Saturday, March 12, 2016

Career Presentation @ James Fowler High School 2016

This past Thursday I did some presentations at James Fowler High School on what an IT (Information Technology) career is like.  I had a total of 3 presentations in the morning.  This was my second year presenting at James Fowler.  See this blog post for thoughts on my 2015 presentation.

The class I presented in (room 330 this year) held about 40 students.  The first two presentations it was full.  The third presentation had about 25 students.

I had my 'new, updated' presentation on prezi.com, however the computer I was presenting off of crashed right before the first presentation.  Yay IT! -> that's a sarcastic comment.  We managed to get it up and running in short order and after that things went well....  Click on the image below to view my presentation.

Click the image to view my presentation
Some thoughts I had after wrapping up:

  • IT doesn't seem to be as interesting, exciting, or sexy as some other career options out there.  For example, the Calgary Police had to present in the gym (due to the amount of interest).  Here's some food for thought for people considering a career in policing (or  the fire department, or being an EMT):
    • These careers involved shift work.  While that might seem interesting for a young person, I'll guarantee you don't want to be working shifts for the rest of your life if you can help it.  Its hard on your body physically and emotionally, and it can be hard on your family. 
    • The fact that they are exciting correlates closely to the fact that they also can be quite stressful.  Can you deal well with a lot of stress?  Some people can, some can't.
  • I wondered how I could make an IT career a more palatable, exciting option for students.  Perhaps it was by demonstrating that some of the richest people in the world currently had made their fortunes with IT?  (Bill Gates, Kevin O'Leary, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, etc.)  Or maybe it was by showing that the next biggest threat to the world was cyber related?  
  • One of the big changes in careers in the last few decades has been the fact that irrespective of what career you target, you need to be prepared to learn for the rest of your life.  Technology is influencing and changing every career out there, and technology isn't going to stand still. 


Sunday, March 6, 2016

Lost in Life? Extraordinary is Waiting for You

For years I lived with the fear that I wasn't entirely following God's plan for my life.  I was trying to as best I could, but I thought maybe I wasn't hearing His direction good enough, or I turned 'left' instead of 'right' at a crucial juncture and as a result, I missed God's perfect plan for my life.  Recently, I've been realizing (to my relief) that this was wrong thinking and a wrong perspective.

Over Christmas I watched part of this teaching below by Kris Vallotton on 'God's Purpose for our Lives' and got a glimpse of something I hadn't seen before - God's grace in the direction of my life.


How did I see that specifically, you may ask?  Well, in part of this talk above, Kris talks about how everyone wants to be 'extraordinary' - to be seen as special.  Kind of like 'The Special' in The Lego Movie.  We all have had the desire (I think) at some point in our lives to feel that way.  I always felt I had to be in the centre of God's perfect plan for my life to feel extraordinary..... and I didn't feel like that very often, so I felt like I was, perhaps, missing God, or not hearing Him, or making wrong turns, or something.

However, Kris suggests in his talk above that God has me right where He wants me, right now in this moment.  That was a liberating thought for me.  However, Kris took it further and added that if I want to live an extraordinary life, to simply ask God to come and help me be and/or do extra ordinary things today with the responsibilities and tasks that I have before me right now.  Examples he gives in the talk above: David was a shepherd when God empowered him to kill a lion, a bear, and a giant.  The disciples were fisherman before Jesus called them.  Gideon was a farmer.  Ruth was gleaning (would you consider that farming?).  Joseph was a prisoner.  I'm realizing that God can meet me right where I'm at, right now in my life.  I don't have to worry or fear any longer that I'm not in the middle of His plan for me.  He has a plan for me in this moment and place.  All I have to do is ask for Him to come and join me.

I'm trying....   will you?



Saturday, January 30, 2016

What to Consider if You're Considering College - Book Review

I found this book at Chapters and it (of course) piqued my curiosity, given the title and content.  Frankly, this was another book that made me reconsider my own quest in writing a book for high school grads, as this one covers a lot of good material.   Chapters discuss the importance of good choices, knowing yourself, different types of colleges and technical institutes, volunteering, travel, and other options and considerations for high school grads.

There are different editions of the book published for different markets.  Canadian and American editions exist (and potentially other regions as well) and there are also College and University editions.  I bought an American College edition in Canada (go figure).  It was almost 270 pages.

While the authors covered a lot of good content, I think I would have found the book a bit of a hard slog to finish if I was 18 years old.  Parts of it weren't as engaging as I would have expected, given the target audience.  If you're a more cerebral high school grad, and your trying to figure out what to do, this might be the book for you.  As the authors aptly point out in the book: 'College is an expensive place to get your head together.'

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Musing on Careers - New and Old

I did an informational interview with a student from one of my SAIT classes earlier this week, and one of his questions got me thinking.  He asked me what it was like starting a career in Information Technology before Google went public - as he put it, 'when IT was a cool and cutting edge industry with browsers and technology changing and evolving all the time.'

I answered him as best I could.  I felt I started my IT career at the tail end of that whole 'gold rush' as it were.  In many ways it felt like a bit of a lottery - if you chose the right company to work for, you could get rather rich;  if you chose the right technology or language to become an expert in, you could also get rich.  But if you missed out on either of those choices, well, it might not be the fairy-tale experience we hear in so many stories.  I fortunately chose a good language to focus on (java) at that time, and that helped establish my career.

I was reflecting on that conversation this evening, and I realized that while I had managed to get into IT reasonable close to when new media started going main stream, I have also had the distinction of having a career in an 'industry in decline' - print media.  Specifically newsprint.  That was a different feeling.  It was not well paying.  There was shift work.  Certainly more dangerous.  In fact, I just realized tonight that when we did maintenance on the press, we never 'locked it out' - a standard safety practice in many industries I had learned over a decade earlier in the saw mill.  The support for education (getting a journeyman's ticket) in the industry was poor.  In fact, it was a bit of joke.  We ran huge presses that would hardly fit in a gym, and the journeyman course was on a press that would fit in a closet.

What is the lesson here?  .... I can hear you thinking.

I got into printing because an organization had a need and I was asked to fill it.  I was tired of formal education and learning theory without practical, hands on experience.  I wanted to feel productive.  Printing really scratched that itch for me.  I didn't care how much I was making.  The product of my labour was tangible - I could see it and I knew I was learning good things and getting experience, and that felt good.

There's a time though, when you need to examine where you are and what your doing with your life.  Ask yourself if you can continue doing this for another 10 or 20 years.  Does it make practical sense for you to do it for that much longer?  Will it affect your health and your quality of life down the line, etc.  That's what my wife and I did.  And as a result, we sold our house, moved, and I went back to school.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Lonely Planet - 'The Big Trip' Book Review

2nd Edition Cover
Lonely Planet's 'The Big Trip' is billed as Your ultimate guide to gap years and overseas adventures.  I got my 2nd Edition copy from the library and it was published in 2011.  I see the 3rd edition just came out in May 2015 (Buy it here).  If you are at all considering a gap year (traveling after high school or in between college years) I'd high recommend buying this book.  It's a fantastic reference for young adult travellers.

Both editions have pretty much the same table of contents.  I'm assuming that the updates are mainly to addresses, information, and internet links in the book to organizations and companies that are referenced.

The book has 4 main parts:

  • Part 1 is all about planning.
  • Part 2 discusses different types of trips you can do.
  • Part 3 splits the world up in the different geographical regions and talks about each one - where to go, what to expect, what to do, etc.
  • Part 4 is essentially an appendix of internet references to help travellers with planning their trip. 

There are other sections in the book as well:

  • An intro that talks about why to consider a 'big trip'.
  • A section inside Part 3 that I found interesting on 'traveller's tales' - real life stories from people who did a trip and what they found.
  • A photo essay section to whet you appetite for 'Big Trip Experiences'.
The 2nd edition copy I have is over 330 pages, many with full colour pictures.  This book is a MUST for anyone considering a Gap Year trip.

3rd Edition Cover

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Undercurrents in My Job Journey

I have felt the pull of a couple of occupations even though I wasn't always 'involved' with them.  I think its important to acknowledge these undercurrents because they can sometimes turn into a 'mainstream' career path.  Be aware of the undercurrents in your life.  Keep them 'fed' if you can.  You never know when one can turn into a paying career that ends up being much more fulfilling and enjoyable than your current 9 to 5.

Some Job Journey Undercurrents I have are:
  • Teaching.  In high school my brother and I thought we should both be teachers.  He could teach Physical Education, and I could teach band.  We could travel the world during our time off in the winters and summers.  It was a great dream, but never fully came to fruition.
    I believe my interest and passion here stems from my experience with piano and school teachers growing up.  Of all the teachers I've had, there were several who had an impact on me.  Betty-Anne was one of my piano teachers who left an indelible impression (see this post for more details).
    Learning must be fun but practical.  As I leaned into the 'undercurrent' of teaching and finding ways to practice it, more doors opened up for me.  I've taught piano and guitar lessons privately.  I've been teaching part-time at SAIT for the past 10 years now!

    Lessons I've learned with teaching:
    • Be organized.  Have a plan.  Be prepared with your slides, curriculum, assignments and expectations (students leaving class, how marks will be allocated for assignments/tests, etc).  If you are confident and secure with your content, it will reflect in your teaching style and you'll ultimately be more effective.
    • Privacy is important in a formal teaching context.
    • Be patient.  Some people can pick things up quickly, others have to work hard at it (but when they get it, they'll never forget it).  Sometimes just to content can intimidate and create 'learner's block'.   Call it out - make your students aware of it.  Too many black notes on a music score or big new words in a new topic can be intimidating...
    • Class discussion and real life stories are paramount to the learning experience.  When your students realize you can relate to them, everything becomes easier.   
    • Get familiar with 'the outskirts.'  Find out what they aren't learning but they want or need to know.  Here is the place where you can move from good to great at teaching.  What do they want to learn?
    • Marking is tedious
    • Learning must be fun and practical.  You have to find a way to make the students see a reason for the mundane stuff (technique in playing an instrument).  
  • Music.  As I mentioned above, even before leaving high school I thought I might become a band
    teacher.  I took a year of music in college but felt that I wasn't learning what I wanted to (I was also rather burnt out on formal education at the time).  In most of the places I've lived I've been involved in a volunteer capacity with some kind of music.  

    For years I thought I should have been a music pastor in a church.  However that door never opened for me.  I now see how that being a music pastor may have not been the best option for me - there's parts of that job description I would have been great at, but other responsibilities I would have bombed.  And then what would I have done?

    Lessons learned related to my involvement with music:
    • What you sow is what you reap, garbage in, garbage out - even when you are talented.  Do your best, practice, and get better than 'good'.
    • Opportunities for engaging involvement are around, maybe just not where you thought they were.  For years I was discouraged because I couldn't use my music the way I thought I should be able to.  Particularly with Music, people have preconceived ideas about how their 'career' should progress.  Let go of those and open your eyes and your mind to other opportunities.
    • Keep it simple.  It took a long time for me to learn this lesson.  Its not about how busy or perfect you play.  Can you bring your emotions into the song?  Can you (yourself) feel and get lost in the music?
    • Rests are important.  Too much of anything becomes noise.  
    • Enjoy yourself and smile

  • Writing.  I first got 'published' in high school.  Our school district put together a small book showcasing student writing, and I had two separate works published in to.  I've kept a journal since high school, and I've had a short humorous piece published in Reader's Digest.  I'd like to think that this blog is a stepping stone to a book called The Grad Gift.  Time will tell.  The biggest lesson I've learned with writing to date is
    • Done is better than perfect.  Sigh.  Guess I'd better hit publish on this post then.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

A Career in IT (My Job Journey Part 7)

For some background on how I changed directions into an IT career, check out this post.  Working in
IT has been a great experience for me on several different fronts:
  • It has given me a bit of financial freedom.  We don't have to live paycheque to paycheque counting pennies like we did when I was a printing pressman.  We can actually afford to go on holidays as a family now.
  • It has given me the opportunity to start and run my own small business (in our 10th year of operations now)
  • Because most industries need IT in some form or fashion, I have experienced work in many different businesses.  To date, my IT jobs and contracts have had me working with hospitality, utilities, energy, finance, health, legal, construction, fleet and freight, telecom, and entertainment industries, with private and public companies, and also in provincial and municipal government arenas.
  • I have more job security.  Demand is high for experienced IT professionals.  
Some of the lessons that I've learned in IT (although I think many of them are transferrable across any career path) are:
  • You've got to look out for yourself.  Companies are only concerned about one thing and its not you.  It their bottom line - are they making money.  Be aware of the health of the company, your company's industry, and the economy as a whole.  Compare benefits and wages when and where you can.  Payscale.com, glassdoor.com, wageindicator.org, and salary.com are good places to start.
  • Soft skills are super important!  Manners, communicating clearly in emails, listening vs. talking in meetings, integrity, and a smile will open doors.
  • There are lots of 'unknown, un-posted, unrealized' jobs out there. New ones are being created all the time.  Some IT jobs you've probably never heard of:  puppet master, ethical hacker, environment specialist, agile guru, search engine optimization engineer, spring team lead....etc.
  • Be ready to learn.  It's always changing.  Visual Basic has gone the way of the dodo.  Ruby and Python are 'in'.  Companies need to say competitive.  Continuous learning will be a requirement of any professional regardless of career path in the future.
  • Don't submit to fear and intimidation.  Eloquent people intimidate me.  New concepts with big names give me 'learner's block'.  Don't give in to this fear.  
  • Volunteer to learn new things.  Early in my IT career, I hadn't work with Unix or Linux operating systems.  The company I was working with at the time was looking for volunteers on a project, and the volunteers needed to work with those operating systems.  I jumped at the chance and it spring-boarded me into many other opportunities.  I still use Unix and Linux every day at work.
  • Listen to your thoughts.  I found that I preferred to have 'the big picture' when working in an IT shop.  Coding on a small piece of functionality for one specific application wasn't for me.  I needed to understand the 'lay of the land'.  As a result, I choose jobs that gave me that 'view', and I've been much more successful and satisfied in my IT work.  I find I'm always poking new avenues for my career path in IT.   Don't be afraid to experiment a bit.
My Career Quest/Job Journey Links