Tag Archives: Career

What makes a professional?  

professionalWhat makes a professional?  

I’ve been thinking about this for some time now.

Obviously there’s the simple definition of a person that performs a role and gets paid for it.

But I believe it’s more than that, particularly in today’s world where people can have a “portfolio career” where they perform many roles, some paid and some simply for the love of the work.

There is an implicit understanding that when you hire a professional they have the knowledge and skills necessary to carry out the task.  

But I’m sure you can think of plenty of people who get paid and yet do a shoddy job.  I bet you also know people who do things as a pastime and produce work of the highest caliber. Between these two which one would you say is the professional?  

I’ve read plenty of articles about how be a professional or what professional needs, and yet most of those focus on things such turning up on the time always giving 100% and so on. Those are table stakes.

Many years ago one had to undergo a lengthy apprenticeship before being considered a professional, often not reaching that stage until many years into a career. But in today’s world, where knowledge and experience are often outdated in a very short amount of time, apprenticeships are often a thing of the past.   

The more I thought about it, the more I came to realize that, for me, one of the defining characteristics of a professional is someone who has learned from their mistakes. And the best professionals consistently push the boundaries of their knowledge and experience and use the mistakes inevitably found in new endeavors as a core part of their education.

Anyone can be a professional when everything fits together, people deliver on time, and there are no surprises.

But to be truly worthy of the title “Professional” you need more.  You need to be able to adapt to changing situations.  You need to be able to anticipate problems and solve them before they occur.  And, when finally something does go awry, you have the skills, experience and confidence to work the problem and keep things on track. THAT is what makes a real professional, and it doesn’t matter whether you’re paid to do that or not.

Want to see what a true Professional looks like?  Watch the movie Apollo 13.  NASA was constantly pushing boundaries.  They knew the risks and when things went wrong the Professionals at NASA kept their cool, took what they had and created innovative solutions to get their people home.  

Money?  That has nothing to do with being a professional.  It’s all about attitude and a passion to continually learn.

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Filed under Business, Career

Who’s Grass is Greener?

Some time ago I was talking with a friend who was pretty fed up with her job.

grass_is_greenerDespite the fact that her work was intellectually engaging, provided interaction with interesting people, and the autonomy to do things the way she wanted to do them, there were some niggling chronic issues that were bothering her.

She was starting to become disengaged or, as she put it, “The grass elsewhere is looking pretty green these days.”

That reminded me of a quote and so I told her “Your grass would be just as green if you would water it once in a while.”

She looked at me with a mix of shock and surprise, then laughed and said “You know…you’re right!”

She’s still at the same place and every so often I get a ping from her saying “Still watering that grass!”

If you’re starting to feel like a change, look around you.  Is the situation really that bad that you can’t fix it with some care and feeding?  Would the change elsewhere be better than the change you can make in your own back yard?

Keep watering that grass and see what you can grow!

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Filed under Career, Life - or something like it

When Great is Too Good

Some time ago Joanne’s computer started crashing frequently and running slowly.  When she took off for a visit to see family in British Columbia, I took the opportunity to check it over and discovered that her hard drive was failing.

Since the drive was a mess, I didn’t want to just clone it.  Instead I carefully backed up all of her files and then, over the course of several days, performed a fresh install of Windows and all of her software onto the new drive – a laborious task involving a never-ending cycle of installs and reboots.

I took care to put everything back exactly as it was before, right down to the desktop picture and location of the icons.  And that was my mistake…  After my hours of dedicated, painstaking work, Joanne came home and carried on using the computer as before – sans the crashes.  I looked on proudly, awaiting my kudos but none were forthcoming.  When I [slightly peevishly] pointed out that I had completely replaced the hard drive, Joanne merely replied, “Oh, thank you.” and that was it.

WHAT???  No adoring hugs and kisses, no offers to cook my favorite meal, and no mention of slipping into “something more comfortable“.  Clearly the amount of effort that went into making the whole thing seamless was not coming through.

At home I can take the fact that Joanne felt zero pain as a sign that I did a good job.  But what about in the work environment?

When the end of year when bonuses are being handed out, don’t you want people to remember something of your valuable contributions?

Telling people about your hard work and technical prowess generally isn’t appreciated, so you need to find more subtle ways to get credit.  Ironically, that sometimes means doing less than a perfect job.

I’ll give you an example.  On a business trip, I stayed in a hotel where they had treated the mirror with something that stopped it from fogging.  But they didn’t treat the whole mirror, just a large square in the middle, and I really appreciated having that square of visibility.  I was impressed that they had gone to the extra effort.  But would I have even noticed if the mirrors were completely fog free?  Unlikely.

If you are adding new functionality, then getting noticed is easy.  But if you are performing maintenance type activities, or are involved in something that aids efficiency, then you need to find other ways to be appreciated. That might mean making subtle, but obvious, changes just so that people know that things are from  “the new system“.

Occasionally the only option is to tell someone about the great work you did.  If you have to ‘toot your own horn’, then see if you can find a way to weave that narrative into the day-to-day work.  Tools that automatically notify people when jobs are complete are great for this (Jira would be a good example) – after all, it wasn’t you that notified people.

The sad fact is that excellent work often goes unnoticed simply by virtue of it looking easy.

Finding ways to get credit for what you do is tricky but, whatever you do, please try to be subtle – no-one likes a braggart.  If you do it right then you’re hard work will be noticed and, who knows, maybe you’ll find yourself sitting down to your favorite, home-cooked meal.

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Filed under Career, Life - or something like it

Managing: Is it you or me?

Are you having trouble communicating with someone on your team?  Frustrated that your messages are not getting through?  Read on…

Many years ago I was leading a team of developers at a large bank.  It was a great bunch, but I was having a lot of difficulty with one of the team members.  For the purposes of this post we will call him Fred.

Fred was bright, enthusiastic, technically excellent…and causing me serious headaches because everything had to be repeated to him several times.

I  would explain the task he was to work on and he would agree that he understood everything.  Later he would drop by my desk and ask me a question which showed that he clearly did not understand, and I would then explain in more detail.  He would leave, only to come back later with more questions, and this would continue until the task was complete.

To say that I was getting frustrated was an understatement.  I was actually starting to wonder whether Fred was worth keeping around, since I was spending so much time with him that I could have done the job myself and had less frustration in the process.

Fortunately fate intervened when a friend emailed a program to me with instructions to run it and let me know what I thought.  This was back in the early days of email when programs sent to you could be run with without any fear of viruses.

At first I thought the program was a joke since it asked a whole series of very odd questions.  I can’t remember many of them, but I do remember it showing several pictures of clouds and asking me to say which one was most like my personality.  Huh!?

After answering these dumb questions the program produced a personality profile of me that was disturbingly accurate.  Included in this analysis was a picture of a brain divided into two halves, with a dot indicating whether you were a visual or aural learner.  My dot was just slightly off-center on the aural side.

And that gave me an idea…

I sent the program to Fred and he came over saying “That’s amazing!  That profile is me to a T!”  Looking at his results I noticed his learning style was as far into the visual area as it could be.  I had my answer!

I immediately changed tactics.  I’m no artist, in fact I can barely draw a stick man, but when I went to speak with Fred I would take a blank piece of paper and draw.  Usually it was pictures of computer discs and stick-men with arrows between them.  It didn’t matter.  From that point forward Fred would get what I was saying instantly.  In fact he turned into the star of the team and ended up taking over from me when I moved on to another company.

It wasn’t Fred’s fault that he didn’t understand – it was mine!  I was explaining things in ways that made sense to me, but communication has to be performed in a way understandable to the receiver.  If I deliver a perfect explanation in English, but the recipient is French…who is at fault if the message doesn’t get across?  By not understanding my audience I was the one that was having the communication failure, not Fred.

Figuring out the audience is essential for all communication.  These days I ask myself a few questions before getting started, including:

  • Do they need detail or just an overview?
  • How technical are they ?
  • What type of personality are they – give-me-the-facts-and-get-out or someone who likes to chew the fat a little before getting into work?
  • How much time do they have? Someone that needs to leave to tend to something urgent is unlikely to pay attention to your detailed presentation.

Spending just a little time to find out about your audience can pay huge dividends in making sure that your ideas are not only heard, but also understood.  To this day I draw often.  I love the white-board in my office and use it often – just in case I have another Fred on my hands.

So, the next time you are having trouble getting a message across, ask yourself one question…is it my fault?

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Filed under Career, Education, The Human Condition