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Proactive communication: Five tips for following up

Posted: - Modified: | communication, ibm, mentoring, productivity, work

Isabelle’s manager wanted her to get better at proactive communication. She’s comfortable e-mailing people, but she has a hard time following up when people don’t respond. Timezone differences between team members in Singapore and in the US compound delays. She reached out to me for advice, and I suggested a few things that might help:

1. Clear, dated requests. When asking for help or a response through e-mail, specify a target date instead of leaving it open-ended, and give a reason for that date if possible. This makes it easier for people to prioritize working on your task. (Don’t always ask people to get back to you TODAY, though. It looks like you don’t plan well.)

2. Clear, dated responses and priorities. If you’re working with other people on some lower-priority tasks, those tasks might never be finished. Clarify the relative priority of a task with your manager: it might turn out to be higher-priority than you thought. If it really is a low-priority project, contact the people you need to collaborate with and get an estimate of when they might be able to work on their part of the project. Find out what other important projects they’re working on, too. This will allow you to:

  • give clearer reasons for delays (“We can only work on the report next week because we have to finish the keynote presentation this week”)
  • negotiate better solutions (“I can do that part of the presentation if you can do this part of the report”)
  • re-negotiate priorities with your manager (“Actually, this report is more important than adding animation to the presentation”), and
  • give you dates for following up (“John is working on the presentation now, but he promised to work on the report on Monday, and I’ll follow up with him then”).

3. Status reports. They’re good for your manager and for you. Keep track of where you are on projects: what your next actions are, what you’re waiting for, and what you’ve accomplished. Share this with your manager frequently, so there are no surprises.

4. Concrete follow-ups. When you’re waiting for a response, schedule a follow-up so that it doesn’t slip through the cracks. Follow up by e-mail, and then move up to following up by phone or instant message if needed. I don’t do this for all of my tasks, but I do this for tasks I “own,” and it helps.

Concrete follow-up dates also help you write better status reports. Instead of reporting “Waiting for response”, you can report “Waiting for response; will follow up on ____ by e-mail and _____ by phone.” Clear follow-up plans make people feel more confident that the task won’t be forgotten.

5. Tactful escalation. When people don’t respond, sometimes you need to find other ways to get things going. Isabelle had learned how to cc:ing her manager so that her manager could stay updated, but she wasn’t comfortable with cc:ing the other person’s manager because it felt like escalation. If done tactfully, though, escalation can be a good tool.

How to escalate: Give people the benefit of the doubt, and acknowledge that they might be busy working on priority projects. Send them a gentle reminder, cc:ing their manager. In the note, explain to the manager that you understand that the original contact may be busy or your request might be a better fit for someone on the team, and ask who might be the best person to talk to.

Hope that helps!

2010-08-24 Tue 10:20

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Finding opportunities in a big company

Posted: - Modified: | career, connecting, ibm, work

DEADLINE: 2010-07-30 Fri 08:00

The Extreme Blue interns are wrapping up and starting their job searches, so Cate Huston asked me to share some tips.

One of the wonderful and intimidating things about being in a big company is that there’s such a variety of opportunities. How do you find the right one for you? I hope these tips will help people at IBM, and they might be useful for people in other big companies too.

Figure out what you’re interested in. Browse through open job posts. Talk to interesting people about what they do and listen for words that resonate with you. Explain what you’re interested in to mentors and ask them to help you translate and connect. (IBM: Follow the “Global Opportunity Marketplace” link on to see open job posts.)

Talk to people doing that kind of work. People are often generous with their time and insights, perhaps because they’ve received that kind of help in the past. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people and ask them for short interest interviews. Ask them what a typical day is like for them, what they like about their work, what they would like to change about their work, and what skills and characteristics would make someone a great candidate for that position. If you’ve got specific posts in mind, reach out to people on the team to see what things are like and if it might be a good fit.

Make it easy to keep in touch. You’ll meet a lot of people during your blog search. Make it easy for them to find out about you and keep in touch. Invest time into preparing a clear description of what you’re interested in and a resume highlighting relevant accomplishments, and link to it in your e-mail signature. If you blog, include a link to that in your e-mail signature as well. Subscribe to other people’s blogs to learn more about them and about other parts of the company.

If you give people enough time, they might even be able to create an opportunity for you. It takes a while to get clearance to create a new position, but if you impress the right manager, maybe he or she will create a role that makes the most of your passion and skills.

Be prepared for complications. Sometimes these things take longer than expected. Sometimes you run into odd paperwork needs. Hang in there, and have backup plans.

What’s different about searching for opportunities in a big company?

  • You can talk more openly about what you’re looking for and what you’re learning.
  • You’re surrounded by many potential mentors and contacts.
  • You can look people up easily.
  • Your previous supervisor will talk to your future supervisor probably quite frequently.
  • You can work out your transition plan with your previous supervisor and your future supervisor, instead of keeping it hush-hush.
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Troubleshooting my Lotus Notes 8.5.2, Expeditor 6.2, and Eclipse 3.4 setup

| development, geek, ibm, lotus

SCHEDULED: 2010-07-21 Wed 08:00

To paraphrase Edison: I wasn’t failing, I was just figuring out a thousand ways that didn’t work. =)


Summary of troubleshooting lessons learned for Lotus Notes 8.5.2, Expeditor 6.2, and Eclipse 3.4:

org.eclipse.equinox.common problems when installing Expeditor Make sure you have the version of Eclipse that matches your Expeditor’s system requirements (not a newer version, not an older version). For Expeditor 6.2, you’ll need Eclipse 3.4.

Problem occurred reading your Target. Ensure that your Target Platform’s Location is configured correctly. Set it to c:\notes\framework\rcp\eclipse, or wherever your rcp\eclipse directory is. If you still get the error, tinker around a little or wait a while. I don’t remember what I did to solve this.

Bundle not found. Ignore that. You’re supposed to be able to correct that issue by right-clicking on the project, selecting Properties > Client Services, and clicking OK, but no luck. It doesn’t stop the system from moving forward, though. error or java.lang.SecurityException: Unable to locate a login configuration: *Enable all the features and be patient.


I’ve been working on getting a Lotus Notes + Eclipse development environment so that I can make a Lotus Notes plugin for my community tools. There’s a lot of interest in the community metrics tool, for starters.

The challenge with setting up development environments is getting all the versions to line up with the tutorials on the Net. I came across a page that described how to set up Lotus Notes 8.5.1 with the Eclipse Plugin Development Environment (PDE). I was on a newer version of Eclipse, so I needed to figure out a couple of the steps, and I eventually ran into a security exception with login configurations.

Along the way, I came across Lotus Expeditor and decided I wanted to try that. I saw an old article that said Expeditor only works with Eclipse 3.2.2 and not the newer versions, so I installed that, but it had problems trying to find Then I found out that I had a newer version of Expeditor which requires Eclipse 4.0. When I installed that, Expeditor installed fine.

Lesson learned: Look up the version of the toolkit you’re using. Look up the specific software requirements for that version. Match it instead of using newer versions.

Hmm. New error: Problem occurred reading your Target. Ensure that your Target Platform’s Location is configured correctly. I have it set to c:\notes\framework\rcp\eclipse. It won’t accept c:\notes\framework\eclipse . Hmm. It works now. I don’t know what I did, though.

I’m running into the error again. Let’s try reloading those. They show up in the plugin list for the run configuration, though. Ah. Selecting another plugin that depends on that plugin might’ve done the trick.

There’s a note about Bundle not found. was removed in Lotus Expeditor 6.2.0. You’re supposed to be able to correct that issue by right-clicking on the project, selecting Properties > Client Services, and clicking OK, but no luck. It doesn’t stop the system from moving forward, though.

… and we’re back at the java.lang.SecurityException: Unable to locate a login configuration which I encountered this morning.

Okay. What do I know about this error?

  • Maybe I’ve configured the wrong JVM.
  • Maybe the JVM can’t find lib/security/ .
  • Maybe there isn’t one by default in Notes, so I have to create it.
  • Maybe the classes aren’t in the classpath.

Aha! Found someone with the same error message, but in a different language. The person reported that checking all the boxes in the plugin tab helped. Let’s try running it with all the features enabled (oh my). Lots of warnings, but still going… And there’s the Lotus Notes login dialog, and the sample QuickNote plugin. I think we have it!

Useful links:

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Keeping track of multiple projects

| ibm, productivity

How do you keep sane when juggling multiple projects? For me, a to-do list and a way to organize project-related information make life so much better.

I’m planning two Idea Labs and an expertise location pilot, supporting a training course, assisting with a proposal, helping with two workshops, answering questions related to four potential Idea Labs, and adding to my community toolkit.

The key challenges are:

  • keeping track of all the actions I need to take and by when, so that I can estimate my workload and give people more accurate feedback
  • organizing information so that I can find and share it
  • following up on what I’ve asked other people to do

Toodledo helps me stay focused on what I need to do at work and at home. Capturing all the different things I need to do and making sure that due dates are written down means I don’t have to stress out about things falling through the cracks.

The Lotus Notes Activities sidebar lets me organize project information and refer to past discussions. Activities also makes it easy for me to add other people and share resources with them.

For following up, I’m getting used to creating tasks representing things I’m waiting for, and regularly reviewing this.

How do you eat an elephant sandwich?

One bite at a time.

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Sooner or later? Expertise and the new

| career, ibm, work

I will learn how to sell, sooner or later. The question is: sooner, or later?

Years of experience can help a lot when you’re selling. You know your stuff. You have war stories. You might even have a great reputation. So there’s a good argument for getting into sales later, when I’ve got years of consulting experience to back me up.

On the other hand, for the areas I’ve excelled in, I’ve done so without decades of experience. (I’m 26. I can’t have decades of experience.) In my current role, I’ve made a big difference in the way we find experts and hold innovation conversations. In my previous project, I picked up a new platform. Less than a year after I started, I spoke at the developer conference. Same for my past interests: computer science education, wearable computing, and so on. A little passion and effort, compounded, can result in a lot.

I like working on the edge, where things aren’t clearly defined. That’s where I can get the most scale by sharing what I’m learning, and where there are the most opportunities for the newcomers.

One of my mentors advised me before to keep looking for the new areas. After all, when a field matures to the point of having IT architects and specialists with decades of experience, a relatively recent hire like me is at a disadvantage. But when everything’s new, I’ve got a fair shot at helping make a difference.

I remember feeling that ol’ imposter syndrome when I was one chapter ahead of the students in the course I was teaching. I hated not being able to bring lots of depth to the class. But work doesn’t have to be like that. Not only can I reach out and find experts and mentors, I can also learn on the job.

I think we can make this work. Not only that, I think it will be awesome. =)

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Career growth in a large company

Posted: - Modified: | career, ibm

I’m not counting my chickens before they hatch.

But there is something really cool about exploring career growth in a large company. For one thing, I can talk about it. I can simultaneously love my current work and be curious about the possibilities. I can get advice from mentors and votes of confidence from colleagues.

It’s also pretty awesome that I can read through lots of intranet resources. When I was a graduate student applying to IBM, I used the intranet to read about behavioural interviews and other techniques. Now, in my current position, I can look for deeper information about Global Business Services and about Lotus.

The blogosphere is great, but lately it seems like there’s a consensus that working for a company is bad. Perhaps it’s just a change from grad school, but working for the right company is awesome. There’s access to resources and expertise that I wouldn’t have otherwise. There’s diversity of opinion that’s really helpful. There’s constraints that require creativity to work around – yesterday that led me to more deeply consider my solution.

Working for the Man, Cate Huston

Big companies can be awesome.

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Editing audio and embedding it into a MS Powerpoint file

Posted: - Modified: | geek, ibm

Jade asked me for help in converting a CEO interview from 51 MB (it was an AVI!) to something more manageable, condensing it from 00:02:09 to around 00:01:30, and embedding it into a Microsoft Powerpoint file in time for her dry-run presentation.

Fortunately, I’m a geek.

I used AoA Audio Extractor to extract the audio track and convert it into an MP3, which slimmed the 51 MB file down to 1.5 MB. Then I used Audacity to edit the MP3. First, I removed all the ums, ahs, repeated words, filler words, and long pauses. That got me to about 00:01:50. After that, I removed as many of the questions as I could, and trimmed other unnecessary words from the answers. Result? Clocked in at 00:01:26, four seconds under target. Woohoo!

I’m starting to enjoy editing audio. I used to think editing was a bit tedious, but now I see it as a way to help people sound like much better speakers.

As it turns out, you can’t embed an MP3 into a Microsoft Powerpoint file – at least, not directly. Microsoft Powerpoint can embed WAVs, but WAVs can be quite big. (16 MB vs 1.1 MB for our condensed file.) But you can use CDex to add a RIFF wav header to your MP3, change your Tools > Options > General > Link sounds with file size greater than option to something like 50000 (to embed anything smaller than 50MB), and then insert your new WAV-which-is-really-an-MP3-in-disguise.

I put it together and sent her the file using instant messaging. (Yay Sametime!). We confirmed that it worked at 9:59 AM, just in time for her 10 AM dry run.

Thank you, Internet!

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