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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 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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I remember going golfing once with my father and a couple of buddies. I had reached the first green in three with a two-foot putt for par. This was a rare occurrence. I’m consistently good for a bogey 5 off a first-hole par 4. I don’t have the talent to grab a par and there hasn’t been enough evidence for my inevitable frustration to come forth and push me into a double bogey. As I approached the green, my mind started flailing. It was slightly uphill, not really a straight putt. I considered jamming it in vs. trying something delicate and thoughtful. It didn’t help that my friend was egging me on. “You got that! Tap it in! Come on! Clean it up!” At that instant, I attempted to fool myself into relaxing by forcing a little lackadaisical in with my routine. I took a whack at it. Sure enough, 4 inches to the right, and 2 feet beyond the other side. My buddy, who had been chanting, “You got that,” now quipped, “Nope,” and laughed hysterically. Trying to get out from under the embarrassment, I hurried the next one and tapped it off the mark. More laughter. I finally pushed it in.

Everything I needed to make that putt was right there. I had the equipment, two arms, a brain and my eyes. Some luck may have been at play, but to a much larger degree, my mental approach had made the proverbial mountain from the mole hill…albeit a mole hill with an awkward slope. This experience has me wondering about our sour economic situation. Is our mental attitude contributing to our sour circumstances, or certainly exacerbating? If an economy falls in a forest, or improves, does anyone hear it?

How many companies are pulling funding on projects simply because they’re afraid to make the putt? Afraid of failure?

How much of the economic crisis is mental?

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Information Technology has reached the finish line. You can’t write code that hasn’t been written before. You can’t develop software that I can’t buy. The focus of IT on social networking results in nothing more than the same advertising sales that brought Yahoo! to stock market prominence, eventually becoming Google’s dominance, but is predicated entirely on our need to see an advertisement in order to consume a good or service. Great! Now we can all talk to each other, and we don’t have to use the phonebook, or even a phone.

What is IT able to do to now to actually further global progress? DNA analysis? And how many job slots are available for that purpose? Has IT reached a massive finish line and is that why so many of us are seeking opportunities now? What does the world need now?

Let me know. In the middle of this gloomy economy (and a matching weather pattern in Cincinnati at least), are you actually working on something NEW?

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I often look through Rent-A-Coder, a website that attempts to marry coders and buyers through a bidding process, and I come away each time feeling…well…dirty. It reminds me of scenes from Miami Vice when Crockett and Tubbs used to roll through the alleys filled with prostitutes. “Hey, baby! I’ll give you a PHP/MySQL website for fifty!” Seriously, website bids for $300?!

It’s starting to remind me of the music scene in Cincinnati. For as long as I can remember, unless you’re in a stage act band, gigs come in two flavors: the $50 and under, and the $100 and over. Grant and Benjamin. It hasn’t really changed. The price of gas, food, clothes, and whatever will increase, but gigs will stay right at this level. If you’re making more than that, it’s because you’re doing a private party on a boat, or a wedding, but now that you can rent gear for those occasions, even those high money gigs are dying off. Musicians are willing to play for coffee if it means they can do their thing in front of a live audience of 5 people. When three digits are involved, they generally salivate and wearing a suit and tie becomes less of hassle. And if you let them drink free beer? Well, then. The music will certainly sound great….to at least them. Because of this, the rising cost of music education, unless you’re going to teach others how to become poor, is becoming largely unjustified.

This is exactly where IT is going if people don’t start valuing the services they provide, and tether themselves to a standard despite the hard times. First and foremost, knowlege and expertise are the essential component. Remember those tests in grade school that asked you to pick which thing you needed most for a football game? The referees, the crowd, or the football players? The quarterbacks are the analysts, the running backs and receivers are the developers, and testing is defense. But there is a different pay scale between high school and professional football, isn’t there?

Secondly, if someone hires you, then generally they’re going to make some revenue. I would contend it is the non-essential producers that should be trimming their margins, not the quarterbacks, running backs, and defense. So how much do you want to make? Take the net you want to earn and divide by 220 (working business days, minus holidays, etc.). $88,000 is $400 a day, $50 per hour. Charge it. Stick to it. Whatever the rate.

Why? Because lastly, who’s to say that companies aren’t going to take advantage of this economic downturn by attempting to control costs and enlarge profits for years to come after this supposed depression. Are they going to stop using the “because of the hard economic times” excuse when the hard economic times no longer exist? Heck no. You’ll be in a job making “hard economic times” rates for years. Do you think they’ll come to you one day and say “hey, buddy, the depression is over, here’s that $20,000 raise.” Heck no. It’ll be “file an evaluation request form and we’ll see if we can’t get you that 4%.”

Here’s the irony: companies searching frantically to control costs hire the lowest bidder, not the best qualified. They pass on hiring somebody who could actually provide long-term benefit to bring on Mr. Cheap Gig. In the music world, this results in BAD MUSIC. Guess what the result is in the IT world? To get over this, actually assess what the company is trying to do in numerical terms. Do the homework you’re supposed to do before the interview, golf-and-beer outing, or prospect lunch and get an understanding of the health of the company and your worth to them. If they can’t pay your per diem, pass. Yes, I said it. Pass. And stop earning $20 to design a company’s front-facing website. Unless that’s what you want all of us to earn some day.

And if companies don’t want to hire all of us at our deserved rate, well then they have assumed the captain’s position on the Titanic, we’re the musicians on the boat, and it has been a pleasure and honor to play with you on this night! What was the drinking policy for the band?

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