Tag: Career (page 1 of 2)

Some values-based career advice

Earlier this week I got an email from someone I got to know a few months ago. They asked for the kind of advice that a few people have requested from me before, and which I’d usually dispense by email. However, given that it’s advice that could potentially help a wider audience, I’ve decided (with their permission and without identifying them), to reply in the form of a blog post.


The problem

In their email, the problem stated was broadly this: they want a different kind of life, and feel slightly envious of those who seem to be able to pick and choose opportunities that fit with their values. Why can’t they seem to do the same?


Introduction

I’m going to split this post into two halves. The temptation when giving advice is to jump straight to practicalities, but it would be remiss of me not to situate it in a wider context and framework. Where am I coming from and what assumptions am I making? To explain some of that, I’m going to use three quotations to get a bit philosophical and explain my approach to life — or, at least, the approach to which I aspire.

Then, in the second half of this post, I’ll get a bit more specific with three things I think you need to be ‘successful’ and find a position that’s in line with your values. I’ll give some examples, too.


1. Philosophy

I’m a big believer in quotations to motivate you towards action. In fact, as I look up from my desk, I’ve got two on my wall directly in front of me: “THINK LESS. DO MORE” and Albert Camus’ famous “invincible summer” quote.

I thought carefully about which quotations could sum up the advice I wanted to give in this post. Two of the quotations are taken from books I look at repeatedly as part of my daily reading, while the other one I lean on when procrastinating.. I’ll save that one for last.

1a. Aim for a ‘tranquil flow of life’

One thing I’ve learned in my thirties, and particularly after having children, is that you can try too hard to bend the universe in your direction.

“Seek not that the things which happen should happen as you wish; but wish the things which happen to be as they are, and you will have a tranquil flow of life.” (Epictetus)

That’s not to say that you should just give up and float along on the tide of popular opinion. Rather it’s a step towards living an antifragile life and a foot in the door to the world of Stoic philosophy. In that regard, I’d highly recommend purchasing Ryan Holiday’s The Daily Stoic: 366 meditations on wisdom, perseverance, and the art of living.

Hopefully, it’s pretty clear why I’ve included this quotation first. Stoics aren’t constantly raging against the machine, but nor are they bobbing along with the tide. Everything is an opportunity to put your values to the test. As I often say to my children, “your reactions tell people more about your character than your actions.”

1b. Master yourself

Stoicism isn’t something that you just learn in your head and then you’re done. It’s something that you practice. Perhaps the thing that needs practising the most is mastering your emotions.

“There’s no greater mastery than mastery over yourself and your emotions; it amounts to a triumph of free will.” (Baltasar Gracián)

I didn’t realise just how importance emotional stability was until I saw how hiring and promotion works within most organisations. We’ll get into the specifics in the second half of this post, but it’s a huge advantage both to you and those you work with if they can rely on your emotional stability.

For most people and organisations, they’ll favour reliability over brilliance every day of the week. I suppose that’s mainly because they don’t want people who may end up being a liability. When I’m hiring, I’m perhaps a little more tolerant of the ups and downs of emotional and creative life, but nevertheless I want to know that someone on my team isn’t likely to regularly have emotional meltdowns.

Anyone who knows me might well laugh at my giving this advice, as it’s perhaps the thing I struggle with most. I’m getting better, and certainly more emotionally stable than a decade ago, but (like everything!) it’s a constant work in progress.

1c. Make the jump

When all is said and done, the person who holds you back the most in your life and career is… you. That little voice in the back of your head, the thing Steven Pressfield calls The Resistance, is responsible for irrational fear, self-censorship, and missed opportunities.

“Leap, and the net will appear.” (John Burroughs)

I find this six-word quotation to be extremely powerful. It reassures me that things won’t be as bad as I think, and that at the end of the day I’ll be OK. The thing that’s likely to be damaged most if O do need the ‘net’ is my ego. And I can deal with that.

It’s worth saying that I’m all too aware that I’m writing this from a position of white, male, middle-class privilege. I get that. But at the same time, I see a lot of people scared to apply for a job that they feel under-qualified for, move to a different country, or even point to the work they’re most proud of, for fear of the consequences. You’re likely to be pleasantly surprised if you make the leap.

After all, to paraphrase Aristotle, we become brave by acting as if we were brave. Just get on and do it. And I write this as someone who has occasional anxiety issues. So send in the application, put your house up for sale, and send a link to your work to someone you admire.


2. Practical advice

OK, let’s get to some specifics. I’ve been hiring people recently for the work I’m doing on MoodleNet, so the following advice is given with that in mind. It’s also based on my career thus far, and what I’ve seen when coaching others.

I’m going to use the word ‘success’ here as a shorthand for success as defined by you. If you’re currently chasing status, I’d suggest that the first thing you need to do is re-read the previous section, reflect on what you’re trying to achieve in life, and perhaps read the story of the Mexican fisherman.

I reckon that you need (at least) these three things to be ‘successful’ in crafting the life you want to lead:

  • Proof of expertise
  • Character
  • Luck

Let’s break down what I mean by each of these, with some examples.

2a. Proof of expertise

The original question was about crafting a life that fits with your values. Let’s think about that and work backwards. To be in a position to pick and choose between what you do next, you need to either be well known enough to have people approach you, or have demonstrable skills and experience.

This is usually done through CVs or resumes that list bona fides (see examples here and here) and is what LinkedIn was set up for. It’s no good having the skills if you can’t prove that you’ve got them. That’s why I’ve been so interested and supportive of the Open Badges work over the last few years; it’s a way of demonstrating that you’ve got talent.

The reason eportfolios never really took off were because we still use proxies for expertise, rather than the evidence itself. So, for example, once you’ve got that PhD or have worked for Google, people aren’t asking for ‘three years project management experience’, and the like. We rely on other people’s filters that we trust to do the hard work.

When I worked at Mozilla, we hired a lot of people from the Obama For America (OFA) campaign. The OFA tech team had been lauded in the press for their work, and they (quite rightly) were snapped up by Mozilla and other tech companies as soon as they became available.

The OFA example is illustrative because it’s an example of volunteering for a role that becomes a stepping-stone to bigger and better things. The old advice was ‘dress for the job you want’. Nowadays, I’d say ‘volunteer for the job you want’. When I found out about Open Badges, I started volunteering and showing some leadership in the Mozilla community. A year later, I was flown to San Francisco by the MacArthur Foundation to judge the DML Competition, and was offered a job by Mozilla.

Show up. Put the work in. But also be aware of things that might act as a shortcut that you could use a springboard into your next gig.

2b. Character

To have a position that fulfills you and meshes with your values, you have to know what your values actually are. The reason I include ‘character’ here is not just because of the facet of ‘resilience’ or ‘grit’ (to which it seems to have been reduced recently, but all of the other things that it connotes.

To me, an individual’s character flows from their values, what they stand for. Perhaps I’m becoming middle-aged, but it seems that a lot of the problems with today’s society is that people don’t stand for anything other than individualism and whatever late-stage capitalism can offer them. You don’t have ‘values’ and demonstrate character just because you purchase one brand instead of another.

There’s an episode of Seth Godin’s Akimbo podcast cleverly entitled Don’t just do something, stand there. He explains that we’re always concerned with being seen to do something, rather than taking our time to figure out whether something should be done. That ability to stand firm in the face of adversity, criticism, or resistance, is more than just resilience, it’s character.

When it comes to your career, it means deciding on what it is that you’re willing to accept, and what you’re not. It may have a negative effect on how much money you earn.

I remember once meeting a couple of people at a conference somewhere in Europe. They’d both been hired by a pretty shady university that’s routinely accused of predatory practices. Rather naively, they assumed that they would be able to maintain their personal values while working for an employer that was 180-degrees opposed to them. I assume that they’ve either now abandoned those values, or they’re no longer working for the organisation. Something has to give.

So when it comes to choosing who to work for, trust your gut. Of course, there are times when you need money to ensure the base layers of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs are covered, but beyond that, use the Japanese concept of Ikigai to help prioritise your life. Your values don’t have real-world impact unless you’re willing to give something up in order to stick to them.

2c. Luck

As a society, as parents, as colleagues, we don’t talk enough about the role of luck, fortune, or serendipity and how it applies to success. For example, let’s take Tyler Blevins, who my eleven year-old son knows better through his Fortnite gamer handle ‘Ninja’. This is a guy who seems to be an overnight success.

But, digging deeper, you see that not only has he put in the hard yards, he also just happened to be at the right place at the right time. He ‘plays’ (i.e. practises) Fortnite six hours every day, and has been a professional e-sports player since 2009. Of course, even before that as a teenager he would have been practising and practising.

What sets Blevins apart is that he happened to start playing Fortnite at just the right time, just after its release. He couldn’t have known at the time that it would be the biggest free-to-play console game of all time, and a cultural phenomenon. Blevins is now earning a million dollars per month because he was in the right place at the right time with the right skills and character.

So how, I hear you ask, do I ‘get lucky’? Well, I’d suggest that you need to increase what I call your ‘serendipity surface’. If you’re in an occupation that has a strict path to career progression (for example in medicine or the legal profession) then by all means, focus on the narrowly-defined criteria that circumscribes your success.

If, however, you’re like the rest of us and deal in with a world that is more malleable and ambiguous, then a different approach can pay dividends. There’s a reason I travel so much. It’s to meet new people, be exposed to ideas that might not always be shared online, and to experience places that open my mind. These days, we gain a competitive advantage by connecting the dots in new and novel ways. That depends, of course, on knowing where the dots are.

In order to ‘get lucky’, then, means increasing the likelihood of being in the right place at the right time with the right skills. You’re unlikely to be able to do that by experiencing the same 9-5 grind, day in, day out.

Conclusion

We live in a world of huge opportunity. I’m reminded of one comedian’s comment that we have access to much of the entire store of human knowledge available in our pockets, yet we use smartphones to send cat pictures to our friends.

Plenty of people will give you advice on how you can get a leg up in your industry. That counsel, of course, is always looking in the rearview mirror. It’s about what’s worked before, not about what’s likely to work next. You don’t have to follow tried-and-tested paths if you don’t want to. Find topics and people you find interesting, and find out more about them. You don’t have to be a cog in someone else’s machine.

This is turning into an epistle, and there’s still a lot more I could say. So, if you’re interested, I’m happy to do some one-to-one coaching through my consultancy business. Otherwise, please do feel free to comment (anonymously, if you wish) and I’ll do my best to expand on anything I’ve written so far.

Why do we hire based on ‘experience’? HR, Automattic, and Open Badges

It’s 2016. Nobody can reasonably expect to have a ‘job for life’, or even work within the same organisation for more than a few years. As a result, you’re likely to dip into the jobs marketplace more often than your parents and grandparents did. That means it’s increasingly important to be able to prove:

  • who you are
  • what you know
  • who you know
  • what you can do

Unfortunately, hiring is still largely based on submitting a statement of skills and experience we call a ‘Curriculum Vitae’ (or résumé) along with a covering letter. This may lead to an interview and, if you like each other, the job is yours. We have safeguards in place at every step to ensure people don’t discriminate on age, gender, or postcode. Despite this, almost every part of the current process is woefully out-of-date. I’ve plenty to say about all of this, but will save most of it for another time.

In this post I’m particularly interested in why we include ‘job history’ or ‘experience’ when applying for new positions. Given that we have so little time and space to highlight everything we stand for, why do we bother including it? Academic credentials are bona fides, but job history is a bit more nebulous. Why is it still such a prominent feature of our LinkedIn profiles? Why do we email people CVs listing our ‘experience’?

Whether you think that looking at someone’s job history allows for a good ‘cultural fit’, or allows you to make assumptions about the network they bring with them, the reality is that we use job histories as a filter. They’re a useful shorthand. After all, if someone has been hired by Google or another big-name organisation, that’s a bit like saying they went to an elite university. We tend to believe in the judgments made by these kinds of organisations and institutions. We trust the filters. If the person was good enough for those organisations, we think, then they must be good enough for ours.

We like to tell ourselves that we live in a meritocratic world. If someone is good enough, so the story goes, then they can achieve the qualifications and experience necessary to get the job they want. Unfortunately, because of a combination of unconscious bias, innovation immune systems, and the new nepotism, some groups of people are effectively excluded from consideration. Don’t know the right people? Not good at interviews? Have skills too advanced or too new for qualifications to have been developed yet? Bad luck, buddy.

Another problem is that we tend to use what I call ‘chunky black box qualifications’ as proxies of the thing we’re trying to hire for. As an example, take jobs that require a degree ‘in any discipline’. What does that actually mean in practice? They want somebody who can think at a certain level, someone who is likely to come across as ‘professional’, someone who can submit work on time. However, we’re not directly looking at the assessment of the particular quality in this situation, we’re merely using an imperfect proxy.

There are many ways round the current status quo. For example, Automattic (the company behind WordPress which powers a lot of websites) does hiring very differently to the standard model. As outlined in this post, when hiring developers they test candidates in real-world situations through paid trials. In fact, as Automattic is a globally-distributed company, communication happens mainly through text. Most candidates don’t have voice conversation with anyone at the organisation until they’re hired! Obviously this wouldn’t necessarily work in every sector, but it is a good example of thinking differently: focus on what the candidate can do, not what they claim to be able to do.

Another way to approach things differently in hiring is to seek wherever possible to break down those ‘chunky black box qualifications’ into more transparent, granular, and fluid credentials.

For example, when I say I worked for Mozilla it usually piques people’s interest. I then have to go on and explain what I did during my time there. This isn’t easy given the amount of different things you do and learn in an organisation that you were with for three years. Yes, I had two different job titles, but I learned a whole load of things that would take time to tease out: working across timezones on a daily basis? Check. Learning how to use GitHub for development? Check. Consensus-based decision-making? Check.

Not every organisation is in a position to offer a trial period like Auttomatic. Nor would every individual be able to take up their offer. However, much as some people start off as consultants for organisations and then end up employed by them, there is value in getting to know people in a better way than the traditional CV and interview process allows. If we need better filters then we need smaller sieves.

For the past five years I’ve been working on Open Badges, a web-native way to issue trusted, portable, digital credentials. In the situation under consideration, I think there there are a few ways in which badges can be used to unlock those chunky black box qualifications.

  1. Granularity – instead of looking at qualifications that act as proxies, we can evidence knowledge, skills, and behaviours directly.
  2. Evidence – whereas LinkedIn profiles and CVs are a bunch of claims, Open Badges can include a bunch of evidence. Proof that someone has done something is just a click away.
  3. Portability – instead of credentials being on separate pieces of paper or in various digital silos, Open Badges can be displayed together, in context, on the web. They are controlled and displayed at the earner’s discretion.

I’m excited by the resurgence in apprenticeships and vocational education. I’m delighted to see more and more alternative ways organisations are finding to hire people. What I’m optimistic about most of all, though, is the ability for organisations to find exactly the right fit based on new forms of credentialing. It’s going to take a cultural shift in hiring, but the benefits for those who take the leap will be profound.

Image via Nomad Pictures

Why I left teaching five years ago

Last week after another extended FIFA15 session I tweeted:

This led to the anonymous blogger behind Exit Teaching getting in touch via Twitter for the backstory to me leaving the classroom. I’m happy to share it as it’s something that a lot of people in similar situations struggle with. I hope it helps someone!


1. Why did you become a teacher?

Teaching was actually something I’d actively tried to avoid! My father had been Deputy Head of my high school and I’d seen how busy he’d been. I was in my third year of a Philosophy degree when I realised that I was about to need a job. My dad advised me to do my PGCE as ‘something I could fall back on’. After completing a self-funded MA in Modern History, that’s exactly what I did and became a History teacher. I loved it! I’d often say that if there was a roof over my head and food on the table I’d have taught for free!

2. What was your previous role? What are you doing now?

I taught History and a bit of ICT for six years in total. My last job in teaching was as Director of E-Learning of a large academy. I was there for a year and left in 2010. In April 2015 I made the jump to full-time consultancy after some time with Jisc in Higher Education and the Mozilla Foundation, where I was on their education team.

3. Why did you decide to leave teaching?

I skipped middle management and went straight into senior management. I guess I blagged the interview. The position was in an academy that took over nine schools, including three I used to attend – and the one in which my father was Deputy Head. Some of my old teachers were in senior management with me, and some were still full-time in the classroom. Added to that, I was writing my doctoral thesis at the time and had a two year-old son.

Looking back, there were three main reasons I decided to leave teaching. The proximate cause was that I was asked to spend most of my time around behaviour management-related issues. This frustrated me as I felt I was doing too much of it. Another reason was that, although as a cocky twenty-something I felt that I was ready for anything, to be perfectly honest I could have done with some middle-management experience before taking the role. I was thrust into a position where I was line managing two failing departments and one where the Head of Department had just suffered a bereavement. I was a bit out of my depth and wasn’t supported.

The third reason is that I’m an ‘ambivert’ and somewhat of a perfectionist. While I can appear extroverted in social situations, I need time to recharge – but my teaching style didn’t give me the opportunity to do that. It felt like constantly being on stage. I was burning myself out term after term.

3. How did you leave? What were the challenges?

How it ended was a bit of an anticlimax. I won’t go into the ins and outs but I effectively looked around for anything that would get me out of the situation. I realised that I had to choose between a) staying and trying to make a difference (against the odds) in the area in which I grew up, or b) being there for my family and finishing my thesis. I chose the latter and started a job with Jisc infoNet, based at Northumbria University about a year after I’d started at the academy.

The Researcher/Analyst job I moved into was primarily office-based and I took a £10k pay cut, but there was a good deal of national travel. That was great for networking. Originally, I thought it would be a very temporary measure before returning to the classroom in the next academic year – but that never happened. I finished my thesis, made some good friends and contacts in Higher Education, and realised there was life beyond teaching.

4. How do you feel about work, career and life in general now?

I’m still very much in touch with the teaching profession. Almost everyone in my family is, or has been, a teacher. My wife is a Primary School teacher, some of my friends are teachers, and I still have a large network of people I follow via social media. In many ways, the work I do supports teachers of all stripes. At Jisc it was providing resources and guidance. At Mozilla it was inspiring and bringing people together. Now, in my new consultancy role, it’s all about problem-solving and providing solutions.

The work that I did in teaching in my twenties was unsustainable. I wouldn’t be able to do it now, in my mid-thirties, never mind in my forties or fifties. It may have been the way I approached the profession, but it’s no wonder so many people get burned out. It’s not particularly their fault – it’s the situation in which we find ourselves.

You don’t have to work all the hours and have no social life to make a difference in the world. In fact, that’s probably a recipe for being out of touch with society and making yourself into a basket case. I’m much healthier now – I’ve started drinking chamomile tea, going to the gym/swimming every day, and even trying yoga and pilates! I’m calmer, happier in my own skin, and of more use to others.

5. What advice do you have for those thinking about leaving teaching?

I’m asked about this all of the time. In fact, one of my most popular blog posts of all time is one that explores the reasons teachers leave the profession. One of the problems is that moving into a different role outside of the classroom is often seen as a ‘failure’. Another is that, because it’s often a ‘vocation’ that people often go into an early age, those looking to move on aren’t always aware of their transferable skills.

I’ve found that my ability to stand up and engage only moderately-interested teenagers is a particularly useful skill. As is my ability to get things done. Invention is the mother of necessity, so the workflows you develop as a teacher stand you in good stead for getting stuff done outside of the classroom. Planning, preparation, knowing how to talk to external stakeholders (i.e. parents) – all of these are in-demand qualities.

Everyone’s situation is different and so it’s difficult to give generic advice. What I would say is that if you feel that your job – any job – is getting in the way of things you think are important, then you should consider doing something else. If your health (both physical/mental) or your relationships are suffering, stand back and re-evaluate. Teachers tend to be extremely loathe to take time off because of the ‘burden’ they’re placing on others. However, that’s the school’s problem. If you need to take a couple of days to get your head together, then do it. Better that then long-term absence and a cascading series of problems.

There’s so much opportunity out there. Teaching is a valuable and rewarding occupation. But it’s also stressful and relatively low-paid (if you stay in the classroom). Take your time to discuss it with people you know and respect. If there’s a consensus, start looking for something else!

Image CC BY-NC Thomas Hawk

On (not) working in academia.

On (not) working in academia

I’m with Doug Pete in really liking the Zite app.

Although it’s a proprietary, closed product I haven’t come across anything close to it for discovery. Take, for instance, a post entitled On Leaving Academia by Terran Lane, someone I’ve not come across before. He’s an associate professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of New Mexico.

Terran is off to join Google.

His post is neatly organised into section titles listing the reasons he’s leaving academia to join Google:

  1. Opportunity to make a difference
  2. Workload and family/life balance
  3. Centralization of authority and decrease of autonomy
  4. Funding climate
  5. Hyper-specialization, insularity, and narrowness of vision
  6. Poor incentives
  7. Mass production of education
  8. Salaries
  9. Anti-intellectualism, anti-education, and attacks on science and academia

I’ve written about this kind of thing before in You need us more than we need you. As Terran explains, it’s not (just) about money.

Whereas he’s decided to quit academia, I’ve made a conscious choice from the start to stay on its sidelines. Around the margins. On the edges. Whilst the logical thing to do after my doctorate would have been to apply for a research position or lectureship at a university, I decided against it.

Why?

Not only would I be earning half the amount of money I am now – and less than when I was teaching in schools – but it seems a spectacularly bad time to decide to become a career academic. No money, no status, no freedom. And with the introduction of a market into UK Higher Education it’s increasingly difficult for academics to even claim the high moral ground.

That’s not to say academics aren’t doing good, publicly-useful work. Of course they are. It’s just crunch time in their industry.

I think we’re going to see a lot more of this talent-drain from academia. In fact, we’re already seeing a new generation of people not satisfied with traditional career structures and ways of working. I’m not sure if this is good or bad in the scheme of things, given the direction the universities (in the UK) seem to be headed under the current government.

What I do know is that universities need to do something, and fast. The Bank of Goodwill doesn’t have infinite reserves…

Image CC BY-NC-SA Patrick Gage

Why I’m becoming a MoFo(er).

Mozilla logo

There’s something I’ve been bursting to tell people for the last few weeks. It’s something that will come as no surprise to some and a bit of a shock to others.

I’m joining the Mozilla Foundation.

I can’t tell you how excited I am! As ‘Badges and Skills Lead’ I’ll be both continuing the work started by Michelle Levesque on web literacies and evangelising Open Badges.

The last couple of years with JISC infoNet have been fantastic but I had to take such a wonderful opportunity! I’m fortunate to be both leaving and joining an extremely friendly, effective and forward-thinking team.

If you have any questions I’ll do my best to answer them in the comments below!

My Belbin results – Part 2

In My Belbin Results – Part 1 I outlined what the Belbin process is and listed the nine different characteristics that the process identifies for those who are part of a team. At the end of the blog post I asked people, whether they knew me solely online or also offline, to ascertain which three of the nine characteristics were most like me. Go and read that post (and especially the comments) before proceeding. 🙂

It was interesting that those who know me solely online seem to view me differently from those who know me offline as well. That showed up in my ‘official’ Belbin report as well – there was one external assessor who I’ve only ever talked to on Skype and over the phone.

So what were my results? In order:

Plant – Creative, imaginative, unorthodox. Solves difficult problems. Ignores incidentals. Too pre-occupied with own thoughts to communicate effectively.

Resource Investigator – Extrovert, enthusiastic, communicative. Explores opportunities. Develops contacts. Over-optimistic. Can lose interest once initial enthusiasm has passed.

Shaper – Challenging, dynamic, thrives on pressure. Has the drive and courage to overcome obstacles. Prone to provocation. Liable to offend others.

The above were agreed upon by all five of my observers, apart from one who came up with ‘Specialist’ instead of ‘Shaper’. As for me, I had down Plant and Shaper, but had ‘Monitor Evaluator’ down as number one. Perhaps I’m not so ‘serious minded’ after all… 😉

The pigeon-holing is interesting but some of the report was intriguing. There were six people who assessed me, if you include the self-assessment; here are the top words and phrases people selected to describe me (in order of most frequent):

  • innovative
  • impulsive
  • creative
  • imaginative
  • opportunistic
  • enterprising
  • provocative
  • encouraging of others
  • persistent
  • outspoken
  • technically skilful
  • clever
  • professionally dedicated

The word ‘aggressive’ also came out a couple of times, but right next to it was ‘calm & confident’ so I saw them as cancelling each other out. Talking to one of the people who assessed me, they explained the former as positive and being akin to ‘tenacious’. 🙂

There’s various other bits of feedback you get, including a ‘strengths’ and ‘possible weaknesses’ report, along with (hilariously) a ‘counselling report’. Here’s some choice excerpts:

Has innovative tendencies and needs to work in a mentally challenging environment. Requires work where he can use his outgoing nature… Needs to work in an environment which offers scope for personal expression.

Could have problems adapting to a supportive and subordinate role when necessary.

Needs to work within a loose framework. Will function best when given the freedom to roam.

Yours is essentially a pioneering profile. You are one of the few people equally read to develop new ideas on your own or in conjunction with others. Your best line of work is one in which you are required to explore possibilities and to take advantage of new opportunities. You have some features of the visionary. But take care you do not become isolated from others and resistant to the contributions they can make to the development of what is new.

For you above all others, it is best to establish the moment of exit. Do not outstay your welcome.

Your operating style is that of one who always seeks to be at the cutting edge of change. So remember that this is a hazardous spot to occupy. You will need to respect others of more traditional habits if you are to win respect yourself.

Does that seem a fair assessment? 😀

‘So… what do you do?’ (v2)

Pigeon-holes. Not those, of course, of the physical variety in which you might keep racing birds, but those of the mind. That, and people’s seemingly-innate desire to find areas of common ground in any given situation. Combined, they’re a potent, but potentially destructive force in society.

“So… what do you do?” is a question I try not to ask. It’s only one step removed from, “What do you do for a living?”, asked explicitly to answer the implicit question “Are you of any value or interest to me?”. I have a three step strategy to answer such questions:

Questioner: So… what do you do?

Me: I work at Northumbria University

That satisfies 80% of queries. Sometimes that’s followed up by:

Questioner: Oh really, what do you do there?

Me: I work for an organization called JISC that’s based at Northumbria and deals with educational technology.

This deals with a further 15%. Only about one out of every twenty people ask for the full details:

Questioner: What type of things do you do?

Me: I work for a part of JISC called JISC infoNet. We’re funded indirectly by the taxpayer and provide guidance on digital technologies mainly to senior managers. We produce ‘infoKits’ which are detailed online briefings to get the further and higher education sectors up-to-speed on relevant topics. I’m currently working on  some giving guidance about Open Educational Resources and mobile technologies. JISC saves the taxpayer more than thirty times what they cost to fund.

If all three questions have been asked, this usually leads to a longer conversation where we both get to talk about what we enjoy and find interesting in life. I am, of course, slightly more loquacious than the above, but you get the idea. :-p

Apart from my absolutely most-hated phrase which I will no doubt write about soon – a phrase banned in our house since the birth of our son – apart from that particular phrase, the one I revile most is the one which asks what you do for a living?. Every action and utterance has a symbolic element. In this case, the questioner not only assumes, but serves to endorse and reinforce, societal notions that what a person does to earn money is necessarily the defining feature of their life.

I’m currently reading a book about Greg Mortenson called Three Cups of Tea. Whilst I’ve only devoured the first six chapters, Mortenson has already attempted to scale K2, been kept alive by the hospitality of a tiny, remote, and very poor village, worked as a emergency-room nurse, slept in a car to make ends meet, and returned to Pakistan to build a school after raising money through the writing of 580 letters. How would he have answered, “So… what do you do?” at this point of his life, I wonder? I’m guessing he would barely mention what happens to pay the bills.

I do enjoy working at JISC infoNet – how could I fail to? It’s a flexible occupation where I’m surrounded by great people doing work that the sector respects and deems worthwhile. I didn’t enjoy my previous job, however. I was constrained and cajoled into doing things against my better judgement. Refusing to sell out, I changed jobs (and educational sectors) and took a pay cut, despite having moved my family to a different part of the country specifically for the previous position. I write this not to self-aggrandise, but to make a point:

Your mission in life is bigger than your job.

So what’s my mission? I’ll find the specifics later but I’ve got the broad brushstrokes: improving user outcomes. Let’s just check that back against what I wrote 14 months ago, shall we? Does what I said then still hold water?

So what do I do?

  • I blend digital and physical worlds.
  • I tell stories about how learning can be.
  • I show people stuff.
  • I research.
  • I find the best of the best.

My job’s what I make it. I can live with that.

Is that still true? Absolutely. 😀

Innovation: where it’s at.

One of the things I love about having a blog is that it’s a space to think things through. This is something I’ve been thinking about for a while and so needed to solidify my views by committing it to writing. 🙂

Interest can get you a long way in life. If you’re interested in something it fires your curiosity and motivates you to do something about it.

  • People interested in photography tend to buy a decent camera and practice until they become better.
  • Those interested in collaborative technologies tend to use them with others and evangelise their use.
  • Individuals interested in endangered species are usually the ones found donating their money and volunteering.

That’s why interest leads to an increase in awareness and skill level. That, according to Seth Godin in Linchpin, makes you immensely valuable:

But.

The commonly-followed trajectory is from interest to a job/employment in that area. Which is great. What you need to make sure of, however, is that you don’t lose the relevant, up-to-date domain knowledge (green circle) in your trajectory to the right of the Venn diagram.

Good luck. 😀

The end of the beginning.

I suppose it’s a bit of a random day to start (April Fool’s Day, the last day before a public holiday…) but I begin a new job today that I’ve very excited about. I’m delighted to announce that I’ve signed a two-year contract (I sound like a professional footballer!) with JISC infoNet as Researcher/Analyst:

JISC infoNet aims to be the UK’s leading advisory service for managers in the post-compulsory education sector promoting the effective strategic planning, implementation and management of information and learning technology.

The team are a great bunch who I’ve already been in to meet since my successful interview a couple of months ago. I’m looking forward to extending my knowledge and experience in education up to FE and HE level!

JISC infoNet is one of eight sub-sections of JISC Advance, which is funded by the UK taxpayer through the Research Councils. I’ll be researching (duh!), putting together infoKits and helping facilitate workshops in colleges of further education and universities around the country. I’m based at, although not actually part of (despite the new @northumbria.ac.uk email address) Northumbria University.

I’m happy to answer any questions you’ve got about the move by email – use this contact form. I’ll reproduce the most commonly-asked questions over at Doug’s FAQ. 🙂

Escaping the circus.

I have to.

I wouldn’t know what else to do – I’d have to leave the circus.

I heard an interview with Carly Simon recently. She’s in her sixties now and most famous for stuff she did before I was born – such as the song You’re So Vain. The interviewer asked her if she would keep on making music “even into her eighties”. Her response is above.

She meant, I think, to come across as someone with a lifelong passion. To me, however, it came across as quite sad. She’s no Bob Dylan, after all.

And then I got thinking about education and about teaching in particular. I know quite a few people who just wouldn’t know what else to do if they weren’t teaching. That’s not always a positive thing. Sometimes people need to leave the circus. :-p

(Image CC BY-NC hbp_pix)

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