Always Get Better

Posts Tagged ‘customer service’

That’s Not My Job

Friday, March 13th, 2015

Most companies seem to have a group of people who gravitate to either front-end or back-end development. I’ve been struggling to wrap my head around this because it doesn’t seem like a useful dichotomy.

It’s a fast-moving field, do you really want to carve a niche as a Unity programmer? An ActionScript expert? A Sharepoint developer? If you specialize to that degree, what happen

s when your technology of choice moves on?

How many of these have you come across:

“Front-end” developers who don’t understand the HTTP stack.

Companies that don’t have centralized source control.

“Back-end” developers who believe front-end code should be unit and performance tested just like server code – who don’t understand why squeezing maximum performance for one user on one machine would be as challenging as constructing a web app that served thousands of users at the same time.

Web designers who don’t know HTML, CSS and jQuery.

Anyone who takes a laissez-faire approach to security.

Project groups that don’t use Continuous Integration.

Understand More

Everyone has an area of interest where they excel and you should definitely pursue yours. Never forget that yours is a piece of the whole, and the more you understand of the whole the better you will be able to create value with your work.

If Photoshop is your bread and butter, learn how programmers slice your designs into HTML. Understand the technical limitations and get inspired by what the web browser can do for you.

If you’ve been slinging awesome responsive webpages, use your JavaScript skills to learn Node.js and understand where that server data is coming from and how it is stored. Expand your ability to write front-ends that scale as beautifully as they present.

If you are more comfortable in the bowels of a Linux server, download Cocos2d-x and experience the thrill your front-end counterparts get when their math turns into gorgeous sprites on-screen.

Everybody’s Talking

Every time you learn something new you open up a world of people you can network with and understand at some level.

Whenever someone asks how to get into the field, what do you answer? “Just do it!”

How to Win at Work

Sunday, April 17th, 2011

It isn’t really hard to do well in a job; you just have to apply yourself and put the work first. Just like during the interview, your boss or employer’s motivation is not to give you a hard time or to make your life difficult; all they really want is to get the work done and make money.

A lot of employees seem to approach their job the same way they approached high school: as an institution with fixed rules and authority figures. In this mindset, the best way to succeed is by doing what the teacher (boss) dictates to the minimum acceptable level. Over time, it is possible to rise to the top on the merits of “years of good service”.

Let’s be honest with ourselves: there is surely a more fulfilling way to spend the majority of our day.

Fail Fast
If we look at the best, most successful entrepreneurs, we’ll find a list of failed companies leading up to their home run enterprise. Good entrepreneurs know that there is no secret to success – it is necessary to keep trying and learning from failures until we finally reach our goals. The best thing we can learn is to fail fast so we can move on to success faster.

This flies in the face of the ordinary way of thinking which is to avoid failure. Failure hurts, but if we can learn to accept it, we can open the way to more resounding success.

Do It On Your Own Time
Your boss does not care about your personal growth. As a programmer, the company is not obligated to teach you the newest programming technology. The company is interested in turning a profit, and in order to afford to pay an employee, they need to earn several times the cost of that employee in order to maintain profitability.

So how do you get new skills and remain relevant in a changing work environment? You need to study and learn, especially during your free time. Not sure what you should be studying? Read job boards – you will get a feeling for what is trending and what skills are in demand. You don’t have to be job seeking, but having a polished resume and portfolio will keep your mind sharp and improve the quality of work you already deliver.

Make the Boss Look Good
While you’re busy learning all your new languages and technologies, the boss is responsible for making sure work gets done and that profits are earned for their boss. So what’s the best way to get bumped up in line for that next promotion? Make your boss look good.

If you are pulling your weight plus more, your boss will look more effective, which will raise everybody’s boat. The best way to get noticed is by being responsible for everyone’s success. But wait – didn’t we say to embrace failure? By failing early and fast, we set ourselves up for our greatest successes. Don’t settle for status quo – always get better.

The Interview Process

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

Can you be accurately summed up after a short conversation with a complete stranger? Do you think it’s fair that your entire career and work essence is judged within seconds?

Assuming your resume isn’t full of false truth and you get through to an interview, what’s next?

Be yourself. Be genuine. Be authentic.

Like it or not, an interview is a sales meeting. You are selling yourself – your professional skill as well as your personality. The flip side that most job candidates tend to forget, however, is the company interviewing you is just as interested in winning you over as you are winning them.

Be Excited
It’s hard to gauge whether a candidate is truly passionate about their work in a single interview because most people are too nervous to really show their true self. It’s too easy to want to please the interviewer – but you need to remember that the person interviewing you wants you to do well, wants to hire you for the position, and would prefer if you did well so they can stop performing interviews and get back to work.

Be Honest
It’s irritating (not to mention painfully obvious) when the person you’re interviewing with tries to use marketing spin to cover their lack of knowledge on any subject area. If you don’t know the answer to the interviewer’s question, just say so. You won’t lose points because it’s impossible for someone to have an answer to every question – the exception, of course, if when you can’t answer any questions, in which case the job may not be a good fit for you in the first place.

Be Independent
Some people recommend following up with your interviewer a few days after the interview. I’m not necessarily against this practice but I don’t like to do it because usually if the company is excited about hiring you they will contact you fairly soon after the interview. A bad or so-so interview doesn’t mean you definitely won’t get the job, but if you aren’t receiving a call back you are probably better off moving on rather than pushing for a response.

Cloud Computing Is Not Magical

Tuesday, April 5th, 2011

Back in 2009 I was tired of hearing the phrases “cloud computing” and “in the cloud”. These days I’m so numb to their meaninglessness that it doesn’t even phase me anymore. Somewhere along the way marketers took over the internet and ‘social media’ became a job position.

So what do I have against cloud computing? Would I rather build servers, deal with co-location, and suffer massive downtimes in order to change hardware specs? Of course not.

Let’s not lose sight of the big picture: virtualized servers are still servers. From a remote perspective the management is all the same and from a hardware perspective you still need to be responsible for your data in the event of a catastrophic failure.

While I am a huge proponent of “cloud” providers like Rackspace (heck I host all of my web sites on Cloud Server instances), let’s call a spade a spade: there is nothing magical about servers in the cloud, they are just virtualized instances running on a massively powerful hardware architecture.

Why go with virtualization over a dedicated box? Virtual servers are cheap – I don’t need to incur the startup costs that I would from a dedicated server. For a small business this is a huge deal; for larger business with intense data needs the dedicated solution will always provide the most security but for anything from tiny, small to very large applications the virtualized way is the ticket. Add more servers, remove them, reconfigure: you don’t get that kind of flexibility from traditional server hosting.

Long live cloud computing; but the name has to go. Did the term come from network diagrams where the Internet was represented as a cloud? I don’t think it’s a particularly clever analogy to consider your business assets living as disembodied entities “somewhere” in the networking cloud.

We’re fighting a losing battle if we believe we’re going to get the marketers to back off the internet now. But on the tech side let’s keep calling it what it is and try not to let the marketing buzz cloud our opinion of the technologies we use.

Resumes Are Better Without Alphabet Soup

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

You can spot them a mile away – resumes that look like someone loaded up a Microsoft Word template, punched in their information, then sent it to every job posting they could find.

Does this sound at all like your resume?

They probably start with an Objective statement proclaiming the candidate’s desire to secure a position among a progressive and upward-mobile organization.

Next up is the candidate’s skills, a veritable alphabet soup of every technology they ever came across. Honestly, does anybody really have useful knowledge of everything including ASP, Java, C++, Assembly, COBOL, Lisp, Python, Erlang, Ruby, PHP and Haskell? Yes, we get that you are smart and can work in any environment we throw at you, but what are you awesome at? I can’t tell.

Next is education, usually just the program name and sometimes a GPA. No real details about what the program consisted of – the point, after all, is that the candidate has an education, right?

Finally, the awful listing of every company the candidate has ever worked at going all the way back to the summer job they had in high school. Each is illustrated with so many jargon-filled bullet points that the resume takes up three pages and gives no really useful information about the candidate or their skills.

Sad to say, most resumes fit this pattern. The good news for you is the bar is set low which means it can be incredibly easy to stand out from the crowd.

Lose the Objective
The objective statement is the biggest sin academia has thrust into the world. The company you’re applying for does not care about your objectives and long term plan; their concern is finding a skilled worker who can meet their objects. Sorry to re-use a tired paraphrase, but ask yourself what you can do for the company, not what the company can do for you. Leave your expectations out of the mix until you hit the negotiation stage.

Less is More
Rather than listing every programming language you’ve ever heard of, list the top 2 or 3 you’re best at. If that means you can only list PHP because you live breathe and eat it, do so.

This is a bit intuitive: Showing a dozen skills will not keep the doors open for the best possible job. The reverse is true – rather than leaving recruiters confused as to whether you’re a good fit for their job, let them filter you if need be. Think about it – if you are that amazing PHP programmer, do you really want to be developing COBOL on mainframes all day?

Tell a Story
Try to put yourself in the shoes of the person who will be reading your resume. They will be reading other people’s resumes as well, most of which will look alike except for the author name at the top of each page. It should be a fairly easy job – just pick the candidate whose skill set matches the requirements of the job and hire them.

The reality is much more difficult. Even if a manager has the budget needed to hire someone, they may not be able to find the right person to fill the job. Skill is only part of the story – personality also plays a large factor. It isn’t enough to have someone who knows the job; it has to be someone who will fit in with the team and be a pleasure to work with.

Don’t just talk about your skills – talk about you. What do you bring to your work that no one else on earth can duplicate? You could start with a ‘hobbies’ section on your resume, but I recommend injecting as much of your own voice everywhere you can.

Rather than simply describing your job functions for each position you held, write about what your learned during your time at each company. What contributions were you able to make to the bottom line? Remember, your potential employer is hiring you because they want to make money.

Using a Cell Phone as Backup Internet

Monday, May 24th, 2010

Since we live in the country and rely on line-of-sight Internet for our connectivity, I’ve been increasingly frustrated with service quality and uptime programs. There are a lot of reasons I want to move to a denser population area but access to a proper Internet connection is high on my list.

My phone has turned out to be a decent alternative; using instructions I found online I was able to re-purpose my Palm Pre as a WiFi router. It’s still not broadband but it gives me a way to check my email when my Xplornet fixed wireless (often) fails.

Although Bell Canada supports tethering with their smartphone plans, they don’t go out of their way to make it obvious how to do it. My Tether turned out to be worth the cost; even though there is a free version you can use if you want to play with the settings.

Can’t Change Country of Adobe Account

Wednesday, November 12th, 2008

Aside the from the bloated abomination that is Acrobat Reader, I can confess that I am a proponent of software from Adobe.  As a long time user of Photoshop and Illustrator, I have always found their products to be powerful and usable.

Recently I’ve taken up time creating applications with a trial version of Flex Builder.  This is the first time I have ever really given a product a full test drive during the trial – normally it gets used once or twice then forgotten about.  Flex Builder is a solid product, built on a great platform.  I can’t get enough of it.

Since I truly like this software, I decided to go ahead and plug in my credit card information to get myself a full copy.  When I got to the Adobe online store though, I was sadly let down by my experience.

I am in Canada but for some reason my existing account has ‘United States’ listed as my address.  Not a big deal, I’ll just change it, right?  No – it is not a changeable field.  You can change your region on the Adobe site but that doesn’t affect your account at all.  If I can’t change my country, I can’t order online because my credit card information will be wrong.

Not a big deal – I called the sales phone number and explained what my problem was, hoping to order the product by phone.  You can’t order software for download by phone, they will only ship it to you.  I’d much rather just have the serial number, so I am transferred to the online support department to get the country of my account changed.

Once I noticed my phone timer had reached 37 minutes, I hung up and tried searching the Internet for a solution to Adobe’s problem.  I found this blog:

Basically, you can’t change your country.  The only way to do it is to create a new account with the correct country.  It would have been nice if the gentleman in sales had known to tell me that instead of letting me wait on hold for an indefinite period of time.

Really, the reason I am most angry is because the muzak that plays on Adobe’s hold line is not just obnoxious, it’s too loud.  Right now my head is ringing and I still have no Flex Builder to play with.