MonthNovember 2013

Show me the money

If you bring someone in for an interview, or even have a phone interview before they know the salary range for the position you’re hiring for, there’s a good chance you’re wasting both your time and theirs. A candidate should not learn the position’s salary range for the first time in the interview. – Marco

Like Marco, this is one of my biggest pet peeves. Why should I waste my time and the employer’s time talking about a job I don’t want. Sure, I want to work. I want to find a job, that’s why I am hunting in the first place. If I find out the salary being offered is outside of my range, then we’ve both wasted time setting up this interview.

I want to work at the same level or higher than I am working. If I am employed full-time either directly or on a long-term contract I want the same stability and more money. If I didn’t, why would I be looking?

I get a little crazy when I see job postings with salaries listed as DOE or competitive. I have to ask, competitive to what? Depending on experience how so? I’ve got tons of experience but maybe not in what you’re looking for exactly. Are you competitive with my last employer? Competitive for an entry-level position? Who is the competition?

When I go job hunting I want to know I am not wasting my time. There’s no point in talking about a job that pays $10,000 under what I’m asking. There’s no point in looking at 3 or 6 or 12 month contracts. I am looking for something long-term not stepping-stones.

I am fine with a probationary period. It takes about 90 days to really feel comfortable and learn a new job. Six months are fine too, especially in a contract-to-hire situation.

I’m at the point in my career where I ask for what I want. When I show up to the interview, I have a pile of questions. I want to interview the company I’ll be spending 40+ hours of my life in every week for the next few years. I want to make sure we’re a good fit. I don’t want any surprises.

Learning The Hard Way

When I was younger, I would go into a job interview and do my best to be likable and impressive. I wanted to prove just how much I knew and how they would love me. I desperately wanted the job. And it showed.

I hadn’t done my research about the company. What did I need to know? They had a job, I was a job seeker. Seemed like a perfect match to me. I read the job description but I never looked deeper.

And that’s how I got myself into trouble.

My second job out of college was working at a Honeywell plant. I was a technician support contractor. I was hired by Unisys, to work on the Honeywell plant as a Dell technician. Honeywell was a Dell shop. All their computers were Dells. So it was part of my job to diagnose and repair the machines. I was Dell Certified and had access to order Dell parts and replace them.

It was a pretty good job. However, during the interview process the recruiter, who was not local, told me the position was in the Richmond area. This was my first mistake. I didn’t know exactly where the job was. I knew it was close, but close is a relative term. I needed a job. The contract position I was working was ending because the project was over. I needed something new to pay the bills.

So I accepted the position when it was offered to me. Then I learned the plant was 25 miles South of Richmond and would be a 45 minute drive, without traffic. I spent eight months driving 90 minutes round trip to a job that paid barely enough to cover the gas I used to get there and back.

Vacation Policy

Everyone needs time off. For the Honeywell position as well as my first few jobs out of college, I got no time off. If I was sick I worked. If I wanted to travel, I didn’t. More than once I drove through the night and arrived at work for the day without having slept at all. I did the best with what I had to work with, which wasn’t much.

As a result, I burned out of those jobs. I had perfect attendance, but I worked through being sick and wishing I was elsewhere. I couldn’t travel to see family. I couldn’t take leisurely vacations. I skipped holidays. and all the while I was miserable.

I spent my time looking for other jobs. I wanted a job that paid more money and a shorter commute. Since paid time off was not an option, I tried to compensate with money and a better commute.

It wasn’t sustainable.

Having time off is vital to a happy, healthy employee.

To quote Marco again,

Working in the environment without time off was miserable and I did it because I felt like I had to pay my dues. Each job held the appeal of maybe being offered a full-time, non-contract position. But it never did. So I would work for a few months, then leave for somewhere better.

I learned too late in life the grass is always green and if it wasn’t where I was, I needed to move. Because no one is going to look out for me, but me.

Holiday Opt Out

Happy Thanksgiving! Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah! Happy Holidays!

Prepare yourself, this is what you’re going to hear out of the mouth of every family member, friend, sales clerk and stranger for the next few months.

But it’s not a happy time for everyone. A friend on Facebook recently posted this,

It’s important to remember that not everyone is surrounded by large wonderful families. Some of us have problems during the holidays and sometimes are overcome with great sadness when we remember the loved ones who are not with us.
Many people have no one to spend these times with and are besieged by loneliness. We all need caring thoughts and loving prayer right now.

The holidays are not happy for everyone. Especially for those who have lost family and friends during this time of year, the incessant holiday cheer can be grating.

So today, I am going to share with you a secret. It’s one I’ve used successfully and without remorse.

via Unsplash.com /  By Ilham Rahmansyah

via Unsplash.com / By Ilham Rahmansyah

It’s ok to opt out of the holidays.

The time I played Saints Row for Thanksgiving

I did that a few years ago and it was the best Thanksgiving I ever had.

I tend to get really down over the holidays. I get depressed. Christmas time is usually the worst, but that year it was hitting me really hard over Thanksgiving.

I didn’t want to spend hours in the car, through some of the worst traffic in the country to be with family. Don’t get me wrong, I love my family and both sets of parents. I love seeing them and spending time with them.

But the idea of driving to see them was too much for me to take that year. So I didn’t. This was shortly after I had graduated college and was working on an IT Support contract. I didn’t have any paid time off, so I had to work if I wanted to get paid.

I didn’t want to spend my few precious days off sitting in traffic and dealing with the stress of travel. I would have no relaxing Thanksgiving holiday. It would be spent sitting in traffic, battling other drivers and the weather on I-95.

So I hatched my plan. I told both sets of parents I was going to spend Thanksgiving with a friend who lived out-of-state. I didn’t get to see him much and I said he and his family had invited me for Thanksgiving and that’s what I was going to do. ((I was too nervous to tell either of them I just needed a year off. I just needed some time to myself. It would have taken more energy to explain this than to just say I had made plans elsewhere.))

But instead, I never left the house. I went to the store to get some food for the next few days. I think I ordered a pizza or two. And I spent the next three days on the couch.

I slept in patches throughout the days. I played late into the nights and early morning. Then crashes for a few hours, awoke refreshed anda did it all over again. I played Saints Row with a group of online friends. There were enough people who I regularly gamed with in enough time zones there were always a few people online and ready to play.

Instant Gang!

Instant Gang!

So I’d fire up my Xbox, put on my headset, crack open a fresh Mountain Dew and lose myself for hours in the world of Saints Row.

I laughed so hard. I was in bliss. I wasn’t sitting in hours of traffic. I wasn’t in the bad weather which I knew would only make my travels more stressful. I was warm, inside my apartment, all alone, talking and laughing with friends. And when I was done, I turned the Xbox off and I was alone, in quiet and solace.

It was the alone time I craved. I needed to recharge my batteries and unwind. I needed less stress, not more of it. And after my gaming binge holiday was complete and I returned to work, I felt like a new person. I was repaired.

The depression had lifted. The clouds over my head had cleared and I felt good. It was the Introverted Holiday I had craved and made for myself.

My Saints Row character at the time.

My Saints Row character at the time.

The holidays can be hard. There is an expectation to always spend it surrounded by family, not matter what it takes to get there. It’s meant to be a joyous time.

I needed to be strong enough to say no and opt out. I needed time for myself that year. I needed to be alone. I needed to repair. I needed to take some time off work for myself. I needed that time to heal and be a healthier, happier person.

By the time Christmas came that year, I was in better spirits and I enjoyed the time I spent with my family. And it was all because of my Thanksgiving alone.

Contentment

The current landscape in the web encourages this movement. Even when employed in a position, designers and developers are not truly employees, but hired guns. How often do we see a talented designer hired by a company leave in under two years? I’m not sure if dissatisfaction is the cause, but the “grass-is-greener” mentality seems alive and well in our industry.

via Chris Bowler’s Cultivating Contentment

I see the same problem in the IT Support industry. I’ve worked in tech support for nearly a decade and I’ve always felt like a nomadic hired guns. This goes double for large corporations and government agencies.

There are very few full-time employees. And the few positions that are full-time are managers and executive staff. Basically, the overseers of the crowd of IT contractors they use to perform the jobs of the department.

The help desk techs. The desktop support techs. The network and server administrators. All these people are contractors. Maybe we stay for ten years and have a great career in one place. But more often, we tend to roam from place to place as we get bored, company culture changes or we just want something new.

There is no end to the available work because IT Support is always in demand and the grass is always green.

Choices

I’ve thought a lot lately about the choices I’ve made. I try to make the best choice I can. I try to do what is best for me. No one is going to look our for me but me.

There are times when no amount of research and planning and thinking through all the possibilities the choice will bring, in the end it’s the wrong choice.

Choices

Choices are tricky things. I make them all day. Most of them are inconsequential. Whether I’ve made lunch or laid my clothes out the night before may have a small financial impact. But it won’t have long-lasting effects.

The decision to find a new job, and leave my current job is a bigger choice. It’s not one I ever take lightly. Every decision is a trade-off. Every job has it’s rewards and challenges. Before I make a move, I try to think through everything that will change.

There are the big questions.

  • How much will I make?
  • Are the benefits good?
  • Are there any perks?
  • Could I get a raise, or a bonus?
  • What about advancement? Will I be doing the same thing I am now in five years?

Then there are more deceptive questions. These don’t seem as important but are vital to the decision.

  • What will the commute be like? How much of my day am I giving up?
  • What is the culture where I’m going?
  • Will I fit into the team? Is there a team?
  • Will I like it there? This is where I will be spending eight plus hours so I should consider if I like it there.

Finally, there is the biggest question of all, do I make a move at all?

Every decision starts with a yes to the last question. Yes, I want to work somewhere else. Before the hunt begins, I have to decide to start looking.

After all the careful and considered planning, there is still risk. Even after all the pros and cons are identified and weighed. There is still a lot I don’t know.

The situation you think you’re walking into may not be what you find.

Every choice could make my situation better or could make it worse. I try to better myself and my situation with each move. But sometimes, I choose wrong.

And when I do make that wrong choice, I need to keep choosing. No choice is final. Nothing I decide to do is forever. Nothing I do can’t be undone and no matter who my choice affects, the choice is still mine. And I have to put myself first. I have to do what is best for me.

And hope this time I make a better choice…

Photo from: Unsplash.com Photo by: Dietmar Becker

Living in (Windows) Lockdown

For those trapped in a corporate Windows world, all hope is not lost. Sure, your administrative rights are revoked. There is no way to run your favorite applications. You can’t use the tools you’d like to because it’s forbidden.

But all hope is not lost. Portable Applications are your oasis. What are these portable applications you speak of? They’re the same applications you love and use at home. But instead of running an installer, all you have to do is unzip and run! It means you can run the application you want, without having to install it.

The applications are best run from a USB key. That way they can stay where you are and once you leave work, they leave with you.

I recently asked friends on Twitter and Facebook two questions.
1. What do you wish you could install on your work computer that you can’t or aren’t allowed to?
2. Alternately, what application could you not live without at work?

I’ve attempted to address the replies I got back below, along with a couple of must-haves for myself. While working within the confines of a locked down computer is frustrating. There are things you can do to make it a little better.


Disclaimer: Rules at your workplace may vary. This does not guarantee you will not get into trouble where you work. Read over your IT guidelines before using anything unauthorized on your computer.

Please use your common sense. Don’t get yourself fired over something as stupid as Dropbox or Skype. Your mileage may vary. I make no guarantees this will work where you do. But if you’re feeling brave enough to continue, let’s go!


Chrome and Firefox

Are you trapped on Internet Explorer? There is hope for you. You need Portable Firefox or Portable Chrome. I use Chrome and it works beautifully. I am able to sync my work Google account and all of my extensions and bookmarks sync to the portable browser without issue.

Using your browser of choice in the corporate world is a breath of fresh air.

Phrase Express

If you have a Mac at home, you may be familiar with [TextExpander])(
http://smilesoftware.com/TextExpander/index.html). There is an application for Windows that does the same thing, and it can import and sync to TextExpander.

PhraseExpress is absolutely vital to my work. I spend much of my day telling different people the same things. Working in customer support, I tend to explain the same things over and over. But I don’t write those emails out every single time. I have a series of snippets that save me time and make sure I tell everyone the same thing.

It can be used for simple tasks such as adding a single line to every email I send out. Once I’ve written my reply, I always end with Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns. I can’t tell you the last time I typed that out. I simply type zppp which is my shortcut and it automatically expands to Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns.

Another example is that I send out an email when I will be out of the office notifying my team of my open issues. So I keep a template for that. When I type zQueue, it expands to.

Team,
When I am out of the office tomorrow, the issues I have open are

Then I type my notes and click send. It’s not much but it saves me time. You may have noticed I start each snippet with a z. That’s my preference to trigger these shortcuts and they don’t show up when I don’t want them to. A co-worker uses a ; before all of his snippets. What you choose doesn’t matter, just make it something you’ll remember.

I also use PhraseExpress to fix typos. Two common words I mistype are suer and thnak. Whenever I type these, they are auto-corrected to user and thank It makes me look smarter and reduces the number of errors when I send emails to customers.

Snippets can be extremely powerful and can be used for anything you can think of. How many times are you typing out nearly the same email or the same information? You could make a template and change your long emails to a few quick keystrokes. I can also insert the current date and time, or a date three days from now without looking at a calendar.

PhraseExpress keeps statistics and today, I have expanded 53 snippets, (6446 characters) and saved me 50 minutes of typing today. what could it save you?

Dropbox

Portable Dropbox is just what it sounds like. It’s Dropbox that doesn’t need installation. It will run from a folder or USB key Technibble has written a great post on setting up and using Dropbox Portable. I Would recommend using the selective sync to only sync what you need to your portable Dropbox.

A Warning: Dropbox is wonderful. It’s absolutely vital to keeping my digital life in order. However, many places have very strict rules about what data can be kept on servers outside of the company’s control. So be careful about what you put in that Dropbox folder. Utilize the selective sync feature, especially if you keep music or movies in your Dropbox folder. Dropbox can be blocked at a network level. So even if you do get the application running, you may not be able to use it.

Skype

Skype is the gold-standard for audio and video communication around the globe. Used by everyone from podcasters to families keeping in touch with loved ones across the state or across the world.

There is a great portable version which can run from a USB key. I’ve used it when my wife was in India and we were able to chat without spending a fortune on phone bills. It was great to see her face while she was gone.

A Warning: Many network block the ports Skype needs to run, so even if you have the portable application, you may not be able to connect to the Skype servers. But it’s always worth a try if you won’t get into trouble.

Scrivener

Scrivener is your complete writing studio. It’s got the tools for managing complex research papers or entire books built-in.

Because of this, the draw to keep everything inside of Scrivener’s world is important and it’s not possible to have it everywhere. Or is it?

While not supported, it is possible to install Scrivener on a portable Flash drive. From the Windows manual.

4.5 Installing Scrivener on a Portable Flash Drive While it is possible to make a copy of your Scrivener application folder on flash drive, at this time we do not recommend doing this for performance reasons. Flash drives are considerably slower than their hard drive counterparts, but if portability trumps performance, it is safe to do so. We recommend installing Scrivener on your hard drive following the instructions given, and then copying the Scrivener folder from Program Files (or your user folder) to the stick drive using Explorer, and not using the installer directly on the stick drive. While possible, this method is not currently supported.

So while it’s possible, it will be slow and if you run into trouble you won’t get support from the vendor, but it’s still possible. Before you do this, I would highly recommend to back up your Scrivener files so nothing happens to your words.

MadCap Flare

While you cannot run MadCap Flare from a flash drive the license does allow you to install it on multiple machines, as long as it’s not in use on more than one at a time.

So while you can’t run it portable, you may be able to run it from another location.

Minecraft

This is not an addiction I’ve given into so I can’t vouch for this one. However, if you’re willing to try it you can play Minecraft from a USB key.

Civilization 5

Who doesn’t want to run their own world? While Civ 5 can’t run off a USB key, there is FreeCiv Portable which can. So all hope may not be lost for your world-building desires.

If you’re interested in Portable Apps there are a large number of them found there. IF you’re looking for one I didn’t mention, search for “Portable ______” and there may be a portable version of your favorite text editor, browser, or application you can’t live without. Living in Windows lock down doesn’t have to be a prison sentence.