Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Things I Did Right - Being Out of Work

Friday I'm starting my new job with Adapt Courseware. This is little startup company, and their (our) product is e-learning for the academic space. I'm excited about being a part of this company, and looking forward to both being able to make a contribution and learn about things I'm really passionate about. It will be exciting to build the process and the team, and hopefully make a positive impact.

So how did this middle-aged lady get a her dream job with only three months, without trying? One thing I learned recently is that people tend to interpret positive random acts as things they some how controlled. I guess if the length of time people are out of work is normally distributed, then someone has to be in the short time part of the curve, right? And that turned out to be me. But assuming that's not the entire story, here are some of the things I would suggest if you find yourself suddenly out of work.

1.  Keep your resume up to date.This tip really has two parts. Keep the document called your resume up to date. I suggest checking it quarterly to see if you can make any refinements or add additional information. But beyond that, critically review your resume to make sure your skills are current. What should you be learning to move to the next level, or even to stay on your current level? Find job postings for a position you would like to have, and then compare your resume to it. Do you have the right stuff to get that job? If you do, is it clearly evident in your resume? If you don't have it, what concrete steps can you take today to get there?

2. Stay in touch with your references. I strongly recommend that you choose references that you admire. And have more than three, as well. Choose people who worked with you, for you, and those who managed you. Try to have lunch of coffee at once or twice a year. If that doesn't work for you, at least drop them an email, updating them on your career. When you need their support, they will have a slightly better idea of what you have been up to, and some positive feelings for you. This will help. And if you do loose your job, reach out immediately and let them know.

3. Stay out of debt. I suppose this is a "duh" suggestion - so obvious that it is not worth mentioning. But knowing I could live on my unemployment + a small amount of savings really reduced my stress. I did wish I had bought a less expensive car. That car payment seemed just fine when I had my job, but got lookin' really big a few months into unemployment. I tried to talk the dealership into buying it back, but they weren't interested. I didn't have very much cash on hand, so I do plan to build up those cash reserves this time. Critically look at how you spend your money and try to get your debt under control, starting today. This probably means saying, "no" to yourself, something I'm not good at either. But it will help you sleep better at night knowing, come-what-may, you will be able to scrape by.

4. Cultivate a balanced life. Being able to go forward with the graduate program I had just entered as an employee of RIT was a HUGE blessing. It gave purpose and structure to my days, and also gave me something to say when I was introduced to people. "I've just started a graduate program at RIT" sounded a lot better to me than "I'm out of work." Think about what you would say, and cultivate those interests. Would you write a book, become a free-lancer, take up volunteer work, if you had the time to do it? Start now. I also found my meditation practice really supported me through this potentially stressful time. I strongly recommend people include some kind of spiritual practice in their lives. Not religious? Mindfulness meditation can still be a support. Also, do something physically active every day. But the key to these is start now, while you are still working. Establish those practices that will be beneficial if you are out of work before you are out of work.

I had lots of support -- my dear partner was my rock, my daughter kept me looking to the future, and my friends both personal and professional offered me all sorts of practical help. To all of them, I say a very heartfelt "Thank you!" Now on to the next chapter of my life!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Personal Informatics

An individual's ability and willingness to reflect on her life is a key part of improving her life, and I think that ability is a skill we should be teaching at all levels. So, when I saw and article by Li, Dey, and Forlizzi (2010) on personal informatics, I was intrigued.
Li et al define personal informatics as tools that "help people collect personally relevant information for the purpose of self-reflection and gaining self-knowledge." If you are having a difficult time visualizing what this means, think Fitbit or Nike+. Li et al assert that there has been no study of the sorts of problems users encounter when using personal informatic systems, and offer recommendations about how existing systems might be improved, and yet-to-be-built systems be made more effective. They offer a five-stage model. For each of these stages, the authors present examples. I've used my own examples. Each of the phases also has obstacles or barriers, and these barriers cascade from one stage to the next. 
  • Preparation - In this stage, people are motivated to begin to collect information. They must decide what they are going to collect, what and how they will record the information. For example, my partner has decided that she wants to inventory all of her belongings. In the event of her death, she wants her children to understand what of her things are valuable, and what are not. She has to decide how she is going to record all of that information, and what tools she should use to do so.
  • Collection - In this stage, people actually collect the information. The tool used can be the most significant barrier. The logistics of the collection can also be problematic. For example, if the information that is being collected is a food journal (common in weight loss methods), and then however the person decides to collect that information needs to be easy enough to do three times a day, or more. If the tool is cumbersome, people just won't keep it up.
  • Integration - In this stage people must prepare, combine and otherwise transform data so it can be reflected upon in the next stage. As you can imagine, the more that has to be done in this stage, the greater the barrier to moving to the next stage.
  • Reflection - In this stage, people reflect upon the data they have collected. Reflection can be short term or long term. Short-term reflection is valuable because it gives us information about where we are right now. For example, I had the opportunity to drive a friend's car for a week. This car gave me immediate feedback on the number of miles per gallon I was getting. I could see how certain driving habits actually gave me worse gas mileage, and it became kind of a game, where I would try to improve my mpg on each trip. Long-term reflection allows users to see trends over time.
  • Action - In this stage, users decide what they are going to do with the knowledge they have gleaned from the Reflection stage. Primarily, they can apply their knew knowledge to meeting longer term goals.

Li, I., Dey, A., & Forlizzi, J. (2010). A Stage-Based Model of Personal Informatics Systems. In CHI  ’10 Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 557–566). Presented at the CHI 2010, Atlanta, GA: ACM. doi:978-1-60558-929-9/10/04

Friday, November 23, 2012

Five Great School Tools: Google Scholar, Cmaps, Zotero, Adobe Creative Suite in the Cloud, and Balsamiq Mockups

I've survived the first quarter of my new graduate program, and now have a couple of days of a break. I loved my classes and the work has been challenging but very rewarding. During the semester I was introduced to a few new tools. Let me amend that to new to me. They have been around for a while. 

Google Scholar has been a huge boon. It can be used to locate journal articles and books on all topics. As students will know, not every article is available for free. But once I know about the article, I can go to the Wallace Library site and search for it. Most everything I want has been available there. Another thing Google Scholar does is to tell you who has cited the resource in their work. This has led me to many new sources of information. 

Cmaps is a free concept mapping tool. Think Visio, but also available for the Mac and free. I still can't make the elegant charts that I've seen around, but it is a very useful tool. I was writing a final paper last quarter and having difficulties getting the organization just right. I used Cmaps to get my thoughts down on paper, and then could rearrange chunks until finally I had a flow that worked. It was very useful. I'm using it now in my new job to create a new workflow. Check it out, it's not hard to learn and very useful.

Zotero is a citation management program that you can use for free. It allows you to save citations, add metadata, group citations into projects or categories, add notes, and best of all, include a copy of the website or a pdf or other document to the citation. So what was formerly an unruly stack of paper on my desk is now an organized group of citations in the cloud. You can also add things by typing in the DOI or ISBN number. Then Zotero populates all the pertinent fields for you. I did this with all my books, and used a metadata tag to say where the book was located ("Living Room", "Bedroom", "Office"). Then, when it's paper-writing time, you just drag a citation over to a Word doc and viola! A correctly formatted bibliography!

Cloud-based Adobe Creative Suite makes CS affordable for students. For $19/month, I can have access to any of those tools I want to use. When I got my new computer, I decided I couldn't afford Creative Suite,  - until I heard about this version!

"Wiring framing" is a term that was new to me. It means making a non-functional mockup of an interface or website. Although my program is about human-computer interactions, I'm not much of an artist, and was a little worried about how I was going to be able to do this when the time came. Then I discovered Balsamiq Mockups. For $79, you can download software that, "helps software designers and developers build great software by letting them easily sketch out their ideas, then quickly collaborate and iterate over them." I haven't actually used this, but am looking forward to doing so soon. It looks like a great product, and a great company as well!
Hope you enjoy exploring these products. Even if you aren't in school, you might find them useful!

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Blogger Stats

Here's something I wonder about -- any of you out there understand the mysteries of Blogger blog stats, please pipe up! Yesterday I had 23 page views. This is a big number for my little blog. I rarely promote it and I think it's mainly for my own reflection. The day before yesterday, I had zero pageviews. Usually I have one or two a day.

So what caused 23 page views all of a sudden yesterday?