Sunday, September 27, 2020

Reading Break Getaway - Impulsive College Travel

Floyd, one of my good friends at college, sat down at the table where I was enjoying great college cafeteria food.  It was the last Friday before Reading Break of my second semester of college.  He interrupted my culinary reverie wondering if I wanted join a group of friends on a road trip to California during the break.  No week-long lead up planning or anything like that.  Totally spur of the moment.  If I wanted to go, I needed to be ready by suppertime.  I had some questions that needed to be answered first:

  • Who was going?  There would be 7 of us in two cars to begin with.  There'd be four in our car and we'd drop a fellow of at his parent's house in Olympia, Washington on our way down.  The other car would go on ahead of us.  There was a couple of 3rd years (Kelly B., and Dan P who we were dropping in Olympia), one second year (Dan J. whose Aunt we'd be staying with in LA), and the rest of us were first year students (Floyd D. who invited me, Andrew S. and Dan M.)
  • When were we leaving?  Our car would leave that evening after supper in Andrew's Subaru.  Kelly, Dan M. and Dan J. would leave earlier in the afternoon. 
  • Where would we stay?  Dan J. had an aunt in LA with a condo that she was happy to let us stay in for the week.
From right to left:  Kelly B., Floyd D., Dan J., Dan M., and Andrew S.
This is in the lineup to 'Its a small world' at Disneyland.  We are wearing
hoodies we bought down at Venice Beach earlier in the week.

This all sounded great to me.  I told Floyd I'd have to call my parents and let them know what I was thinking, which I did straight-away.  My mom told me to get some travel insurance, since being Canadian I wouldn't be covered if a doctor/hospital visit was required.  I took that advice and arranged a week's worth of travel insurance that afternoon.  

I packed quickly - excited at the thought of going to California - somewhere I'd never been before - and to travel without parental supervision for the first time in my life.  Royce, another friend from across the hall in the dorm, walked in while I was packing.  He asked me what I was up to and I told him.  He couldn't believe I'd planned to go so impulsively, but was very interested in joining us.  I told him to talk to Floyd and he immediately went to find him.  In the end, Royce didn't come with us as he decided to stay and get some actual school work done.  

We left after supper in a snowstorm.  I don't think we were more than 2 miles across the border into the US when we skidded off the road into the ditch.  Fortunately the Subaru was an AWD and with the manpower we had in the car, we were back on the road in a jiffy.  Man, but it snowed that night.  We dropped Dan M. off at his parents' place in Olympia and decided to stay for a little bit and watch Lawrence of Arabia (first time I'd seen that movie).  I'm not sure why we did that as it was a long movie and we wasted a bunch of travel time.

Back on the road after the movie was done in (literally) the middle of the night, we drove into Portland Oregon and I-5 was was deserted.  Four lanes of highway with snow and nobody around?  We decided to do some donuts with the car.  Switching drivers we made it into northern California around mid-day the next Saturday and we were getting quite hungry and thirsty.  We stopped in Yreka, California for gas and some sustenance.  We were on a budget, so we bought a big, glass bottle of apple juice to share.  I don't remember what we ate, but I saved that bottle and still have it today - its our change jar

Apple juice bottle from Yreka, California

We drove in snow pretty much from the Canadian border all the way the Mt. Shasta in northern California.  Coming into California, they strongly suggested we put chains on the tires, but we couldn't afford them.  Besides, we were Canadians and had driven in snow a lot (never mind the fact that we had pushed the car out of the ditch the night before).  In the end, the snow wasn't a problem for us.

We detoured through San Fransisco on the way because none of us had been there and it seemed a shame to miss it.  That cut into our LA arrival time significantly, but just driving across the Golden Gate Bridge was worth it.  Now that I know more about California geography, I wished we'd stuck to highway 101 south from San Fransisco instead of going to back to the I-5, but no harm done.

We saw a possum cross the road in the middle of our second night of travel.  We thought it was a rat and couldn't believe how big it was.  Arriving in LA the next morning, we immediately drove through Hollywood and Beverly Hills.  We got enthralled with the morning sun shining through the palm trees on Sunset Blvd - I don't think any of us had seen palm trees before.  

Dan J.'s aunt lived in a condo in Rancho Palos Verdes - basically the opposite side of LA from Hollywood.  We made our way there and once we'd met everyone and caught up on our travel stories, Dan's aunt took us out for dinner to a restaurant on the pier that overlooked the surf.  I ate shark steak for the first time.

Running in the surf (we called it 'doing the
Chariots of Fire thing') on Venice Beach.

The rest of that week we spent doing LA things:

  • Spent a day at Venice beach checking out muscle beach, the markets, the sand, and the entertainers there.
  • Spent a day at Universal Studios.  Four of us got chosen to be included in a 'mock' Star Trek set shooting and got dress up as Klingons or Enterprise crew members.  We saw the set for 'Back to the Future' and a Miami Vice demonstration with actors and motorboats and pyro
  • Tried surfing on Long Beach - I did not like how much the sand moved underneath my feet.  It almost left like quicksand if you stayed still.  
  • Tried to get close to the red carpet on Oscar night (as the Oscars were happening sometime that week)
  • Spent a day at Disneyland.  Lots of fun doing that with the guys.
  • Some of the guys went to see a PGA tournament for a day.  Floyd and I decided to stay at the condo and suntan.  We bleached our hair with peroxide and it worked rather well.
In the end, it was a great trip.  Definitely worth our money and we certainly had stories to tell coming back to college.  Royce was pretty bummed he decided to stay back and still talks about regretting not going with us to this day.  

A postcard from the trip that I never ended up sending 
to my family back home.  It made it into the photo album though!

Tips for travelling during college reading breaks:

  • Being impulsive makes it fun, but stay safe!  Get health insurance if you need to and make sure people know where you are.
  • Keep a journal if you can - you'll capture some great memories.
  • Make a point of making memories.  Do things you wouldn't normally do and budget accordingly.
  • Bring some simple keepsakes back home.  I never thought I'd still have that change jar from the apple juice we drank in Yreka.  Its now a great show-and-tell piece for my kids.  The look on my son's face when I told him about our trip and then pointed to the bottle in the room and said 'that's the bottle' was priceless.
  • Buy postcards and actually send them to friends and family

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Targeted Job Hunting | Leveraging Your Contacts

Several years ago, I had a student (lets call him Jeremy to protect his privacy) with an accounting background in my WebDev Javascript and CMS courses at SAIT.  Jeremy was keen to learn and had lots of questions and actually sat beside 'Hermione' from this post of mine.  The story of how he found work after school was rather interesting, so I thought I'd share it.

Several weeks after school, Jeremy messaged me on LinkedIn and asked if I could connect him with one of my LinkedIn contacts - an HR manager at a company called Benevity.  Our initial correspondence on LinkedIn looked like this:

From Jeremy: 
Hi Perry, I was wondering if you can introduce me to xxxxx xxxxxxx? I'm looking to stand out among the applicants for their intern program and ask some insightful questions.
Thank you,

From Perry:
Hi Jeremy, 
I'll see what I can do but I can't guarantee anything. She works remotely in xxxxxx and frankly I found her a little difficult to get a hold of (some people work better remotely than others) I send her a message and refer you to her - we'll see what that does :-)
From Jeremy: 
Hi Perry, 
I understand, that's actually all I was looking for. Just an introduction through linkedin.
Have you ever written any coding tests through testdome? There's a preliminary screening interview I have the pleasure of taking by this Monday for xxxxxxxxx(some other company). The test itself is around 37 minutes and from what I've heard from Gary it was two questions on JS using for loops and if statements and one java question to solve some math problems. I think I may be overmatched but I'll still give it a shot.
Thank you Perry for reaching out to her.

From Perry:
Jeremy, I sent her something like this:
Hi xxxxxxxx,
I had a student recently for several weeks at SAIT that is keen on getting an internship at Benevity. If possible I'd love the chance to refer him to you. His name is Jeremy XXXX. He is well spoken, seeks to understand and be understood, and was one of my top students.  Here's his contact info: xxxxxxxxx Let me know if there's anything else I can do to connect the two you.
I think Benevity would be a super cool place to work. They have a fantastic client list and a cool business. Good luck!
I haven't done any coding in testdome. I've never done a coding interview myself. Good luck with that too!
From Jeremy:
Hi Perry, 
Awesome, that's more than I could have asked for!
I'll keep you posted on how things go. 

.... and then several months later.....

From Jeremy:
 Hey Perry how's the teaching going this semester? Are there a lot of students? I'm not sure if I told you but I got hired on in October after the internship ended.
Jeremy then reached out to me and asked to take me out for coffee.  He wanted to thank me for setting all of that up for him as well as get some advice on his career path forward.

At the appointed time and place, we met for coffee and I got the back-story I had been missing...

After an education in business finance and becoming an accountant, he worked for a few years when he felt he needed a change.  A significant change.  He ended up travelling overseas and teaching English.  While he was doing that he got interested in web development and scoped out a school to learn from - it turned out to be SAIT, the school I was teaching in.  Not only did he scope out a school, but while still teaching English overseas he had discovered and investigated Benevity and decided to try and get work there when he was done.  

I have to say, when I discovered this, I was rather surprised with how he had planned things out, set goals for himself, and then made them happen - all the way down to targeting the place to work after school and leveraging me as a contact to get 'in the door' so-to-speak.  Its a great example of targeted job hunting and networking.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

In Pursuit of a Dream

I've volunteered leading a senior high 'worship band' at the Christian School my kids have gone to for the last 6 years.  The first year I was there I had a young man who could play piano fantastic, but just wanted to sing with us.  'Josh' (name changed to protect his identity) had a dream to be an computer animator - making movies at a company like Pixar.  He was a gregarious, well-mannered, eloquent leader in the band and in the school....  and an average singer.

The school itself is rather small, and at that time didn't offer any computer programming or design courses.  Josh being the guy that he was did his own research online.  He downloaded software so he could program and do computer animations at home to learn and practice.  He'd sometimes post his efforts on Facebook.

At one point towards the end of his grade 12 year, I asked him what he was going to do after high school.  He told me his plan was to get a computer science degree and pursue computer animation for movie production.  Duly impressed, I remarked that I was working in the computer science field, but of course, not focused on computer animation.  I asked him which university he was planning to attend.  He told me his plan and the university he planned to attend, and he followed that plan.... for the next two years.

I'm not entirely sure what happened at that point.  He must have gotten inspired/encouraged to submit an internship application to Pixar (likely along with a demo movie animation he made, I'm assuming), because the next thing I know he's let all his friends know that he's going to be the youngest intern Pixar has ever had.  Talk about following your dream!  He interned at Pixar that summer, and then leveraging his experiences and new knowledge gained from there, he got a full time job a Sony Animation Studios being a computer animator.  He subsequently returned to Pixar to intern as an animator the following summer, and has been working in London, England for various Film animation companies since then!

Monday, October 8, 2018

The Job that Wasn't There - A Lesson in Applying for Jobs

Hermione (made up name to protect her identity) was a student in my fast-track Web Developer class at SAIT in early 2017.  Like a lot of students I get in that course, she was anxious about obtaining work after receiving her diploma.

One day in between exercises, I showed the class several 'Careers' web pages of good, local web design companies.  One of those companies was Critical Mass, a company I had actually consulted with before.  I often recommend this company to students because they have a world class client list, they do internships, and I have experience with them.  That particular day, they happened to have an opening at the time for a Junior Web Designer, but no posted opportunities for internships.  I encouraged the students to apply for the Junior Web Designer opportunity and Hermione challenged me...

"How can we do that when we don't have all the qualifications in their list of requirements?"

I often get this question, and I had an answer. "You need to understand how a company creates a job description.  Many put it together as a list of qualifications for the perfect candidate.  Others will build the job description based on an existing successful employee in the company. They realize that most of the applicants won't match all of the qualifications - and this is particularly true in the IT industry. "

Hermione digested my answer, and piped up again. "But we're still in school and we have several more weeks before we'd be available to start working!  Does it really make sense to apply now for a position like this?"

"Absolutely!" I replied. "You never know what might come out of an application.  The hiring process for many companies takes several weeks.  There's usually a bunch of interviews for them to schedule and have, and then some planning and logistics around actually bringing the successful applicant aboard.  You never know what will happen out of an application."

She still looked skeptical.  I moved the class onto another exercise and didn't think too much more about it.

Several weeks later, I received the following email from Hermione:

"I took your advice about applying for jobs and I applied at Critical Mass for a
Typing letters back and forth about a job opportunity
Photo by Kaitlyn Baker on Unsplash
Junior Web Developer position knowing that I was NOT qualified and that they probably never call me back. Guess what? They called me back! They don't think I am ready for the Junior Web Developer position, but they want me to interview for their internship program. The interview is on <blah>. Which leads me to the crux of this email. Would you consider being a reference for me? And do you have any advice for this interview?"

I responded:

"Lol Excellent!  Good for you, Hermione.

Certainly I can be a reference (as a teacher) for you.
Probably the best advice I have for your interview is if you don't have the right answer, straight up tell them.  But then also tell them you'll have to answer (or know about whatever their asking you) tomorrow.  In other words, when you get home, you'll investigate it and get the answers.  
Bring a notepad to the interview and make notes about anything like that (so you look like you mean business).  Come with a couple of questions as well.  Research in advance anything in the job description you don't know about so you feel prepared.  Research the company a bit - know where their office is, ensure you can make it there on time, who are their current clients, some of the history, etc. 
Smile!  I don't know if you read my blog post about that, but smiling is HUGE.  If you can, try and get an interview somewhere else first to practice and get the jitters out (and maybe get a competing offer) 
Hope that helps!  Good luck!"

She replied:

"Thank you! I appreciate the reference and the advice.
I've been panicking a little, I really thought they would never call. I'm scrambling to get my portfolio site updated for the interview, as well as just get prepared in general. I do have a practicum lined up though, so no pressure...sort of."

In the end, Hermione got the internship.  She was nervous going into the internship because she didn't feel entirely qualified.  I told her not to worry and ask LOTS of questions.  She ended up successfully completed her internship and came out feeling better about it than she expected to.  It was a great lesson for her (and for me and all more students who I tell this story to) of how there are opportunities that you don't see in the job market.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Degree Dead End?

I've been teaching part-time at SAIT since 2005.

Around 2009 I was teaching an Introduction to C# course to a full class of 'fast-track' students. We had just finished an intense exercise and so I thought I could give the students a mental break with some ad-libbing and expound on the importance of good soft-skills and a positive attitude in the IT industry.  One of the students at the back of the class (I'll call him 'Tom') interrupted me mid-sentence and challenged me
The front entrance of Heritage Hall at SAIT
The main entrance to Heritage Hall at SAIT
on attitude:

"How do you think someone like me feels?  I just finished a computer science degree and no one wanted to hire me!  There were no jobs!  I had to come here and pay more tuition to become marketable in the field... And now the economy has downturned!  How can I have a good attitude??"

Everyone had been looking at Tom during his outburst.  He was one of the better students in the class and some of them knew his history.  He had their respect and their empathy.  Now they turned to face me en-mass to see how I'd respond.

I reached for a glass of water, took a sip, and dove in...

"I hear ya, Tom.  I got my start in the IT field in a course just like this one - fast-track, 9 months of training where I went from knowing virtually no code to being ready for an IT coding job.  Listen to my story..."

I proceeded to tell the class the story of my career change into IT and the challenges I had (you can read about it here).   After regaling them with my tale and convincing them that I had as much reason be have a bad attitude as Tom, I encouraged them all to keep their chins up and actively find ways to stay motivated and persistent in their job search.

It was a moment as an instructor that I won't forget.  A challenge from the class,  I tried to sincerely respond, and then...  I have wait and see what happens - if anything.  Often there isn't much feedback in these situations and it seems like my heartfelt words fall into into a void.  I cling to a hope that some of the students take what I say to heart.

~      ~      ~

Fast-forward almost a year.

I was walking in downtown Calgary to catch my bus home after work.  Low and behold, walking up the sidewalk towards me is Tom!  Recognizing me, he accelerated forward to shake my hand.

"Remember me?"  He asked, smiling.          How could I forget?

He proceeded to tell me that after school had finished he took what I said to heart, persevered in his job hunt and landed his dream job coding with an oil company in downtown Calgary.  His demeanour and outlook had totally changed.  He was upbeat, full of energy and brimming with hope.  I was SO encouraged.  He thanked me for sharing my story and thoughts on attitude back in class.  I wished him good luck with his coding career and we parted ways.

Attitude is huge.  Not just your attitude, but how you think and react to circumstances outside your control.  Take ownership of the things you can change.  Determine to make the things you can't change work in your favour, one way or the other.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

What's Next?

These days getting an college education doesn't mean you'll be working in that discipline for the rest of your life.  Careers are much more fluid.  Job skills are more transferable.  Companies are more flexible, open, and I daresay even keenly interested in people work experience from other industries and practices.  Being agile and nimble are crucial in today's work environment.  Learning doesn't stop when school ends - its just beginning.

What's next for me?  Not sure.

A straight and narrow path - can I walk in it?
Trying to follow the straight and narrow
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash
Given my experience in IT, I regularly get recruiters looking to potentially hire me for an IT contract from all over.  Its ironic that Google and Apple just dropped their requirement for new hires to have a degree - I was just thinking I might have to get mine in order for my next career steps.  In fact, I've just sent out requests for reference letters to that effect because I'll want to leverage my work experience for credit hours in my application for a degree.

In a couple of years our kids will be all done with regular school.  My wife is itching to move then I think.  I'd like to move as well.  Ensuring I have some kind of 'formal recognition' for my learning and work experience certainly wouldn't hurt my situation if I find myself in a new city without my well established network.

God's plan for us may figure prominently into a move as well.  I really don't know what the next step might be, but I want to be sure I'm following Him.  I pray that whatever road I choose to follow, He could say that I was a good and faithful servant and that like David, I served God's purpose in my generation.

I don't know at this point what 'move' means.  Is it a physical move, or something else?  I pray that I'd be totally open and surrendered to God's plan - easier said that done for this 'me' that I know that is fearful and fickle.  More IT?  Writing?  Teaching?  Volunteering?

Several examples I was reminded of this week...

  • Jimmy Carter and his wife - 93 and 91 respectively - still building habitat for humanity houses
  • Mother Theresa and her work helping the 'poorest of the poor'.
  • Henri Nouwen leaving a distinguished career in teaching to work with the community at L'Arche.

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, 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.