Whose Responsibility is Your Career?

There are 10 types of people in the world: Those who understand binary, and those who don't.

I guess we've all seen this geek witticism, its a little piece of the fabric of the culture. Personally I split people into two groups along other lines: those that look out for their own professional interests, and those who don't. I'm an optimist, so lets start out looking at those who do.

These people are self-starters. They have read relevant texts on their subject and depending on the type of industry they are from they either have blogs, news and syndication sites on their feed reader, or they subscribe to the relevant periodicals. You'll see them at some of the events, sometimes a long way from home, and always "off their own bat". They'll be asking questions about how different technologies go together, about who they could approach with a particular question, and so on. If you mention web resources, they'll go there and read what's available. They might come back with follow-up questions. And they will be the first to also help another along his way, passing along the gifts that they have been given from those who went before and helped them to this point.

Then there's the other kind of people. The kind that doesn't have books of its own, that doesn't interact with communities outside of work, and that "can't" go to events because their employers don't send them. I understand that money and time are both something that can be in short supply, yet I still have little patience with people who have this attitude. None of us can be everywhere that would be useful, but one event a year is do-able for most people, and in my opinion career development shouldn't be free and effortless.

So - which kind of person are you? If its the first kind, what do you do to ensure you keep learning and keep growing? Post your stories in the comments!

Six Months of Telecommuting

Although it seems impossible, I really have been in my "new" job for 6 months. The big change this time around is that my new role is based almost entirely from home - I'm a salaried, 40-hours-per-week, home worker. This post is about my experiences adapting to this change rather than the new job itself (its going rather nicely, thanks for asking!)

The first thing to say about telecommuting is that it isn't for everyone - and the second thing to say is that I absolutely love it! I wasn't expressly looking for a remote position, and there are definite downsides, but I find it really suits me nicely. Strangely I'm a really sociable person most of the time, and I go a bit crazy if I spend too long on my own, but working on my own is a revelation.

Workspace

With excellent timing, we finished turning one of the smaller bedrooms into an office just a few days before I started looking for a new job. It has lots of storage, more network and electricity than I know what to do with, and a nice view of my (completely overgrown) garden. It also has a door that shuts and a futon for visitors to sit on. I acquired the large desk out of the study bedroom I had as a teenager, and have a fabulous office chair to sit on.

Communications

The thing about working remotely is that it can be quite isolating. For quite a while now I've had more interaction with online friends than coworkers - and even when communicating with co-workers I have usually used IM. So to be physically elsewhere actually makes little difference except I don't have to hear their music played too loud over headphones or someone typing really loudly. I like to interact with people and found it quite easy to get to know my new colleagues, although it took time to meet them all in real life. It is often difficult to ask for help, but I'm very good at it (ask any of my usual questioning targets) and I find everyone very sympathetic and helpful even when my problem is actually that I'm having a "blonde moment". In a real office, I'd probably ask the person next to me to cast their eye over my code and spot the problem - and its actually not that tricky to do it with a physical divide. I use IRC, Skype, twitter and pastebin to interact with various people - coworkers and other techies.

Working Hours

I'm contracted to work a normal working week, and although I have flexi-time, so far I'm dodging the bullet of losing too many hours to working when work and home are the same place. Part of that is that I'm a morning person anyway, and I work for a Dutch company so I usually log in early my time and join in their morning greetings. I also have a social life which is adapted around working a 9-5 office job - so I'm out most evenings. Add into the mix a partner that does work those regular office hours most of the time and needs his dinner at the same time every day, and you can understand how I find it possible to work regular hours and still play hard as well. There are plenty of distractions around the home, chores to do and games to play, but I'm trying to stay in my regular pattern of working in the daytime and saving everything else for evenings and weekends. Being at home though does mean that lunchtimes can include a nap or a swift round of mario kart, and if I put my washing on the line I can go and rescue it if it rains!

I've skated over the downsides, the days where you don't know what you're doing and the person you're trying to get hold of isn't answering emails or phone calls. Or the days when things are going really wrong and its hard to know what other people are doing and who you might interrupt for help. All in all though, its all good, probably helped by having a job that is stimulating, and colleagues that are friendly. Having discussed this with a few different people, I am of the opinion that not everyone would experience this the same way have. But for now, life is good.

Seaside Sunset

Here's the view from my hotel balcony yesterday evening:

So far the Netherlands is a great experience, my colleagues are friendly and its a lovely country to visit.

European Adventure

For once it'll probably be pretty quiet around here next week. That's because I'm catching a ludicrously early plane to Amsterdam in the morning to spend a couple of days in the Ibuildings Vlissingen office, and then flying direct to London to work there the rest of the week.

There are going to be a lot of firsts, I don't fly a lot and haven't flown outside the UK alone before - so flying through both Schipol and Heathrow in the space of a few days is going to be probably a bit scary! I don't visit London much either (haven't been for almost a year in fact) but I have an Oyster card and an underground map to assist me. I'm also delivering training for Ibuildings which is a new career step for me but one that I'm very excited about (as well as hyperventilation-inducingly anxious) so all in all its going to be a pretty exciting week! I'm also getting to meet colleagues from both offices and practice my dutch for real :)

(Of course, there will be lots of blog action if I find myself at a loose end and with internet connection!)

Preparing to Telecommute

On Monday I start my new job and I'll be mostly working from home which will be nice, but quite a change. I have a lot of online friends that I have yet to meet in real life but to have a whole set of colleagues, some of them in another country (IBuildings is a Dutch company) is all new to me. It'll be nice to avoid the annoyances of sharing an office, with other people's music and cleaning up after others too. I know I am organised and self-motivated enough to manage the working patterns as well, which is one less thing to worry about. If I had needed to be in the office every day, I simply couldn't have managed it as they are based in London. In preparation for next week, I thought I'd share some photos of my home office. To the left are my flower pictures that I found in a box when we moved, they came from another house we previously rented.

I also have some essential accessories for any office: A map of the world and a nabaztag. This one is called Tag and is our second one of these rabbits.

Finally, check out my lovely big office chair, modelled here by my Christmas bear, now named Busibear as he lives in the office and oversees business. The chair was a birthday present from my parents, thanks mum and dad :)

I have a nice new notebook and a futon for any visitors that pop in, I think I'm all set...

New Job Announcement

Following on from my post about needing a new job, the observant among you may have noticed that I have yet to post the promised sequel about myself and my skills. That's because I don't need to - I have a job! I will soon start a job with IBuildings, an amazing and energetic set of people, and I'm wildly excited. They are based in London but I'll be telecommuting most of the time.

Its been a funny few months, I've been very active in the PHP community, mostly because I've needed some professional support and they are a wonderful set of people. They have been graceful to accept my attempts to contribute to the community and have supported and encouraged me every step of the way. Through this I came to do a PHP|Abstract podcast, a talk at a BarCamp, quickly followed by being stalked and offered a job by a very good local-ish employer. I ended up passing on the opportunity because it was the kind of local that is too far and awkward to do in the rush hour for every day, however the experience was amazing and I met some great people in the process. I studied for and managed to pass my ZCE exam, and in the same week parted company with my employers of almost a year. In the last five days I have communicated with some superstars from my industry, looked over my shoulder to find the other lornajane that surely they are actually looking for, received two excellent job offers from two uber cool companies, and accepted one of those offers. I owe thanks to many, many people for the moral support, listening and general egging-on they supplied - guys, you know who you are.

After all that - I need a nice cup of tea and a sit down ... :)

So Begins a New Chapter

I'd like to announce that today I parted company with my employers Coolpink to the satisfaction (and probably benefit) of both sides.

To answer the first three questions: Yes, I am fine. Yes, they are paying me my notice period so I won't starve. And yes, I need a new job! I'll put up a coherent post on me and my skills soon.

Models and Mentors

The thing with a blog is that its public, so sometimes there are things that happen in my life that I don't write about here - especially when these are work-related. So instead I'd like to chatter about people I have met in my professional life who have influenced me.

Mentors

Mentors come in two flavours - official and unofficial. An official mentor is part of a formal agreement and may even be regulated by your employer, and an unofficial one is someone you adopt and turn to for advice; I have one of each.

My offical mentor is Lig. my "Big Sis" from phpwomen.org where we run a Big Sis, Little Sis scheme. I expected this to involve a lot of technical input but the biggest thing I've got out of this relationship is moral support and an introduction to the wider php community - who in turn provide more of the aforementioned moral support in addition to the raft of technical information you'd expect, and serveral more rafts that you wouldn't!

My unofficial mentor Mark is an ex-colleague from Snowdrop. Whilst we've only met a handful of times in person I took over the Oracle DBA stuff at Snowdrop from Mark and spent a lot of time on the phone/jabber/email with him with that and various other projects. Although we're both now working elsewhere, live far away from one another, and have other distractions in our lives we still stay in touch. Mark is my "professional" mentor - although we work in different fields of technology, I tap into his business experiences to inform my own choices and deal with situations that are new.

Models

Models are people whose behaviour you learn from or emulate in order to extend your own skill set, either by being actively coached by that person or by learning by observation. I have learned from a senior manager that to stutter endearingly while delivering bad news can work surprisingly well (not an approach to use every day!). When I worked as an administrational temp one summer, I was told to smile when on the phone - something which came in very handy when I worked on a technical helpdesk a few years later. I've also learned numerous tricks and techniques from the old hands in the technical departments in the various places that I've worked. These battle-hardened geeks can be hard nuts to crack, but they have so many stories to tell its worth it - and some have grown to be real-life friends.

Sometimes you have to ask to be taught something, this can be tricky to do if the person is busy or you are shy. On other occasions you may be able to learn from observation or the other person may mentor you of their own accord. However it happens, I try to make the most of the positive role models and coaches around me. From these people I have learned so many of the skills that I use day-to-day to perform my role and I'm grateful!

Small Company vs Big Company

When choosing a career move, whether its your first job out of university or the next step on the ladder, the type of organisation you work in will make quite a difference. Different sectors are all different and each has their own culture, but the size of the organisation is a big factor as well. So far I’ve worked for companies of 6 people, about 120 people, around 2000 people, and now there’s about 18 of us at my current workplace. I have also spoken with friends with different experiences.

Big Companies.

The advantages Larger companies tend to be better at paying overtime or booking holiday because they have systems to organise this. They are also more set up for supporting employees because there is an HR department and some policies and procedures for getting things sorted out if the need arises. They can also usually cope with people on maternity or long-term sickness leave without too much impact on the business and the other employees.

The disadvantages Large companies, certainly here in the UK, have a bit of a one-size-fits-all attitude to employees. The results tend to be silly things such as if one person is thought to be covering their poor timekeeping by changing their shift pattern a lot, the whole company will be stopped from changing their shift pattern more often than every three months, for example Each role in a large company tends to be quite well-defined and you will not find yourself outside of your job description very often.

Small Companies

The advantages If you like variety and hate bureacracy then a small company is for you. In small companies I have variously rewired phones, assembled furniture, cleaned kitchens, crawled on the floor, sold products and even ordered stationery. I’m a software developer by trade so that’s quite an impressive list. Whether this suits you or not is very personal; I thrive on it but its not for everyone. The other big advantage of a small company is that they tend to be quite flexible, in terms of changing job roles or working patterns. This is something to do with being quite reasonable and judging each case on its merits rather than feeling like they have to be uniformly inflexible in case anyone feels hard done by. And you can all go to the pub together on a Friday.

The disadvantages They’re the same as the advantages! There will be days where you wonder what your job specification actually is. There will be days when your flexible employer will expect you to be flexible too and you’ll be in the office 12 hours after you arrived. If you don’t get on well with a colleague then there is no getting away from them, because the organisation is so small. If you like to have an organised, well-defined job which will not bother you when you leave at the end of the day, then probably a small company may not be the right place for you.

5 Things I'll Miss About My Job - And 5 Things I Won't

In case you missed it I’m leaving my job. I’ve been with the company one year and its had its ups and downs, I thought I’d share some of each.

Things I’ll Miss

  1. My colleagues. It took them months to speak to me at all, and more months for me to realise this is a function of a truly dreadful office layout and not because they are unfriendly.
  2. Oracle. My new job doesn’t involve use of Oracle and I’ll miss it. I have worked with this database quite a lot and although I’m looking forward to polishing up other database skills I’ll miss the confidence of knowing the odd tricks of syntax really well until I get to the same standard with the others too.
  3. Walking to work. Its a very civilised way to live.
  4. Walking home from work (I’m running out of things I’ll miss)
  5. No I really can’t think of another one

Things I Won’t Miss

  1. Office facilities. There aren’t any! I drink warm tap water and scummy instant coffee made with sweetener and longlife milk; everyone eats at their desks. I haven’t actually checked but I’m hoping my new workplace can better that.
  2. The “recruiting girls” joke. My manager insists he will only interview women if he can see their photo first. It isn’t funny.
  3. The software assembly line. The company makes kitchens, and they are good at it. To make a cupboard, you need certain pieces which can be found in set locations. They get delivered to a production line where each set of cupboard bits is turned into a cupboard and moved along, then placed in the correct bay to get allocated for delivery. The software gets made the same way: A non-technical person thinks of a new page they’d like added, they write about it, I type the code to make that happen, they test it and then we put it live. No iteration, no architecture and certainly no input from me.
  4. Clocking in. Its not that I mind clocking in as such, its that with our system you can only get negative points from it. I’m sure its a helpful, non-judgemental system for people who are doing jobs where everyone must be there at once for the job to get done, but for knowledge workers let me tell you that it just doesn’t work.
  5. Restricted internet access. A bit like clocking in, I can see the point but as my job is primarily web development then reasonable internet access allows me to keep up with new developments and the community as a whole. The assumption that anything collaborative is always employee insubordination or timewasting is kind of scary … technical information on forums and even Google Groups is unavailable as a resource to the developers here. Perhaps its an internet generation thing but I find it unnatural to restrict open resources.