#incowrimo

#incowrimo

February is International Correspondence Writing Month.

That means writing letters. Lots of them. It means writing one letter per day for the entire month of February.

By hand.

No emails. No text messages. No Twitter DMs. Actual hand-written letters on paper using pen or pencil, folded and placed in an envelope with a stamp and dropped in the mail. If you don’t want to write a full letter, a postcard is fine. If you don’t want to send through the post office, skip the stamp and hand-deliver it. Miss a day? Write two the next day.

There *is* a website that explains it all, and it also gives a place for you to share your address with others, but many people aren’t comfortable sharing their address on a public website, so they find other ways. They send letters, cards, or notes to friends and family. They might even write letters to their kids or significant other and hand-deliver them.

For what it’s worth, I don’t use that site because I’m already a member of a private pen pal Facebook group and have a fair number of pen pals I write to year-round. During #incowrimo, I write to my existing list, but also send random cards and short notes to other friends who I think would appreciate getting a hand-written note in the mail. I also have friends with birthdays in February, so I send them cards and count that toward my goal of 28.

Last year I took part but fell short by four or five due to COVID, but this year I plan to get all 28 sent!

How to have a better interview

How to have a better interview

Over the years I’ve been on a lot of interviews, and I’ve interviewed a lot of people. After talking to a couple of friends about interviews recently, I decided to get my thoughts out of my head and into a post. These are several things I think are important when preparing for, and taking part in, an interview. Oh, and they’re not in any particular order.

I plan to follow this post up with Tips for Interviewers because it’s an area every company can do better in.

Know who you are talking to

This seems obvious, but if you’re in the midst of a job search and you’ve got a dozen interviews spread out over the course of a week or two, it’s easy to get confused. Know who you’re talking to, what they do, and of course, be prepared to answer the inevitable “Why <company name>?”

After you make sure you have a good handle on what the company does and why you want to work there, the next step is to get some information about the individuals you’ll be talking to. I look up recruiters and anyone else involved in an interview on LinkedIn. Seeing any common connections is great, and I’ve used that as an ice-breaker. I also like having a face to the name and knowing a little about their background.

A related tip is, during your job search, pay for LinkedIn Premium. It’s a great way to see who is looking at your profile.

Be a STAR storyteller

Interviewers don’t want one or two-word answers. In my experience, stories are a good way to answer questions and talk about your experience. “Tell me how you’ve failed” is one of those questions that just begs for a story. So does, “tell me about the most complex project you’ve worked on” or “tell me about a difficult conversation you had to have, and how did it go”. Stories work. I would also say you should have multiple stories for each of the hard questions because if you have a series of interviews with different interviewers and they all ask you the same question, do you really want to give them all the same answer? When they compare notes, will they think you only ever failed once, or that you only worked on one complex project? Have a few stories prepared, but don’t rehearse so much that they sound, well, rehearsed.

Now when it comes to telling those stories, I really recommend the STAR method.

Situation: set things up
Task: What was it I was trying to do
Action: What did I do to carry out the task
Result: What was the result

I even had a recruiter tell me once to answer questions in this way because it’s what the interviewers were expecting. It takes a little practice, but it’ll be worth it.

Don’t BS

The last thing you should try to do is BS your way through something you don’t know. A good interviewer will pick up on it pretty quickly.

A little over 20 years ago, I talked to a recruiter who gave me great advice that I’ve remembered ever since: Do NOT hesitate to say “I don’t know”. If memory services, I said “I don’t know” in that particular interview many times.

If an interviewer asks you a question and you don’t know the answer to it, it is absolutely acceptable to answer with, “I don’t know”, BUT I would follow that up with how I would fill that particular knowledge gap. Interviewers want you to show a growth mindset so if you just leave it at, “I don’t know”, it can be a red flag.

Have questions prepared

Almost every interview ends with the inevitable, “So, do you have any questions for us?” When I was young (and dumb) and not prepared, I would say, “Nope, I’m good.” and the interview would end.

That’s a mistake.

What I’ve learned over the years from being on both sides of an interview is that being prepared for this question is really important and can sometimes make the difference between moving on to the next step and not.

I have several questions prepared, and time willing, I’ll ask multiple. There have been times that the questions I’ve asked have kept the interviewer talking for another 15-20 minutes beyond the scheduled time. Now, that definitely leads into the next bullet, so you have to play this by ear.

Oh, as for the last question, I always try to ask what the next steps are.

Be mindful of the clock

Whether they’re asking me questions and I’m answering, or it’s my turn to ask them questions, I always try to be mindful of the clock. I want to make sure I’m answering the question they asked, but I want to make sure my answers are clear and concise, and I’m not just talking to run down the clock.

As the time runs out, and it’s my turn to ask questions, I try to make sure the questions I ask will get me as much information as possible in the time I have left. As I said above, if it keeps them talking and we go over, I’m ok with it.

Look up

If you’re participating in a remote interview (Zoom, Teams, etc.), make sure you’re looking at the camera and not staring at your desk or something else. If you were in the same room, you’d make eye contact, right? Looking at your camera is as close as you can get. It shows you’re present and paying attention. I have a sticky note right next to my webcam that says, “Look here!” to remind myself because I tend to look at my video feed instead and need the reminder.

To be fair, I will let them know that if I’m looking away, it’s because I’m taking notes.

Talk about yourself without rambling

When I’m asked by an interviewer to introduce myself or tell a little about my history, I always start with my current position and work backward.

“I am currently a Principal Analyst for…and I’m responsible for…Day to day I work on, and over the last few months I’ve spent my time working on…prior to this job, I was a Sr. Software Engineering working for…”

I tend to go back 3-4 jobs, but I also try to read the room and not go back too far. Depending on who I’m talking to and whether or not I feel there’s a good connection, I may toss in a few personal things as well like “I also enjoy backpacking with friends and I read a LOT.”

Send a thank you email after

When it’s all said and done, I follow up with an email. If I don’t have contact information for the individuals in the email, I email the recruiter asking them to thank the team for their time and consideration.

I could probably have written another dozen things, but in the end, interviews suck, and these are just a few things you can do to make them suck just a bit less.

Good luck!

Priorities and Twitter

Priorities and Twitter

I joined Twitter on May 30, 2007, not long after its release to the public on July 15, 2006. My first tweet was pretty innocent:

When I first started tweeting, I had a handful of followers, mostly friends from the local conference scene. As I continued tweeting, I met more people, many of who became good friends. It was exciting going to conferences and using Twitter to coordinate meeting people I had only known online.

Those were the days of frequent outages and the infamous “fail whale”, so during one outage, an IRC channel was created where a bunch of us spent time together and chatted. That deepened the connection for many of us.

Twitter was fun, and for a long time, it felt small and intimate.

I remember hitting 100 followers, then 500, then 1000. I always wondered what value people got from following me because many of my tweets were nothing more than snark aimed at my friends. I never tried to be anything more than myself on Twitter. I never tried to be an “influencer”.

At some point though, things started to change, and it became less fun. I tried to keep my following list small, but it still ended up being close to 600 people, a far cry from the couple dozen at the start. My timeline started getting cluttered with retweets and then Twitter started showing me what people Liked. Those things truly reduced the usefulness for me. It became a chore to reduce the noise and increase the signal.

Elections years were never fun on Twitter, and they only became worse as time went by. I ruthlessly filtered and blocked, and tried to use Twitter for productive things, but it was getting increasingly difficult to justify the time I was spending on it. I took a few breaks over the years and it always felt good to step away.

“The true price of anything you do is the amount of time you exchange for it.”

Henry David Thoreau, Walden

After a great deal of thought, and after reading So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson and Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport along with watching Social Dilemma on Netflix, I decided to take another much-needed break starting on June 29, 2020.

After about 4 months away and not missing it in any way, I finally decided to deactivate my account on November 7, 2020. In roughly 13 years and about a month, I tweeted roughly 21,000 times and had 2,640 followers.

I didn’t make some big proclamation about leaving, I just quietly deactivated my account and went on with my life.

My last tweet was on June 19, 2020, and was also pretty innocent:

That link resolves to hey.com, a great email service from the guys who brought us Basecamp.

By the time this post is published, I will have been off Twitter for about 14 months, and except for this post, I haven’t thought too much about it other than to remind myself that it was a good decision. Every so often a friend or a new story will send me a link to something on Twitter. I’ll read it and then close that browser tab. I have no desire to stick around and look at anything else.

I believe social media can be a force for good, and it is all about how you choose to use it. Some people follow thousands and use a myriad of tools to filter the firehose, and I’m sure they get a lot of value from it. Some people use it to ask questions and to help others learn. Some people use it as a write-only tool, only posting, but never scrolling and reading messages from others.

On the other side, some people use it to engage in awful behavior. Some people use it to bully and shame others. It’s a place where people can hide behind their somewhat anonymous handles and snipe at others. It’s a place where blue checkmarks can say some really stupid things and be celebrated for it. Seeing stories in the news about dumb things people have done on Twitter always seemed strange to me. Twitter is NOT (IMO) the real world.

In Digital Minimalism, Cal Newport said:

“in an age in which the digital attention economy is shoveling more and more clickbait toward us and fragmenting our focus into emotionally charged shards, the right response is to become more mindful in our media consumption”

There was a time I prioritized Twitter because it seemed important. Its importance in my life has dropped to zero. I do try to be more mindful of how I spend my time, whether it’s on other social media sites, playing video games, reading, or spending time with my family. I have started to put far more emphasis on real connections again, and that feels good. The human brain is not meant to communicate in 280-character bursts with no other context. It’s meant for a higher-bandwidth mode of communication, and that’s what I prioritize.

YMMV.

63 days

63 days.

That’s the number of days between the time my 90-day furlough started and the day I resigned from that company.

On April 8th, me and 48 team members were notified we’d be furloughed. I saw it coming. I think many of us did. There had been talk of reduced hours, voluntary furloughs, as well as reduced pay. They even asked us what we’d prefer in the weeks and days leading up to “the day”. Unfortunately, our choices didn’t matter. In a series of meetings with at least two “survivors”, we were given the news – 90-day furlough with plans on bringing everyone back. The 48 of us were the “lucky” ones – they also laid off another 19 that day.

On April 8th after finding out I was going to be furloughed, I posted a short message on Twitter.

And I was furloughed for 90 days due to the impact of COVID-19 (starting on Monday). Good times.

On April 9th, I received a DM on twitter from a friend I have a lot of respect for that had a link to a job and a short message saying, “I think you should apply”. After some back-and-forth, I did.

I also posted this on twitter

For everyone furloughed or laid off during the COVID-19 pandemic (or really anytime) – remember, you own your career, not the employer that put you on the bench. There are still plenty of companies out there that value what we all have to offer. #hangTough

We all had to finish out that week of work, which was incredibly awkward. The walking dead were numb. The survivors were freaked out. I did what I could to wrap up my tasks. I attended standups. I tried to keep myself busy. By Friday, there was nothing else to do, so I pretty much took that day off. Oh, I also shared lots of Hunger Games memes with my manager. My last message in our team Slack was this

In Avengers: Infinity War, who are the heroes that disappeared ...

My furlough officially started on April 13th.

I spoke to the friend that sent me the job offer late afternoon on the 13th. We talked more about the company and the role I’d be filling. He filled me in on the timeline and said a recruiter would be getting with me.

For most of that week, I watched Pluralsight videos, played video games, and hung out with my family. Oh, did I mention that my wife had also been furloughed from her job back in March? Good times.

On Friday, April 16 – day 4 of my furlough, another friend contacted me via FB messenger and asked if I was interested in a short-term project. Why not! It’d give me something to do and keep some money flowing! After a short conversation with the client that afternoon, they asked me to start on the project the following Monday!

The project was interesting and kept me busy for most of 6 weeks. It felt good to be doing something and not just waiting. It felt good to have some purpose and to feel the accomplishment of submitting PRs and watching new features come to life. The money didn’t hurt either.

I was still waiting to hear from the recruiter, and eventually did after several days. It turns out he had been sick and was a bit behind. After talking to him about the organization, the role, salary requirements, etc. I was finally in the interview pipeline.

On May 18, day 35 of my furlough, I had a technical interview over the phone. I recall having a good time and clicking well with the interviewers. I know for sure I struggled on at least one of the questions, but overall, I had a good feeling.

On May 27, day 44 of my furlough, I had the second interview – a panel interview with four people. This one was on video. All the questions were behavioral. In the days between the interviews, I had done a little preparation – thinking of stories and events that I could talk about when they asked me the hard questions. In the end, it wasn’t as bad as I thought.

On May 28, day 45 of my furlough, I was contacted by my friend and told to expect an offer.

On June 3, day 51 of my furlough, I was offered the job.

On June 4, day 52 of my furlough, I accepted the job offer.

The recruiter called and said the background check would take a few days. We set my start date for June 22, 2020.

On June 11, day 59 of my furlough, the background check cleared.

On June 15, day 63 of my furlough, I officially let the employer that furloughed me know that I was resigning.

On June 17,  I found out that my furloughed comrades are getting bad news – MOST will not be coming back.

While I’m really disappointed with my former employer, I am looking forward to the new job. I’m excited to be on a team again and feeling like I have some purpose. I’m excited to jump into a new domain and learn. I’m excited to work with someone I have a great deal of respect for. I’m excited to meet new people. I’m excited to see steady paychecks hit my bank account again. I’m excited to have new places to go when the country opens back up. 

Having a strong network got me through what could have been a horrible couple of months. Having a strong network brought me work when I didn’t expect it. I am grateful for my network of friends, and for them reaching out. They could have done what most did and simply said, “Let me know if I can help” or “Sorry to hear that”. I don’t fault those people for those replies; I’m just saying it was nice to have people reach out with solid leads. The fact that I never actually said I was looking for work makes this all the more fascinating.

Three things I want people to take away from this:

  1. You own your career, not your employer. You cannot expect them to act in your best interest, especially in times of crisis. They need to protect the company, and sometimes they do that at the expense of the people that made the company what it is.
  2. Having a network of friends, colleagues, former co-workers makes a huge difference. Build that network. Maintain that network. It’s important!
  3. When you interview in the future, ask prospective employers how they handled the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s important.

Interesting links of the week (2019 #1)

Here are some interesting articles and blog posts I’ve run into over the last week (December 31, 2018 to January 6, 2019):

Technology

Non-Technology

Random

Interesting links of the week (12/24 – 12/30, 2018)

Interesting links of the week (12/24 – 12/30, 2018)

Here are some articles and blog posts I’ve run into over the last week that I found interesting.

Technology

Non-Technology

Random

Interesting links of the week (12/17 – 12/23, 2018)

Interesting links of the week (12/17 – 12/23, 2018)

Here are some articles and blog posts I’ve run into over the last week that I found interesting.

Technology

Non-Technology

Random

Interesting links of the week (12/10 – 12/16, 2018)

Interesting links of the week (12/10 – 12/16, 2018)

Here are some articles and blog posts I’ve run into over the last week that I found interesting.

Technology

Non-Technology

Random

Interesting links of the week (12/03 – 12/09, 2018)

Interesting links of the week (12/03 – 12/09, 2018)

Here are some articles and blog posts I’ve run into over the last week that I found interesting.

Technology

Non-Technology

Random

Interesting links of the week (11/26 – 12/02, 2018)

Interesting links of the week (11/26 – 12/02, 2018)

Here are some articles and blog posts I’ve run into over the last week that I found interesting.

Technology

Non-Technology

Random