You Can’t *Not* Do Something

What do you do when you don’t know how to do something? Or you have something you want to do but don’t have the time to do it?

The answer is easy but difficult: you simply do it.

Everyone has twenty-four hours in the day. To accomplish your goals of leveling up with your skills, learning new technologies, or working on side projects that you want to turn into your main income, you must make the time to work on it.

Make Time Stop

Most of us have to work full-time, requiring at least nine hours per day when counting commute time and extra hours. If you have a family to care for, you also need to spend time with them, caring for your children and spending time with them.

kanbaIf you don’t carve out time to work on your projects, you will never make any progress. You must look at your schedule and what you spend your time on and find ways to make it happen.

Wake up an hour early twice per week, or two hours early. Stay up late an hour and work. Take a lunch break but work on your project then.

Cut down on watching videos and television series, on playing video games, on facebook, and be amazed at how much time you gain. Ask your spouse to support you taking an evening per week or a day per month to work on your project. Explain how doing so will “buy your freedom” from having to punch a clock everyday.

Tools to Help

Use tools to help you in your work: a kanban board like Trello or Kanban Flow where you can add and track tasks you want to work on. Use the pomodoro technique to focus your work periods and give yourself small breaks.

Learn to use email (like Inbox Zero), reminder tools, and automated systems to streamline your efforts. The more you automate your processes and make systems, the more you are freed up to work on the next big project.

You can learn so much now with free YouTube videos, online learning academies, and tutorials. Figure out what you want to learn and start a side project with it. We are all constrained in varying ways by time, but also most of us waste a lot of it.

So get off your “buts” and start on your project today!

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Review Resume

Be a portfolio manager not just an employee

This is just another way to say the same thing we say elsewhere. As soon as you do something log it on your resume.  It is easy to remove something from your resume when you need to send less to someone.  But it is very difficult to work on a project for a few years and then recall in a split second what it was you did when it is time to polish your resume.

But being a “portfolio manager” isn’t just about maintaining a resume is it?  If you watch the career of a successful movie star and compare it with a movie star that isn’t so successful – what is one of the key differences between them? Picking the right next film to act in. There are actors that take movies as they get them and do them all. This is a hit or miss strategy – but definitely not a plan. Other actors read through a script and are very choosy about the next film they take on. Even if the love the idea of a movie – they will actively turn a script down if it doesn’t align with their goals for their career.

Why don’t we do that? Why do we apply for 5 jobs and take the one that accepts us first? Why don’t we interview a company while they are interviewing us. Be patient as we collect offers. And then weigh the offers we get against our career goals. Weigh the offers with where we are and where we would like to go.  Its as if we have a stop watch over our head timing us for how long it takes to go from Job A to Job B. Isn’t it more important that we focus on getting the job that satisfy’s our career goals?  Shouldn’t it also satisfy our core value requirements?

Being a portfolio manager is more about being a project manager for your careers goal. If you are a programmer today working on pulling tickets. Perhaps your next step is to become a team lead. Or perhaps you would want to jump over to being a people manager. Or perhaps you are going the architect path instead. If you know where you want to go you can ask yourself “is this job just going to keep me in the programmer role?”. If yes, then say no!

The nice thing about our industry is that the more things you try the more likely you are to find your happy place. Be a programmer. Then be a team lead. Then be an architect. Then be a dev manager. Try being an engineering director. These varied activates will give you the insight you need to pick your permanent career goals. Or, if you are like me, you will find that you like all of these roles and will strive to find a place where you can wear a stack of hats.

But without the appropriate experience doing the “every-job” you won’t know what you are missing out on. You might miss your real calling.

Write all of your experiences down in a public tool so that people can see where you have been. They can see what you have done. If you don’t like it, you can say that. Be 100% honest and transparent. If people like what you are offering, and what you are offering is true, you are more likely to find a good match for you and your employer.

Being an employee of a company is needed to satisfy the relationship you have with an employer. And that is good to understand. But don’t forget that in our world it is very normal to not work at the same place for long periods of time. Be sure that you acknowledge the fact that you are the employee of your own company too. Make sure that your sales sheet is always up to date so that when you need a new employer or client you can clearly tell the next guy what your capabilities are.

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Mentor word cloud

Follow a mentor to grow – become a mentor to succeed

If you see anyone that has done much with their life they usually have a plan.  And they usually have one or more people they can use to “phone a friend” in a pinch.  I can list a great many of these people that have helped me move along in my world.  Some directly.  Most indirectly. But having someone to follow and coach you is very powerful.

What is a mentor

A mentor is a person or friend who guides a less experienced person by building trust and modeling positive behaviors. An effective mentor understands that his or her role is to be dependable, engaged, authentic, and tuned into the needs of the mentee (yes, that’s a word).

In my first real job, where i was hired to do software development full time not just as one of many non-technical responsibilities, I worked with a guy that was a fire fighter AND a perl developer. He had built his own forum in perl and was busy porting that system to another system.  But no doubt about it, perl was his thing. He would tell you that rather than learn a new language he wanted to be perfect at perl.  At this time we were doing AJAX and Web 2.0 sites but neither of those names existed.  .NET was just starting up.  I was in ASP, ColdFusion, and SQL Server.  JavaScript was not quite yet popular.  IE was broken.

This outlook on technology wasn’t a positive approach and I didn’t look to him to teach me in that way.  But he did teach me quite a lot about all the things that sat on the periphery of the systems I would build going forward.  At that time I had no idea that there was a role for DBA, and a role for web developer, and a role for IT.  See, in that job I was responsible for the membership website.  Not just the writing of code, but from the DNS to the database and everything in between.  This firefighter was my mentor in that he made sure I didn’t focus on just writing code.  He taught me to always look at and try to understand the bigger picture.  The code is one small part in a very big system.

I had various other jobs and eventually landed in an ecommerce company. I learned about security, payment gateways, and various other commerce concepts there.  But my mentor at this company was more in a business role. He taught me business concepts. How to manage people. How to run the business. How to build a business.

This immediately led me to work at one of our biggest competitors. This was a real jump. In this company everyone was smarter than me and all were mentors in their own right. Some directly. Others in directly. At this company I learned that I wanted to be “the architect”.  Little did I know that that term seems to carry some dirt with it!  More on that later. But it was definitely here that I learned I wanted to be the guy that constantly learned how to do new things and see how those new things applied to my current things.  I wanted to be the guy that everyone came to with questions.

The next company was an even bigger commerce company. This for me was the real game changer. I met Jeffrey Palermo. He was virtually consulting with us and making our team better. Watching him, however briefly, pushed me to be better. He had no idea that he was the guy I was going to follow. Eventually I left my summer job to find something closer to home.  And I continued to repeat the pattern of finding someone inspiring to learn from, getting better and better, through examples around me

I continue to do this even today. Find someone better than me. Learn from them. Follow in their path.

Should I only have one mentor

Like all things in our industry, there is no one answer. Look to someone for positive and negative examples. As you learn from others your ability to filter people by what they can provide your career will get very good. I don’t mean for you to walk around filtering people entirely based on what they can provide you. But do learn quickly what you can learn from someone else. If they have nothing to teach you, that is ok. Teach them instead.

Eventually you will find people in your circles that really stand out. Mentors that themselves continue to evolve. Perhaps mentors that you can’t catch. Mentors that themselves are constantly pivoting. The more of these you can locate the better as it just continues to benefit your personal growth.

You can have as many people to look to as you can find. But eventually you might find the one true mentor. That one person that gets you. That you can go to with your questions and always get an honest and respectful assessment of your position. This mentor is the most valuable. And may eventually become a friend as well.

Why should I follow an example

The best reason I can give to you to always have someone to set your sights on as an example of how you could improve is the article we recently wrote about minding the gap between your title and your skills.  I see all to often that someone has been paid a certain amount, and therefore had to be given a certain title to justify the pay, which led that person to believing that they were that title.  However, when it was time to find the next item in their portfolio they found that their capabilities didn’t quite line up with the requirements of the position.

This is hard! A better approach is to always ensure that you are awesome in your required abilities. And that you are always looking to add tools to the tool box. Always set your target for something bigger. Never settle with where you are at. Grow your career with a plan

Having one or many mentors around you is an easy way to travel along your plan. Set goals. Find a mentor that has achieved your goal. Work closely with them until you achieve it too. Set a new goal. Find a new mentor if need be. Continuously work in this manner.

Why should I be a mentor

To master a topic:  The one thing I can tell you about learning, anything, is to teach it. Students retain 30% of what they are being taught.  Teachers retain 90% of what they teach.  You will take one of two approaches when teaching someone else.

  1. You will learn your topic inside and out. You will learn the edge cases. You will prepare a lesson plan. You may put together a slide deck. You will know your topic. And then you will deliver your topic and find out what you don’t know and just how much you don’t know.
  2. You will just deliver your topic. And then you will find out what you don’t know and just how much you don’t know.

But with either approach you will learn. Having someone you mentor gives you a continuous student. Which makes you a continuous teacher. Which means you learn.

To give back to the community: If you used a mentor to build a path and walk down it to where you are now,   why would you not give back to up and comers in the same way? Giving back to the community is a great way to learn. And a great way to continue to grow your career through servant leadership. The audience that you mentor may contain the next opportunity for a goal on your career path.

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Build your career retrospectively

I have not failed 1,000 times. I have successfully discovered 1,000 ways to NOT make a light bulb. –Thomas Edison

This statement is very much a retrospective way of living. Do something. Pause and learn from that something. Do something slightly differently. Do this continuously until you have done something awesome!

If you have done any form of SCRUM that you are likely familiar with the team meeting that happens at the end of the sprint called a retrospective meeting.  This is when all the team member spend a certain amount of time looking at the things they did wrong on the last sprint.  They then look at the things they did right and that they would like to continue doing.  And finally, they choose from all the items that have come up, and pick a few of them to get better at.

ret-ro-spec-tive – /ˌretrəˈspektiv/ – looking back on or dealing with past events or situations.

This activity, if you think about it, is likely a healthy thing to do with just about anything we do in life.  Certainly at the end of a two week long team working session.  But what about as a company in general?  Where I currently work we do a company retrospective once a month.  There are a few big lists of items that people curate in trello.  What don’t we like.  What do we like. What should we keep doing. What are we going to actively resolve.  What has been resolved. All of this can be visualized on the trello board. This is perfect for conversations that only occur once a month.

…are you being awesome?

What about having a personal retrospective? How might that work? At the end of each week I like to look back and see what didn’t work. This sort of goes hand in hand with striving to always be awesome. Continuous improvement can only happen if you actively measure where you are in the process. What happened this week that you didn’t like? What worked well that you might want to continue work on? What needs to be actively improved? I then write that down on a sticky note and put it on my monitor as a continuous reminder. You can also put reminders on your calendar to pop up in your face now and then: “are you being awesome?” Having a constant reminder is important so that you don’t forget.

…give status lately?

I find communication is a topic for me that can always be improved. Also, my current position is sort of like an air traffic controller. I keep my eye on a lot of moving things. And I need to touch the things that are starting to show signs of wobble. This means I am busy pretty much all day. Which means that my ability to radiate information out to those that need it doesn’t happen at the rate that it should. This bites me in the butt constantly. Sticky on the monitor: “give status lately?”. Works great!

So then how does this apply to your career? Easy! Make a trello board and call it career management. Create several columns: working, not working, needs improvement, doing, done.  Something like this.  At least each month have a personal retrospective where you discuss with yourself all the things required to have a great career.

You will achieve your dream if you don’t run out of steam.

Blog post lately?  NO? That might go in your needs improvement column.  Update your resume lately?  We discussed that you should treat your career as though you are a portfolio manager, not an employee. Go update your portfolio! Do some public speaking lately?

You get the idea. Map out the things you want to get done. Build a solid plan around it. Then execute that plan. Measure how well you are executing that plan early and often. Pivot along the way. You will achieve your dream if you don’t run out of steam.

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