Sunday, January 31, 2010

why the iPad is game changing

The iPad was announced this week and people seem to be underwhelmed.  Some superfans, loyal Apple customers, and of course Apple evangelists are excited, like this guy:

A small group of fans are saying that this is going to be the biggest thing to geek out since Apple announced the Newton, which was obviously a huge hit.

Apple's explanation of this device is very grand.  "The best way to experience the web, email, photos, and video.  Hands down."  Not only does it surf the web, view your photos, AND connect to YouTube, but it practically connects directly to your brain stem and detects everything that was ever fun in your life and presents it on a nice 9.7" screen.  Videos of dogs surfing galore!

I love my iPhone.  It's probably the most practical and useful pice of consumer technology I've ever owned - I probably use it more often than my computer, TV, or any other overly expensive gadget I have lying around.  Unfortunately, I have never once said, "Man, I love my iPhone, but I really wish I had a device that was almost exactly the same thing but DIDN'T fit in my pocket!"

Despite all of the pomp and grandeur of its product launch, I don't see myself buying this.  However, after reflecting on it for a few days, I can say that this product is truly groundbreaking - but not because of its weight or touch-sensitive display.

What changes the game with the iPad is that it promises to be a headache-free computer.  Think of all of the challenges you've had installing (and uninstalling) applications on Windows.  Incompatible libraries, installation directories that can't be found, conflicts, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.  The damned things are impossible.  Windows isn't the only guilty party; Mac OS X has its share of problems here.  "Just drag the application to the trash," they tell you.  Unfortunately, badly behaved applications change settings, install extra files, modify directories - ultimately leaving you stuck with pop-up messages on every reboot or weird errors long after you've deleted an application.

One of the truly wonderful things about the iPhone and its applications is that it's simple.  You go to the App Store, you find what you want, and it magically just works seconds later.  There's no headache.  There's no cryptic "Next Next Next Next Next" installation wizard.  If I didn't understand what was happening I'd say it's practically magic.

With the iPad, applications can have the same functionality - just go into the App Store, download, and go.  Think of all the times your mom has called you because, as she says, "The Internet is broken," or your grandmother can't play her Mahjongg games, or your cousin has accidentally deleted his entire C drive... these problems all go away.  Now you have a device that's completely managed.  You want to find your books?  You open the iBooks application.  You want to look at your snapshots?  You open the iPhoto application.  No more worrying about install directories, no more searching for files.  It completely abstracts the concept of the "computer" away.

For the true geeks amongst us, this can be a problem, as we like geekitarian things Unix prompts and file permissions and multiple logical drives, but for your grandmother, your kids, and maybe even yourself, the headache-free computer seems to hold a lot of promise.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Your Audience

One of the biggest challenges about writing your resume is that you’re trying to write it for an “anonymous” audience. Unless you’re willing to go through a lot of effort rewriting it every time you send it, you’re trying to take a brief document that makes it appealing everywhere you send it – despite the fact that the audiences may be very different. However, you can simplify this a bit.

While there are lots of technologies and even more companies, there are only 4 major types of people who will view your resume, each with their own interests and goals.
  1. Hiring Managers
  2. Technical staff working for Hiring Managers
  3. Recruiters or Human Resources Personnel
  4. Resume Databases
Lots of times when you’re applying to a company, you’ll hit all four of these. Depending on the size of the company and the level of technical expertise, you may only hit a recruiter or hiring manager. If you have a really good idea of who will be seeing your resume, you can target it – but it’s hard to be sure. That being said, you should write your resume to appeal to each of these targets, since missing what any of them are looking for can keep you from getting an interview or phone screen.

The Resume Database

The resume database is like a recruiter, only not nearly as intelligent (and that’s saying something, given some of the recruiters I’ve met – just kidding recruiters, you know I love you). Resume databases are either a collection of resumes on a job site, or a repository of resumes for a particular company. These resumes are often scanned, indexed, and categorized so that they can be easily searched at a later date.

With most resume databases, you could just write a resume that only listed every single skill available and every single application of experience that an employer might be looking for, and you’d probably get a ton of hits when anybody is searching it, looking to fill a position.
Here’s one important thing to remember about targeting the resume database: any time I’ve ever been turned down for a job, and received the “We will add your resume to our database and contact you if we find an appropriate fit,” either A) they’ve never actually found a fit, because I’ve never been contacted by them, or B) they’ve found a fit well after I’m at a new job and happily plugging away on some other project.

The other important thing to remember about the resume database, is that even if you get a “hit” some human being actually has to read your resume, understand it, and like it enough to give you a phone screen or an interview. This means that filling a resume with every possible keyword is probably not a good thing to do. The best way to get hits in the resume database is to tailor your resume to the specific career that you want. That way, if you get a hit, it will at least be applicable to what you want to do.

A good tip for targeting your resume to the resume database is to identify all of the possible keywords, experience, and skills that are relevant to the type of position that you want, and then make sure that those items are all included in your resume in a practical fashion.

The Recruiter

The recruiter can often be a hard fish to fry. The recruiter may have been involved in technology at one point in his career, but more than likely was not. They may have a cursory understanding of technical terms and technical jargon, but likely they can just identify buzzwords. Even though a lot of these buzzwords may not really mean anything to a real geek, they’re very attractive to recruiters.
Here, you need to think like a recruiter. A recruiter has probably been given a task (find me a programmer) and a set of skills (C++, STL), and experience (3-5 years). To get past the recruiter, you just have to match (or mostly match) this checklist.

So, if you’re looking for a job as a Linux C++ server engineer, you need to make that apparent in your resume. If possible, you should list it in the skills section of your resume, and also in the experience section, if you have relevant experience. Typically, all you have to do to make it past the recruiter is match your resume to the words they’re looking for.

One other thing to note about recruiters – there are really two kinds of recruiters: the kind that works for a company that actually hires technical people, and the kind that works for a company that places technical people in other companies. There’s a big difference here.

Recruiters that work for placement agencies (commonly called “headhunters”) may sound very friendly, and you may be happy to hear from somebody that is so anxious to talk to you – but keep in mind, the way they make money is to place people in technical jobs. Since you’re looking for a technical job, the headhunter might sound like a great person to talk to. Sometimes, they are - but I’ve found much less success with headhunters than I’ve found on my own.

Keep in mind that the company where they’re trying to place you is likely paying up to 30% of your first year’s salary for the right to hire you. Given that, do you think it’s more likely that they will hire someone from an agency, or someone that applied to the company directly?

Not all headhunters do this, but some just want your resume to send out to companies as part of their standard package of resumes (which may be anywhere from 20 to hundreds) in hopes of landing a placement. If a headhunter sends your resume to a company, the company will be contractually obligated for a certain period of time (I usually see 6 months, but it can be up to a year) to pay the headhunter, even if you find your own way there later. While most of them will tell you whenever they are submitting your resume to a company, not all of them will.

Early in your career, it’s a good idea to talk to anybody who is interested in getting you a job, regardless of their motivations – but be cautious and understand what you’re getting yourself into.

Interviewing with the Technical Staff

Developers and other technical staff are a hard sell (more so than Hiring Managers and Recruiters) with a resume. This might be because a lot of them (not all of them, but a decent amount) don’t have much experience with reviewing resumes or interviewing. They know what position needs to be filled, but they might not understand how that position translates into a written resume (lots of developers get into computer science because they don’t like reading and writing, right?). There might be a lack of understanding as to the responsibilities of the job, or what’s really required. Developers and other technical staff tend to have more bias as well – preference for certain educational backgrounds, technologies, or skillsets over others.

Reviewing resumes and hiring probably aren’t their primary job responsibilities, either. They may look at this as an annoyance or something that keeps them from doing their real job. Knowing this, you’re going to have to work harder to appeal to the technical staff. Whereas the hiring manager might be on your side, the technical staff may not be.

For this audience, geeked-out terms can be effective, probably even more than for recruiters and hiring managers, because the developers and technical staff are right there in the thick of it. A manager may not have actually done any of the items you listed in the recent past; a developer likely does it on a daily basis (in the office or in their spare time). So, again, don’t be afraid to use technical terms in your resume. However, be prepared to talk about anything you have on your resume with the developers. The ones reviewing the resume are probably the same ones that will interview you, and they will be quick to question you on anything that is odd or ostentatious.

To impress the developer, you need to do a few things:

  1. Get your point across convincingly. If you make a claim, be prepared to back it up if you’re called for a phone screen or they bring you in for an interview. If you say you worked intensely with a programming language, application, or technology, you should be able to answer lots of questions about it – especially if the person asking the questions has lots of experience in it (and chances are, they do).
  2. Lots of people of the technical persuasion feel that the less time they have to spend on your resume, the better. Be informative, but be succinct.
  3. The more technical your descriptions are, the better you’ll fare with the technical staff. Remember, this is the stuff they do every day. They’ll appreciate the technical nuances more than the other people reviewing your resume.
  4. Don't be afraid to say, "I don't know" if you don't know.