Archive for the ‘Career and Soft Skills’ Category

How to set up the Windows Command Prompt for code demos

In this post I will share a few simple things you can do to set up your Command Window to help ensure a smooth code demo.

  • Change font size and colors
  • Set up the properties for copy and paste
  • Useful commands and keyboard shortcuts

Change the font size and colors

The default colors and font sizes are designed for someone working at their computer and may not provide good visibility when using a projector to display code to a larger audience.

Default appearance of command window

Default appearance of Command Window

You can edit the properties of the command window to change the font and colors.

Right click on the title bar of the window and select Properties.

Accessing properties menu on

Accessing properties menu on Command Window

  1. Select the Font tab.
  2. Increase the Size
  3. Select Bold fonts
Command Window Font Properties

Font Properties

I recommend leaving the font to Consolas, it is a good font choice for code demonstrations. For more tips on font selection see my post “How to rock a code demo – selecting your font”

You may also want to change the colour scheme, darker fonts on lighter colors can be easier to read in a well lit room.

  1. Select the Colors tab
  2. Set the Screen Text color
  3. Set the Screen Background color
Command Window color properties

Color properties

The end result is easier to read commands.

Command window appearance after changing font and color properties

Updated Command Window appearance

Set up the properties for copy and paste

Ah yes, the joys of copy and paste in the command window. Windows 10 brought some great improvements to the command window for fans of copy and paste (which is basically everyone!)

There are a few properties you probably want to ensure you have enabled. Just right click on the title bar and select Properties | Options

Command Window Options Property window

Command Window Options

  • QuickEdit Mode – allows you to use the left mouse button to highlight and select text in the Command prompt window and right click to select the text, then the next time you right click in the window it will paste the text. If you have Quick Edit mode disabled then you get
  • Enable Ctrl key shortcuts – allows you to use CTRL+C and CTRL+V to copy and paste
  • Filter clipboard contents on paste – will remove tabs, and convert smart quotes to regular quotes.
  • Enable line wrapping selection – Allows you to easily copy a command that wraps over multiple lines

Check out the post “How to copy and paste in cmd” by Baz Edwards for a more complete list of copy and paste options, or check out the post “the new features of the Windows 10 command prompt” by Martin Brinkmann for a more complete list of all the Command Window properties.

Useful commands and keyboard shortcuts

Knowing a few commands and keyboard shortcuts can make you look like a pro!

  • cls  clear the screen
  • Up arrow  scroll through previously issued commands
  • Right arrow recreate the previous command character by character
  • Toggle between full screen and windowed mode
  • Enter/Exit Mark mode – When you are in mark mode you can use the arrow keys to move your cursor around the window

34 Useful Keyboard Shortcuts for the Windows Command Prompt by @wjglenn if you want more keyboard shortcuts.

When I published this post, the most current Windows Command documentation was at Docs.Microsoft.com . However, the documentation page has a warning indicating that they are not maintaining the page, so it is possible there have been updates since this page was last updated.

Success as a remote employee part 2

In Part 1 of the post we covered How did I end up working remote? When do you tell the hiring manager you won’t relocate? Why is working remote such an issue?

In Part 2 I’d like to cover why are managers hesitant to hire a remote employee and some of the ways to address those concerns

Initially managers can be reluctant to hire someone remote. Their usual fears include

  • not being able to track progress on your work
  • not knowing when you are stuck and need help
  • concerns you won’t be able to gel with the team and network
  • lack of visibility

If you want to work remotely for a manager you have to alleviate those concerns

Tracking your progress

Agree on a regular rhythm and format for status reporting to keep your manager informed. When composing a status report state what is completed and what remains to be done, instead of reporting on what will be done by a specific date.

For example writing: “I have completed the first round of unit testing but still need to complete stress and regression testing.”  is more helpful than “testing will be done by end of day Friday.”  You may know that the testing will be completed by Friday, but you haven’t built up enough trust with your manager for him/her to know you are good at estimating work completion dates. By reporting what is done instead of what will be done, you are telling your manager exactly what is done so they know you are being productive even though they can’t pop into the office to see how things are going.dilbert-status-report

Not knowing when you are stuck and need help

thRQZIU0OQAs part of your status reporting make sure you include a section such as “How can my manager help me”. But don’t wait until a status meeting to bring up issues when you need your manager’s help. It’s a good idea to talk to your manager and decide what is the best way to virtually ‘pop into their office with a question”,  Should you ping them on a messenger system? send an email? make a phone call? Having an agreed upon method for reaching out for help as needed will give both of you confidence that issues that come up can be identified and dealt with quickly if needed. Small issues can become big issues if they are ignored for too long.

Concerns you wont be able to gel with the team and network.

CloudNinjaWannabesThis is a tougher one to solve.  It is tougher to do this remotely. Your only interactions with co-workers are likely going to be in meetings. There may be a minute or two of chit chat at the start of the meeting, but you aren’t going to find your work buddy in the 30 second ‘how was your weekend’ conversation while waiting for someone else to join the conference call.

Some tactics you can try include setting up “water cooler meetings” these are occasional meetings with co-workers where there is nothing on the agenda, it’s just a chance to say hi what’s going on in your life? You can complain about the workload, talk about your cats, or discuss what you watched on Netflix. It’s just a way to give you a chance to get to know your coworkers. These meetings can be with one co-worker or with a bigger group.

Another tactic is to try to plan trips to the office around team building or team training events. It won’t always work out, but being at these events is a great way to get to know the team.  If your team has 4 team building events or celebrations a year, agree with your manager how many you will travel to attend.  Accept the fact you won’t be able to attend all of them. Training events might work to attend remotely, but it depends on the format and content.

Lack of Visibility

look-at-meThis is another tricky one. You definitely have less visibility when you are not in the office.

Meetings with senior managers are a good opportunity to visit the office in person. This gives you a bit of visibility and is good for networking as well. If there is a meeting with senior managers, chances are there will be other people of influence in that same meeting. You might also have a chance to meet with your team in person to do dry runs or preparation for the meeting as well.  These meetings often have a significant impact on team direction and strategy, so it’s also really good to see reactions to proposals and announcements first hand.  Another interesting aspect to meetings with senior management is that because its the big boss, everyone makes a point of being in the office that day so they can attend in person. Chances are if you are not on site, you will be the only person joining remotely. When you have 10 people in a room with a big boss and you are the only one remote, you are not likely to get any chance to speak unless you have a presentation on the agenda.  in fact these are the meetings with the highest risk of forgetting to open the conference bridge completely. When the boss walks in the focus shifts. If you are listening in on a meeting like this remotely, identify an ally to get there early and get you connected on the conference bridge before the boss arrives.

HourofCode3Look for opportunities to work on side projects that have visibility. This may be something as simple as planning a trivia contest for a team meeting as part of the team social committee or something more demanding such as leading the team diversity and inclusion initiative. General meetings and all hands meeting are a good place to find these types of opportunities. You can also ask your manager to help you find the right opportunity.  Ideally you want to combine these opportunities with your personal passion. I love helping out at kids coding events, and have discovered I often got to meet senior leadership at high profile kids coding events. I also enjoy and have confidence on camera, so I look for opportunities to be included in videos that will be shared internally and externally.

Do you have a special skill? Each person arrives in their role with a different background. Maybe you are working in tech but started out with a degree in English literature and as part of your degree you learned how to write a great summary. Maybe you took a course on your last team about how to create a great LinkedIn profile or how to make a good PowerPoint presentation.  Is there a skill you have that you can teach your teammates? Offer to do a brown bag lunch, or training session, or just write a blog post and share it with the team. These are great ways for your manager to say to senior management… hey look at what this person has done.  You never know leadership may read your blog post or attend your session.

Next up…

  • How to thrive in the company as a remote employee?
  • Staying sane as a remote employee
  • Does working at home impact your career?
  • When all is said and done, is it worth it?

 

 

Right job, wrong city– getting and keeping a remote job Part 1

map-of-north-americaI have accepted a new job at Microsoft. I work for a team in Redmond, but, I still live in Ottawa, Canada. I have spent the last 5 years working remotely for Microsoft Canada. I won’t say I’ve mastered the art of working remote but I’ve learned a few tricks to help manage a successful career remotely.

In Part 1 I will discuss:

  • How did I end up working remote?
  • When do you tell the hiring manager you won’t relocate?
  • Why is working remote such an issue?

Coming soon…

  • Why would a manager hire me as a remote employee?
  • How to thrive in the company as a remote employee?
  • Staying sane as a remote employee
  • Does working at home impact your career?
  • Is it worth it?

How did it start?

5 years ago I got a phone call from an employee at microsoft. At the time I was teaching programming, database and business analysis courses. I was a frequent speaker at Microsoft events. I figured the call was a request to present or help out at a local event. Instead the first words I heard after the usual greetings were “Have you considered your career”. To be honest I hadn’t given any serious consideration to working for Microsoft. Any jobs of interest were in Redmond, Washington (Microsoft head office).  I had two boys in school, and a husband with a good job in Ottawa. For me, moving simply wasn’t an option.

This call was a little different. It was for a job as a technical evangelist at Microsoft Canada. Canada! So no need to move to the US. The title alone was too intriguing to pass up. I submitted my resume and went through a gauntlet of interviews.  But once again location was an issue. They wanted me to move to Toronto. First things first, I convinced them we should go through the interviews and then discuss location. I never told them I would move to Toronto, I simply asked them to talk to me before deciding having me work from Ottawa was a deal-breaker.

When do you tell the manager you won’t relocate?

interviewRule number one: Don’t lie! I have never told a hiring manager I would move just to get to the interview.  I certainly don’t open the conversation with “by the way I won’t relocate”, but I never lie or mislead them just to get an interview.

When I find a position of interest, step one is always to find out more about the job. Set up a short call or informal meeting with the manager. In Microsoft we refer to this as an informational. It’s a chance for you to learn more about the job, and for the hiring manager to learn more about you. It’s a good idea regardless of whether you expect to work remotely or not!  It is hard to tell from a written job description what a job entails, and it’s also a chance to find out if you and the manager are likely to get along. I’d rather have a bad job with a good manager than a good job with a bad manager (of course what I really want is a good job with a good manager! but I’ve experienced all the possible combinations in my career). If the meeting is going well, i.e. I still want the job and the manager is encouraging me to apply, that’s when I break the news. I explain that I have some bad news, I am interested in the job, but relocation isn’t an option and would they consider hiring me as a remote employee..

More than half of the time, the opportunity ends there.

When the manager says remote is not an option, I always ask if they could wait until after the interview process before making a final decision. I encourage the manager to wait until I have deeper insights into the job, and the manager has deeper insights into my skills. During the interview process we can discuss the specific concerns around having a remote employee and strategies to alleviate those concerns. But, understand, that there are some jobs that do require an in person presence. If this is one of those roles, you are wasting your energy and the manager’s time pursuing the role. Accept it and move on. Finding a role you want remotely requires patience and persistance.

Why is working remote such an issue?

teleconferenceThere are a number of reasons a manager may not one someone working remotely. Understanding these concerns can help you determine if the working remotely is a deal breaker or simply an obstacle to be overcome.

The job

Some jobs are better suited for working remotely than others. Does the job require regular access to special equipment? Does the job require organizing in person events? If a job frequently requires your physical presrence in a particular location, then you are facing an uphill battle. In these situations you are unlikely to get the job without relocation.

Company culture

Does the company and the team already have remote workers?

Some companies are very open to working remotely, others actively discourage working from home. If the company has never had a remote worker you will run into all sorts of complications: How do you get IT support when you are having issues with your computer? What is the policy for expensing travel to and from the office? Does time spent in transit count as working hours? If there is an Annual General Meeting, a big in person announcement by the CEO, or a company holiday party will you travel to the office for those occasions?  Does the company understand the impact on your personal life when you have to travel to the office?  Are you expected to travel on weekends? What are the accepted methods of travel (plane? train? car? first class? economy?)

If the company does not have remote workers, do they have people in the office who regularly work from home?

Companies with a work at home policy are more likely to have a way for you to connect to the company network from home, an IT support team who can help you solve issues remotely

Does the company have customers they work with remotely?

Companies who work with remote customers are more likely to have tele-conferencing capabilities so you can easily present screens from your laptop and collaborate with co-workers remotely.  Office rooms as more likely to have cameras and microphones in meeting rooms so you can be a part of larger meetings as well.

Team culture

Just because the company has policies in place for remote workers, doesn’t mean the team you are applying to knows how to deal with it. If you join a team in the habit of walking down the hall for impromptu meetings, making decisions in elevators, and having all their meetings in person, you have a challenge ahead of you. Best case scenario you will often find out after the fact that decisions were made, because they simply forgot to start up the conference bridge, or just had a quick chat in the hallway and didn’t think it was necessary to bother you. It’s not malicious! It’s simply human nature. Everyone is trying to get things done, you get caught up in a good conversation you don’t always stop to think, wait there is someone who isn’t in the room we need to call in! The simple fact you are not physically present means there is a risk you end up out of the loop. Worst case scenario (and sadly this can happen) you have someone on the team who actively takes advantage of your absence to make themselves look good an make you look bad. So far as I know, that’s never happened to me! So assume best intentions!

Your work habits

Have you worked remotely before? It’s a different life waking up every day having breakfast and walking 10 steps to your office. No-one popping by your desk to ask if you saw the latest episode of Game of Thrones. No donuts in the kitchen (though you still get the email telling you there are donuts in the kitchen at the office). No-one to sit with at lunch. Instead you have your home with all its distractions: dirty dishes, laundry, house cleaning, weeding, tele marketers calling, odd jobs to be done, maybe kids coming home from school before you finish your work day? It’s not for everyone, and not everyone can thrive in that environment. It takes some discipline to get your work done and stay connected.

Networking

At many companies networking is key to a successful career. It can help you get things done. It can help you get credit and visibility for the things you do. It can help you find little projects that are ‘above and beyond the call of duty’ that get you the raise, the award, or the promotion.  It is also how you will your next job in the company. When you work remotely networking is more difficult.

Your success

I am very fortunate to have work at a company and to apply for jobs with managers who really want to see me succeed. Some of them have had remote employees in the past who were unfortunately unhappy and unsuccessful for one or more of the reasons outlined above. Some teams at microsoft are very dynamic: roles and responsibilities change frequently. The job I am applying for might work remotely, but what happens in 6 months when they re-org? What if my original job disappears? You want to be sure you join a team whose goals you can support in different ways. You don’t want to get caught in a position where there is only one thing you can do remotely. How will you grow? How will you get promoted? How will you keep yourself challenged and motivated?

Elevator meetings

Sometimes the most important conversations don’t happen in the meeting room, they happen immediately afterwards when you are walking out of the meeting and discuss the meeting in the elevator on the way back to your desk. Sometimes a chance encounter in an elevator gives you a rare opportunity to talk to a senior team member in person. Remote workers don’t have this opportunity.

Budget

If you work remotely how often are you going to visit the office?  Will you travel by plane, train automobile? Hotel, meals, and transportation costs add up fast! Spending money for you to visit the office may mean less money for doing business!

Stay tuned for part 2…

Ten Tips for writing better blogs posts

This post will share ten specific things you can do to imrpove your blog posts.

  1. Make sure your post is worth reading
  2. Use a summary sentence
  3. Use lists to summarize content of long posts
  4. Use screenshots and pictures
  5. Complement your post with video
  6. Include hyperlinks
  7. Open links in a separate tab or window
  8. Let your personality come through
  9. It’s all in the title
  10. Go back and edit your post

1. Make sure your post is worth reading

Abandon the philosophy “I blog therefore I am”. Writing a blog post can be a selfish act, you may be really happy about something, or really angry about something or maybe you just figured something out and you want to show the world ‘look what I figured out”.

Ask yourself – What will the reader get out of reading this post?

There is too much “stuff’ on the internt. When you add to that collection of stuff, make sure it’s worth someone’s time to read it.  Are there successful blogs that rant constantly? Yes, but the successful ones are deliberately written to entertain or inform. Make sure you have a take away for your reader in mind. What will I learn from your post?  ‘how to install node.js’ ‘how to make a healthy snack your kids will actually eat’ or ‘how to avoid overspending on a laptop’

imageHere’s an example, this Imagine Cup post is a first person story by a student who won first place in a competition. What’s notable is the content helps a student understand the value of participating in the competition. It’s not just a brag about winning.

2. Use a summary sentence

When you search online for ‘what laptop should I buy?’, you get two thousand matches. How do you decide which search results is worth clicking?

The average user spends about 5 seconds glancing at a page before they decide whether it’s worth staying to read that page. Remember point #1 make sure your post is worth reading! The user wlil take about 5 seconds to decide if your post is worth reading. So, provide a single sentence to tell me what I learn if I take the time to read your post.

It helps to make your summary sentence stand out visually by using italics or a different colour.

image

Another advantage to the summary sentence: Your summary will appear in the details of the search results soI know what I wil learn from the search results page as well. I wrote this post two years ago and it still gets hits (Mental note: go update this post so people aren’t finding out of date information…)

image

3. Use lists to summarize content of long posts

Sadly some of the best blog posts are the least read.

Why? Because when someone takes the time to write out all the details to explain something, the end result can be a very long blog post.

Your reader may be looking for something very specific. You may provide that information half way through your post, but they are unlikely to read through 4 pages to see if you cover that one topic. If you break your post into sections, you can provide a list at the top listing all the sections. If you really want to make the user happy, add hyperlinks so your reader can click on a topic and go straight to the section of interest to them.

image

4. Use screenshots and pictures

A picture is worth a thousand words!

If you are going to try and show me how to use a piece of software, or how to bake a cake, please include pictures and screenshots.  It is visually appealing and can be more effective than describing with text. Pictures also break up the endless text in a longer blog post. If I see a really long post with nothing but text I am less likely to read it.

If you are going to share screenshots, invest in software that will let you capture delayed screenshots so you can show pop-up menus. It helps to have an editor so you can add boxes, arrows, and highlights to your screenshots.

All the screenshots in this post are captured and edited with Snagit.

SNAGHTML28ce7630

5. Complement your post with video

If a picture is worth a thousand words, a video can be worth a million!

Whether you are showing me how to apply a compression bandage, how to cook an omelet or how to deploy an Azure website, video can be a great complement to your blog post. But keep it short. If you embed a 57 minute video in your blog post, chances are your video will go to the ‘when I have time’ list along with a number of other excellent recordings that I really want to watch when I have the chance. I find somewhere in the 4-9 minute range is about the longest video I will watch when it is embedded in a blog post. You are better off creating 4×5 minute videos than one 20 mintute video if you can find a way to break up the content.

As with screenshots, take the time to invest in some software for recording your video and a microphone to improve the audio quality of your recordings. The other advantage to short recordings is they take less time to redo when you make a mistake. If you are doing a software demo, increase the font sizes and consider a tool like Zoomit to help highlight and zoom in on the important parts of the screen during your demo.

Watch the video below and try to imagine writing a blog post to explain how to use this feature instead of using video. FYI, I used Zoomit to zoom in and draw a few arrows. (my Zoomit skills pale in comparison to @GeekTrainer who uses it really effectively in his Microsoft Virtual Academy videos). FYI, I used my headset instead of my Snowball Microphone for this recording and I did get feedback from a viewer saying the audio was hard to hear.

Sample video using Zoomit and headset microphone

6. Include links!

When you recommend a tool or resource, please provide a hyperlink!

I LOVE bloggers who include links to related resources. If you are showing me a recipe for a cocktail and the recipe calls has an ingredient of “ginger simple syrup” please give me the link to a recipe for ginger simple syrup, that’s not somethig I can just pick up at the store! If you are writing a technical post and you start tell me I need to have a Microsoft account and Visual Studio installed, give me links on where to create a Microsoft account and where I go to install Visual Studio! Please!

I suspect one of the people who read this post has already clicked on a link in this post. If not here’s one for you to click now.

7. Open links in a separate tab or window

Don’t lose your reader!

You’ve added links to your blog post, but what happens when your reader clicks on them? Do they leave your post? Will they ever come back?

If you don’t open links in a new window or tab, I may click on that link in and never return. You put time and effort into the post, you convinced me to start reading it. Increase your chances of me reading the whole thing by opening links in a new tab or window.

8. Let your personality come through

This is your blog post! You have a personal style, let it come through in your post.

Whether it’s a  tradition of including a picture of your cat in each blog post, links to random silly videos, song parodies, or a tendancy to write run on sentences, something I have been accused of doing from time to time even though that goes against best practices when writing blog posts.

9. It’s all in the title!

You may have written the best explanation of how to change a tire ever! But if you gave it the title “I figured it out and so can you” Chances are I will never find your post when I am searching for tips on how to change a tire.

Your title needs to give me an indication of what I will learn or at least catch my attention so I am curious enough to visit your post and read your summary sentence.

Personally I despise titles with hyperbole such as “The most amazing unbelievably scrumptions chocolate sauce ever” I find them too much and they actually turn me away. So do be careful with adjectives in your title. I prefer a simple descriptive title “An easy dark chocolate sauce recipe” is more likely to get my attention especially when you add a nice photo of a slice of chocolate cake draped in your velvety sauce… hmmm hungry now.

When in doubt, a popular title is Top Ten <fill in the blank>, people often search for top laptops, top video games, top new features, top attractions, so it’s a good fallback title, of course it does force you to come up with 5 – 10 good points to cover in your post!

10. Go back and edit your post!

Edit and then edit again!

Re-read your post and look for spelling mistakes. Spell check won’t catch everything! I recommend reading the post from bottom to top to look for spelling mistakes. After all their mite bee some words that spell check says are syntactically valid but inn you’re post are used inn the wrong context.

A good friend of mine writes short stories and has had several published. She told me when you finish a store or chapter, you should go back and edit it with the goal of removing sentences and words that do not add to the story. When you are finished your edit, your story should be about one third shorter! The result is a cleaner, faster paced story. You would be amazed how much you can remove while still delivering the same message sharper and cleaner!

Go forth and write!

There are many other ways to write great blog posts, but hopefully this helps! Apologies  to all my readers for all the posts I have written where I didn’t folllow my own rules!

Fear–let it help you not hurt you!

Fear isn’t necessarily a bad thing, if you use it wisely it might even help you!

I am a runner. I loved running 5 km races. Occasionally I would run a 10 km race, but they seemed really long. Somewhere along the way I decided I should try a half marathon. The furthest I had run at that point was a 16 km run which was part of my training plan to run 10 km faster. I figured I could likely manage 5 more km.

I asked my sister (a running coach and talented runner) for a training plan. I followed it and picked my goal race. I set myself a goal of completing the race in 1 hour and 50 minutes. Race day arrived and I felt great. I ran my first 10 km at a pace that would have had me finishing at nearly 1:45! I was ahead of pace! Somewhere around 17 km I hit the wall. Most people hit the wall when they run their first marathon, I guess I am an overachiever because I did it on a half. My knee and hips were screaming, I was completely miserable. A combination of walking and jogging took me to the finish line, and I felt every single step. That night, I was so sore I remember contemplating stealing a walker from a lady walking across the parking lot (if I could catch her) and wondering why street curbs were so high!

Fast forward two years, I registered for my first marathon. The marathon is infamous for testing the limits of runners. At this point I had successfully completed four half marathons but the marathon was more than a little intimidating. Could I do it? Preparing for a marathon reminded me of pregnancy: Anyone who had been through it themselves either had advice or a horror story to share! 42 km! 4 + hours non-stop running, I had bombed my first attempt at 21 km, how would I finish 42 km!

I had a training plan, a running group and coach, and amazing family and friends cheering me on. They gave me the tools and support, but it was fear that gave me the motivation to prepare. I followed my training plan, when the running conditions were bad, I drove to the gym and paid to use a treadmill. I was terrified of repeating my experience with my first half marathon. I listened and considered all the advice fellow runners shared. On race day, I started out feeling good. I got to 21 km feeling pretty good. But, when you train for a marathon your longest run is 32 km, so I knew the last 10 km was the real test. The best description I ever heard for a marathon was a 32 km warm up for a 10 km race. I got to 32 km and felt okay. I reached 35 km where my husband and son were waiting with signs to cheer me on and I was tired of course, but I was able to maintain my pace. At 40 km I realized I was going to make it. My first marathon was a race I could be proud of!

NationalCapitalMarathonIt was fear of failing that motivated me to do my training runs. It was fear that had me dragging myself out in the dark, through the cold, through the snow and sleet. It was that fear that led to my success

I’ve had the same experience when preparing for big presentations. Fear of failing drives me to prepare, to research, to practice my presentation, my demos. Fear is what motivates me to do the groundwork I need to do to succeed!

I am not the most disciplined worker. I’m the person who forgets to get something done. I am the person who says ‘I am going to do sit-ups every day’ does it for three days and then gets distracted. One of the reasons I decided to register for a marathon was because I wanted to prove to myself that I was capable of doing something that required discipline. You can’t fake your way through a marathon. If you skip the runs, you will feel it on race day. The fear of falling apart after 32 km helped me do what I needed to do and allowed me to achieve my goal.

So what is it you want to achieve? are you afraid you can’t do it? Maybe that very fear is what will help YOU reach YOUR goal!

Ranking priorities is easier than you think

Whether you are prioritizing your to-do list or requirements for an application. It helps to have a simple way to prioritize, in this post I’ll share my favorite method.

I’ve seen many different methods to rank items on a requirements list or to-do list. Priority High/Medium/Low,  ranking priority from 1-5.  When doing everything isn’t an option (and it never is!) somehow you have to decide what comes first.

When I taught Business Analysis, I came across a wonderful and simple way of ranking priorities: Must, Should, Could, Would. What I love about this method is the fact it is self describing. However, I still find it helpful to describe each category to co-workers when we are trying to decide what to do first.

MUST

For requirements

When I am considering requirements for an application, anything identified as a MUST is a feature that is worth delaying the release to get. Put simply, the application MUST have this feature or it is not worth building the application at all!

For my to-do list

If I don’t do this I am not doing my job! I am not talking about forgetting to file an expense report, I mean my core reponsibilities, what I was hired to do! Sometimes there is a MUST on my to-do list that I dread doing, but when I acknowledge to myself it’s a MUST do, I have to set aside time to do it.

For exercise

We all know we should get some exercise. Some weeks it is easier than others. Did you know that as long as you exercise every third day you are improving? If you exercise the 4th day you are at least maintaining. So for me, a MUST exercise day is when I’ve gone 3 days and haven’t done anything. On Day 4 I MUST do something, otherwise I am actually getting less fit. Of course a must varies depending on your goals.  When I am training for a marathon, the MUST is the long run because that’s the run that you will regret skipping race day)

SHOULD

For requirements

Anything identified as a SHOULD that is not included in a release is going to make users unhappy and may even make them mad! They will be able to use the application but you had better give them a date when the SHOULD requirements will be added. Some of the SHOULD features may be pushed back a release or two but you know the users are going to be complaining until the SHOULD requirements are released.

For my to-do list

If I don’t do this task, one of my co-workers or maybe even my boss is going to be unhappy. Maybe it’s data I promised to try and put together so they could complete a plan. Maybe it’s something I promised to follow up on. My boss isn’t going to start yelling at me because I didn’t do it, but somebody out there will be unhappy if this doesn’t get done.  I certainly try to do all the SHOULD items on my to-do list. But during a crisis, they may get pushed back until everything is under control.

For exercise

If you get exercise every third day, then you are improving. Shouldn’t we all strive to get fitter rather than just maintain our current level of fitness? Getting in a workout at least once every three days is something we SHOULD all do. When I am training for a marathon, hill work falls into the SHOULD category. I know if I do my hill work it will pay off on race day (there are very few marathon courses out there without hills). But if I don’t do my hill work I’ll still finish, it’s just going to be a lot tougher.

 

COULD

For requirements

This is how you make users happy! When you start adding the features a system COULD have the result is a feature that will make the users happy. Something the old system perhaps couldn’t do and caused them frustration. Something taht will make the users lives easier

For my to-do list

When I get to the COULD items on my to-do list I am making the people I work with happy. Perhaps even going a little bit above and beyond. Maybe it’s taking the time to write a little email to their manager thanking them for helping with a task. Maybe it’s taking the time to put together a really awesome graph or report that summarizes the work we’ve done in the past year or the work to do in the coming year. When you manage to get a few COULD items on your to-do list completed you may start to get a little recognition for your effort, even if it’s just a ‘Thank you this is really helpful’ email from a co-worker.

For exercise

Ahhh, now if you can get to the COULD do items on your exercise strategy you should actually start to notice improvements. You could take a few minutes each day to do some situps or push ups. You could add some cardio to your routine, or if you do cardio maybe add a little strength training to your routine.  But, if you want to make it a habit to get to the COULD items on your exercise routine, I strongly recommend doing it with a friend, or making sure it’s something you can turn into a routine. When I am training for a marathon I COULD add some strength training to improve my core and some stretching. I can run a marathon without doing situps, but I’m going to look much stronger in that finish line photo if I can fit it in. Hmmm, since stretching will help me prevent injury, I guess I should really bump that up to the SHOULD list!

WOULD

For requirements

When you interview users and ask them for their list of requirements for a new system, every now and then they will say something like ‘you know what would really be nice’ . These are the WOULD like to have priorities. These are feature we will include if it turns out we can do them without really spending any serious amount of money or time doing it. Every now and then the users request a change that will take very little time to implement,  it may be a feature that already exists in the software but wasn’t implemented or well understood. We don’t often get to add a WOULD to a system, but when you do, the users smile and you get the satisfaction of knowing you made them happier without a big investment of resources.

For my to-do list

Ahhh, I have so many WOULD like to do items on my to-do list. You know all those articles you want to get around to reading, or the things you want to sit down and learn when you have time. When you do have the opportunity to tackle a WOULD item on your to-do list, the result is YOU are happier. You had a little time to tackle something that you wanted to do for you. Keep an eye out for easy WOULD like to do items that won’t take much time. Once in a while you may find a little window at the end of the day, when you really don’t have the energy to tackle the big to-do items and giving yourself 30 minutes to work on a WOULD like to do can re-energize you and remind you why you like your job!

For exercise

What exercise do you actually enjoy? Is it yoga? kickboxing? (I love kickboxing) cross country skiing? A walk along the river? Find a little time here and there to do something you enjoy that happens to be exercise, rather than doing it because it is exercise. When I am training for a marathon, going for a run wiht no goal pace or distance is such a pleasure especially with a friend! Itgives me a break from the gruelling training runs and reminds me why I took up running in the first place.

Women in Tech–10 Tips for balancing family and business travel

ViewFromAPlaneAfter twenty years of working in high tech and just about every one of those years involving business travel, I won’t even pretend to have perfected the family/work balance but, if you are about to embark on a job that involves travel, I have a few tips that might help.

1 – Accept you may catch some moments in reruns

First steps, losing a tooth, scoring a goal at the hockey game, as a parent you will get to witness many amazing moments in your child’s life. If you travel for work, you are going to miss some of those moments.  It’s not the end of the world, find pleasure in listening to your spouse or child tell you all about that awesome moment. They will be thrilled to have an opportunity to relive it with you when you call or get home.

2 – Find a farewell routine

Life is easier when you have a routine. It helps to have a routine when you leave on a trip. My routine is fairly simple, when I leave town I give the kids (and my husband) a bedtime kiss and hug for each night I will be gone (a little tougher now the boys are teenagers). This is my way of letting them know that even though I am not home, I am still thinking of them. It also gives them a sense of how long I will be gone. A 3 year old doesnt really understand the difference between a 2 day and a 5 day trip. But, kids figure out quickly that only one extra hug meant a short trip. I still remember the night before a two week trip, my 7 year old son stepped back and looked at me and said ‘that’s a lot of extra hugs mom.’  Some people count sleeps until mom or dad gets home. You could make a countdown with post it notes or tear out pages from a day by day calendar and leave them behind one per day. Whatever works for you. Just make sure it doesn’t require too much work beforehand, if you are travelling regularly, you won’t always have the time and energy for complicated rituals.

3 – Do what you can to make your time away easier for your spouse

Leaving for a week? maybe you should call a cleaning service to come and clean the house while you are away, or arrange for someone to mow the lawn. Maybe, the best way to help is by getting someone to help get the kids to and from their various activities. I try to make arrangements for someone to drive my son to his hockey practices so my husband has doesn’t have to manage supper, dishes and driving to and from the arena. Sometimes I can make his life easier by doing something as simple as baking the kids favorite cookies before I leave, so there are peanut free snacks to put in the kids lunches. When I had a two week trip I made arrangements for a friend to come to the house and take the kids to dinner and a movie over the weekend, so dad could have a night off. (We don’t have the luxury of grandparents in town to help out, but if you do, they could also be a great resource to give your spouse a break when you are away)

4 – Set expectations on when you will call home

In this world of text messages and Skype, there are lots of ways to stay in touch when you are on the road. But, it’s still a good idea to just have a quick chat with your spouse to manage expectations. Will you be available during the work day to exchange a text message or an email? A call may take some planning. What nights will your spouse be busy with kids activities?  When will they be busy with bath time?  When will you have privacy for a voice call? a video chat? Are there nights when you have evening commitments on your trip? Are you going to talk every night? Are you caliing to talk to your spouse at one time and your kids at a different time? In my early days of business travel (pre cell phones) my husband used to call my hotel room in the evening, on my first couple of trips I missed the calls and came back to my hotel room to a blinking light and it was too late to call back (don’t forget to factor in time changes as part of your planning). You may be busy on your trip, but your spouse is still at home dealing with all the day to day activities and may be craving some adult conversation, or a chance to unload after a bad day. Sometimes you can just call on the spur of the moment, but it’s good to have a couple of pre-planned times just in case!

5 – Don’t buy everyone presents on every business trip

If travel is going to be a regular occurence, you don’t want the kids to expect a gift every time you go away. Don’t hesitate to bring home a little something from time to time, but you don’t need to be rushing around the airport gift shop every time you have a flight. Like everything else you need to find a balance. My approach was to pick up a gift when I am visiting somewhere new or out of the ordinary. Of course, sometimes you stumble across something you just can’t get at home, a favorite brand of chocolate bar, an interesting bottle of wine, a cool pair of socks (no seriously, my son loves wearing funky socks, and I never know when I will find a cool pair). When it’s unexpected it’s a bigger treat.

6 – Share your travel perks and points with your family

If you have status on the airline, make a point of going to the airport with enough time to visit the lounge with the family (assuming your kids are old enough to get a kick out of the free cookies and drinks). Can you cash in some air miles to get free admission to the zoo? How about using your hotel points to stay at a fancy hotel for one night, cash in your upgrade coupons on a family trip and give your spouse a turn in first class. If your kids are older and are well behaved travellers, consider giving them a turn in first class as well. Please remember that smaller children should not be sent up to first class on their own, I have a friend who when upgraded ended up sitting next to a 3 year old (not sure of the age, but he got my friend to cut his meat up for him so we are going to guess the 3 year old range) this boy was providing his own loud commentary as he watched the in flight tv, was rude to the staff, kicked the seat in front of him, and was generally loud and disruptive. Meanwhile his father was somewhere in economy oblivious to the whole thing. My friend was getting the dirty looks because they thought he was the parent. So while I applaud taking kids on trips and giving them the opportunity to experience first class, with younger kids that should only be done supervised by mom or dad. But I digress, the main point here is your family is affected by your business travel, it’s stressful for them, so if you get a few perks try to share the benefits with them.

7 – Listen and ask questions

When you come home from a trip or you call home during a trip, chances are your spouse or kids will have news to share. Even if you had an exciting day/trip listen before you tell your story. Ask about the science test, the doctor’s appointment, recess, bath time.

8 – Try to be home before bedtime

I’ve discovered that if my kids see me before bed, they don’t consider that a day away. So sacrifice a little sleep in the hotel bed to catch that early morning flight so you can be home by suppertime. When going on your trip, try to avoid those early morning flights so you at least have breakfast with the family before you take off.

9 – Set limits on your travel

How much travel is too much? Best to discuss that with your spouse before it happens. You should also ask yourself which family events should not be missed. Sometimes the answer when the boss says ‘can you do this trip’ is no. I call it my domestic air miles balance. When I take a trip I am cashing in domestic air miles, and when I get home I need to earn them back. Occasionally, if I am travelling somewhere really interesting or in a city where I have friends or family to visit, I cash in a few extra domestic air miles and spend an extra day in the city to explore. If I have had a few trips back to back and another one comes up I might tell my boss that I have cashed in all my domestic air miles and need some time to earn them back before I travel again (If you do turn down a trip, tell your spouse you did it, I’ve discovered letting them know I said no to a trip helps me earn back a few more of those domestic air miles). Saying no from time to time is not going to hurt your career. If you have accepted a job with very heavy travel, then it’s important to stop from time to time and discuss with your family if the job is worth that much time apart.

10 – Give your spouse a chance to be an awesome parent

When you are away, the household routine may vary. maybe the kids get ice cream as a bedtime snack instead of fruit. Maybe they get to watch a tv show you normally don’t let them watch, or they get more video game time than you would normally allow. A little rule stretching can actually help the kids feel a little closer to dad. Maybe there is a restaurant, tv show, or movie that you don’t like but they do, what better time to do it then when you are out of town! They will still want to spend time with mom, and tell you about their days and adventures when you get home. If the kids get a little quality time with dad and bond doing something you wouldn’t normally do, even some minor rule breaking, maybe that’s okay. I honestly believe that my kids are a little closer to their dad because I am occasionally out of town.

Jobs which require business travel can be exciting and great opportunities, but they will absolutely impact your life at home. A little foresight and planning will make it easier on everyone! Safe travels and share your tips as well!