Thursday, February 4, 2016

How Often Should You Blog

I had someone ask me this question recently, and here’s the answer:
When I talk to people about building their brand and showcasing their talents, I suggest blogging as the best way to display their skills. However after they ask about finding topics, the next question is invariably about how often to blog. My answer? As often as is comfortable for you.
What I suggest to most people is that they set aside time for writing and then use Word, Notepad, or any editor to draft posts. Write ten posts on whatever topics you like, and see how long it takes to complete them. Get feedback from friends, re-read them a day or so later, and count them finished when you’d be comfortable to publish them. Then schedule the ten posts based on your pace of writing. Perhaps 10 posts takes you a month, maybe it takes you ten months, but whatever time required is your pace. It may change over time, but blog at whatever rate fits in your life.

Monday, January 25, 2016

2016 Resolution Month: Write Better

Writing is an area that I constantly struggle to improve in my career.

Writing is an area where I constantly struggle to improve as I work on my career.

Writing is an area in which I constantly struggle to improve as I work on my career.

Improving my writing is an area where I constantly struggle.

What’s funny, is that I rewrote that sentence above quite a few more times, but this was all I could remember.

Writing is a communication skill. It’s an important one, as most of us regularly communicate with others through the written word. Emails, reports, and more are all written forms of communication.

I sometimes look back at my writing for a decade ago and I’m stunned, embarassed, and sad. In many cases, my ability to communicate was poor. However I take solace in the fact that I have improved in that time.

There are any number of articles providing advice for better writing. Most of them are similar, and boil down to simple things that do improve your skills. As in the one I’ve linked above, practice is key. Writing is a skill like many others, and the more you actively practice, the more you will improve.

I’ll put more posts together on this topic in the future, but for now, make it a point to look over some of these links as you write your next blog, email, or even social networking post. Take a minute to try and change one thing in your writing.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

2016 Resolution Month: Learn Something

I was talking with my brother recently. He’s in the medical field, and he has to devote a certain percentage of his life to continually learning more about his practice. He reads articles and journals, and goes to small events to keep up to speed on what changes with medicine.

Those of us in other fields, especially technology, should treat our careers the same way. We should be looking to learn new things for us, not just for our employer. It’s our responsibility to continue to improve our career skills.

It’s January, we’re almost halfway through the month. Make a resolution to learn something new this month, in the next 16 days. Pick a small topic, an area you’re unsure of, and start working.

For my goal, I’ve been trying to solve puzzles in the Advent of Code, and had a very interesting discovery in using hash tables in PowerShell. It’s not something I’ll use every day, and I might need to look up syntax again, but I did learn this structure exists in the language and how to work with it.

I’ll even get more practice on one of the other puzzles I’ve solved in Python and am re-solving again to learn something new and practice skills.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

New Year, New Resolutions

It’s 2016 and time to work on your career.

Much of the advice I’ve been giving, and will continue to press for, is echoed in many pieces I read. For example, here’s a piece from Microsoft recruiters for the new year. It contains many things I’d ask you to do, but I don’t want to overwhlem you.

I like taking small steps, baby steps. With that in mind, let’s look to the year with one new resolution: keep your resume up to date. It’s quick, easy, and low impact to your life.

I’ve written about touching your resume, and you should start today. Take the 30 seconds to look at it and the five minutes to update anything new. If there’s nothing new, maybe there’s something you can reword or tighten up. Being clear and concise will help you stand out over the other bland, boring, wordy resumes out there.


Take two minutes right now to set a quarterly reminder. Create an appointment in your personal, not work, calendar. After all, you want to this to follow you across jobs. Here’s what mine looks like:

2015-12-24 09_25_10-Appointment Recurrence

When it goes off, do what you’ll do today. Pop open your resume and look at it. Does it reflect who you are, and more importantly, who you want to be? If so, take 30 seconds and look forward to what you might change or do in the next quarter. Or why you haven’t improved things.

Make a few notes in the appointment that remind you for the next time of a few things:

  1. Items I want to tackle moving forward
  2. Reasons why I have’t changed in the last quarter

These are invaluable for looking back at the past and forward. You can refer to these throughout your year to help motivate you.

Don’t go a year without making positive change in your career. Even if you don’t change jobs, have a few reasons that you’re becoming better to show your boss at review time.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Make a Professional Development Plan for 2016

We're nearing the end of the year. For many of us, that means work slows a bit with the Christmas and New Year's holidays. This is often a time when we find ourselves with more free time at work, fewer meetings, and perhaps last minute vacations to use up that PTO.

However with a few weeks left in the year, I'd like you to do some planning for 2016.  I'd like you to think about how to move your career forward in the next year. Choose something that you think will make you more attractive to employers, or help you find the job you want in the future. Not necessarily in 2016, but perhaps sometime after that.

It's easy, and I'll give you a quick three step process.
  1. Make a list
  2. Order the list
  3. Plan investments

Make a List

Take 15 minutes sometime this week and write down some things you'd like to accomplish in 2016. These could be improvements in your current skills; they could be new things you want to learn. Thing that interest you, things valuable to your employer, or maybe just things that you know nothing about and want to educate yourself.

Don't worry about scale, size, effort, or anything else. Just make a list.

Order the List

I'm a big fan of thinking about things over time. I like to consider a decision, and let it roam around my conscious and subconscious for at least a day. Therefore, once your list is made, put it aside and let it sit for a week.

Next week, the week of Christmas, I'm sure you'll have some free time. Take another 15 minutes and start to prioritize your list. Put things that are more important to you at the top. Importance can be related to your current job/career, or a chance. It doesn't matter, but just get the list ordered.

When you do this, consider queue theory. If you put the short/quick things first, you might not get to the long/hard/time consuming things. However, if you reverse the order, you might not even get one thing done. Consider the effort and time/money investments, and order things accordingly.

Set things aside now.

Plan Investments

We won't ever move forward without an investment. If you get this far, even if you're just reading this post, you're making an investment in your career.

Now plan your 2016 investment.

This is a time investment and a money investment. You'll have to make both, and if you think about it, you often do make investments in other ways. People buy running shoes, or new golf clubs, or music, or any type of hobby investment. Do the same for your career. Make part of your hobby time and money in 2016 related to your career.

Here's where your list matters. Take the first thing. What can you realistically learn in 2016. How much time can you invest? Is it an hour a week? Two? Think of this in terms of hobbies. Give yourself an amount of time to devote. Maybe this is a quarter, maybe more, but keep this under six months. At least, think about starting something else (concurrently or not) after six months.

You may decide to reorder your list here, or drop things. That's OK. The point is to try and be realistic and give yourself a goal you can accomplish. Think small. I think 2 hours a week is doable. Carve out this hobby time. Four hours a week can be hard, unless you've giving something else up. If you treat this like going back to school, I'm sure you could get 10 hours a week, but you will be sacrificing other parts of your life and be sure your family is in agreement with this.

Note, you could treat this as school, but for 2-3 months, not a semester.

Here's where you can think about using resources like Pluralsight, EdX, or something else. However don't be afraid of making an investment. In the US, many of us make a good living, but we could easily spend hundreds of dollars on a hobby. Why not invest some of that in your career? I've had a hobby of woodworking for a few years and I can easily spent $2k in a year. With that in mind, investing $1k in hardware, or books, or something else doesn't sound bad.

However there are plenty of resources out there. I've spent part of December working through a PowerBI course on EdX for free.  I'm sure you could find something similar.

Start in 2016

The last part of this is to actually start working on your plan. Whether this is reading in your spare time, watching videos, or something else. Start on Jan 1 if you can, but certainly by Jan 10. Take it slow, however, and don't get too excited. Plenty of people burn themselves out by going too quick. It would be better to always be a little hungry and excited.

Work your plan, and see how you do in 2016. Who knows? Maybe you'll find yourself moving towards the dream job you have always wanted.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Your Brand is Your Reputation

I've been asked a few times what does a brand really mean. Is it like Coca-cola? Apple? Are you trying to be the Bill Gates of computing?

Really the brand for your career is your reputation. The brand is what people think of you, and how they perceive you as a professional in your industry. Your brand answers these questions:
  1. What are you good at?
  2. What are you not good at?
  3. Are you reliable at completing work?
  4. Do you perform quality work?
  5. What is the cost of your service?
 There are plenty more, but these are the types of questions you want to project and promote with your brand. These are the questions that you want someone to think positively about as they examine your presence.

Your resume speaks for you, but you can showcase much more, and give yourself a great reputation. If you network well, others will enhance that reputation, giving you a better chance of getting to the interview, or getting the job offer.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Be Awesome in your CV and Cover Letters

There are no shortage of posts and books written on how to write a resume or CV. However much of the advice that I find in various is safe and boring. It seems that being professional has become synonymous with bland, careful, and generic. It's the opposite of being memorable and standing out in the crowd. Remember, you've got to be memorable in the first 30 seconds.

I ran across a post on the StackOverflow blog. This is one of the great technology sites, and I would guess there are no shortage of developers or system administrators that would want to work there. I'm also guessing that they get a huge number of resumes and CVs on a regular basis from people looking for jobs.

In that crowd, where I wouldn't be surprised to find thousands of resumes submitted for each position, you would certainly need to stand out from the crowd. The advice in the post is to showcase what you're good at. Why are you awesome?

For most of us, we're not awesome. We are good, we can be strong, loyal, valued employees. Most of us won't do something that touches the world, but we can showcase the things we do very well at work. I point out that I get things done. I tell about the extras, the volunteer things I do at work that are valuable or useful to the company. I write about a project that I made a difference in, but in a way I hadn't expected.

If you had one paragraph to tell me the bets thing you did as an employee, what would it be?