Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Finding a job by reversing the roles

In times when jobs are harder to find, you need to stay active on your resume and constantly check job postings to stay current. In the last few months, I've been reading mostly job boards, about a few times a week, looking for job roles that I match, checking the requirements, skills they request, and type of work. I also note if the company type, if it's a start-up, contract position, or contract to hire, including job title. 

It's really interesting and if you have read What Color is your Parachute? the best method to find a job is by working in reverse order. How does that work? First, you need to think about the need for the job? When there's a need for a new job position, often times it's requested by a hiring mananger, who then reports the opening to the HR department, then is posted on the Internet, which you might see and reply to. The problem is that you're applying for a job to the person who might have the least amount of knowledge for the job, then filters the contacts to the hiring manager.

Not to mention that you may be the perfect employee, but you need to filter past many hands and departments, it's more difficult than just having the right skills to get the interview. When thinking about this problem, I think about the other side, from the hiring manager's perspective.

For the hiring manager, they know what to look for and what they want in an employee. The skills required and the function this person may do in their role. But it's another thing to sort out the people with the actual skills versus the people who may over rate their skills on a resume, as anyone can add mention a technical phrase to a recruiter to get an interview. So now, the hiring manager will now need to filter out all of these resumes, and usually a long task of finding the right person.

The big problem I see of this is that there's a large communication problem between the two main parties, the person who wants a job and the hiring manager who wants to hire someone. With many parties in between, it's a common issue that while you may be the perfect person for the job, a person down the chain of the hiring process may have other ideas. It could be as simple as you are not experienced but still have the knowledge, or maybe you understand product X but they are looking for someone who knows product Y.

It's very confusing, and often times I think that the hardest part of finding a job is getting past the hr department, as their role is often not to hire someone but to filter out those who do not match the job perfectly. Not to say hr department is easy, trying to become an expert for many departments in a company and filtering out the correct people is an incredible difficult job.

I think keeping this in mind is a good thing to remember when writing a resume. Often you need to really show what you can do and remember that the resume is the first item a hiring manager will see of you. It's really hard to show myself based upon a piece of paper, but considering the amount of time people can spend on each resume, it's the best to be honest and place your skills clearly. Also remember to tune your resume for the job as your applying for.

This means that if you're applying for a job working with customer service, highlighting your customer service skills will be better than listing other skills (but those might be a close second). The idea before was that you would make one resume as a "one size fits all" approach but now it's a resume by job idea that I feel works best. In some cases, I had recruiters call me for one job role which I had skills for, and ask if I could do these tasks. Since I didn't list the skills by the actual name on the job description they were reading from, the recruiter asked me a few questions then told me I probably don't have the skills and wished me luck on my job search.

I recommend that if you're looking for a certain job role, make a resume especially suited for the job. Then if you have another secondary job role, make another resume for that. I think this is somewhat the idea in fishing, as one lure might work ok for catching fish in a large lake but having multiple lures will work even better as different fish might be attracted to different types of lures.


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Keeping your data safe

When I purchased my first digital camera, a Kodak DC280 I took photos of my friends and other events enjoying the new to me technology. But of those photos, very little I have now due to a accidental formatting I did on my main computer. Back then, I would reformat my computer, reinstall Windows, and every time I think I lost some data here or there, either photos, or school work, or game saves, it was always something I would remember when the computer was finishing up the Windows install. Of course, at this point, it was too late to recover and the data was basically gone. I had some backups but nothing that covered all of the data I lost.

After years of working with data on a personal level and also working with data on a business enterprise level I have some tips and tricks for the average end user. Here's my recommendations, and they are all low cost, where possible, no subscription needed.

A safe backup

A common mistake is backing up your data on the same computer. Recently while rebuilding my laptop, I installed a second hard drive, the same size and manufacture as the first drive. When I reinstalled Windows, the installer asked which drive I wanted to install to, so I figured it was drive 0, not the second drive I installed which was drive 1. When the install was done, I checked my second drive to retrieve the data I stored on drive 1, but it was all gone. I checked again and found that when I reinstalled Windows, I installed Windows on the data backup drive, not the Windows system drive.

I couldn't figure out how this mistake took place until I realized that the manufacture installed the Windows OS on the wrong drive, drive 1, then the new drive I installed was drive 0. Lucky for me, I only lost a bunch of ISO images I downloaded but it could have been worst. This example is why backing up on the same computer is not really a solid "backup".

For a better backup solution you should think about the following. Is my data safe if my computer's hard disk crashes? What if my computer's second hard disk crashes? What is my backup drive is stolen? Below I wrote a listing from least safe to most safe for backups which I personally recommend for home users.

1) Backing up on the same drive - This is great for working on a document where you are making edits and is a work in progress, but you should save your work end of day to another drive or location like a USB stick.

2) Backing up on another drive, same computer - This is a good solution for storing items that need quick access like photos or music. In most cases the second hard drive has much less use than the main drive and would equal less chance of failure but it would not protect against theft of the computer nor a virus.

3) Backing up on an external drive - Now we are starting to get into a much safer solution. Now you're data is easily accessible by USB, but it's also not too hard to access, a great combination. The only issue is theft or fire in the home but this is covered if you storage the drive in a safe location, or if you keep another backup in a different physical location.

4) Backing up on an external drive, also using on-line backup - This is the method I use and it's been pretty handy. While it's not free, typically costing about $100 per year, my data is backed up once by myself and then automatically by the backup provider. Since I backup not daily but every time I take a large amount of images from my camera, I wanted to have something to backup the small files I was working on and this works perfectly.

Know where your data is located

What is the best method to backup your data? I would first recommend to know where you data is located, then what is the most important data to backup. One of my biggest mistakes when I first started to use the computer was I stored data all over the place on my computer. From different drives, keeping data on my personal home folder, or keeping it under another folder, it was a large mess. Now, I use a different method for keeping the data in one location.

For a Windows system, I store all of my data under the account's document folder, this way if I backup the "My Documents" folder, then I can save all of my web page links, settings, Outlook PST files, photos, data, etc. On a Linux system, I follow the same method, I just make sure to save all of my work under /home/robert and this makes things much easier to manage.

How to backup your data

Backing up data is done in many methods but I really prefer simple over complex. There's plenty of free software, paid software and great built in software available for the home computer. I recommend that you use either the built in software for backing up or a simple file copy to backup your data. Here's my personal reason why.

When you use a special software to backup your data, you're usually compressing the files for the backup into a new format for backup. In most cases, the new format is not cross compatible, for example if I'm using brand X for my backup and it uses a formatting called "mybackup.mmg" then it's typically only going to work with software that knows about mmg files, in this case, the brand X application.

The big issue about this is that your data is only safe as long as the brand X software is available, which given the rate of software changes, could be months to years. For this reason I really only use two methods to backup my data on a Windows system. Either Windows Backup, which is built into most Windows systems that are higher than "home editions", or a simple file copy. In the years of using Windows Backup, I never had a issue where one version of Windows could not read another version's backup files, and thanks to the automated process with a simple wizard it's very easy to use.

Recently I'm now using a simple script to run a copy job from my desktop to a USB drive, not using any special backup software. For me this runs very easy, I can have access to the backed up files at time and as long as the drive is still working, my data is accessible.

Size limits of backup

In most cases unless you have a large amount of backup storage, you will not want to backup the entire profile on your computer. You might want to have the data easily accessible from a USB drive as D:\photos instead of D:\backup\robert\photos. Here's comes a common issue, how can I backup everything that is important without the extras that are not important? Let's say, I want to only backup my documents and Outlook PST data from my workstation?

If someone was to ask me this I would to the following steps on a Windows system.

1) Where are you saving your data? It's easy to assume "My Documents" but I have seen users save data to either the root of the main system drive, in most cases C:\ in a folder like "my data" and even saved under a strange folder like "09". It's my recommendation that you search the drives for Microsoft Office documents, images, music, Microsoft PST files at the very least. I usually use a search string as "*.xls; *.xlsx; *.doc; *.docx; *.pst; *.jpg; *.jpeg; *.mp3; *.wma; *.wmv; *.mov; *.m4a; *.mpg; *.mpeg".

This covers most of the common file formats including Apple iTunes formats but check twice and make sure you record all of the possible paths the user might have used.

2) Once you know the data locations you can either run the system's backup software or a simple file copy to backup your data to another location.

Test your backup solution

Before thinking everything is ok, test your backup solution once in a while before committing this process for months or years. It's easy to restore a few files and this small test will save you hours later from recreating work, if it's even possible to recreate. :)

Hope this has been helpful and here's some links for reference.

Windows XP Backup Made Easy

Mozy Backup Service

Crashplan Backup Service

A simple Linux backup plan


Sunday, November 07, 2010

Going with Ubuntu full time

Recently I've been using Ubuntu 10.04 LTS for my main laptop, switching from Windows Ultimate 7. In the past I had Linux installed on either a old laptop or a part time computer but now I'm working with Linux on a main computer. The easy part is finding how well Ubuntu installs, with drivers, the only part that needed installing a separate driver was the Nvidia video card.

Other than the driver, the rest of the applications were installed, Open Office, VirtualBox, Gwibber, and a few extras that are also available on Windows. I also used DropBox to keep my other workstations updated with the same files from Windows to Linux, the application alone makes the transition so much easier.

But after getting everything I needed from Linux, there was some problems. One of the issues is Microsoft Office and working with Open Office formats. If you open a Microsoft Office Word document 2007 DOCX format file in Open Office the formatting is not 100% correct, and vice versa a Open Office ODT format file will not open correctly in Microsoft Office. I tested this out at home but didn't notice any issues until I started to send out documents to other users that I saw many people having difficulties opening the files.

Another issue is formatting with certain browsers or applications only available for Windows. One of my favorite web applications is watching Netflix, which streams the video using Microsoft's Silverlight. As far as I know, there is no official alternative for Silverlight on Linux, but you can use Mono as a possible solution. I have not tried this so I can not speak on the reliability of this solution.

The formatting issue is not really a problem on Linux but a problem of people using either ASP or Internet Explorer specific formatting versus formatting for non-IE browsers. While the percentage of web sites that have issues is going down, there's still that strange website that will always have problems. Also for the Linux users who need VPN access, most cases VPN clients are for Windows users. I got around this issue but running a Windows XP virtual machine in VirtualBox, it's not really a solution rather a work around. The same work around I recommend to Mac users who wanted VPN access using their Mac hardware.

Other than the strange site or special application, my Ubuntu machine has been working excellent and funny that even the control buttons on the Asus laptop that did not work with Windows 7 work with Ubuntu. So far, running all of my favorite applications including my new favorite Docky for the desktop and the transition has been very seamless.

It's really impressive how much Linux and Ubuntu have come along, with the recent change of Internet Explorer loosing the top spot for browser this might allow even more adaptation of Linux to work further.