Monday, January 23, 2017

Panic vs. Experience

Recently I went on a backpacking trip with some friends. Some of those who went had never been backpacking before, others had some experience and a few were very experienced. All involved were rock climbers though, so it was decided by the group we would take a spin on a little path in Arkansas called Eagle Rock Loop.

Eagle Rock Loop is billed as the toughest hike in Arkansas. All Trails states it is only recommended for "..very experienced adventurers". The trip has some advanced route finding on it, and the site also states it is 25.2 miles long 4,783 ft of elevation gain. Most of that is in one 10 mile stretch in which you cover 6 small mountains, the final (when done clockwise) 2 being among the steepest. On day 2 we planned on going through a flood plain that took the lives of 16 people back in 2010 and sleep high above the river. Day three was intended to be a quick stroll back to the cars then off to get a meal. In trying to help plan the trip I lobbied multiple times to try an easier loop so our first time backpackers wouldn't burn out. Apparently we are climbers... we can handle it.

The week before, there was some weather. We were checking water levels and forecasts daily. With a final check the morning of departure, we determined there would be a window large enough to make the trip in. So we loaded up the soccer van, and headed to Arkansas. After several hours of riding, talking, laughing, and generally having a good time, we found ourselves arriving at Caney Creek Trail Head (roughly N34.347103 W093.984343) late in the evening. We setup our first camp near a friend in his camper/truck outfit, and slept.

To give you some context to my sleepless nights, I had been reading up on the trail as I regularly do. The trail report that most stuck out to me was a group that started with 8 people, and finished with 3. Most left the trail injured. Everyone in that team was experienced. I was awake a long time thinking through various scenarios, bail points, and alternate plans. Once asleep, it didn't feel all that long before I was getting up again.

My friends and I were excited to get started. After a quick breakfast we loaded up and headed out on the trail. In order to ensure we got off to a good start, we immediately overshot a trail junction, and got lost. After hunting for the trail, backtracking multiple times, and one hilarious fall later (he was fine, and even posed royally and asked for a picture), we found the trail and got back on track. The plan was to hike the first 11 miles or so and find a place to camp near the river. The hope was to find a waterfall to camp near. We lost nearly an hour on our little side adventure, but spirits were high. We nearly bounded down the trail.

As the light began to fade, we were coming down the final mountain for day 1. Each step felt heavy, and painful, each breath labored. Several members of the party were limping (myself included). No injuries as of yet, just fatigue. Happily, everyone was still smiling also. We are after all climbers, we know how to enjoy ourselves while in pain. We began looking for a camp site, having just passed the 10 mile mark. We were still a bit short of a little field I had mentally marked off on my map as a potential camp site, but when we found a little field just off the river we couldn't resist stopping (read: collapsing) to setup camp.

Dinner consisted of the usual suspects, re-hydrated spaghetti, lasagna, Thai noodles, and the like. That is up until someone brought out a re-hydrated cake and passed it around to the tune of happy birthday. Three of us had birthdays within two weeks of the trip (one was the day we started out). The cake was probably mediocre at best, but out there, around a camp fire after a day of ups and downs (pun intended) it was possibly the best cake I have had all year.

Day two started out pretty well. We were rested, spirits were again high. Camera's were out, and we started down the path, determined to press on. Very quickly though we became concerned for one member of our team. She began to limp more and more, and her pain was evident. A little after midday, we all came together and made a decision. She and one other would stay behind and the rest of us would make a push for the cars. We planned to be back the next day to pick them up. We left them behind in a campsite were the worst of the flood had happened years ago.

We now needed to make up time we lost during the day, as well as the time needed to backtrack in the vehicles to pick up our two stranded friends. So the remainder of the group pressed on hard and fast.  We pushed on and made it just past the location we initially intended to camp.  In stead we camped riverside again about a quarter mile further on.  It was already dark when we selected our campsite, made our dinner and collapsed into our tents.

That night, I woke the sounds of mother nature gently tapping on our tent a few hundred thousand times... it was raining, and we had left our team mates in and then subsequently setup our campsite in the flood plane.  We got up earlier than we hoped, and jumped into action.  Camp was dismantled and we were on the trail eating a cold breakfast and moving even faster than the night before.  We scrambled quickly over rocks and downed trees.  Over the remaining mountains and finally found the trail back to our cars.  As we topped the last mountain I remember looking up the last 50 feet and wondering if we would make it back in time.

As we stepped off the trail and onto the road that would lead us back to our trucks, it was nearing 1 o'clock.  We hastily dropped our bags into the soccer van, and jumped into the two vehicles.  The roads were wet, and mostly mud.  Where the mud ended, holes began, and the going was slow.  We rounded a corner and there before us were two wet and bedraggled hikers.  Our two friends had bailed when the rain started, and began making their way to the cars, hitch-hiking and when necessary walking.

With the party reunited we began the trip home.  Stopping of course for the obligatory burger and fries overload.  I think we may have gotten an ice cream at some point.

Initially my fear told me this trip was a bad idea.  I was actively campaigning against it. However everyone involved had a great time.  All things being equal I would have missed out on a great trip had I let my "Experience" rule out this trip all together.  That is not to say we should throw caution to the wind.  We had several bail points, and the elevated risk of minor injury was worth the potential pay off of a great trip.  Experience is what provided the insight on how to asses this risk.

Many times I feel we mistake panic and fear for experience.  We hear an idea, fear the change it will cause, and reject the idea before really assessing it.  In business, experience tells us that change can be good, fear tells us to stay the course.  One of the biggest flags for me is when a quick decision is made when speed is not a factor.  Sometimes decision must be made on the fly.  All to often however a decision is made in the heat of the moment that could be given some consideration over a few days, or even weeks (depending on how big a decision it is).

Slow down and give some thought to what is driving your decisions!

Friday, January 20, 2017

The Art of Misdirection

Reposting an old post from the last blog.


This weekend I found myself in line at the drive though at a local Chick-fil-a.  What was remarkable was that orders were being taken by two young ladies, and relayed inside via a headset.  Their regular drive through PA system was down.  They could have put up a sign and asked us, their clients, to move forward and order at the window.  I have seen many restaurants do this in the past.  Why would Chick-fil-a pay two employees to stand out side on a chilly morning instead.

The answer came to me as I pulled up to the first window.  I was greeted by the manager, who apologized for the inconvenience of their equipment failure.  He was immediately replaced by the employee handing me my food.  Thinking back, it probably did take me longer than usual to get through their drive through, but I didn’t notice.  Why?  The employees standing outside were chatting with me, about the weather, about my day, and my sleeping daughter in the back seat.  They took my mind off the wait, so I didn’t notice it.  The employees where out there in the cold, engaging us, and giving the person at the window the time to assemble our order.  When I pulled up, my food was ready.  It was seamless, and flawlessly executed.  “Excellent job” to that manager and his team.

Everyday, we run into hurdles, roadblocks, or just plain bad days.  It affects our ability to provide service to our clients.  When we focus on the problems, our clients focus on the problems as well.  They see the issue, they see it is affecting your delivery, and they are not happy.  I wonder what would happen if we focused on our customers experience?  Could we misdirect, or better said, refocus our customer attention so they hardly notice the issue, but rather want to thank us for our flawless delivery even given the circumstances.

What do you think?

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Linked In Profile Pt. 3

Reposting an old post from the last blog.


So, based on my last post, we now have an awesome description of what we do, and how we do it in our summary.  We have a list of projects that show how we have successfully contributed in the past at things we are passionate about.  We have filled out our experience, telling the story of our career to date.   What’s next?

A picture is worth a thousand words, given the time we have spent so far updating your profile with a couple of thousand words, we want to pick a photo of ourselves that supports our career story.  Some of my colleagues have photo’s that barely show the whole face, others who are wearing a t shirt, playing with their dogs, or sitting with their families.  These folks are looking for professional positions.  I have other friends who are wearing three piece suits looking for jobs as mechanics, shop workers, and the like.  When I’m hiring, I look for people who aim high.  On the other hand, if you are wearing a suit in the picture, I may assume you are OK with wearing a suit all the time.  Another problem I see all over Linked In is the self photo.  Rather than use a photo taken with your phone at arms length, get a friend, and go for a walk in the park.  Not an outdoor person?  Use a solid color wall behind you if all else fails.  Avoid pictures of you at the bar, or a party.  We all like to cut loose from time to time, but posting it on your resume?  Risky.  Your best bet is to find a good photographer, and pay for a professional head shot.

The next section to start looking at is the Skills & Expertise section.  I usually start by thinking about the work I want to do.  What skills do I posses that might be required to do that job.  Don’t forget about the soft skills.  You may be an amazing developer, but you won’t go far without the ability to talk to clients, influence your leadership, and eventually, manage an employee or two.  Mentoring that new guy, fresh out of college isn’t just the right thing to do, it shows you take the time to grow good employees, and should be mentioned here.

Certifications are a great way to show the knowledge you have gained.  If they are from well known organizations, it is even better.  Like before, I haven’t found any guidance on when to pull a certification from the list.  Anyone having feedback should let me know.  I have certifications that go back quite a ways.  I did that because I feel my time at Meridian Technology Center shows that even though I have been working in the technology industry for 16 or so years, I have been involved with technology for far longer than that.

Your profile should be looking pretty good now.  We are almost through all of the setup.  Hopefully you are already seeing a difference in your profile, and in the work you do.  I know as I first started updating my profile I thought it was silly.  A new age version of geocities, if you recall those.  As I continued to build my profile, I began realizing just how much I offer my company.  It helped my self esteem a bit.  I hope you are looking through yours and starting to realize what you offer.  As thoughts occur to you, new projects are delivered, new tools learned, or new skill sets discovered, update Linked In.  Use it to pull together every positive thing you can offer a company, and put it on display.


Monday, January 16, 2017

Linked in Pt. 2

Reposting an old post from the last blog.

Last post, I talked about setting up your Linked In profile, and getting the basics setup.  Now that you have your mentors, and your ever growing network.  What’s next?

Your resume should tell a story about who you are and how you affect companies.  One great way to do this is to touch on the high points of the major jobs you have held in the past in the Summary section.  I picked out the most important piece of work I did for each company, focusing on those most relevant to the type of work I enjoy and excel at.  I gave a description of what I did, who I did it for, and what I took away from it.  The general rule of thumb I use on these is something I picked up some time ago.  Keep the descriptions brief, without compromising the story you are trying to tell.  We will get to the nitty gritty details later in the Experience section.

The Projects section is something I have only recently started to focus on.  This, Skills and Certifications are likely to be the areas I focus on the most.  When I complete a project of significance, I’ll include it under projects if it showcases a skill I have learned, or one that demonstrates my capabilities.  I especially like to use this when I’m asked to step outside of my normal role.  I think it shows flexibility, so long as it is something you enjoy doing.  I have found many of the questions I get through linked in usually stem from these extra projects.  I haven’t determined how long to leave a project on the list before rolling it off, or even if I should.  Any thoughts on that would be welcome.

Experience should be an extension of your Summary.  Here we tell more of the story, explain not only what you did, but why, and maybe a teaser on the how.  You want to be detailed on any technology, or specific processes you used, or training you received.  I have also found that my jobs tend to change as time goes on.  I try to revisit my current role at least every 6 months, and update it to to match what I’m doing now.  Also, when I sit down to verify I’m still on track in my career, I review all of my experience.  If my career path changes, so do the relevant details of what I did at those former jobs.  Additionally, new perspective on what you do now, may reveal that something you didn’t think much of before, has more relevance now.  I once determined that an old script I built at a former employer, totally described how I can think out side of the box.  I leveraged that experience, to go on and land an awesome job.

This is an ongoing process, one I do, and re-do.  Often when skimming, I’ll find something that just doesn’t sound right and start futzing with it.  Someday I’ll get it just right, and there will be no need to update the profile anymore.  Maybe after just one more update…

Good Luck!

Friday, January 13, 2017

Using LinkedIn to your advantage

Reposting an old post from the last blog.

------------------------ During a recent conversation with some friends, I discovered that not every professional uses LinkedIn to build and utilize an army of co-workers and associates to advertise how great we are.  These friends recently asked me for advice, so I thought I would share what knowledge I have.  I hope this helps.  I hope to hear back either way. First, find some good “mentors” to follow.  A few I recommend are Liz RyanBruce Kasanoff, or Saeed Al Muntafiq.  Your list may be different, but pick a few and read up on how others view the world, and the business’ we are in.  If you see something you like, or that you found particularly useful, re-post for your friends and associates to see. Next, try to add 5 people to your network each month.  Not random people.  Preferably people that have worked with you, and can speak to your strengths.  People who are in a similar industry as you, and challenge you.  As your network grows, you will see more posts, getting a wider array of views, and help more people with your posts from above. Look through your profile and make sure everything is spelled correctly, and is relevant to what you want to be known for.  Make sure your profile will make sense to those who are viewing it, and make sure it tells the story of your career, and highlights your abilities. When I first started on LinkedIn, my profile was little more than a digital business card.  I began spending a little time each month, pressing the “Improve your profile” button and researching and answering the questions.  I have added recent projects, awards, certifications, and volunteer experience to my profile.  To my surprise, I have found the recruiters, and HR representatives are interested in more than my work experience.  Since I began building my LinkedIn profile, I get a steady stream of visitors.  More even then I realized until a conversation with some friends. If you find this helpful, let me know.  I’ll continue providing tips and tricks as I come across them.  If there is something useful I know, I’m happy to share it. Enjoy your weekend! Rick

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Back at it...

So I'm trying to setup a site again.  Let's hope this time I have more to say!