Tag Archives: education

Career Management In The Social Media Era

Boy! I sure did a good day's work today!

Picture: National Archives and Records Administration

If you believe that your current job is your last job — the one that you will retire from — raise your hand.  You can stop reading.

Now that those two people are gone, let’s talk about managing our careers. Because its a whole new discipline these days.

Gone are the days when submitting a resume was sufficient.  Good jobs go to people who are referred in, not to those with no one to vouch for them. Per the ERE recruiter network, between 28% and 40% of all positions in 2012 were given to candidates that were referred in, but only 7% of all candidates were referrals. That 7% had a serious edge on the competition.

Earlier this year, Google announced that they were changing their hiring criteria, giving GPAs and college degrees somewhat lower priority and focusing more on prior accomplishments and the strength of a candidate’s social network.  This is a smart move.  College costs average to $92,000 for a four-year degree. Google is changing their criteria so that they won’t miss out on hiring the perfectly brilliant people who aren’t interested in amassing that level of debt.

So what does that mean for you and me, the people who aren’t likely in the job that we will retire at? My take is that career management is something that you can’t afford to not be doing, no matter how happy you are at your current gig.  And that it involves much more than just identifying what you want to do and who you’d like to work for.  I’m highly satisfied with my current job, and I have no concerns that I’ll be leaving  it anytime soon. But I never stop managing my career and preparing for the next gig. Here are some of the key things I do:

  • Keep my network strong, and make a point to connect with people whose work supports missions that are important to me.
  • Network with the people in my sector (nptech). I regularly attend conferences and events, and I make a point of introducing myself to new people.  I’m active in forums and discussion groups. Like any good geek, this type of social behavior isn’t something that came naturally to me, but I’ve developed it.
  • Speak, write, blog, tweet. I generously share my expertise. I don’t consider it enough for people to know my name; I want them to associate my name with talent and experience at the things I want to do for a living.
  • Mentor and advocate for my network. Help former employees and colleagues in nptech get jobs.  Freely offer advice (like this!). ID resources that will help people with their careers.
  • Connect to the people that I network with, primarily on LinkedIn. This is how I’m going to be able to reach out to the people who can help me with my next gig.
  • Keep my LinkedIn profile/resume current, adding accomplishments as I achieve them.
  • Stay in touch with recruiters even if I’m turning them down. I always ask if I can pass on the opportunity to others, and I sometimes connect with them on LinkedIn, particularly if they specialize in nptech placement.

As I’ve blogged before, I’m picky as hell about the jobs I’ll take. They have to be as good as my current job — CIO at an organization with a killer mission, great data management challenges, and a CEO that I report directly to who gets what technology should be doing for us. The tactics above played a significant part in my actually landing my current (dream) job.

So this is why you need to start securing your next position today, no matter how happily employed and content you are. Job hunting isn’t an activity that you do when you’re between jobs or looking for a change.  It’s the behavior that you engage in every day; the extra-curricular activities that you prioritize, and the community that you engage with.

Telecommuting Is About More Than Just The Technology

We’ve hit the golden age of telework, with myriad options to work remotely from a broadband-connected home, a hotel, or a cafe on a mobile device. The explosion of cloud and mobile technologies makes our actual location the least important aspect of connecting with our applications and data. And there are more and more reasons to support working remotely. Per Reuters, the state of commuting is a “virtual horror show”, with the average commute costing the working poor six percent of their income. It’s three percent for more wealthy Americans. And long commutes have negative impacts on health and stress levels. Add to this the potential cost savings if your headquarters doesn’t require an office or cubicle for every employee. For small NPOs, do you even really need an office? Plus, we can now hire people based on their absolute suitability to the job without requiring them to relocate. It’s all good, right?

Well, yes, if it’s done correctly.  And a good remote work culture requires more than seamless technology. Supervisors need to know how to engage with remote employees, management needs to know how to be inclusive, and the workers themselves need to know how to maintain relationships without the day to day exposure to their colleagues.  Moving to a telework culture requires planning and insight.  Here are a few things to consider.

Remote Workers Need To Be Engaged

I do my best to follow the rule of communicating with people in the medium that they prefer. I trade a lot of email with the people who, like me, are always on it; I pick up the phone for the people who aren’t; I text message with the staff that live on their smartphones. But, with a remote employee, I break that rule and communicate, primarily, by voice and video.  Emoticons don’t do much to actually communicate how you feel about what your discussing.  Your voice and mannerisms are much better suited for it.  And having an employee, or teammate, that you don’t see on a regular basis proves the old adage of “out of sight, out of mind”.

 In Person Appearances Are Required

For the remote worker to truly be a part of the organization, they have to have relationships with their co-workers.  Accordingly, just hiring someone who lives far away and getting them started as a remote worker might be the worst thing that you can do for them.  At a minimum, requiring that they work for two to four weeks at the main office as part of their orientation is quite justified.  For staff who have highly interactive roles, you might require a year at the office before the telework can commence.

Once the position is remote, in-person attendance at company events (such as all staff meetings and retreats) should be required. When on-site isn’t possible, include them via video or phone (preferably video). On-site staff need to remember them, and not forget to include them on invites. Staff should make sure that they’re in virtual attendance once the event occurs.

Technical Literacy Requirements Must Be High

It’s great that the remote access tech is now so prevalent, but the remote worker still needs to be comfortable and adept with technology.  If they need a lot of hand-holding, virtual hands won’t be sufficient.  Alternatively, the company might require (and/or assist with) obtaining local tech support.  But, with nonprofit IT staffing a tight resource, remote technophobes can make for very time-consuming customers. Establishing a computer-literacy test and making it a requirement for remote work is well-advised; it will ease a lot of headaches down the road.

Get The Policies In Place First

Here’s what you don’t want: numerous teleworkers with different arrangements.  Some have a company-supplied computer, some don’t.  The company pays for one person’s broadband account, but not another’s. One person has a company-supplied VOIP phone, the other uses their personal lines. I’ve worked at companies where this was all subject to hiring negotiations, and IT wasn’t consulted. What a nightmare! As with the office technology, IT will be much more productive if the remote setups are consistent, and the remote staff will be happier if they don’t feel like others get special treatment.

Go Forth And Telecommute

Don’t let any of this stop you — the workforce of the future is not nearly as geography bound as we’ve been in the past, and the benefits are compelling.  But understand that company culture is a thing that needs to be managed, and managed all the more actively when the company is more virtual.

My Tips For Planning Successful NTEN Tech Sessions

NTEN needs good tech sessions at the 2014 conference. Submissions are open.  Here’s a pitch for any tech-savvy NTENdees to dive in and present, followed by my lessons learned (from 20+ sessions at eight NTCs) for successfully presenting technical topics to the diverse audience that shows up at NTC.  Simply put, there are ways to do great sessions that meet the needs of staff from large and small, advanced and tech-challenged nonprofits in attendance. I’ll outline the ones that have worked for me below.

The IT Staff track is the place to submit the infrastructure-related sessions. The other tracks receive a lot more submissions than the IT Staff track (as much as five times the number!), even though 53% of the 13NTC attendees surveyed say they want more technical content.  My take on that the problem is that techies aren’t generally all that interested in standing up in front of crowds and presenting. That’s less of a problem for the Communications and Leadership tracks. All I can say to those of you who have the subject expertise but lack the desire and or confidence to present is that we all stand to gain if you will step outside of that comfort zone. NTEN will have the range of sessions that NPOs struggling with cloud, wireless, business intelligence and unified communications projects need to move forward.  You’ll add public speaking to your resume, which is a great thing to have there.  And I’ll help.

Over the last few years, I’ve presented on topics like server virtualization, VOIP, and project management.  These sessions have averaged 50-60 attendees, and every audience has ranged from complete novices to old hands at the subject matter. To my mind, the biggest (and most common) mistake that presenters make is to choose a target audience (e.g. they’re all newbies, or they’re all intermediate) and stick with that assumption. Simply put, the attendees will be forgiving if you spend some time addressing the needs of the others in the room, as long as you also address theirs.  They’ll be pissed if they spend the whole session either out of their depth or bored out of their minds.

There are two key ways that you can address a range of audiences: structure the session in beginner, intermediate and advanced topics, or break the attendees into groups by org size.  The latter will require co-presenters; the former keeps that as an option.

In 2010, Matt Eshleman and I did a session on Server Virtualization, an incredibly geeky topic, and it was the third highest rated session that year. We didn’t break up the audience into groups.  Instead, I gave about a 15 minute powerpoint that introduced the concepts, doing my best to bring anyone who didn’t know what it was up to speed.  Matt then outlined three virtualization scenarios: one for a small org; one for medium; and one for a large. We left about 30 minutes for questions, and some of those hit on the really advanced questions that the experts had.  By that point, the novices were grounded enough to not be thrown by the advanced conversation.

In 2012, I designed a session on VOIP and Videoconferencing.  Knowing that small orgs and large orgs have dramatically different needs in this area, I drafted Matt again, as well as Judi Sohn.  This time, we split the room into two groups, and had two very different conversations, both of which were quite valuable for the attendees.  I never heard how this session was rated, but I think it’s the best of the 20 or so I’ve done. My measure is: did the attendees walk out of the session with substantial, practical knowledge that they didn’t have when they walked in, that they can use to support their NPO(s)?

Two big tips:

  1. Don’t get to wonky with the slides.  IDC and Microsoft have a ton of diagrams outlining server setups that you can download, but they are not what an NTEN crowd wants to see.  Nobody wants to stare at a Visio diagram with 16 objects and 10 arrows and tiny tiny labels saying what they all mean.
  2. Mine the wisdom of the crowd.  Most people attend sessions to learn, but some attend because they love the topic and have a lot of expertise in it.  The best Q&A (which should never be less than 30 minutes) is one that the presenter facilitates, encouraging dialogue among the attendees.  As the presenter, you can reply (or weigh in), as you’ll have relevant expertise that the audience might lack, but it’s often the case that someone else in the room knows what you know, and more.

I hope this is helpful, but, even more, I hope that you’ll submit a session and make 14NTC the most rewarding yet for the IT staff that attend. It’s in my neighborhood nest year (DC), so come early and have a beer with me beforehand.

Microsoft’s Secret Giveaway

This post was originally published on the Idealware Blog in November of 2009.

Sometimes it feels like the bane of my existence is my office phone. It’s so bad that I rarely answer it, preferring to forward it to Google Voice where I can peruse the barely readable transcripts just well enough to filter out the 90% cold sales calls I receive. So what a pleasure it was to answer my desk phone on Thursday and have an illuminating conversation with my Microsoft Licensing representative. He called to tell me that I own some awesome benefits that come with my Software Assurance program. I’m betting that I’m not the only one who was clueless about these benefits.

Microsoft Licensing, as you know, is the little-known tenth circle of hell. It’s a conceptual labyrinth of terms and conditions that was likely conceived by a team of the writers of the original “Prisoner” series with the advice of contract attorneys that graduated from law school 30 years ago and have never since seen the light of day.

Software Assurance is the tax we pay on our MicroSoft purchases that allows us to upgrade to the newest versions without paying upgrade fees (as long as we’ve paid our software assurance fees, of course). I assume that this is of interest to Idealware readers because most of us pick up a lot of our MS software from Techsoup Stock, and the Techsoup Stock donations come with Software Assurance, not without.

But Microsoft isn’t evil; they’re just bureaucratic, and every now and then a few smart people step up out of the morass and do things that I appreciate. These Software Assurance benefits include:

The Microsoft Home Use Program provides staff with ridiculously steep discounts on MS Office. Register this benefit, and the allowed number of users (which I’m unclear as to how they calculate) at your company can purchase MS Office 2007 Ultimate Edition (or Office 2008 for Mac) for $9.95. That’s not a trial edition, and it’s the opposite of crippled — Ultimate is the “everything but the kitchen sink” edition and it comes with a license key.Microsoft ELearning is a series of online classes in standard MS products like Word and Excel, and Server products like MS SQL Server or Windows 2003. I did note that the list of available classes that my rep sent me looked a little behind the times; no 2008 or 2010 products covered, but many of us aren’t on the bleeding edge anyway.

Microsoft Technet gives you access to forums and experts, as well as evaluation copies of new technologies. For example, as I write this, I just learned that I can pick up Office 2010 and Sharepoint 2010 betas via my MSDN or Technet subscriptions to try.

And the Office Multi-Language Packs let you deploy office in additional languages.

This isn’t fluff. We’ve been paying full price for Office at home (more than we do at work) and I’ve purchased E-Training on MS products and an MSDN subscription (fairly equivalent to Technet) because I had no idea that I already owned them. It makes me feel much better about what seemed like a pre-emptive insurance program that makes me commit to the next version of MS products before I’m ready to make that commitment, at times.

Of course, this is smart business for Microsoft. With Google announcing that their Google Apps offering will be on a feature par with Office within a year, and OpenOffice under active development as a pretty comparable alternative, you don’t want your business customers to get too comfortable with those free alternatives at home. It’s just surprising to me that, for years, this was buried in the small print section of eOpen, and not broadcast widely. So I’m doing MS a favor and blowing the horn on this one.

To access these benefits, log onto eOpen (which I hope you’re using to manage MS licenses!) and once you’ve signed in and clicked “unhide licenses”, find your last Techsoup order (or a similar large purchase) and open it up. The very first link in the license detail should be “Start and Manage your Software Assurance Benefits”. Clicking on that will pop you to a paragraph that includes a link to the “Software Assurance Benefits Management Tool”. Click on that to get the benefits. The more MS software you’ve bought, the more tedious this will be: there are benefits associated with each Software Assurance purchase, so you’ll need to register this way for every relevant order. But it sure beats paying for these things at Best Buy!

Why We Homeschool

homeschool

Warning: This entry is a little off of the usual nptech topic. Feel free to skip if you only come here for the geeky thoughts!

The decision to homeschool our kid wasn’t a slam dunk, but it was the right one. We made it after thoroughly investigating everything — our son’s learning style, both through the school system and via our local Children’s Hospital; every public, private, and non-public school within about a six town radius; and conversations with educators, administrators, parents and other experts. Given what we now know about how our son learns and what options are out there, we aren’t guessing that this is the best route.  We’ve verified it.

But we are constantly questioned about the decision.

We are conscientious, aware parents who value our son’s education and happiness highly (just like you!) and we have identified and followed the path that will work out best for him.

There is no need to be offended if your child’s best environment is a different one, like a public school.

There is no need to be panicked about his psychological well-being:  He has lots of friends, makes new friends easily, and is well-behaved, polite and happy.

There is no need to worry about our qualifications:  We know what we can teach him and we know where to find museums, extra-curricular programs and classes, qualified tutors and other external resources in order to get him what he needs.

Do we have opinions about public schools, and what they’re like under the testing-obsessed No Child Left Behind act, in a system where the key educational decisions are made by the middle-management bureaucrats and local politicians?  Sure.  But our opinion isn’t that children can’t succeed in those schools.  It’s that children who are conducive to that learning environment do well, and we have it on good, credentialed authority that our kid won’t.

Do we think our curriculum, which mixes standard K-12 materials with lots of trips, history and science classes, arts, gymnastics (circus school!) and hands-on activities is, in many ways, superior to the brick and mortar experience?  Of course! We can do a lot of  training that is targeted to our son’s learning style, as opposed to mostly desk-bound training generalized for a 20 to 40 child audience.  We appeal to his creativity, and let his interests guide an appropriate percentage of the curriculum. Schools can’t afford to provide this level of individualized attention and responsiveness to their students.

Are we sheltering and insulating our child from a heathenous, corrupting culture that would steer him away from the path of God and righteousness? No, we own a TV and he watches it.  And we rest pretty heavy on the heathenous side of the scale in the first place.  We are protecting him from a lot of character-building bullying, peer pressure and anxiety, but we are extremely reassured that he has plenty of character all the same.  My friend Jane has a joke about this:  “Yeah, in order to give my  homeshcooled kid the school social experience, once a week I take her  into the bathroom, beat her up and steal her lunch money.”

I think that last one is the big one — I think a lot of the well meaning questions about socialization (a word that every homeschooler has ample reason to simply loathe) boil down to a concern that our child won’t be able to cope as an adult because he missed out on the sheer brutality of spending five days a week with a slew of other children, experiencing all of the social confusion and frustration that they experience and inflict on their peers.  Our kid experiences self doubt and frustration.  He knows what it feels like to be criticized, and he can be critical of others.  He might not get kicked and ridiculed with the intensity that we were when we went to public schools; he might remain a quirky, individual who doesn’t take fashion cues from The WB; but homeschooling him has not resulted in some sort of avoidance of human doubt and discomfort.  In that, he’s a lot like every other kid. And he’ll deal with it, learn from it, and become an adult that shows no external signs of having been homeschooled.

It’s just getting to be a bit much, being constantly questioned about something that we did the work to identify as the right thing for our child.  It is not an affront on society.  It’s what’s best for someone who we not only care incredibly about, but are actually responsible for.  So, please, if you know us, have a little faith — we show pretty good judgment and intelligence in the other things we do, why would we be any different about something as important as this?

Succession Planning

This post originally appeared on the Idealware Blog in September of 2009.
graduates.jpg

Idealware’s blog is not the best place for me to talk about my kid.  There’s Facebook and Flickr> for that sort of thing. But I want to talk about him anyway, and open a discussion, if possible, about children and the nptech community.

My career is in nonprofit technology (nptech). My plan is to continue working for nonprofits (or, if for profit, a for profit with a mission and a socially beneficial bottom line) until I retire or expire.  While my ten year old boy’s stated goal is to become a NASA engineer, and that’s great, I want him to understand why I chose my path of purposeful work and understand what’s involved in it, should he, at age 15 or 25, decide that NASA isn’t the only option.

A few year’s back, former NTEN CEO and current MobileActive CEO Katrin Verclas suggested adding a program for teenagers at the annual nonprofit technology conference. This is a brilliant idea. We have a great opportunity to educate children in the work we do: advocating for social justice and good; raising funds and resources in order to act effectively and independently; and collaborating in a  supportive community to accomplish our varied, but sympathetic goals.  Whatever our children end up doing with their lives, we have something worthwhile to teach them.

When I was a teenager, I was active in a youth group called Liberal Religious Youth (LRY). LRY was an independent group affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Association, but it was not a particularly religious group. The themes were more along the lines of addressing social concerns and building community. At ages sixteen and seventeen, I was creating flyers, renting facilities, giving presentations, leading sessions, planning menus and taking a leadership role that prepared me far better for my current career than high school actually did.

When I look at our nptech community, I see a similar environment, where our commitment and excitement regarding our work is bolstered by a natural adoption of supportive camaraderie and peer development. We definitely model something of value to our high school age kids who will face career choices and challenges like ours. We can develop a mentoring program that passes on our expertise in resource management, activism, fundraising, community building, nonprofit technology and social media as a social activism tool. This would provide them with an early introduction to the skills that will be needed when we retire to continue the important work that we do. As much as a grant, donation, or volunteer effort, this is an investment in our work and our world that we should be making.

I want my son to develop his skills and community with socially-conscious peers and mentors.  I want his generation to be more effective than we are at solving problems like poverty, pollution and social injustice. It’s not enough for us to try and save the world. We should be prepping the next generation to keep it protected.

Who’s with me?

Horton Homeschools a Who

As anyone who has kids, was a kid, or was an adult who has the good sense to read great kid books knows, Horton was an elephant who heard a tiny voice on a speck of dust and sought to protect the infinitesimally tiny population therein. His antagonist in Dr. Seuss’ classic “Horton Hears A Who” was a sour kangaroo who maintained “A person on that? … Why, there never has been!”. Not to belabor the obvious, but we have Horton representing imagination and free thinking, and the kangaroo preaching narrow-mindedness and suspicion.

So, I took my family to see the movie yesterday. The movie takes the ten minute tale and strrrreeetttccchhess it into a 90 minute film with mostly topical humor. As father to a homeschooled son, I was pretty offended by one joke. Early on, the haughty, over-critical kangaroo, voiced by Carol Burnett, protests that Horton can’t be allowed to spread these horrible lies about tiny people, that he’ll corrupt the youth with his overactive imagination. But her little kangaroo will be all right – “he’s pouch-schooled”.

This promotes the sad, but popular stereotype of homeschool parents as over-protective and narrow-minded. It’s this type of stereotype that, last month, led a three judge panel to rule, in a case of possible domestic abuse, that children can’t be homeschooled in California unless the primary parent doing the homeschooling is an accredited teacher.

Three judges ruled on one case of possible neglect and abuse, and then took a giant club and swung it as wide and far as they could, hitting every one of the estimated 200,000 homeschooling families in California. We aren’t abusing our child; we aren’t hiding him from the world — quite the opposite! What we’re doing is working as hard as we can to provide the educational environment that he will soar in.The state government should respect that.

I’m blogging this because it’s the tip of a very large iceberg. While homeschooling wasn’t our first choice, public school isn’t an alternative that we would consider, even if our kid was one of the minority of children whose learning style meshes with that educational model. The No Child Left Behind Act is ravaging our school systems, and creating an environment where fear and threats determine the curriculum, much as fear and threats have dominated our political arena in the George W. Bush years. Children are taught to pass tests, and the ability to test well is a skill unrelated to the ability to think.

The kangaroos are in the classroom. What kind of world will my child grow up into, if all of his peers are taught only how to memorize, not to imagine and discern?

Lessons Learned: Effective Practices In IT Management

This article was first published on the NTEN Blog in May of 2007.

Peter Campbell, TechCafeteria.com

I’ve spent more than 20 years in the sometimes maddening, sometimes wonderful, world of IT management. Along the way I’ve worked under a variety of CEOs with very diverse styles, and I’ve developed, deployed and maintained ambitious technology platforms. In order to survive, I put together three basic tenets to live by.

1. Management is 360 degrees: managing your superiors and peers is a bigger challenge than managing your staff.

2. To say anything effectively in an organization, you have to say it at least three times in three different media.

3. Follow Fidonet’s basic social guideline, “Do not be excessively annoying and do not become excessively annoyed.”

At a high level:

  • Work for the mission. Even in for-profit environments, I’ve managed to the organizational goals, not the individual personalities. You will avoid more political damage and navigate your way around the politics far more easily if you do the same. Don’t be scared of board or boss, and don’t cave in easily. This doesn’t mean that you countermand direct orders, but it does mean that you speak up if they don’t make sense to you. If you are in a political environment where, at the top, personality and ego trump mission in setting organizational priorities, then get out.
  • Make your priorities well known. Don’t ever assume that people are reading your business plans and proposals, and know for a fact that they haven’t read your emails. The key to successful project planning is communication, and that means face to face discussions with all parties with a stake in the project, especially those that you don’t particularly mesh with. Avoiding people who factor in your ability to succeed is a sure way to fail.
  • Take every opportunity to educate. Successful deployment of technology depends on joint ownership between the technology users and purveyors. Staff won’t own the technology if they don’t know what it does for them. In order to successfully manage technology, you need to constantly inform all parties at to what it can do for them.

Some other handy practices:

  • Run the IT Department as a lab – give your staff ample voice, diverse projects, and credit when they succeed. IT people, particularly in non-profits, are far more motivated by learning and accomplishing things than they are by money.
  • Value people skills, especially among your staff. Ability and comfort to communicate can be a more valuable talent than the ability to configure a Cisco 1750 blindfolded.
  • Marketing is not a dirty word! Sell your initiatives with PowerPoint, Project, and whatever else wows the suits.
  • Design for your users, not yourself. Stay aware that techies do not use the technology the way that everyone else does, and there is nothing wrong with everyone else – they just aren’t techies. So make sure that the software is configured to their needs and desires, not yours.
  • Consultants Rock! (and I’m not just saying that because I’m now a consultant). If you are doing your job well, a consultant can help you build resources and improve your status with management. Simple fact: The CEO will always listen to the consultant say exactly what you’ve been saying for years.
  • Be opportunistic. Apply for grants – you don’t have to wait for the grant writer to do it. Call different people at that vendor that you’re seeking a charitable discount from, not just the ones who think it will lower their commission. And then, back to marketing – let the CEO know every time you succeed.

Peter Campbell is a Business Technology Consultant focused on assisting members of the nonprofit/social services community with revenue-generating projects and promoting organizational self-sufficiency.