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I attended a meeting of the Cincinnati Hispanic Chamber of Commerce a few months ago with my girlfriend who is from Peru. I thought about my 14-year career in information technology and the number of different types of companies I had worked for – insurance, market research, drug study, etc. I couldn’t remember a single person that I worked closely with that was Hispanic.

Bill Clinton made some remarks a while back about the subject, relaying number that said a “study shows that Hispanics, who represent 11 percent of our work force, hold down just 4 percent of the jobs in information.” I wonder what the current statistics are. He also provided 5 steps to creating more opportunities, centered primarily around education, specifically a college education. I slightly disagree, because I’ve made a great career in IT with a college education, but in Jazz Music. My IT career has been made possible by my efforts to educate myself with the vast sea of resources available – books, seminars, etc. Indeed a degree from a major university is helpful, but a degree from some colleges will mean that you are up to date on technologies that will die in a couple of years. Curriculum is dated the moment it is presented sometimes. But are those other resources made available to people from other countries? Do they even know where to look? Or is it a vast sea of English?

A good American/Hispanic combination:


Why is it important that Hispanics, or any other group, have opportunity in IT? It pulls the solution paradigm in a different direction. People with different fundamental backgrounds contribute to a problem in fundamentally different ways. If three people from three different places shine a different kind of light on a problem, different qualities of that problem become apparent, and so the solution becomes almost self-evident. Another inherent value in that scenario is realizing you don’t have to be the only contributor, in fact, you need to rely on help from others to achieve a goal.

I don’t like to stereotype, but I think it’s safe to say that people from outside the U.S., especially from some Hispanic countries, probably appreciate the value of a dollar a little more. I know I take a lot of what I have for granted, things that have come to me easily that wouldn’t necessarily come as easily to others. My girlfriend really values the things she has earned and purchased that I just look at as material possessions. With this in mind, would this fundamental difference produce an individual – a software developer maybe – who is innately focused on frugality (frugalidad)? What differences in architectural options, or coding styles, would be realized from an individual with a drastically difference “human experience” background? Not that any particular choice or options would be right or wrong, but merely having the presence of those values in the discussion – can you see the value?

Si usted es hispano y le gustaría aprender más sobre desarrollo de sitios web o programas informáticos, no crea que necesita previo conocimiento, titulos o alta educacion. No deje su idea, lógrela!

Thank goodness for Google Translate.

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I’m in the process of getting through the PMP Exam Cram. I did this as I venture deeper into a career which is focused on helping companies achieve greater success with their IT projects. My approach started with a focus on more of the BA side of things – requirements elicitation, use case composition, overall requirements process structures, etc. I was interested in understanding the PM role and I found some interesting overlaps.

A lot of the BA and PM material I read seems self-aggrandizing. Does anyone else get this sense? It’s as if the authors are selling the value of the position to the very people who have already been sold on it. In this instance, as well as the IIBA’s BABOK, I’d say a good 20% of the material is “which is why your role as a [BA/PM] is so important.”

I’m guessing one way of really understanding how the roles overlap is by asking, have you ever been in a situation where your role as a BA or PM has conflicted with someone else in the opposite position? Or have you seen such conflicts?

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I welcome your comments below.

An idea. Has any concept in the history of man ever been more powerful? We often find that powerful things are also simple in complexity, and yet the word idea can be defined in very different ways.

1. any conception existing in the mind as a result of mental understanding, awareness, or activity.

6. a groundless supposition; fantasy.

8. Music. a theme, phrase, or figure.

The struggling American economy has created new life scenarios many of us would have believed unimaginable. I attended a job search focus group in my town last week, succumbing and swallowing a foolish pride I have about being able to get gigs without resorting to things “losers have to do.” Stupid me. When I talked to many of the people (50+) at the group, most of them had 10+ years experience in their field. My first thought was – it would only take a good idea that would call upon the talents of all these people to restore their ability to make income. My second thought was, what a jackass I am. Such focus groups should have been something I did while employed, expanding my network, not just for jobs and work opportunities, but the ability to share ideas with other, experienced people, who are being forced to churn their brain butter as well.

When I took the Clifton Strengthfinder 2.0 test, I discovered Ideation, or the capacity to form ideas, was one of my strengths. This sounded like a valuable thing to me. But in my efforts searching for work, in my case in information technology, I realized something scary: nobody who would recruit me to do what I do – either elicit business requirements and establish requirements processes, or develop websites or software – cares if I can ideate or not. They just want me to document the processes and make them more efficient, or use .NET and WCF and program in VB.NET or C# to get their project to completion. They don’t necessarily care if, along the way during my routine tasks, I come up with ideas that might contribute to their cause.

It’s counter thinking, isn’t it? To say, let’s focus on creating ideas vs. getting the things done we know will make us money, feels difficult. And yet, that’s where a lot of us have been forced. A client of mine called me yesterday with new ideas on iPhone apps, something he hasn’t ever mentioned to me in 2 years. I’m coming up with new ways to find gigs, both in IT and in music. Innovation, which I’ll define as effectuated ideas, becomes more apparantly required during hard times. After all, some people are being let go because their jobs aren’t necessary anymore due to the birth of an idea years ago to automate the thing they did manually. What will give them new opportunity? An idea which harnesses their skillset.

In writing and researching this idea I had to write a blog on ideas, I came across software to track ideas. What a great idea!

I’m in love with making ideas. I’m in love with talking about ideas. I get so excited at the thought of even being a small part of something new. I like talking about and thinking about ideas I’m not even a part of or which have no avenue by which I can contribute. Kids and young people, new college graduates, are valuable sources of ideas because their minds are doing nothing more than churning ideas born from new experiences. But is their capacity greater for the task? I don’t think so. I just think as we get older we are more drawn to focus on the task at hand and what brings the bacon home now.

My ideas come when the piece of paper is blank and white. My musical ideas come after my fingers hit a grand piano’s keys, or the staff has no notes hanging from it. My ideas come when a group/company I’m working for is struggling to make progress and morale is down, or I see an opportunity to excite and inspire someone. Last Saturday I performed at a temple for a cabaret night. A lawyer came and wanted to do Coldplay’s “Fix You.” I knew how the song went and my bass player friend and I collaborated. But this guy came in and just wanted to sing it. He had his guitar with him. With the grand piano,the “idea starter,” I was able to provide a background to the song, something he referred to as “a wonderful arrangement Cliff made” before we played. So this was an instance where my ability to create ideas, enhanced by the context, provided benefit and made progess. Unfortunately, I don’t have that video, but here’s one where the drummer’s 17-yr-old kid played with us.

It felt good to give that experience to a young guy who wants to study music.

An idea – any idea, this idea, the idea of ideas – is what everyone should be focused on right now. It is the one and maybe only thing that will turn this whole nasty time into a distant nightmare. We have to try things, be brave, be willing to fail. You might not like what Obama is doing in office, but you can’t say he’s not trying to effectuate ideas. I’d rather be moving in some direction than none, and this country can recover from bad ideas.

Are you sitting there now remembering a time when your life was more “creativity-based” or “idea-filled” than it is now? Was it a happier time?

Think.

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I was reading an article in Information Weekly by Michael Biddick while waiting in a recruiter’s lobby. In it, he provides statistics on how important SaaS has become to organization, and the reasons behind the uprise: speed, cost.

It certainly is a movement that was predicted with web services, WSDL/SOA, WCF, and cloud computing in terms of technological evolution, but what about employment. Will this mean software developers and engineers may become employed by more software companies who provide these services? Will this result in fewer in-house IT positions? Or will many of the IT positons that become available be more concerned with security – the primary concern of SaaS implementers?

I’m personally looking forward to the free hard drive space and memory when the online version of Microsoft Office is released this year, and find it ironic that it was precisely those monstrous software packages which forced our systems to require GIGS of memory and hard drive space. In this instance, it feels like Microsoft is selling the big house it built to raise the kids and moving to some place tropical. If software is leaving the company system, if software developers are migrating to software companies, it will be interesting to see what we do with the space.

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My ideal work day as a software developer would go something like this:

  1. I grab breakfast. During my breakfast, I transition from domestic life to work life.
  2. I go to work. When I arrive, I grab some coffee. It’s good coffee.
  3. While drinking the coffee, I have a conversation or two with people, some outside of my department, some inside. Maybe I even attend a weekly morning meeting and thumb through a catalog or magazine while I listen to the stakeholders discuss the health of my company.
  4. I head to my office and close the door.
  5. I spend the next hour checking out Visual Studio 2010, or reading an article, maybe a code example. This is more than likely information not directly related to the work I do.
  6. I attend a team meeting or Scrum. I don’t necessarily dig it, but during the meeting, I’m able to make a suggestion to someone with an obstacle. So that’s pretty cool.
  7. I return to my desk and pull up the tasks assigned to me.
  8. For the first task, I pull up the related use case. I read the user story and have a good understanding of how what I’m working on integrates with the system. I have a couple questions about the Normal Flow.
  9. I walk down the hall and have a converstion with a business dude and get the answer to my questions.
  10. I go back to my desk and spend he next few hours composing the prototype solution for the use case I’m handling. I start by stubbing it all out, hooking up my data connections, and maybe rolling the Repository. I may stop and scan the internet for some articles on the Repository Pattern just to stay aware of trends in practices, problems, etc.
  11. My daughter calls me. We have a 30-minute conversation about some event coming up at school, how excited she is about her soccer game this weekend, and how her sister can be annoying sometimes.
  12. Nobody gives me crap about my phone conversation, and nobody cares.
  13. I get up and go get a soda.
  14. On the way back to my desk, I notice Bob’s door is open. Bob is the CEO. I ask Bob about a idea he mentioned in the morning meeting. Bob and I talk about it. Bob is genuinely interested in what I have to say. I probably take that for granted.
  15. I go back to my desk and check in what I’ve worked on.
  16. I get in my car and go home.
  17. When I get home, I don’t even look at a computer. In fact, I go out on my balcony to check on my strawberry planter and watch the birds from my hammock.
  18. I do one or more of the following: I pursue a hobby, play music, cook interesting cuisine, read fiction, drink wine from San Luis Obispo, contemplate the dryness of it.
  19. I watch very little news.
  20. I do engaging things with my family members.
  21. I attend a speech club. I make a speech.
  22. I go to bed. I dream about pleasant things.
  23. The next day, I do it again. Nobody is expecting me to arrive at work with a volume of new knowledge I gained by spending my evening engrossed in something that causes me to lose sleep.
  24. I’m rested, at peace, progressing, and contributing. I have friends. And my family/kids don’t hate me for being a workaholic.
  25. What is your ideal day?

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“We have to set the standard, and they have to live by that.”

This was the terse email response I received from the project lead. I had asked a few questions about how we were going to design a new system which would increase the efficiency of internal work, as well as affect how, when, and how much people got paid for selling the product.  The “We” was the IT department.  “They” were collectively both the people who would execute the processes we were designing and the customer they served, the sales department.  In 14 years, I had never heard these words connected in this way.

It explained a lot. When I had been conducting interviews to gather requirements, from the desperate, overworked workforce so eager to give them, I had determined I needed to have a conversation with the sales people. When I approached the IT manager to ask about facilitating this conversation, he said “they’ll tear you apart.” Images of Hellraiser. I couldn’t communicate with the major stakeholder. And why? Who knows exactly, but evidently a “departmentally” damaged relationship, likely due to a perception, a paradigm, wherein IT people take a dictatorial approach to designing software. “We’ll tell you how you need to do something.”

So here’s the news. Salespeople, who deal with the customer directly, will always know best when it comes to how a process needs to work. From point-of-sale to product delivery, it has to come as close as possible to the square peg sliding smoothly into a square hole custom design for that peg. Like puzzle pieces, when something fits, it is undeniable, even though we may have questioned the fit before comparing the content of the pieces themselves.  But unlike a puzzle, the sales piece comes first.  The IT piece that best fits with it does more than align its grooves and slots.  The content of that IT piece not only begins to complete a picture, but enhances it and affects it’s impact upon the eventual customer who looks upon and consumes the completed picture.

Sadly, the friction in this instance represents an attitude, a perception or paradigm.  These are tough obstacles, especially if those who hold these views are particularly high on themselves (a.k.a., insecure).  These are people who believe that IT pushback on management and sales requests is a requirement.  The relationship, they think, is just not right or healthy if we don’t say “no” a few times.  Guess what?  They don’t even have the right to hold this belief.  They don’t even know what “heuristic problem solving” is.

Here’s how the conversation should sound, in a nutshell:

1) Sales person calls IT manager guy: “We need to be able to turn peanut butter into jelly. Can you do this?” asks sales person guy.
2) “Yes,” responds IT manager guy Notice the answer is “yes” and it’s immediate, without qualification, whining or long sighs.
3) “How much will it cost?” asks sales person guy. A perfectly natural question.

Here’s the step where the nature of the puzzle pieces fitting together is visible.

4) “We can do it WAY X, which will require 300 man hours and new hardware. We can do it WAY Y which will take less time, but there’s a higher cost. Then there’s WAY Z….”

The responsibility to choose how much the endeavor will cost, and how something will be done, is entirely on the originator of the request, and the person closest to the customer. The responsibility on IT is to be aware and provide an array of options, perhaps with a dash of organizationally-minded awareness (how the provided options play into what has already been established within the organization). Notice, however, this is a cooperative, collaborative interaction.  Nobody’s telling someone how to do something, or rules they have to live by, and most importantly, nobody is saying “no.”  Of course, upon making a choice, there are <i>then</i> rules to live by in order to effectuate the choice.  But the chooser has the information to make that decision.

If your organization doesn’t operate like this, the pieces aren’t fitting together, and you or your IT people are saying “No” a lot, you had best get out of your backward thinking.  Otherwise, the people hearing the “No” might just respond the same way when you ask them if they need you to come into the office tomorrow.  They’ll find the piece that fits.  Will you be part of it?

If you like backwards things, read this.

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I always find myself scrambling at the end of a client engagement to get everyone to hook up with me on LinkedIn. It’s always nice to stay in touch with talented colleagues with whom you’ve been on the battlefield. I like to check up and see how people are doing, the skills they’ve acquired and the challenges they’ve faced, and tap them now and then for advice, invite them for a beer, or beg them to come see me at a gig.

Recently, I took a new position to help the folks at FirstEnergy Corp. in Akron, Ohio. What a great place to work! The facility is a large, modern campus with a bright, open floor plan, an entire wall of nothing but windows looking out upon the lush autumn colors beyond the parking lot which features priority parking spaces for green vehicles. The people are fantastic, albeit a bit anxious as would be expected with a tight deadline and ambitious goals, but really working hard and working well together.

I was driving my four-hour commute home and browsing the AM stations, and a man was preaching about treating people as though their lives would end tonight. A little extreme, but it reminded me of the Stephen Covey “begin with the end in mind” mantra, and somehow, my mind wandered to getting the LinkedIn hookups done at the beginning of the client engagement. Instead of doing so at the end, when the underlying motive is somewhat selfish and reflective – “I want to stay in touch, give me a recommendation, I need to build my network” – attempting to get those invites converted in the beginning sets a bunch of goals or motivators up: “I want to remain in good standing with those I’m connecting with, I want to deserve a recommendation. When I leave, I want these people to want to stay in touch.”

On some gigs, this is a really tough chore. People already see you as the “new guy” and a threat to their routine and progression. And project success may have already been determined. But having that enduring connection set up, sets up a context in your mind as you interact with people and try and build alliances to accomplish goals. Because the last thing you want in your contact list is a “dark” contact, inactive or dead because you didn’t really build that alliance, or gone because they dropped you from their contacts because you failed them somehow.

So a couple of weeks into my new gig, I went searching for contacts from FirstEnergy Corp., only to find a couple contacts available. Turns out, you don’t need LinkedIn if you’ve been employed by a company for 19 years and you’re happy right where you are! Which opens a good ancillary question: Why use LinkedIn if you don’t need to network? Do you still need to network?

Regardless, in the future, I plan on setting those connections as soon as possible. It’s like saying, “I plan on enjoying working with you through this project.” Sound like a good plan to you?

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