career

Anna’s Notes on “Landing Your Dream Job 2.0″

by Joey deVilla on June 24, 2011

Anna lambert

One of our great Shopifolks — that’s my own little neologism for “person who works at Shopify” — is Anna Lambert (@alambzz on Twitter). She’s a summer intern, but you wouldn’t know it, as she’s sunk her teeth into the job with the intensity of a co-founder. She shares the front desk with Brittany Forsyth, our head of HR, and things at Shopify run that much more smoothly because of her hard work.

If you saw yesterday’s article on the OCRI smarTALK, Landing Your Dream Job 2.0, you know that I took copious notes at that event. (And if you haven’t seen it, and especially if you’re looking for work in today’s competitive environment, read my notes now!) It turns out that I wasn’t the only one taking notes: Anna was there too, and she distilled her notes into a nicely annotated — or should I say Anna-tated? — top ten list:

  1. Think to yourself: Can I add value to this company?
  2. Justify your claims.
  3. Think otuside the box.
  4. Reduce the risk.
  5. Get your name out there.
  6. Know your audience.
  7. Do research and get your facts straight.
  8. Form a relationship.
  9. Use social media tools to your advantage.
  10. Never use the infamous “to whom it may concern”.

Anna explains each of these points in greater detail in her article in her blog, Little Miss Shopify. Check it out!

This article also appears in the Shopify Blog.

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Getting Paid to Work for Ballmer is Pretty Nice

by Joey deVilla on June 5, 2010

Joey deVilla and Steve BallmerMe and Ballmer at the Microsoft Town Hall in Toronto, October 2009.

David “DHH” Heinemeier Hansson recently wrote in the excellent blog Signal to Noise (add it to your reading list if it isn’t there already) that he’d never work for Ballmer.

Since he’s DHH, he doesn’t have to – he’s a principal at the development firm 37signals, whose web apps I like to cite as examples to follow, and the creator of the web framework Ruby on Rails. Unfortunately, most of us aren’t DHH: we can’t all be brilliant game-changing programmers who are also photogenic enough to have the option of becoming a male model when this computer fad blows over. When a Sith Lord from Microsoft comes a-calling with a job offer, we don’t automatically turn it down; we have to mull it over.

Darth Vader makes his offer: "Join me...we have a good dental plan!"

I’ve been working for Ballmer (quite indirectly: I’m a fair number of degrees of separation below him on the org chart) for the past twenty months. I can say with complete certainty that out of all the jobs I’ve held – from the job right out of school building multimedia CD-ROMs in Director to working with Cory Doctorow in his dot-com’s evangelism office in San Francisco at the height of The Bubble to various coding jobs from my own consulting shop to Toronto’s worst-run startup to that very brief stint as a go-go dancer at a nightclubmy current gig as Developer Evangelist for The Empire has been my all-time favourite of the bunch. I get to do two things I absolutely love – working with technology and schmoozing with people – and with a fair bit of autonomy: in the setting of my choice, with a set of priorities that I negotiate. I also get to work with some of the brightest and most passionate people I’ve ever met, both inside and outside the company, and it doesn’t hurt that the pay’s quite nice (although, as Dan ink will tell you, money isn’t the primary motivator in this line of work).

Joey deVilla playing accordion in front of the RailsConf logoPlaying accordion onstage at RailsConf 2007.

Until 2008, I’d worked mostly for small companies, many of whom you could fit into a minivan. I might not have considered working for Microsoft, or any large corporation for that matter, had it not been for a little moment that I internally refer to as “The Abercrombie Epiphany”. And oddly enough, it happened at RailsConf 2007, a conference devoted to DHH’s creation Ruby on Rails, where I played an ode to DHH onstage with Chad Fowler at the start of the evening keynote (that’s what’s pictured above, and there’s even a video of the song).

The second day’s opening keynote was about Ruby, Rails and the enterprise, and the crowd was not impressed. A good chunk of the IRC backchannel chatter was devoted to saying “enough with the enterprise already…who cares?” I distinctly remember someone referring to one of the presenters as “trying to be the Rachael Ray of enterprise computing”. The guy leaning against the wall behind me (I’d arrived late, having taken part in the previous night’s bacchanalia) in an Abercrombie & Fitch T-shirt started putting on a hoodie with the letters “A & F” on it and packing up his laptop. “Who uses this stuff, anyway?” he said to me as he picked up his Starbucks cup and walked towards the door. “I’m going back to the Marriott.”

It was probably the fact that he was wearing all that Abercrombie & Fitch – the company vaguely annoys me – that got me thinking about his question, “who uses this stuff anyway?” It turns out he did: he’d flown to Portland, stayed at a chain hotel, used a laptop and conference wifi, drank coffee from the shop with a branch in every mall and seemingly on every corner and bought clothes from a century-old retailer – and the cycles that enabled all that didn’t run two-week-marathon-written code living on 10-dollar hosting, but invisibly and everywhere on systems he didn’t think anyone used.

I wouldn’t give the incident any thought until just over a year later.

An office chair, a computer and some boxes lined up against an interior brick wallPacking up my stuff after getting laid off from b5media, September 2008.

What got me thinking about that little Abercrombie & Fitch experience was my getting laid off from b5media during the econopocalypse of summer 2008. I’d been interviewing with a number of companies, all of them small, and blogging the experience as a means of amplifying my job search efforts.

While working on a blog entry, I got an IM from Adam Carter, a tech evangelist at Microsoft. It went exactly like this:

Ever thought about working for The Empire?

(Yes, he referred to Microsoft as “The Empire”.)

Every culture has certain tendencies, and the “I build on Mac OS and deploy to Linux” culture of which I was part led me to instinctively dismiss the idea at first blush. Ridiculous, I thought, and besides, why would they hire me? I haven’t coded any .NET since those trivia games for MAXIM in 2002.

(Yes, I really did that, in an office across the street from the downtown Toronto Hooters. It was like working inside a beer commercial.)

But when my friends John Bristowe (who I’d have voted “most likely to work for Microsoft”) and David Crow (who I’d have voted “most likely to take a dump on Microsoft’s front door”) were making suggestions within the company that they hire me, I had to give Adam’s out-of-the-blue IM a little more thought. And in that thinking, I was reminded of the Abercrombie incident.

Archimedes moving the world with his lever

Many people would (and did) see working at Microsoft as “the safe move”, but to a guy from the culture of DHH, who’s always worked in all small companies and one medium-sized one and hadn’t used their development tools in over six years, it’s the scary one. When word got around that I was interviewing at Microsoft, I heard a small chorus of voices – one of them that nagging voice of doubt – saying the same thing: “You couldn’t pay me to work for Ballmer”.

But I took the job, anyway. It offered the most challenges, the greatest learning opportunities, a journey to places well outside my comfort zone, and I hadn’t done anything like it before. It was a window into a world I’d only seen from the outside, toward which I’d only made snarky comments from the peanut gallery. It offered me the lever that Archimedes talked about – one big enough to move the world – and a chance to see this computing the Abercrombie guy thought no one used.

(It even gave me the perfect excuse to pull out the Jean Cocteau quote at parties, when explaining my change in career direction: “Since it’s now fashionable to laugh at the conservative French Academy, I have remained a rebel by joining it.")

HacklabTO work table with my laptop plugged into a monitor, mouse, "Coding4Fun" book and can of Diet CokeYesterday’s work enviroment – my setup at HacklabTO.

What is working for Ballmer like? I can’t speak for all of Microsoft’s 90,000 employees, but this Developer Evangelist job is pretty sweet. I’m classified as a mobile worker, which means no cubicle – I’m either working out of the home office, a select bunch of work-friendly cafes, or quite often at HacklabTO, the “hackerspace” in Toronto’s colourful Kensington Market where I’m a member with 24/7 access. Every day’s work environment is different (the picture above shows yesterday’s, at the Hacklab), and this constant flux keeps me going.

I get to noodle with all sorts of interesting tech, from dev tools to cloud computing to game consoles to phones, and I have a hardware guy stocking me with the latest gear. I get to shape the content of a cross-Canada conference that thousands of professional developers across Canada, whose work makes your money move, your electricity flow and your favourite retail stores stay stocked. I get to participate in all sorts of fun stuff, from holding a pre-conference in a train car to having a little fun with Richard Stallman. I get to inspire students as they start their search for jobs in a shaky economy. I get to concentrate in the web, mobile, and open source — fields where the company’s traditional strengths aren’t.

Simply put, I get my shot at changing the world. That’s what DHH is also trying to do – he’s just working it from a different angle. If you want to do that as well, I’m sure you’ll find your own angle, whether it’s homesteading in your own indie software company working out of a cafe to doing it as a part of a Fortune 500 company. DHH is DHH, and you are you, and while he could never work for Ballmer, you might like it like I do, and that’s okay. After all, that’s why the saying goes “Do not follow in the footsteps of the masters; seek what they sought instead.”

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.

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cusec 2009 logoMicrosoft was a sponsor of CUSEC last year – that’s Canadian University Software Engineering Conference, the premier conference on building software aimed specifically at students. One of the perks of sponsorship was a “corporate speaker” slot, and it was decided that the presentation should be given it to the then-new guy…namely, me.

At the time I got slotted in as the speaker, I’d barely been a Microsoft employee for two months and was still feeling my way around both the company and its technology. By the time I would stand on the podium, I would have just passed my three-month probationary period. If I was going give a talk for forty-five minutes, it would have to be something other than “what it’s like to work at The Empire”.

Luckily, I did have something to talk about: a not-quite-normal career in tech, and the lessons I picked up along the way. The end result was a presentation titled Squeezeboxes, Start-Ups and Selling Out: A Tech Evangelist’s Story (yes, it’s a bombastic title, but it’s the sort of thing you’d expect from a guy whose personal blog’s name is The Adventures of Accordion Guy in the 21st Century.)

The presentation was scheduled for the end of Day 2 (it’s a three-day conference), which is a challenge. The audience would be tired and being students, they were likely to be more focused on the big drinkfest that would take place that evening. I decided to go for “offbeat” and built my presentation around the abstract I gave to them, which was:

You’ll spend anywhere from a third to half (or more) of your waking life at work, so why not enjoy it? That’s the philosophy of Microsoft Developer Evangelist Joey deVilla, who’s had fun while paying the rent. He’ll talk about his career path, which includes coding in cafes, getting hired through your blog, learning Python at Burning Man, messy office romances, go-go dancing, leading an office coup against his manager, interviewing at a porn company and using his accordion to make a Microsoft Vice President run away in fear. There will be stories, career advice and yes, a rock and roll accordion number or two.

They recorded my session and unleashed it on the world yesterday. I share it with you below:

If you watched the video, you’ll note that I skipped a couple of stories, namely “learning Python at Burning Man”, “messy office romances”, “go-go dancing” and making a Microsoft Vice President run away in fear. I’ll save those for another presentation. (By the bye, the guy I made run away is a President now.)

I had a blast doing this presentation, and the general consensus of the attendees was that it was one of the highlights of the conference. I’m honoured that I was invited back to host DemoCamp, and look forward to chatting with everyone. See you in Montreal!

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.

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ignition_switch As I mentioned in an earlier post, Ignite Your Career is Microsoft’s webcast series on career, skills and personal development. Having a plan and “sharpening your saw” are two of your three best hedges in these uncertain economic times, and they’re what Ignite Your Career is all about.

(In case you were wondering, the third hedge is to have a solid network of friends, colleagues and acquaintances in your areas of interest. That’s what gatherings like EnergizeIT, DemoCamp and Coffee and Code are for.)

Ignite Your Career is about your career and “skills portfolio”, so the topics covered in our webcasts aren’t Microsoft-specific. No matter what platform(s) you work on, no matter if you’re a developer, sysadmin, administrator or manager, if you work in technology, you’ll find value in Ignite Your Career. As for Microsoft, we’re part of the tech ecosystem, and an ecosystem with vibrant, thriving techies is a healthy one, regardless of the tech they choose.

The first Ignite Your Career webcast takes place this Tuesday, March 3rd, from 12 noon to 1 p.m. Eastern and the topic will be Industry Insights and Trends. Here’s the abstract:

The nature of technology is one of continual change; a fact of life for professionals in the ICT industry. As a result, you need to be on top of what is happening in the industry in order to position yourself and your organization to benefit from these trends. This panel discussion will arm you with the information you need from experts in the ICT industry in order to stay on top of your game.

Here are the speakers:

joel_semeniuk Joel Semeniuk
Joel Semeniuk is a founder of Imaginet, a Canada-based Microsoft Gold Partner. He is also a Microsoft Regional Director and MVP in Team System, and INETA speaker, and has a degree in Computer Science.
 
 
jeff_kempiners Jeff Kempiners
Jeff Kempiners is Vice President and Chief Technology Officer for Avanade Canada. As CTO, Jeff is responsible for the strategic direction and adoption of the Avanade Solutions Portfolio within Avanade Canada. A seasoned leader, Jeff has more than 12 years of experience in IT management and consulting.
 
jay_payette

Jay Payette
Jay Payette has been consulting public and private organizations in the field of technology for over 5 years. He currently works for the Ottawa office of Accenture in the Systems Integration and Technology practice.

 

All Ignite Your Career webcasts are absolutely free of charge. You’ll need a Windows Live ID (also free; if you have MSN Hotmail, MSN Messenger or Passport, you already have a Windows Live ID) to sign up to see the webcast.

Some links you might find useful:

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Local tech evangelist David Crow points to The Adventures of Johnny Bunko: The Last Career Guide You’ll Ever Need. Unlike What Color is Your Parachute? or Who Moved My Cheese?, Johnny Bunko is in manga form — that’s right, it’s a Japanese-style comic book.

An unusual book needs an unusual promo, and Johnny Bunko is no exception — it’s got a trailer!

In a review at Amazon, Donald Mitchell provides a quick summary of the book:

Most career writers when they want to simplify a message use a fable, with a few illustrations that show the key perspectives. The fable is clearly secondary to the details.

In The Adventures of Johnny Bunko, the story is more interesting than the advice. Having read a lot of Mr. Pink’s writing, I thought I knew what he would probably advise. But I didn’t realize that he would make the story so interesting, and that the manga format would add so much power to the story telling. Nice work!

What’s the advice? Let me rephrase to make it clearer to you:

  1. Don’t be rigid about planning out each step well in advance . . . it’s not possible to do.
  2. Build on what you’re good at (Peter Drucker originated that one) and avoid relying on what you aren’t good at.
  3. Focus on what you can do for others (start with the boss) rather than what’s in it for you (you can read more about this in How to Be a Star at Work).
  4. Keep at it. Practice makes perfect.
  5. Take on big challenges and learn from them.
  6. Make a difference.

I think I’ll pick up this book — it’s pretty cheap, and I’d like to see how Daniel Pink uses the manga format to advantage.

More Advice from Daniel Pink

Here are some video clips featuring Daniel Pink some pretty interesting giving career advice…

Abundance, Asia and Automation

Pink says that the really useful skills are those that are hard to outsource, hard to automate and that serves a need that goes beyond functional. And those skills are the right-brain ones — the ones often derided as “soft skills”.

Help! My Resume Has Too Many Jobs!

Don’t worry if your resume looks like it has too many jobs on it — the world of work today doesn’t give out prizes for lifetime service. These days, it’s about whether you can solve their problems.

Exercise Creativity at Your Job

The old adage applies: “It’s often better to ask for forgiveness than permission.” And from my own experience, I can tell you that he’s right.

Choosing a Major

Follow your interests — don’t choose a major based on what kind of job you think you’ll get after you graduate. The job market is likely to change! Follow your passion instead. You should also work on your “high concept” and “high touch” skills.

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