Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Maybe introverts have an advantage in the job market after all

AOL has a “best jobs for introverts” or “work-alone jobs” link, here. Not surprising, they’re largely technical, starting with computer software engineer. They also include automobile technician, graphic designer, and technical writer.

Actually, systems engineers do have to remain presentable and sell themselves internally or to clients. But they largely sell their own work and skills, compared to, say, a “professional salesman” like Steve Zahn’s character on “Night Train.”
I wonder how Mark Zuckerburg, the primary founder of Facebook fits in to this picture. He seemed rather shy on Oprah, actually, but so did Bill Gates in earlier eras. Aaron Greenspan, one of the other Harvard classmates involved in Facebook (in his own book Authoritas) and founder of Think Computer (look at his Whiteboard and “content management for normal people”) demonstrates what the introvert does – at least the detailed writing in his book comes across as that of an introvert.

Picture: Engineer in a lunar colony is a good future job for introverts.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Avon is another good example of multi-level marketing opportunities -- but not for everybody

Emma L. Carew has a column in “Washington Business”, “Avon Calling – for more sales representatives” on p. A14 of the Washington Post July 28. The link is here.

Multi-level marketing might not appeal to introverted IT people, but some people find that it makes a good backup income or good second income, but it definitely requires a bent for “sales culture” – the “always be closing” technique. Some operations like this seem to have been doing surprisingly well during the recession.

On my first job at RCA in 1970, I remember attending a recruiting session in a coworker’s New Jersey home for Amway, which he sold as “income security.”
With some employers, there could be concerns over conflict of interest or no-moonlighting rules.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

How do you protect your subordinates from recession? (Can you?)

Jason Hiner offers a short video today on Tech Republic blogs, “How to recession-proof your IT Group”. The link is here.

Note that the interest here is on “your” group, assuming you are the manager, team lead or formal project leader. It’s not just about you (Rick Warren style) or “your career” (Shostakovich 13th Symphony style, which has a movement entitled “a career”). It’s your cubs, your protectorate, your little empire.

I won’t repeat the exact list (watch the video!) but realize that “you” are in charge, you’re the pro (and your own online reputation had better say that). The biggest tip is to hang loose, tinker, and remain curious. But the big tip is to own your own perception of the business problem, which may be novel: it may have to do with legal compliance, asymmetry, changing revenue or advertising models, changing underling paradigms, indeed some meta-thought.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Keeping your job search confidential

The July 20 2009 issue of The Career News takes up the basic tips on how to submit resumes “anonymously” or confidentially to various job sites, starting with the common sense fact that your resume file won’t mention your name, or too many other names. You don’t your boss to know, do you. The link is here. The second article in the issue discusses Resume Rabbit and its confidentiality feature.
I think in a lot of cases, almost everyone knows who is looking for work. That certainly was true in my case a few times. Of course, the people other employers want are generally the people not known to be looking.

Will perspective employers look more kindly on nameless resumes? I don’t see that happening in my own experience.

Interviews that don’t result in offers are not always dead ends. In 1981, I had an interview that didn’t result in an offer (it stayed at too high a level technically), but then the organization traded names with another company that did give me a job two months later – when I needed to move. I stayed at that company six years, with stability.

Don’t mix this site up with “Career News”.

The other obvious confidentiality tip is, watch what you say in your blogs and social networking profiles.

Picture: a little abstract art with a CVS camera never hurt anybody; and it's nameless.

Monday, July 20, 2009

More perambulations with Windows Vista (the Dell touchpad)

Well, my latest Microsoft Windows Vista misadventure is more a Dell issue, with the touchpad. It seems that when I go into Blogger in Mozilla, and try to put in hyperlinks and especially bold them, the touchpad goes crazy, moves text around, and most of all, unzooms. From rooting around (and looking at the control panel, mouse and touchpad, and Dell’s “gesture”), it seems that the “pinch” touchpad mechanics will cause the zoom to be invoked when your fingertip wanders too far to the right part of the pad. But I could not get it to unzoom back. The Blogger dashboard got so small as to be unusable. With Firefox, the browser does not show a zoom facility, which seems odd since it is supposed to be built into Vista and partially mediated by the hardware manufacturer (here Dell XPS).

So I had, for the time being, to go into Internet Explorer, where there is a visible zoom control at the bottom right of the page. We’ll see what happens.

IE starts in Blogger with a defaault zoom of 95%. That's an "A".

Sunday, July 19, 2009

HR: take note: Times have changed: cultural misunderstandings can lead to hostile workplace or discrimination litigation quickly

In 1997, I recall reading a letter to a workplace editor in the Minneapolis Star Tribune from someone whose troubles had started when he passed a joke around the office on a piece of paper. Someone took it as racist. Soon there was a human resources investigation, and 24 hours after the “inquisition” started, the person was terminated. And this incident happened in the “bricks and mortar” world; it didn’t involve the Internet at all (surprise!).

Times have changed. Disputes do happen in workplaces, and they sometimes lead to litigation. Often it is difficult to determine exactly how a conflict started (and civil cases go by a “51%” standard). In practice, some edgy but perhaps acceptably ambiguous statement by one party is taken as offensive or threatening because of the cultural perspective of the other party, and an escalation (“World War I style”) occurs, leading to ultimatums. Six months or so later, managers are sitting in lawyers’ officers having under-oath depositions taped, transcribed, and word-tracked. Perhaps they get shingles from the anxiety produced by the process.

Hostile workplace is a serious matter (it’s older and more familiar than the modern “reputation defense” problem), and that’s one reason I wrote, in March 2000, a piece (look for "Bill Boushka" "White paper" "employment agreements") about the future dangers that blogging or Internet web-publishing could pose, if they were found by search engines and viewed as implicitly “within workplace” conversations since they could become known by search engines. Some HR people have reacted to me by saying that it is only a problem when the associate mentions that he or she publishes on line, creating in effect an “anti-selection” problem for management.

HR departments do need to provide training on these issues. Often they punt, because they don’t like to imagine that grown-ups will behave like kids with sandpiles (to use the terminology of Joshua Cooper Ramo) sometimes. But they do. Remember, we are living in the age of the unthinkable.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

In Vista: "Windows Explorer Has Stopped Working" on Day 2! What gives here?

Well, One day into (mis)adventures with Windows Vista, I get a “Windows Explorer has stopped working” on startup. But what happened was that the Blackberry Verizon wireless application to look for a wireless signal seemed to hang. Finally, Vista let me restart Explorer (the Start Menu) which “fixed itself) and sent a crash report to Microsoft. But the crash log said that I should uninstall and upgrade my Blackberry connect. But the available devices in the Blackberry menu did not exactly match the model number Verizon had sold me.

Nevertheless, when I started the Verizon app manually and attached the Blackberry device manually through the USB, everything worked, and wireless Internet worked (although more slowly than cable). When I turned the machine off and did another reboot, the next time I did not get any problems. So it sounds like a sloppy, unsafe code problem; if a signal is weak or unavailable, the application doesn’t return to Vista cleanly and hoses it – but then Vista should just close it and tell you, and not have to crash Explorer.

I find a lot of users complaining about the “Windows explorer has stopped working” online, without much of a clear answer. The best answer seems to have to do with creating a new user (in safe mode if necessary), here.

The sales contract with Best Buy offers free Windows 7 upgrade in early 2010 when it is released.

Here are a couple of other discussions: Vista Forums, and Techguy.

Does anyone understand what this Vista error really means?

Is franchising a good idea for some people?; the "property poet"

Well, there’s a lot more being written these days about owning your own business, particularly a franchise. These opportunities exist in everything from UPS to fast food to home health care or even day care. Some of them involve heavy “people skills”, more than a lot of IT people like. And some people may not like the idea of dedicating their personhood to promoting “somebody else’s” brand.

Career Digest (July 13) offered a web reference called “Franchise Choice” here.

Another idea was communicated in a recent ABC Nightline segment (July 13) about a “property poet” – a woman in New Jersey who writes property descriptions. Ever read the glowing descriptions of homes? She sees them at home in virtual reality on her computer and is paid per property to write the descriptions. We generally call this type of contract work copywriting (not to be confused with "copyright"). The entreprenurial idea is often floated by groups like Writers Digest.

Realtors were asked why they needed to hire her to write simple ads and they said, oh, we’re not writers.

In New Jersey and a few other states in the past, there have been zoning issues in a few townships for people who work or write from home; hopefully, at least from the appearance in the Nightline segment, these have been resolved.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Microsoft upping Expression Web to EW 3: plan carefully for it

I noticed, when buying a Vista-to-7 laptop today at Best Buy, and checking some system requirements on the wireless link in the store (no, I didn’t go to any porn or anything embarrassing – just business) that Microsoft seems to be promoting Expression 3, and it seems that it comes out in August 2009, and it seems to be cheaper. The system requirements link, for example, is here.

It also seems that now you have to have .NET 3.5, but that if you have Vista you have a head start on this. The ideal setup is apparently Developer’s Visual Studio and Expression, and the price of the entire combination seems to be falling.

Where this leads for a “self-publisher” is, of course, the idea of having one strategy for an integrated presence and “reputation” on the Web – with the key articles, blogs, and updates, and comment facility (and ad space) all well organized and automated. It’s sort of an amateur’s version of “professionalism” that may become the next strategy for reinventing oneself in the market.

Another idea is the idea that most of these packages (Expression, Dreamweaver, as did the old and inadequate Front Page) present the idea that a Web is a coherent object, to be moved around as a whole rather than updated in bits and pieces – as self-publishers often work.

I seem to remember back in the late 90s using Allaire Home Studio for work on a corporate site – and the real work was really done in bits and pieces, with little promotions between QA and production regions. They call it “using an atom bomb to swat a fly.”

I’m finding stories on the Web of conflicts in Vista, at least with Microsoft Office add-ons, in installing Expression Web 2, as with this Mike Swanson article.
Will there be any issues for 64 bit machines (since the XPS machine that I bought is 64 bits)? It looks not, but it’s hard to find a clean reference on it. Here’s one at Microsoft (look at the related questions for explanation of 64 bit processing).

There is a subtle posting that talks about Expression Web conversions and .NET problems, that may shed some light.

Picture: using a Blackberry for secure wireless is a bit of a pain.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Is there anything wrong with hourly billing by contractors or contract programmers

Chip Camden has an interesting perspective on the “blue and white” Tech Republic blog today, in his IT Consultant Column, “Is billing by the hour unethical?” There is a survey at the end and the overwhelming majority of viewers (much more than the winning percentage for a pennant) thinks it is not.

The link is here. It’s pretty obvious how hourly billing could be abused and pose abuse problems or opportunities.

The auto repair model may suffice. Usually there is a charge for a diagnostic on your car, and then a set number of hours in a book per repair, which translates into the labor bill. I’m under the impression that is how most home computer repair works. I had Geek Squad with a dreaded Microsoft “HAL” error (pun intended to the 2001 and “Moon” movies, perhaps), last December. But part of the value of the visit is the “learning” for me – being able to fix other problems that occur without another call.

It sounds like the problem would apply to generalized IT employment contracts – there is a definite issue if a contractor is not efficient in coding, testing and implementing a project (whether in the mainframe world or newer OOP platforms like java and Powerbuilder – I’ve worked with consultants in all of these) and runs up more hours, particularly “overtime.” But I never saw that happen much.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Some trite phrases never belong on resumes today

Toni Bowers has a noteworthy column in her “Career Management” column in Tech Republic today, “10 boring phrases you should cut from your resume”, link here. That’s right, never ("ne jamais") use these phrases. They’re trite. Everyone says them. English teachers should tell high school kids not to use them. The phrases include “strong work ethic”, “team player”, and “bottom line oriented.”

Not to overlook, however, I have heard managers talk about “work habits” as well as “work ethic,” and in the 1990s I took a “Team Handbook” class at work, based on the idea of “Total Quality Management”, as opposed to “management by objectives”, which (though popular in the 1970s) had come to be seen as trite by the 90s.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Now, tips on how I,R. pro's should use social networking sites

Today, July 8, Deb Shinder of Tech Republic wrote a posting, “10 Ways to stay out of trouble when you post to social networking sites,” with basic link here, leading to a PDF file download.

Most of the recommendations now sound familiar – particularly that what others post about you or in your space can have more effect on your reputation than what you post. The main question seemed to be mixing social life with business.

Since I spent most of my I.T. career as an “individual contributor” I didn’t have to deal with this kind of mashup much, but it seems as though I was not part of the real world that people know today. I used the Internet as a self-publishing tool, and tended to network in the real world (as with a screenwriter’s group, later).

Monday, July 06, 2009

Use Twitter and Facebook "not to get laid off"! Oh, really?

While the news about layoffs continues to accumulate, the Wall Street Journal today (Monday July 6) led off with a story “Companies, Workers Tangle Over Law to Curb Layoffs,” by Ianthe Jeanne Dugan, link here. The article concerns the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, which requires 60 days notice of layoffs in certain situations where communities are heaving affected.

Then today AOL, in a column called “How Not to Get Laid Off”, Managing your career: Ariane de Bonvoisin and John Kilcullen provided a column “Identify 10 Skills You Need to Survive the Next Round of Layoffs at your Job”, link here. A lot of it was cowtowing and nose-holding and self-sacrifice around the margins, proving you can give away a little more effort than your coworkers who might have more family responsibilities. That is, lowball your coworkers. (Forget solidarity.) But it was tip #9 that got my attention: “Start Tweeting or Start Packing.”

I note this quote from the article:

“’No time for "I don't do Twitter or Facebook.’" Acquaint yourself with social networks, mobile applications, and commerce platforms to remain relevant. Let them intimidate you and you give your boss reasons to replace you with someone younger and more in the game.”

Note how you read this: It’s important to use the free-entry mechanisms, but now it’s important to brand yourself online for the work you are going to do. That certainly makes sense for younger people, coming out of college. Now, I branded myself a dozen years ago as a social activist (regarding “don’t ask don’t tell” among other things) so it’s a little late to think that Twitter could rebrand me as a mainframe programmer. Of course, my self-branding branches out. On one of my blogs, for example, I've identified "young composers" and "pianists" as categories, encouraging them to learn of each other's work. In my position, I don't think it hurts to be a 66-year-old Ryan Seacrest.

More and more, a unified web presence is becoming necessary for self-branding. Nobody understood this even five years ago.

Or is a "diverse" presence a good thing after all? Do you need to focus on narrow expertise, or do you need to diversity and move in several directions? Ten years ago, we thought the latter; we have narrowed our expectations from self-expression, as an antidote to unreliable corporate and labor paternalism, somewhat.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

AOL offers "Top 10 companies hiring": Dell and Warner Brothers(!) stand out

AOL again has a job opportunities posting today, “Top 10 Companies Hiring Now”, a welcome item the day after a federal announcement of a 9.5% unemployment rate.

But there are some surprises. One is Dell, and the computer manufacturer actually has HR openings. Two more are Parsons and Siemens (the latter a German engineering company that we covered recently). Also notice Twitter (even if not yet “monetizied” – maybe "super microblogger" Ashton Kutcher has something to do with this) and T-Mobile. (Generally, telecommunications companies do have stores and kiosks in almost all malls.) But the big surprise may be Warner Brothers Entertainment.

The direct site for Warner Brothers jobs now is “Warner Brothers careers” here The site says “Picture yourself among the stars. Picture yourself here.” Watch your online reputation. The information technology jobs appear to be merged with Time Warner (which would incorporate the cable operations, as well as other studios like New Line).

I looked at their IT jobs in early 2002. There is a tendency to require a broad background in both mainframe and client server or mini platforms (Unix and AS400), and a mix of somewhat specific skills on several platforms. I recall DB2, Cobol (general IBM mainframe), and C++ (and related client server skills) and various other packages (People Soft, etc) being sought. Warner Brothers has a large, structured, professionally run information technology operation, and may be a good hunting ground for versatile professionals living in the LA area, even given the weak economy.

It’s interesting to see Warner Brothers (and Time Warner) back on the list, since the companies have undergone downsizings and consolidations, with, for example, dropping the Warner Independent Pictures and Picturehouse units. Movies, despite all the stories about studio budget battles, seem to do well during recessions. And cable companies are bound to benefit in time from (Obama’s) economic stimulus in the broadband area (although a lot of the stimulus may go to smaller companies).

For me, well, I may be trying to sell a movie script soon. That does make things interesting.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

When to convert from PC to Mac? What about Boot Camp and security? What about Expression Studio?

Can someone who has “invested” heavily in Microsoft-pc based applications reasonably switch to the MacIntosh? After all, the Mac offers “boot camp” to switch to Windows XP, and offers Office (Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and Entourage) directly for the Mac.

I checked out Expression Studio on the web and it appears that the only portion that runs directly on a Mac (without the PC emulation) is Expression Media. (See the chart on the right on the generic Wikipedia entry here for the simplest explanation; look at the sneaky way Microsoft mentions Expression Media on this system requirements page for Expression Studio, here.) For me, Expression Web (to replace Front Page) would be the most important component. I would have to switch to XP through boot camp to use it, it seems, and I don’t know how reliable that would be.

And everything I find suggests that if you work in XP mode, you should have the full Windows anti-virus and anti-spyware protection, and have the same security management issues that you have in a PC environment. That means being ready to process automatic updates, as usual. The main difference is that you will use it less. So there may be less practical exposure. But you may have some sensitivities if you have to go to the PC mode to update your own websites (as with Expression Web, to replace the older Front Page).

One of the considerations is that Microsoft offers a “whole universe” with its various incarnations of Visual Studio and various languages, but a C# enterprise or architect’s edition can essentially “do anything.” Therefore, it appeals to a business plan that demands flexibility and the ability to set up archetypes for others to use rather than just to process a certain set of transactions or self-publish a certain set of controversial materials.

So someone who, going back to 2002 or so, invested in the ability to use needs to keep efficient use of its functionality. One of my problems is that my domain is on a Windows Server platform, and I can’t be sure that I won’t need a direct modern Windows interface to use some of its more arcane features later.

Windows users feel discouraged by media hype that talks about deterioration over time, and a much bigger security target. But there is no reason why a Vista (or soon Windows 7) environment should not work smoothly if managed properly from the beginning.

There is a link that says “buy a PC now, upgrade to Windows 7 later” here.

There are, of course, many fine products which work great in the Mac world: Dreamweaver, and most of all FinalCut for movie editing (and Screenwriter). You can make a nice, flexible site by putting Dreamweaver and Wordpress together (here), and using the MySQL embedded in Wordpress (along with Wordpress categories). But it may be difficult to switch for someone who “got in bed with Microsoft” early in his publishing and “entrepreneurial” career.