. Check hers out!

Fit for You: Thinking about my priorities

In a lively mentoring session on Wednesday, Annie English suggested that I fill in the Fit for You assessment, something my new manager had also mentioned. So here’s my quick list of the top five things that satisfy me about work, which I’ll continue to reflect on as I learn more. =)

  1. Satisfaction with work-life balance: I care about free weekends, minimal required evening work, and limited or no travel. I find that placing constraints on work gives me incentives to work quickly and efficiently, and to be realistic with my time estimates. The space also allows me to cultivate rich relationships with family, friends, and my fiance, and numerous personal interests that occasionally turn out to be useful or inspiring. My current role lets me do this quite well, and the occasional workshop trips become more of a treat as I get to meet lots of interesting people. (Very satisfied.)
  2. Development of new skills: I like learning new tools and solving new problems. If I already know how to do something, I’d rather teach it or automate it instead of do it again and again. My current role lets me improve my communication skills, and the Lotus Connections toolkit I’m building for fun lets me play around with new challenges too. (Very satisfied.)
  3. Meaning and significance: I love making a difference in people’s lives, whether it’s saving them time, helping them work together better, or helping them imagine new possibilities. My current work lets me make this kind of difference from my kitchen table – yay! (Very satisfied.)
  4. Connection with clients and colleagues: I like the fact that I’ve gotten to know many IBMers as people, and I’ve gotten to know a few clients as well. I don’t think I’d enjoy working on a technically awesome but isolating and unbloggable project. I love how my current role lets me connect throughout IBM, and how I get to learn from all sorts of interesting clients along the way. (Very satisfied.)
  5. Value creation and compensation: This is somewhat related to #3. I love creating a lot of value. I also like hearing from people about what we’re doing well and how that creates value for them, because that helps us build on strengths. Being compensated for the created value is nice, too. It’s not the money (I save a lot of what I earn, and I like being frugal), but growth is good, and money is one way of measuring growth. I’d be happy to take extra time (as that’s harder to buy), although I know extra time tends to get encroached on. (Satisfied)

Overall: Very satisfied.

These priorities will probably change over time, but at least you folks know the right buttons to press… =)

Limiting my options so that I can focus

We’re fascinated by choice, almost slaves to keeping our options open. Sometimes it’s better to close doors, impose constraints, ignore possibilities. Focus.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot as I plan the next step in my career. There are so many paths to choose from: consulting? development? management, perhaps even executive?

Constraints make choosing easier.

I want to build a wonderful relationship with W-. This is easier to do with little or no travel, manageable hours, and low stress at work. That probably rules out the kind of consulting IBM tends to do, and the executive career path as well.

I want to experiment and create new opportunities. I’d like to try product development / consulting / coaching / webinars / e-books. People have made that business model work. But I’ve got a great opportunity to help change the way IBM works, and through IBM, help change the way the world works, so I’m focusing on that. I should make sure that familiarity and comfort don’t take me too far away from what I want to do, though: help people connect, collaborate, and learn.

Between following a formal career path and going where no job title has gone before, I think I’d like to explore the latter. I can take risks. I learn quickly, and I’m good at making things work.

This will be interesting.

On finding a great job

Cate Huston blogged:

I have put this huge stress on myself because I really want to have a job lined up for January by the end of September, preferably by the end of August. And I don’t want it to be just any job, I want it to be a greatjob. And this is a problem because my ideas of what I want to do are somewhat vagueI want to make things! I want them to be pretty! I want to make the world a better place! Programmers can do that, I know it!

Ah. Time for me to put my mentor hat on and braindump a few things I’ve stumbled across. =)

Great jobs

The second-best job description is the one that’s been written for you. It speaks to your strengths. It pushes the right buttons. It gets you excited about working on cool things and making a difference.

How do you get it? Well, you convince a manager to take a risk on you. A big risk, actually, because hiring is expensive and turnover is even more so.

What’s better than that, and easier to get into?

The best job description is the one you write for yourself. Even if you start with a generic job role, if you’ve resolved to be a star in that role, you probably will be one. If you’re good, people often want to help you make the most of your strengths.

Yes, there will be things that drive you a little crazy. I didn’t like dealing with finicky cross-browser CSS. But I did it, got things done, and demonstrated to the team that it would be even better if someone else did that part and I did, say, the fiddly system administration tasks that other people didn’t like. Flexibility. If you’ve got a good manager, he or she will tweak your role to take advantage of your strengths and trade your weaknesses.

Don’t worry about finding the best possible project or job description. Find a good manager and a good team.  That’s what your side of the interview is about: figuring out if it will be a good fit. Good managers and good teams can help you navigate the system and get things done.

Pick a job that doesn’t make you die inside. Throw yourself into it and figure out what you can love about it. Make things happen. Rewrite your role. Pack as much awesomeness into it as you can. Create your next role, or evolve it out of what you’re already doing.

You might be certain that you would totally rock if all the stars lined up, but it can be surprisingly fun—and a great deal more practical and confidence-building—to take almost anything and rock it.

Besides, awesome job posts are rare. Why? Because it’s nearly impossible to anticipate someone’s awesomeness without the risk of overly narrowing the applicant pool, and so it’s nearly impossible to anticipate what kind of role can make the most of their skills.

For example, a job description to find a exact replacement for me in my current role would involve: strong communication and facilitation skills; some graphic design skills; deep Lotus Connections experience; programming in LotusScript, Java, and Microsoft Excel VBA; wide personal networks; automation; speed-reading (seriously, this comes in quite handy); fast typing; a passion for both consulting and development…

Right. If we ever want me to be able to move on from this role, we need to settle for someone who’s a quick learner. =) Maybe they’ll be awesome in entirely different ways, and they’ll take the role in entirely new directions. (Which would be awesome!)

Also: what I’m passionate about might not be the same as what you’re passionate about. Which is cool. Some job descriptions will emphasize your role in making a difference and changing the world. Some job descriptions (implement and maintain widget X in dashboard Y) may sound boring. But it really all comes down to how good someone is at coming up with and communicating a vision, because even implementing a widget in a dashboard can be pretty awesome if you know why it matters.

Here’s the surprising thing: you can come up with that vision,  that reason why this work matters, even if your company doesn’t tell you.

Business books love sharing those stories. The cleaner at a nursing home? Might hate the drudge work, or might be passionate about it because it makes residents happier to be in a neat place.

Meaning is something you can put into your own work.

It means, though, that job posts for awesome positions sometimes don’t look like they are. On the flip side, job posts that look awesome (a hodgepodge of “cool” technologies! hipster language!) sometimes aren’t.

Figure out if you can deal with the core responsibilities, if you like the team, and if you can grow. Take responsibility for finding meaning.

On not knowing

You don’t need to figure out everything in the beginning. Find something that looks something like what you might like. Use it to learn what you really like and what you really don’t like. Experiment. Improve. Let life teach and surprise you.