Saturday, February 15, 2014

Ready for Your Big Break? Coincidence in Your Career

You never know what might happen one plain old day at work that will change you life.  Lay a good foundation of work ethics and principals and when the unexpected happens, you never know where it will take you.

My hairdresser was working early this year, a normal day in a normal shopping plaza when suddenly 3 big guys came into the salon and asked if there was a room where a 'high-profile' client could get a hair cut.  After some discussion, they agreed on a room in the back and said that they would return in a hour with 'the client.' Some time later they return with the rest of their security team and the Prime Minister of Canada.  He wanted a trim.  My hairdresser was happy to oblige.  I think this might have something to do with why she is charging more now  :-)  You can make it big in the hair industry based on whose hair you've styled, from what I understand.

Another story...
Almost 10 years ago now, I was riding public transit to work and saw an advert for a software development course at the local technical college.  On a whim, I thought I'd email them and see if they needed any instructors.  That email got forwarded to the coordinator for the department who ended up being a teacher of mine from the past.  He offered me an opportunity on the spot, and I've been teaching here ever since and loving it!

Southern Alberta Institute of Technology
Heritage Hall

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

An Iterative Career Path - Finding the Right Education and Job Fit for Graduates and Young Adults


20 to 30 years ago, software development was generally executed using a development practice called 'Waterfall.'  It got this name because it was very sequential and hardly ever went back to revisit previous decisions that had been made.  Essentially it worked like this - like water in a waterfall, once you started the various phases of the project, you didn't hesitate, look back, or stop until everything was done.  Then the product was passed onto the next phase/department for their work.

Projects build using 'Waterfall' were found to be expensive, risky, and inefficient.  Some specific issues with this development approach were:
- You don't realize any value until the end of the project
- You leave you QA (quality assurance or testing) until the end
- Requirements for the project may have changed during your build (some projects take several years)
- You are singularly focused on your goal - the completion of your plan
- You make one 'all or nothing' development gamble without considering alternative options

I think many young people today default to a 'Waterfall' strategy when it comes to their education and career.  Some people can focus on becoming a doctor or astrophysicist and the have the resources, the stamina, and the smarts to get the education required for it.  However, this approach assumes that you're guaranteed a job that meets all your expectations when you finish you education.  But how often does that happen?  Hardly ever.

Young people today are practically gambling their time and resources on an education that was based on a guess or a whim.  But the decision wasn't followed with a thorough investigation or analysis.

A Waterfall Solution

The software development community solved their problem by changing their development processes from 'Waterfall' to 'Iterative'.  An iterative solution basically means having smaller plans with shorter time frames, execute them, and then test to see if your happy with the results - and do this multiple times. Each planning/execution/testing/review cycle is called an iteration.  To sum it up - How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time.

Using the 'Iterative' approach, young people could evaluate and test their assumptions to see where they are at in their education and career development on a yearly basis.  Clayton Christensen in How Will You Measure Your Life suggests young people consider this type of solution for the 'Waterfall' problem (see the chapter: The Balance of Calculation and Serendipity).  Take a step and then evaluate.  Even an aspiring doctor or astronaut with a multi-year plan can use this approach to continually evaluate and confirm that they are on the right track.

Looking back at the issues with the Waterfall approach, let's see how an Iterative approach could possibly help:

Waterfall Issue - You don't realize any value until the end of the project
Iterative Resolution - Try to find some value early in your education and career choice - in other words, go on an early internship.   A year or two into school, get a job in your chosen field and see what its like.  Or alternatively, get some experience as a volunteer in what you'd like to do.  There more about finding value that just remuneration.  Teach what you learned to someone else.  Practically give what you've learned away with a humanitarian outreach in another country.  There's always options if you are motivated enough to look for them.

Waterfall Issue - You leave your QA (quality assurance or testing) until the end
Iterative Resolution - Evaluate your experiences in trying to realize some early value on a regular basis (annually?).  Did you enjoy the work and what you learned?  Were you pleasantly surprised by anything?  Are you making any assumptions about your career or about yourself in your current plan?  What are they?  (For example: Can you work shift work for the rest of your life? or Do you want to work outside in the elements for the rest of your life?)  Ask people questions while you're working as an intern!  Question like..  Why did you choose this career?  Do you still enjoy it?  Why or why not?  What do you like best about this job?  What do you dislike the most? And finally, consider and confirm if your education and career choice is still valid or if you need to tweak things or try something else.  Has something different piqued your interest?

Waterfall Issue - Requirements for the project may have changed during your build.
Iterative Resolution - This involves more scrutiny of assumptions you may have made - perhaps they weren't even assumptions at the time.  For example, what if NASA changed requirements for all astronauts to have 20/40 vision while you were getting your BSc and you've only got 20/20 vision? Or, what if geologists were in high demand when you went into school and the price of oil was $160 a barrel, but now they are all getting laid off because there's an oil glut because of fracking.  Or, what if you started a computer science degree focusing on the Visual Basic language, and now the industry has evolved to using Java and C# and you won't be able to get a job with only VB experience?  You need to continually assess the path you are on to see if the original plan (or requirements) you had are still true. 

Waterfall Issue - You are singularly focused on your goal - the completion of your plan
Iterative Resolution - Take a break from 'the plan' and look at where you are headed.  Perhaps there are changes that are happening within yourself the might give you pause.  Will your plan need to change because your health or what you believe has changed?  Are there other factors that need consideration - are relationships getting sidelined because they are in the way of your goal.  What is more important?  Consider trying two different options in parallel for a while. Change you plan if you have to.  Be flexible. 

Waterfall Issue - You make one 'all or nothing' development gamble without considering alternative options
Iterative Resolution - Don't gamble all your money, time, and resources into one plan.  Experiment.  Take a one year, hands on course in something practical that you like.  Work in that field for a bit (a year or so) and evaluate.  Is this something you could continue doing?  Is there something out there that is more interesting or that you are more passionate about?  If so, take a course in that.  Poke, poke.  Test the waters.  Or alternatively, head down the road of that one big plan, but stop along the way and verify that your still on the right road for you.  Has something changed in your understanding of this career that concerns you?  Always, continually evaluate and verify, tweak and experiment. 

Monday, February 10, 2014

What Are You Agreeing to, Grads?

Once in a while something will happen that will get me frustrated a bit.  This past week I had two situations where I had volunteered to do something, and in the end I was essentially told that my help wasn't required.  In both instances, I had spent time preparing for my involvement (either preparing to speak or perform), so it was a bit of a let down to be effectively 'turned down.'  When situations like this happen to me, I find it easy to get stuck in a spiral of 'agreeing' to negative thoughts, like:
- I'm a nobody, I don't count
- I'm being marginalized and pushed to the side
- Maybe I don't matter...

What I do with these thoughts makes all the difference.  If I choose to 'agree' with them, throw a little pity party and think 'Yeah, that must be it.  I don't really make a difference, I don't count',  it leads no where good or productive.  A dead end.

An agreement is defined as 'harmony or accordance in opinion or feeling.'  I might have felt that way about my situation, but it is a bad thing for me to agree in my mind to the statement that 'I am a nobody and I don't count.'  What I think and what I say (even just to myself) has more influence than we can imagine.  Please be very wary and careful about the thoughts that you decide to 'agree' with.

Monday, February 3, 2014

A Different Post-Secondary Education - Learning About Life From Experience

Perhaps in the future, when I finally finish writing my book, it sells big, and I've made a bit of a name for myself, I'll start a school.  It will be a school targeted at young people just out of high school or in the middle of college.  It will be about getting a 'different' education.  Learning to learn for yourself.  Getting and gaining experiences you wouldn't have otherwise considered.  Expanding your horizons to get a better idea of who you truly are and what your potential is.

I don't have it all figured out yet.  I have done curriculums in the past for post-secondary courses, so at least that isn't new to me.  This would be quite a bit different, though.  In this course, you would:

  • Be Challenged to Confront Your Fear - You would need to do an activity to confront a fear you have.  For example:
    • Bungy cord jumping (fear of heights)
    • Public speaking (fear of public speaking)
    • Travel (fear of the unknown)
    • Write 3 letters to famous people you've always wanted to talk to but thought you couldn't  and see if you can get them to respond (fear of intimidation)
    • Read and write a book report on Feel the Fear.. and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers PhD.
  • Learn to Manage Finances and Resources 
    • Play Monopoly with real money!  Discover how much chance/providence has an impact on your financial planning.  Learn to manage your money.
    • Play the 'Trade Up' game.  Start with a paper clip.  In a week see what you can trade that up to using your wits, connections, and integrity.
    • Read and write a book report on The Wealthy Barber by David Chilton
    • Read and write a book report on Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki
  • Deal with Change 
    • Go on outing with no food or money and asked to accomplish a task that requires both.
    •  Given a sudden weekend trip with little time to pack or prepare for it.  Perhaps a survival camping trip?
    • Thrown into a real world job situation - high stress, people depending on you with expectations changing all the time.  (Waitress/waiter at a restaurant, for example)  How do you adapt?  What did you like and or dislike about it?
    • Read and write a book report on Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson
  • Discover Your World.  Everything is a learning experience.  
    • Organize your own trip to India - required reading on the trip? The book Freedom at Midnight, or
    • Organize a trip to Europe.  Required reading on that trip?  The book The Big Short, or
    • Organize your own trip to the Middle East.  Required reading on that trip?  The Pulitzer Prize winning book 'The Prize'.
  • Consider a Real Career Fit
    • Read and write a book report on What Should I Do With My Life by Po Bronson
    • Read and write a book report on What Colour is Your Parachute by Richard Bolles
    • Organize a working interview with someone in a career you think you'd fit into.
    • Organize a working interview with someone working at your dream job
    • Answer questions like: Do you know what you'd like to do for a career?  Why or why not?  What do you think you would be good at?  Do renumeration or outside pressure influence your current career decisions?
  • Find and Discover Who You Are
    • Start a journal, answering questions like:
      • Do I want to get married?  When?  Why not sooner or later?
      • Do I want to have kids?  When?  Why?
      • What is my current career plan?  What careers seem to interest me?  Why?
      • What would be a dream job of mine?  Why would it be my dream job?
      • What are my education aspirations?  Who was my favorite teacher growing up?  Why?  What was my favorite subject growing up?  Why?
      • Would I like to travel in the future?  Where?  Why there?  How long would I go for?  What would I do while I'm there?
    • Read and do the questionnaire for The Strength Finder by Tim Rath.  Following that answer questions about how you felt about the results of the questionnaire.  Would you consider those your strengths?  Why or why not?
    • Read and write a report on the book How Will You Measure Your Life by Clayton Christensen
    • Read the book Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott and do the exercises she gives throughout the book.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

How Will You Measure Your Life by Clayton Christensen - Book Review and Thoughts

How Will You Measure Your Life is a great read for young adults and recent grads.  Drawing from his wealth of experience in a variety of fields, Mr. Christensen effectively uses real life business dilemmas, personal anecdotes, and history to challenge the reader in thinking about their future career, family life, and values.

This New York Times Bestseller is almost 220 pages and offers some innovative thoughts on how to make career choices, how to engineer your career for success, and how to raise a family.  The book is in 3 parts:  Finding Happiness in Your Career, Finding Happiness in Your Relationships, and Staying Out of Jail (this one probably influenced by the fact that one of Clayton's classmates was jailed for his role in the Enron scandal.

I'd highly recommend this book and give it a 4.5 out of 5.