Monday, May 17, 2010

Mentorship and Community

If you ask some of the people who know me well, you’ll find out that I’m pretty big on community in both professional life and life in general. Personally, I view it as a way to help others, be helped, and be exposed to things that you might not otherwise consider.

Since I graduated from college, it has seemed like, professionally, I’ve been on my own. I’ve had friends, but it felt like I had no sense of professional community.

From my viewpoint, it’s like I’ve been trapped in some sort of insular bubble and the only direction and inspiration for “what do I learn next” has been stumbled upon by either bare necessity of a project I’ve been working on or through running across a mention of something in an article online. This is, to be honest, a Sisyphean task and, after a while, it starts to become discouraging.

I’ve missed the sense of community, knowledge sharing, and mentorship that I had while I was in the last couple of years of high school and throughout my time in college. Due to the exposure to other people and their ideas, my own ideas seemed to flow much more smoothly and I worried less about making mistakes because there was always someone that I could bounce ideas off of or go to for advice.

Professional development seems to be so much more difficult when you feel like you’re doing everything on your own. Add to that the fact that we are inherently social creatures, and being on your own can be nerve wracking.

Last night, I had a realization: I seem to have found that sense of community and mentorship again. And it’s on…Twitter?

Okay, to be fair, it’s in person as well since I get to see a lot of the people I talk to at least once a month, but the bulk of conversations occur over digital medium (twitter, email, and Live messenger primarily).

Roughly a year and a half ago, I found CONDG online when I went looking to see if there were any .NET developer’s groups nearby (I know. Novel idea.). Their most recently listed meeting at the time had a twitter link for the presenter, so having just gotten twitter a few weeks before, I clicked on the link and checked out their stream.

It just sort of went from there.

Now I’ve gone from basically knowing nobody in the field in this geographic area (since most of my college friends in CS were from other parts of the state/country/world) to knowing a number of them and feeling much more like a person again than I did a year or so ago.

It’s nice to be part of a group of people who help each other out, offer advice, chat, joke around and hang out together on occasion, and, when needed, give a kick in the ass to get you going again.

I’ve missed the camaraderie and exposure to new things and viewpoints. Maybe even more than I realized. It’s also nice to know that I’m not the only one that experiences self doubt about their abilities and worries about failure (Even if Phil Japikse does use it as an opportunity to make a good-natured joke at my expense heh).

I try to give back as well, but I sometimes worry that I take more than I give in return. I honestly hope that isn’t the case, because they’ve all been great, and I don’t want to put any of them out. I also don’t want to feel like I’m being a bother

What brought on this realization? The feedback from my last post, mostly sparked by the first commenter, who called me arrogant. I got tweets and emails from a number of people that I follow and have met with advice and constructive criticism on both the post, aspects of my professional development, and my resume as well as assuring me that the post was not, in fact, arrogant but generally fairly sensible.

I appreciate the support, advice and critiques. Some changes have already been made to the resume (paring down some of the older experience, breaking out skills by skill level, etc) and others are planned.

As a (rather large) added bonus, I’ve started to feel a lot more social over the last year. I view this as a great thing because I basically used to be a social butterfly (as difficult as that may be for some people to believe).

Thanks again, guys. You’ve been great and I hope that I am able to return the favor in at least some small way.

Current mood: humbled
Current music: Bush – Swallowed

Friday, May 14, 2010

What I Can Offer and What I’m Looking For

As I’ve said, I’m currently in the market for a jr-mid level .NET developer position in the Columbus, Ohio area. I really dislike being a one person shop. It always feels like I spend more time hunting for new projects than I spend doing them, and that’s just not my idea of an ideal situation.

That doesn’t really say much, though, so I thought I’d put down my wants in writing in order to not only get them out for others to see, but to get them straight in my own head.

First, however, I’ll briefly list some of the things I have to offer (this is by no means an exhaustive list).

What I bring to the table
  • I have several years of experience in writing code.
  • I excel at solving problems and enjoy doing so.
  • I can explain technical issues to non-technical people.
  • I have a professional, yet relaxed attitude.
  • I write well.
  • I am adept at gathering requirements.
  • I tend to be a calming influence on the people around me.
  • I learn new skills quickly.
  • I love writing software that makes a difference to the people who use it.

What I want in an employer (the bullet point edition)
  • A place where I can learn and grow.
  • A sane work/life balance.
  • A sane salary.
  • The ability to, preferably, work around good people who really know their stuff.
  • A relatively relaxed environment is a plus

Now, bullet points are great (or horrible, depending on who you ask), but we can get into a little more detail on my wants/needs.

A place where I can learn and grow –
I honestly want a place where I can expand and hone my skills as well as get back to using some skills that I feel have atrophied since I’ve been on my own, such as leadership and presentation skills.

One of the downsides to being independent is that you have a harder time setting aside time for professional development because you always feel like your time should be spent either doing work or finding more work. You also frequently have a really difficult time getting new perspectives on problem domains.

Sane work/life balance –
I don’t expect every day to be 9 to 5 because, let’s face it, that basically never happens. There are always the occasional crunch times at the end of projects or at the end of a cycle in the project, and that’s fine. The problem is when you are expected to work extended hours on a regular basis as a matter of course.

What I do want is for the occasional crunch times to be just that – occasional. I understand that I’ll find myself staying late or getting in early if there’s an emergency, to prep for a big presentation, a sprint at the end of a project, etc and that’s fine. What I don’t want is to be expected to work for 70+ hours a week.

I love writing software (and solving problems in general). I consider it fun, but there are other things in life that need to be taken care of as well.

Sane salary –
Basically, I want a salary I can live on decently. What I’d like to be paid depends on the position. I realize that lower level positions pay less than higher level positions, and sometimes you have to take a step backward in order to move forward.

If you’re concerned that I’m pricing myself out of a position, talk to me. We may be able to come to an agreement. I honestly want to make the jump, and some things are negotiable in order to make that happen. Besides, there’s been a fair amount of variation in the salary ranges of a lot of the companies I’ve talked to (though they tend to cluster in a reasonably narrow range, so I consider that a decent indication of what I can probably expect).

The ability to work around people who really know their stuff –
This sort of ties in with and extends learning and growing, but I thought it warranted its own point.

I find inspiration from working around other people. It may sound cheesy, but it’s true. Sometimes, just being around other people is enough to make me find novel solutions to problems. Additionally, I tend to learn a lot just from observing and listening to the people and things around me and am motivated by being around people that are better at things than I currently am.

This isn’t limited to just being around experts, though. I’m a firm believer that you can learn something from everyone, so being around other people in my field (and other fields) is a plus regardless of relative skill levels.

Relatively relaxed environment –
By relaxed, I don’t mean Hawaiian shirts and Nerf gun fights. Clothing wise, you’ll usually see me in khakis and a polo or button up shirt.

Relaxed, in this case, is more along the lines of non-hostile. I’ve seen a few companies where the people in charge seem to feel the need to berate and dehumanize the people that report to them (directly or indirectly).

In my personal opinion, that’s not a way to keep good people or to keep them motivated. The world may not be sunshine and roses every day, but you shouldn’t spend every day wondering when the (hopefully) figurative chair is going to fly at your head.

We tend to work better when we aren’t stressed unnecessarily, and since I want to work to the best of my abilities, it seems logical that I don’t want to be in a hostile environment.

Naturally, a discussion of this sort could go on for a considerable amount of time, but I think that covers most of the major points of what I have and what I want. If I sound like a person that would fit in with your organization or you know an organization that you think I would be a good fit for, please feel free to contact me.

Current mood: decent
Current music: Tom Petty - I Won't Back Down

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Stir Trek 2 – Brief Review, Musings, and Mayhem
(I apologize if this is a little long, but it covers a decent amount of ground)

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been averaging about 5 hours or so of sleep a night due to studying, interviews, preparing for interviews and trying to get actual work done. It seems like I’m never making any headway, because the list of things I need to take care of is growing so quickly lately (but, honestly, that’s largely a positive thing considering the items getting stored in my queue).

That said, I was really looking forward to attending Stir Trek, a local developer conference. Admittedly, I was also sort of dreading taking the time off because I knew I’d feel guilty for losing the day and a half from all of the tasks I currently have. However, I knew I both needed the break and would get more out of it than the time I lost by going.

I’m glad I did.

The night before, there was a geek dinner at the food court in Polaris Fashion Place with a pretty large turnout. It was a fun and pretty relaxed event, and a nice way to ease into my “weekend”.

The conference itself was great, and full of things that I now want to look into. I stuck mainly to the web dev and RIA tracks, but wandered over into the UX talk as well.

For those of you who are actually curious as to which talks I went to, here’s the rundown:

The presentation materials should be up on the presenters’ sites in the near future, so keep an eye out if any of the synopses sound interesting.

The last session was really a toss up between the ASP.NET talk and Bill Sempf’sEconomics of Cloud Computing”. I was kind of upset that I had to chose, but that happens sometimes.

Thankfully, I had a minute to stop in before Bill’s talk and say hello in person since we’ve been speaking over twitter and MSN so much lately. I dropped off a box of tea that I’d brought for him (yes, I got to tea bag the mighty Sempf heh) and I got a copy of his new book, C# All In One to read and review.

This means that my work queue just got a little longer, but I’m glad to do it for a number of reasons - among them because it’s always nice to have quality reference materials and the fact that Bill’s a good guy. He’s also one of the many people who have been helping me on my current job search, so the least I can do is lend a hand in return.

It also means that I get to play part of my former role as an editor again, which is kind of neat.

One of the other great things about the conference was that I got to meet a lot of people in person for the first time that I’d been talking to on twitter as well as meeting a large number of new people and getting to hang out with people that I’ve known in the community for varying amounts of time.

To top it off, I finally got to repay my debt to Phil Japikse by poking him with a stick (I threatened to do it months ago, but it’s the first time since then that I’ve seen him). I also got to heckle him good naturedly a little as well as help solve a minor technical problem. =]

I love Phil. He’s a decent guy and one of the many people I’ve met since I started going to CONDG who amaze me by how much they give back in the form of time, experience, inspiration and encouragement.

To be honest, I love pretty much all of the Columbus dev community that I’ve met so far. They’ve made me feel welcome since the first meeting I went to.

For the movie this year, we had Iron Man 2. All that needs to be said is that it was amazing and under “Badass” in the dictionary, it says “See: Tony Stark. See Also: Natasha Romanoff.”

Karyl and I were going to drop in on the geek dinner after the movie, but it appeared to be pretty crowded and we were both feeling a little overloaded (the conference had 600 people registered and it’s been a while since I’ve been in a crowd of that size for that long. Add on the stress of the last few weeks, and I basically just wanted to wind down gracefully before driving out of there).

I apologize to anyone who was hoping to hang out at the dinner. I had planned to attend; I just sort of reached my stimulus threshold. Hopefully we’ll get the chance to hang out another time.

Current mood: tired, but good
Current music: Aerosmith – Deuces Are Wild

Sunday, May 02, 2010

I Have Email Again!

If you emailed me in the last two weeks and haven’t gotten a response, I apologize profusely, because I didn’t get it. I had to switch over to my gmail account because my domain email was down.

If you tried to reach me and haven’t gotten a response, please, email me again and I will do my level best to respond with all due haste.

My (now former) hosting company was great when I first signed on with them a number of years ago. For the last 6 months or so, however, service has been going downhill.

This culminated in my email going totally down about two weeks ago after sporadic periods of uptime for about a week before that as well as their servers getting hacked (again), causing my site to be defaced.

To make matters worse, they were basically ignoring any and all trouble reports, so I was stuck without my main email, which I had been using up to that point during my job search.

Not exactly the best time for your email to take a dive.

About a week ago, I changed hosting providers, and taking the advice of Jeff Blankenberg, went with Crystal Tech.

Over that week, I’ve made more phone calls and written more emails to the two companies in question than I care to think about. The transfer process was, to say the least, not exactly smooth, but it’s finally over (I hope). On the upside, I can say that Crystal Tech’s phone support is both polite and helpful, which is always nice.

Hopefully their service is just as good as their support and their data center doesn’t explode.

Current mood: tired
Current music: Jimmy Eat World – Bleed American