I'm On Twitter! Tue 30 Dec 08

Twitter_logo_sIt's official, I'm now on Twitter (MikeSchaffner)!  I've been thinking about doing it for some time but to be honest I've been holding back because a lot of it seemed to put it simply, inane.  I really don't care what TV show someone is watching nor can I figure out why someone would care what show I'm watching or even what would ever make me think that someone might care.

Jason-Alba However, things have come together to change my view due to two good friends, Jason Alba and Kent Blumberg.  Jason runs JibberJobber, a Career Management 2.0 tool and blogs regularly about career management.  A few days ago he wrote "Okay, I’m Sold On Twitter" explaining why he thought Twitter was a great tool in your career management.  Then today he had announced his December Personal Branding Winner of the Month - Warren Sukernek which included some pretty compelling reasons on why it makes sense to use Twitter.

Kent_blumberg To top it all off I had a phone conversation with Kent Blumberg today.  I met Kent during my job search and he is the one that introduced me to Jason.  Kent is a fantastic executive coach so if you in need of a coach for your career (note I said career and not just job search) give Kent a call.  Kent is also the one that got me started on blogging so I alternate between loving him and damning him depending on how the blog writing is going.  During our conversation he reiterated the benefits and explained that it if someone is blathering you can simply stop following them and that I can Tweet as much or as little as I care to.  He closed the deal, I'm in!

So from this point I'll start using Twitter.   When I signed up I got set up to follow both Jason and Kent who quickly reciprocated and I also put Twitter in my sidebar.  Interestingly enough within in a few minutes I had my first follower that I didn't even know.  Amazing!  I promise to keep to try to be interesting and keep the inane out of it.  But if you don't like it blame Jason and Kent - I will (just kidding).  If you're so inclined I be pleased to have you follow me on Twitter (MikeSchaffner)

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Job Search Tips: Business Cards,a Free Book and Holiday Networking Wed 17 Dec 08

Camiseta_cv2_jlori Last week I was working at the Houston Growing Globally conference put on by the Houston Strategic Forum.  It was a great conference providing a lot of insight from Houston business, medical and educational leaders.

Helping out at the conference were some MBA candidates from the Jesse H. Jones Graduate School of Management at Rice University (what a great networking opportunity for them).  I was talking with one of these volunteers and at the end of our conversation he asked for my business card (as a good networker should) and then offered me one of his.

Wait a minute!  A student with a business card?  Yep, the business school apparently provides the students with business cards as part of the career search process.  It was complete with the school logo and title of "MBA Candidate, Class of 2010".  What a great idea.  Smart guys those Rice profs.

What else stood out about this is that I've talked with and helped a number of people in career "transition" and have been shocked to see the number that don't have cards or perhaps just as bad use their old ones and pencil in the updated contact information. 

Business cards make it easy for me to contact you - isn't that what you want and a professional looking card says something about your professionalism.  And yet for some strange reason they are not willing to invest the $20 bucks to do it right.

Take a tip from the Rice guys and get some business cards.

The second job search related occurrence was that I was just contacted by David Perry co-author of  "Guerrilla Marketing for Job Hunters: 400 Unconventional Tips Tricks and Tactics to Land Your Dream Job [John
Wiley and Sons
]" with some holiday networking tips and a free e-book offer.

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CIO Rockstars – Twila Day and Paul Yust Tue 09 Dec 08

Last night I had the pleasure of attending the Houston CIO Leadership Dinner.  This was an event put on by Techxans (Technology Executives Network)Tony Huang and Pam Terry put on this event to honor Twila Day, CIO of Sysco Foods and Paul Yust of BJ Services for their work in encouraging high school students to look at IT careers.  Matt Miller of Compuware graciously underwrote this event.

In a recent post I suggested that President-Elect Obama’s new CTO look at the issue of technology workers specifically in the area of “what can we do to "grow our own" technology workforce by encouraging people to study IT in college and to come enter the technology field when they graduate?”

Government policy is important in stimulating people to go into IT careers.  However, what is especially great about what Twila and Paul have done is that they’ve demonstrated the leadership and commitment to address this issue without waiting for the government.  There is a lot that can be done within the IT community.  Government has a role to play, but so do we.  Let’s not wait!

Thank you to Tony, Pam and Matt for putting on this event and a special thank you to Twila and Paul for leading the way in getting young people to look at IT careers.

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What's In A Title / Job Description - Programmer, Developer, System Analyst, Business Analyst Tue 02 Dec 08

Programmers_aid_dunkv_2A reader from Singapore (fantastic place by the way) wrote me with a question a few weeks ago -- " Just wonder how a BA [business analyst] is different from a SA[system analyst].   My understanding of a good SA has attributes given in the 'job description. "  This is an interesting question as the two titles are often used interchangeably along with 2 other titles: programmer and developer.

If we look as some simple descriptions from Wikipedia we see some similarities and overlap and a progression.  There are lot more that can go into the job descriptions but these simple description do illustrate the point.

  • Programmer - A programmer is someone who writes computer software.
  • Developer - A software developer, one who programs computers or designs the system to match the requirements of a systems analyst.
  • System Analyst - A systems analyst is responsible for researching, planning, coordinating and recommending software and system choices to meet an organization's business requirements.
  • Business Analyst - A business analyst or "BA" is responsible for analyzing the business needs of clients to help identify business problems and propose solutions.

What we see is a progression from highly technical orientation to highly business orientation.  Graphically it might look like this:

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CIO Job Description And The Need For Technical Experience Mon 22 Sep 08

Geekyderek_penmachineLast month Laurie Orlov had an interesting article on CIO.com. Her article "Why Specific Tech Experience Shouldn't Define the CIO Resume" has been rattling around in my mind (as things so often do) since then.

Laurie was commenting on CIO job descriptions "that demand skills in configuring servers, designing the website, creating a long-term strategy, 20 years of experience plus a deep track record in a subbranch of financial services. Or that specify knowledge of an arcane, perhaps obsolete technology."  I can relate to this as I've seen job description calling for the CIO to have specific programming skills in the latest technology and even list specific programming languages.  In short, these types of job descriptions focus on tactical, technical skills. 

The irony in all this is as Laurie correctly points out is that "They want CIOs they can understand (no techno-speak, please) and who understand business. So even if a CIO enters with a laundry list of technical experience that matches what the company asked for in the job description, chances are she's going to spend virtually no time in the new job using those skills."

The part of all this that been rattling around in my mind is -- Why?  Why do people write these kinds of job descriptions.  After giving it some thought, the answer that I come to is rather straightforward and simple -- they don't know any better!  I'm not trying to be mean or belittle anyone but state this very plainly.  The people that write these job descriptions (probably someone in Human Resources) and the hiring managers don't really understand what a CIO can or should do. 

We can argue about who's fault this but that is not helpful.  Rather than argue about fault we should ask the question -- What can we do to change this so people understand what CIOs do?

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Business Analyst Job Description Mon 11 Aug 08

Camiseta_cv2_jloriFar and away my most popular post is Let's Get Down to BusinessEven though it was written about a year and a half ago, 20+% of my recent site visits are to this article coming in either through Google searches or Jonathon Babcock's review of this post.  Why is this so popular?  I think it is because it contains a great business analyst (BA) job description that gets to the heart of what a business analyst really does.  This job description doesn't just cover the skills they need but focuses more on the competencies that will make them successful.

Having just gone through the process reviewing a fair number of BA resumes I'd like to add one more item to the list.

Be able to describe and communicate the value of a project in terms of both its benefits and costs in terms used by the business community that will effectively obtain leadership understanding, support and approval of the project.

In other words the BA has to be able to "sell" the project.  Ultimately it is the responsibility of the business owner or sponsor to sell the project, however, the BA has to be able to play a critical support role in selling the project.  As I did in the original post I highlighted this competency in blue to convey convey the essence of what distinguishes a good business analyst from a good applications person.

The reason I've added this is that after reading a number of resumes it was apparent that many claiming to be BA's are missing this critical competency too.  (Perhaps I should have used a different colors since it may not be all that common with BA's either.)  How could I tell?

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Competency Based Performance Reviews Mon 26 May 08

Competency_perf_reviewMy good friend, Robin Kessler, has just completed her third book, Competency-based Performance Reviews: How to Perform Employee Evaluations the Fortune 500 WayIt completes the cycle of writing your resume (Competency-Based Resumes: How To Bring Your Resume To The Top Of The Pile ) and getting the interview (Competency-Based Interviews: Master the Tough New Interview Style And Give Them the Answers That Will Win You the Job).  As you can tell from the similarity in titles they all have the common theme of knowing how to express your competencies to succeed in each phase.

Performance review are not very popular with anyone, neither the managers who give them nor the employees who receive them.  There are even some suggestions that we abandon the process as it exists today such as:

I suspect this is because they are rarely done well.  Fortunately Kessler's book can help in this area.  She lays out the process as most companies do it and shows through numerous example how to prepare for the review and how to do one properly.  A major theme is "Don't attack the person, attack the problem".  She shows how properly structuring competency reviews can do this.

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Interviewed On Dice.com About Business Analysts Raising Their Profile Tue 20 May 08

Dice_com_2Back in April, Sonia Lelii from Dice.com, a recruiting and career development website for technology and engineering professionals, interviewed me as part of her story, Business Analysts Raise Their Profile in their Technology Today section.  Lelii also interviewed recruiter Christa Baker for her perspective.  Unfortunately, I had forgotten about this until Monday's post on hiring business analysts reminded me.

The article talks in detail about the need for people who can communicate between IT and business groups and what types of background and  skills they need.  Take a look, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

If this topic was of interest, you might also like these:

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Hiring the Right / Wrong IT People to Achieve Alignment Mon 19 May 08

Need_a_job_saffanna_2_3Dr. George E. Strouse had a great article recently on CIO.com entitled "Are You Hiring the Wrong IT Staff to Achieve Your Alignment Goals?"  Strouse contends that the major cause of business and IT mis-alignment is that IT is not hiring the right kind of people.   He states "The right people need strong backgrounds in both business and technology. Most IT hiring managers place too much emphasis on strong technology backgrounds."  Although I cannot comment on whether or not this is the major reason for the misalignment I wholeheartedly agree with his comment on the needed background nonetheless.

The most popular post I've made (accounting for about 20+% of site visits) is one that contains what I thought was a good business analyst job description.  While this job description does contains some technical requirements as you might expect it also contains skills that are not often found in traditionally trained IT folks.  These are the types of skills that are needed for an business analyst to understand business.

Dr. Strouse contends that the reason business can not get the right people is that we are asking for people with a Computer Science degree rather than an Information Systems degree.  As a professor of information systems at York College in Pennsylvania he is eminently qualified to layout the distinction and makes a strong case.  Now before anyone with a Computer Science degree gets upset please read his article carefully.  As he points out there is a need for both types of degrees but each is better suited for different functions.

Continue reading "Hiring the Right / Wrong IT People to Achieve Alignment" »

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The IT Career Builder's Toolkit Mon 18 Feb 08

Matt_moran Matt Moran is one of my favorite bloggers.  I first ran across Matt at the ITToolBox with his Policy Parrot posts.  If you get a chance, read them.  They are classics in the realm of customer service, an area that should be near and dear to anyone in IT.  Matt brings a real-world practical approach to his writings and he's done it again with The IT Career Builder's Toolkit.  It is not only a job search guide but more importantly a career guide.  It is available on Amazon, Cisco Press or InformIT or you can read it for free online.

An example of this practicality is Chapter 3,  "Information Technology: A Great Career" where he addresses the issue of outsourcing and off-shoring head-on.  Complaining about off-shoring in particular is a favorite past time in IT with the refrain of "How can we compete with someone only paid a tenth of what we make?" As Matt points out "Outsourcing Is About Value, Not Costs"  and the key to having a successful IT career is to focus on providing value and not just being the lowest cost provider.

In another example of practicality Matt provides a list of "Actions & Ideas" at the end of each chapter to help you put the ideas of the chapter to use.  As Matt correctly states, "Looking for work, is work".  As such, you should manage your career and a job search in particular as a project.

Matt does provide useful job search tips in a number of chapters but if your focus is solely a job search you may want to supplement it with some other books that go into more detail on those specific areas.  The value of Matt's book is in building your career not just finding the next job. For example some of the chapters include:

  • Chapter 16  On-the-Job Promotion
  • Chapter 17  The Boundaries and Benefits of Working at Home
  • Chapter 18  The Toolkit Approach to Consulting
  • Chapter 19  The Move to Management

These are topics that you won't find a lot about in the other books but are a critical part of your career.

If you are thinking about your career (and you should be) take a look at Matt's book.  As a true technologist he's made it available online for free and if you like it you can purchase later.

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