Category Archives: career

Get More Value from Blogging, part VI: Let’s Get Down to Business

This entry is part 6 of 8 in the series Get More Value from Blogging

Paul Gillin invited me to do a tweetchat on the professional and personal value of blogging yesterday. When I brainstormed some of the things I’d like to talk about, I ended up with a big list: not just the value I get from blogging, but also tips for how you can build that too. I hope you enjoy this blog series!

1. ROI

Blog your work to increase your return on investment or effort by remembering more effectively and by reaching more people.

How much time do you spend solving problems similar to what you’ve encountered before, answering questions you’ve already answered before, or remembering information you need to solve new challenges? Take notes and save that time.

How much time can you save other people if you share your notes with them? Are there other people in your organization, client base, or network who could benefit from your solutions? Share your notes.


  • Invest the extra minutes in taking and sharing notes in order to increase your ROI.

2. Questions, updates, resources, and serendipitous conversations

One of the challenges of blogging is that you don’t know who’s going to read it. That’s also one of the advantages. When you ask a question, you might be surprised by who answers it – perhaps someone you wouldn’t have thought of asking. When you post an update, you might make an unexpected connection with someone else, and learn about resources you might not have discovered on your own. When you talk about something you’re working on, you might end up in a serendipitous conversation with someone who can make use of it or help you with it. It’s the online equivalent of the lucky hallway chat, except with a lot more people in the virtual hallway.


  • Make it easy for people to discover your updates or even subscribe to them.

3. Connection

If you add personal touches to your professional blog, you can make it easier for potential clients and coworkers to connect with you through common interests. Write about why you do the work that you do and what you love about it. Write about your other interests, too.


  • Don’t be afraid of bringing your personality to your blog. Use it to connect with people.


4. Reputation

Blog your work to build your reputation. When people read about what you’re working on, they learn about your skills and get a sense of who you are as a person. The next time they come across a challenge that looks like it’s a good fit, they might think of you and refer the opportunity to you. Particularly if you’re starting out, sharing your knowledge will help you build your network and your reputation.


  • Use your blog to demonstrate your skills and your character.
  • Invest time into building thought leadership through blog posts, articles, and presentations.

5. Jobs and careers

A blog can help you look for a great job or plan your career. Use it to explore your strengths and figure out how to communicate them. Use it to think about what kinds of companies would be a good fit for you, and where you would be a good fit. Use it to connect with people and ask them for help. Use it to reflect on where you want to go with your career and what kind of value you want to create.


  • Don’t beg for a job. Use your blog to communicate strength, passion, and professionalism.
  • Build a network of mentors and friends. Connect with people and ask them for advice.

6. Accountability and transparency

Blogging is a great way to make public commitments and hold yourself to them. You can use this for both personal and professional goals..

If you speak on behalf of a company, then you definitely need a fast way to respond to any issues that come up. With the speed of conversation on Twitter and blogs, you can’t wait for press releases. Establish this channel before a public relations crisis comes up. It’s better to admit a mistake and work with people on resolving it than to stonewall.

7. Culture

Whether you’re an executive or a newcomer, you can influence the culture of your organization through what you share. When you share what you know through your blog, you encourage a culture of knowledge-sharing. When you add a personal touch, you contribute to a culture of human connection. When you show that you aren’t afraid of making mistakes and learning from them, you develop a culture of growth. This can have a powerful effect on your organization, both online and offline.


  • Consider the fit between how you want to write and what the existing culture is. Be prepared for differences, and modify your approach accordingly. For example, if you want to shift your surrounding culture to share more, anticipate and address people’s concerns.
  • If you’re a leader, take the initiative in demonstrating the kind of company culture you want to encourage.


Dealing with intimidating projects

I’m working on my first big IBM project, something that goes beyond Perl scripts and Drupal websites. My manager thinks it will be a good assignment for me. The component diagram looks like alphabet soup, and I haven’t worked with any of the pieces before. It’s intimidating.

Open source projects like Drupal or Rails don’t scare me as much, even though they require a lot of figuring out and hacking as well. I think it’s because I’m confident that I can figure things out from the source or from the Internet, and because I can hold more of it in my head. This project will involve quite a few IBM components, and I can’t work with, understand, or even remember everything. It’s big.

But I know this feeling of incipient panic, and I’ve dealt with worse before. It’s the same feeling I got as a teaching assistant at the University of Toronto, doubting myself because I was helping people learn something I was just learning about myself. I remember feeling uncertain. I remember feeling like an impostor. I felt like giving up. Then my department chair set me straight, and I made it through.

I can deal with this. My manager thinks I can handle it. IBM has a great support network and I’ve got plenty of mentors. I’m learning a lot from the other people on the team. It’s going to be okay. And at the end of the day, I’ll learn how to work with a pretty decent-sized IBM software stack, integrate with lots of middleware, work with complex web services, and maybe even turn things that scare me into things that I enjoy.

Here’s what I’m planning to do:

  • [X] Install Rational Software Architect and learn how to use it to view project designs.
  • [X] Learn how to use Rational Software Architect for web services.
  • [X] Figure out what I need to learn for Websphere Application Server or Websphere Portal to make the web services happen.
  • [X] Stay sane throughout the process. =)

2011-03-01 Tue 16:26

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.


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… =)