The Gap Quarter

When I resigned I had no job to go to, and my successor-to-be was about to take a month off to get married. I didn’t want to leave him nor my team in the lurch, which is why I ended up giving 9 weeks notice (for my American readers, the Australian standard is 4 weeks). I thought that in that 9 weeks I would have plenty of time to find a job. I turned out to be harder than I thought.

I always knew that I would be at a disadvantage; looking for work in a foreign country where at the time I had no legal authority to work there (no Visa). Why would an employer risk time and effort for you when there are plenty of competent people within the US to hire? Luckily it wasn’t quite that bad – I got several interviews in at several large startups within the Bay Area, but after 2 or 3 interviews I would be told a fairly consistent message: “We like you, and we think you’d fit in and have a lot of potential, but you’re just not quite what we’re looking for.” It was time to execute Plan B: about a month before I left Deutsche Bank I booked my flights to the US, planning to be there from late April to as long as the beginning of June. That June timeframe was the limit in my head of how long I was prepared to invest in this lofty dream.

In those final few weeks before I left Deutsche Bank I was calm, which was a strange feeling. I imagine it’s akin to the moment before you bungee jump or skydive; amidst the chaos comes a peace right before the moment you jump off. There was no turning back now; it was unlikely I could ask for my resignation to be withdrawn, but that didn’t matter because I didn’t want to turn back. Like deciding to do something painful or scary, it’s best to just accept it after you’ve made the decision and move on.

I remember being one of those people who would criticise those who were with the same employer for 10, 15, 20 years. “They will become so ingrained into this culture, they will never survive when they leave,” I would say. But I ended up being one of those people, or perhaps got close to it. I was at Deutsche Bank for 8 years, 4 months, 11 days. The prospect of leaving was both exhilarating and terrifying. The majority of my adult life had been spent at Deutsche Bank. The weight of that was hard to analyse, especially in that last week.

The last week was mostly dealing with cleaning up my desk and taking personal belongings home (I managed to accumulate a lot of crap), forwarding important emails to my successor, spending time writing farewell letters to colleagues and vendors, and a few cheeky vendor lunches. This was after all meant to be a celebration of success and aspiration, rather than commiserating failure or defeat.

After I that last day I had a week at home to continue interviews and the job search and to spend a little bit of time relaxing, before the hard work really began.

Here we go.

I posted this on my Facebook on April 28 2013 with the caption, “Off to pursue the dream.” QF11 SYD -> LAX

The first two weeks in the US were truly horrible. The calm of the last few weeks of employment were replaced with stress and anxiety of unemployment. I was applying to any job I could find, utilising all of my contacts, and wasn’t getting anywhere. I also picked up a cold on the way over, so I was also battling illness while trying to find a job. It also seems that being an IT Recruiter outside of a company that actually hires them is really tough going, as I got nothing back from them despite several of them saying that I was a strong candidate.

I’ve never been unemployed by choice before, so in this situation the only person you have to blame is yourself. But by this stage it was too late to ask questions and revisit it; after the peace came the chaos, so you just have to accept it and live with it.

Luckily, at the end of the second week things got better. A meeting I had lined up since before I left Deutsche Bank with a vendor they use went very positively (Company A), as well as a phone interview for another company I had never heard of (Company B). Company A seemed very intent of giving me a job offer. Things were looking up! But I also wanted to talk to Company B as they were doing some really interesting things around big data.

Thursday, week 3. Today is when I’m meeting with both Company A and B. Company A wants to meet at 6pm. Company B asked me to arrive at 10am and to block out the whole day. I woke up around 6am, having had broken sleep with stress dreams on and off around interviewing. I ran out of time to get breakfast because I have a 2 hour drive ahead of me. I leave Alameda at 7:40am, and I arrive at Palo Alto at 9:45am, having wolfed down a small packet of peanuts for breakfast in the car on the way down.

Company B takes me through several interviews. I understand that with each interview that passes, I move up a the ladder a little more. Also having done my research on this company, I know that you can be let go any time during the day if they feel that you are not the right fit, and this plays on my mind a little. After lunch I meet up with a bunch of other interviewees (who are here for other roles) for a product demo. Afterwards several of them are told that their interviews are done for the day. I sit in a waiting area for a while, not sure what will happen next. Eventually I get taken to another interview. Then another. Then another. At about 5:45pm I’m told that I’m going to meet one of the founders of the company for a final interview. Keeping in mind that I was meant to meet with Company A at 6pm, I text that person before my last interview here and tell him I will probably be an hour or so late, and I totally understand if he wishes to postpone. To my surprise he says that he is happy to wait because he would be working late anyway. The final interview with the founder is at around 6:30pm.

I finish at around 6:45pm. That’s 8 and 3/4 hours of interviews. I’m now running on adrenalin – I am really exhausted. But I can’t stop now because there’s another interview to go, with the patient person at Company A. I race over to Santa Clara to meet them. We talk for about 45 minutes before he hands me an offer. I’m so tired and wrung out I’m not sure what to say or do. I was of course excited, but it wasn’t sinking in just yet. It was a long drive back to Alameda. I fall into bed just after 9pm.

A few days later, Company B also presents me with an offer. It was the best kind of problem to have, to decide between two great companies. Ultimately I chose Company B for a number of reasons, however it was a very hard decision to make. I change my flights and fly back to Sydney several days later.

After I returned back to Sydney, it took about 6 weeks to get my various affairs in order (including marriage!). It was a longer hiatus than I initially was planning, but it gave me some time to relax a little knowing I had a new opportunity to move into. In the end, it was 13 weeks between jobs. A long vacation, or funemployment, that I don’t intend to do again for a very long time.

A very important point to make is that both of those offers came initially through referrals: Company A through a chance meeting with the APAC Head of Sales, Company B through someone who worked at HR at Deutsche Bank who knew a someone in recruiting at Company B. While you could argue that there was no point travelling to the US to do search in person, it was actually a very important part of both company’s decisions to give me an offer: they saw how dedicated I was to pursuing this dream and thought that that passion and drive made me a strong candidate.  I still keep in touch with Company A.

I share this story not out of warning or advice, but to share a story about how a usually risk-adverse person did some crazy things in search of a better career path.

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The E-3 Journey

Several people have contacted me asking to hear more about my job hunting experiences in the US. The short story is that I did indeed find work in the last week of May, and I joined my current employer in mid-July. I will write a longer version of this for my next post, but I wanted to document the general experiences with how you (as an Australian) can make your overseas move as painless, or at least as open-eyed, as possible.

The information and statements below assume that you are not currently employed in the United States under a different visa, and that you are not looking for an intra-company transfer. If you are the latter, you want to investigate out the L-1 Visa.

I strongly recommend seeking advice of Immigration Lawyers. More likely than not your employer will help you here, but do not take my advice as gospel. This is an ever changing landscape and you want to be armed with the facts and the best tactics.

The first thing to know is the unique privilege you have as an Australian: the E-3 Visa is an United States non-immigrant Visa. It is similar to the H-1B Visa, except that is exclusively for Australian citizens. The great thing about this Visa is that unlike the H1-B whose quota of 65,000 issues per year are usually filled by the middle of the year, the E-3 has a separate quota of 10,500 per year. To date this quota had not yet been reached on an annual basis. Like the H1-B it is a 24 month term, multiple-entry Visa, and it can be renewed indefinitely. There are three disadvantages of the E-3 compared to the H1-B:

Firstly the E-3 is not a “dual intent” Visa: this means that you cannot easily apply for a change in immigration status (most commonly to Permanent Residency, aka the Green Card). While it is possible to do submit such an application, it can effect your future E-3 renewal. It also means that if you do apply for another Visa or permanent residency, you will essentially be “landlocked” in the United States until the outcome of that application is met. You will not be able to leave the US and return while you are in this application limbo.

Secondly, you cannot apply for the E-3 Visa in the US (although can you renew it there) – you must apply for it in Australia. There are stories of people going to Canada or the United Kingdom to apply, but it is fraught with risk that a knowledgable Consular staff member will reject you. Unless you like living on the wild side, ensure that a trip back to Australia is in your future.

Thirdly, if you lose your job (which nullifies your E-3), you have 10 days to find a new sponsor (i.e. a new job), or leave the country. At first glance this caveat really sucks, however I will discuss later about the reality of this issue and ways to deal with it.

And can you qualify for an E-3 visa without a university degree? Yes you can, with conditions: the US recognises time in the workplace as the equivalent of degree time at a 3:1 ratio. Given a standard bachelor’s degree is 4 years if study in the US, you need at least 12 years in the workforce in the field you are applying for. For example, if you’re aiming to get a job in the IT industry in the US, you need to have worked in the IT industry (as your job – your employer doesn’t have to be in the IT industry itself) for at least 12 years. This isn’t an absolute rule, but this need to be the basic standard you need to aim for. Any less and you risk disappointment.

Looking For Work

If you’re working in IT, applying for work is fairly similar as it is in Australia: you submit your resume, you have 1 or 2 phone interviews, a few in person interviews, and then a job offer. There are however a few important things to know before you start your job hunt.

  1. Trim down your resume. In Australia resumes are allowed to be 5 or 6 pages long, depending on experience. In the US, anything more than 2 pages will get binned almost immediately. The first page must to 90% of the sell, the second page should have supplementary data to compliment the strong first page. There’s several Resume Proofing services available online (you can search Groupon for some decent discount coupons too) – use it.
  2. Make potential employers aware of the existence of the E-3. Most employers will know about the H1-B and will assume that that is the way you want to try and get into the country, and because of previously stated quota issues they will rightly assume it is too hard. Informing them of the E-3 may change their position.
  3. Recruiters have a hard time in the US. Most big shops and almost all IT companies have internal recruiters. As such, unfortunately you cannot rely on recruiting companies, but it certainly doesn’t hurt reaching out to them either.
  4. Utilise your network. You’ll find your vendor account reps, colleagues and friends will know people who work at the companies you want to work at. Internal referrals get you past the first hurdle of resume screening.
  5. Be prepared for a lot of rejection. It’s a buyer’s market out there, and sadly being a non-US citizen will put you at a disadvantage straight away. Your resume is your key tool to getting a foot in the door.
  6. Get a US Skype number. You can set this up in minutes and have it forward to your local Australian number. This is relatively inexpensive ($25 a month, depending on call volume as you pay the Skype tariffs) and makes a good impression on your resume.

Lastly, nothing beats pounding the pavement in person. In my experience I discovered companies respected the effort to be in their backyard, and makes it more appealing to bring you in for an in-person interview than having to fly you in from Australia. Don’t forget you can visit the US for 90 days under the Visa with Waiver Program (VWP).

I Got A Job Offer!

Congratulations! Give yourself a pat on the back – all that hard work has paid off. However all of the real chaos is yet to come. But before you sign that contract, consider the following, especially if you have more than one offer:

  1. Are they giving you any kind of relocation package? Moving is expensive.
  2. Will they pay for the immigration lawyer services? This will save you a lot of time and money, so you need to consider this as a tangible financial part of your offer.
  3. Do you feel that the salary offered will provide you with the quality of life you have or want?
  4. If you have a spouse and/or kids, are they really willing to move?
  5. Are you really willing to move? Is this what you really want?

Points 4 and 5 shouldn’t be underestimated. If for whatever reason something goes wrong here, you are much better off graciously declining an offer and keeping that line of communication open & bridge unburnt, than accepting it and later having to reverse that decision before you start.

Getting Your Visa

You need to setup your appointment with the US Embassy as soon as possible. US Embassies in Australia are located in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, and Canberra.

Before you can make the appointment, you need to complete a DS-160 form (as does anyone else in your family who you are taking dependents, who will be applying for a E-3D Visa.) This requires passport-style photos to be uploaded with your application, so use a digital camera. Once you submit this form, print the confirmation page. Then you’ll be ready to make an appointment at the Embassy. Keep in mind that you need to take several key documents to the appointment, including the Labor Condition Application (LCA), which your employer has to assist in filed (you need the original – and do not throw it away after your interview as you will need it later!), the DS-160 confirmation form, marriage & birth certificates, and of course your passports. Lead times at these embassies can be quite long – for me the first available interview was 2 weeks after I booked it, but I booked it after I knew the immigration lawyers were sending the LCA and the petition from my employer to the US Embassy to support my E-3 request. You’ll need to balance the timing depending on the urgency of your desired start date and the reality of logistics.

When it comes to your actual interview day & time, keep in mind that there is a long line to get into the Embassy (where your electronic devices will be confiscated) and Airport-style security. More often than not you will not be seen at your appointment time; your appointment time is when you will actually be let into the Embassy office area. After that there are queues and a place to get a number in the line. To be safe, ensure that you get there early, and plan to be within the Embassy facility for up to 3 hours. If you are still working, consider taking the day off! Your actual consultation will not take more than a few minutes. Usually you will be told that your application has been provisionally approved. They will then take your Passports and send them back to you within 7-10 days. You do not need to bring a self-addressed Express Post Platinum satchel, as the cost of your application includes this (so don’t do what I did and be left with satchels you’ve already written on!) More information can be found at the US Embassy site.

Keep your LCA documentation – will you need it in the future, beginning when you land in the US. Scan it as a backup as well.

While you’re applying for your visa, you should also apply for your Social Security Number (SSN). Almost everything you do in terms of managing your life, especially with a government agency, requires you to get a Social Security Number (SSN). Ironically as a non-US Citizen you are not entitled to any kind of ‘Social Security’. See the Social Secuirty Administration’s page on “Social Security Numbers and Non-Immigrant Visas” here for more details.

Home Affairs

Now that you’ve started your journey to moving overseas, you now need to start considering how to wind up your Australian affairs.

Marriage

If you were like me and in a relationship but not married, you need to take care of that right now. Make haste to the Department of Births, Deaths & Marriages and obtain an application for marriage. From there, the quickest you can get married is 14 days from the day you submit the petition if you prove urgency (a copy of your employment contract would suffice). Time to make a honest woman/man out of your loved one! Sadly the US still does not recognise civil unions or same-sex marriages for the purposes of a E-3D Visa.

Contractual Obligations

Consider any contracts you have that need to be cancelled. Here’s what was on my list, but consider your full picture, as depending on the service you may have to give more than a month or / billing cycle’s notice:

  • Rental Leases
  • Mobile Phone Contracts
  • Internet Access
  • House/Contents Insurance
  • Car/Boat Insurance
  • Health Insurance
  • Magazine Subscriptions
  • Bank Accounts
  • Credit Cards
  • Lay-Bys/Pre-Orders
  • Electricity, Gas, Water accounts
  • Paid frequent flyer programs (e.g. Qantas Club) – unless you plan on using their services within the next membership cycle.

A few notes:

It is best to not cancel your Health Insurance, but rather put it on hold. Depending on your insurance provider, you should get up to 4 years on hold without charge. Check the fine print carefully here however, as some providers may charge you exorbitant fees to take it off hold early. The primary reason to not cancel your membership outright is that once you break a continuous health insurance policy after the age of 31, you lose any Lifetime Health Cover loading. You want to keep your ‘foot in the door’ with insurance until you’re absolutely sure you’re not moving back to Australia beyond the period you’ve put it on hold.

If you’re renting, ask your landlord for a reference (provided you were on good terms with them!) This can come in very handy when looking for places to live in the US. Also obtain a rental ledger to prove how much you were paying. If you owned your property and had a mortgage, prepare a document of your mortgage repayment history.

If you do own property and aren’t intending to sell, consider using a real estate agent to handle the ongoing tenancy. While they will take their percentage (anywhere from 7 to 15 percent per month), you don’t want the hassle of trying to manage your property from the other side of the Pacific Ocean.

If you have an American Express credit/charge card, your membership and payment history will enable you to transfer your card to the United States. To clarify: ‘transfer’ meaning the setup of a new account without long-winded credit checks (given that you will have no credit score/history in the US) – you will still need to arrange to cancel your Australian AMEX.

Don’t set the cancellation of your health, home and contents insurance until the day after you leave Australia. Just in case.

Get your mobile phone unlocked if you’re planning on taking it with you! The smallish fee for doing this is surely cheaper than buying a new phone (unless you were planning to upgrade, in which case it may be cheaper for you to wait until you get to the US).

Document Gathering

Take high quality, colour scans of these documents. You will need these from time to time, especially when working with the US Federal Government but also banks and insurance companies.

  • Birth Certificates
  • Marriage Certificate
  • Drivers Licence (both sides)
  • Passport (including all pages you have any stamps on, not just stamps for US trips)

You should also obtain copies of these documents:

  1. Driving Record (for all states you’ve lived in in the last 10 years)
  2. National Police Check, if you’ve ever had one done. They are only about $50 to have one performed and can be handy for later immigration or future employment background checks / clearance.

Keep in mind that if you need to print them in the US, you will need to select Legal paper size if it’s a full A4 document.

Clean House

If you’re like me, you will have a full apartment or house worth of belongings. You’ll have to decide what to keep and what sell or dispose of. Consider the following:

  1. The United States uses 110 Volt power outlets, where Australia uses 240 Volt outlets. Most modern computer equipment will happy switch voltage automatically (or they may have a small toggle switch where the power supply is), but most other items will not. That means all of your whitegoods, bathroom & household appliances, tools etc aren’t going to work. I would strongly suggest you sell anything you aren’t overly attached to – most rental properties come with a Refrigerator, Washing Machine and Dryer anyway. Smaller appliances are a lot cheaper in the US so you won’t go broke replacing everything (depending on your taste and budget). For items you don’t want to take, Ebay or Gumtree are your best bet. Just take the usual care with selling to strangers.
  2. For those electrical items you do want to take, you can buy voltage inverters.
  3. Keep in mind any kind of region locking for home theatre devices and gaming consoles (the Wii U and Nintendo DS are region locked, Xbox 360 and PS3 are a mixed bag of games which are and are not region locked).
  4. If you have a vehicle and are planning to sell it, don’t state in your advertisement that you’re moving overseas – people will try to screw you on price. You should however disclose this prior to completing the final sale (at least, I would.)
  5. Take this opportunity to decide what you really want to take with you. Do you want those t-shirts you haven’t worn in 3 years? Shoes with a hole in them? Books you’ll never read again? That crockery set your mother bought you and you’ve never taken out of the box? Don’t just throw all of this away – Goodwill groups such as St. Vincent De Paul, Salvation Army etc. will take a lot of household items in good condition. Reach out to your local Goodwill or check out their website for more details on what they will take from you.
  6. Check with your local council regarding hard rubbish pickup – they will take most household items with some restrictions on items such as chemicals, TVs, etc. Check with your council via their website. Use your new adventure as an excuse to get rid of old items you don’t mind parting with.
  7. Keep in mind that you cannot take most liquors, foodstuffs etc into the US, so you’ll have to part ways with the content of your liquor cabinet (US customs provide some flexibility here with small quantities you can take  – see the US Customs website here for more information.) What my friends have done in similar situations is have a “don’t BYO” party, and you can all enjoy consuming all the alcohol you’ve been collecting.

Removalists

There are several big players out there who do overseas moves regularly (I am not going to mention any names here as I have had a semi-bad experience with the one I used, but you can contact me directly if you want to know more), so you can usually get a fairly decent price. That said, be prepared for this to be expensive.

  1. Contact at least three companies and arrange for an onsite visit. They will walk through your house/apartment with you and based upon your feedback (e.g. you can tell them that certain items aren’t coming with you) they will give you a quote.
  2. US Customs strongly prefer the removalists to do the actual packing of boxes. What this means is that the removalists must account for the contents of each box before it is sealed. If the shipment is classified as “owner packed”, US Customs may (and mostly likely will) hold onto your items a lot longer, so spend the extra money for the full packing service. For any particular sensitive or fragile items, pack the box yourself but leave the box unsealed so the removalist can perform a visual inspection prior to them sealing it. Plus, the removalists will know how to best wrap & pack items for long journey.
  3. Get insurance. It is usually about 3-4% of the total value you specify. The insurance should cover transit door to door (and anywhere from 7 to 30 days after your items are delivered to your US address, depending on the removalist/insurance company). Don’t be the one person who doesn’t get insurance who gets a phone call one day to inform you that your container fell off the ship and you’re left with nothing to show for it.
  4. The removalist will most likely quote you for a “shared container” versus “sole container”. A shared container means that your boxes will be put into a shipping container with other people’s boxes destined for the US. A sole container means you get one all to yourself. The benefit of the shared container is that it can be several thousand dollars cheaper. The biggest drawback is that the removalist/shipping company will not book space on a vessel until the container you’re in is full. In my case I had to wait 6 weeks before the ship departed Sydney. A sole container will basically ship as soon as space on a vessel is ordered and available.
  5. Most ships leaving the Australian east coast will travel via China and South East Asia first. As such, the travel time on the vessel will be about 5 to 6 weeks. It is best that you plan to not see your belongings for 12-14 weeks from the date of collection from your Australian residence (and potentially longer if you are coming from the Australian west coast and/or to the US east coast).

Final Preparation

Utilise the maximum luggage allowance you get with whichever airline you plan to use, and investigate how much their excess baggage fees are. Given how long you will be without your belongings, you will want to bring a lot of clothes, toiletries, etc with you directly rather than waiting for the shipping container to arrive. You can buy cheap suitcases for $40-50 from many outlets – ultimately they only need to last this one trip but hopefully will of course be usable for longer than that. In my case we relocated with 4 suitcases, a laptop bag and a backpack, but realised after we arrived in the US and looked up the benefits of my tier of Airline Club membership that we were in fact entitled to a third 23kg bag each. Doh! One friend of mine did his entire US move with about 6 suitcases.

If you take prescription medication, talk to your doctor about a “Regulation 24″ script. This means the doctor can authorise you to have your entire set of repeats issued at once. Note that this is at the doctor’s discretion and they may not agree to do this for any kind of addictive medication. Ensure that any medication which requires refrigeration can survive a 24-36 hour period outside of those conditions. This will just make it easier for your first few months in the US. Don’t throw away the boxes, partly in case if you are queried by US Customs when you arrive in the US, and partly because when you finally do see a doctor in the US they will rely on knowing the active ingredients and dosages rather than the brand name which often aren’t the same in the US.

If you’re entitled to any discounts through your health insurance such as sunglasses etc, you should consider taking that up prior to leaving to get your money’s worth.

Ensure you use, sell or give away any gift cards, vouchers etc. which expire before you can foresee returning to Australia. No point throwing that money away.

Your employer’s health insurance will not kick in until the day you start, so I strongly recommend that you obtain travel insurance for the few days/weeks you will be in the US prior to your start date.

Welcome to the United States

Congratulations! Now the real craziness will begin.

Social Security Number

If you didn’t apply for your SSN when you applied for your Visa, the Social Security Administration must be your first stop after you get to the US. Check their website to find the closest one to you. You need to complete a SS-5 Form along with required identity documentation. Get used to filling out a lot different forms when dealing with State and Federal Government agencies.

I-94 Number

When you arrived into the US, you will have had an I-94 number assigned to you, which is not given to you explicitly when you arrive into the US. Historically there was a time when this used to be a paper form that you filled out, but now it is done electronically. You will need this number, and luckily it is very easy to obtain this number. Click here to fill out the form, which is quick and free. Once you press submit, provided you entered the data in correctly, you will be given a receipt page with your I-94 number clearly marked. Make a note of this number as well as keeping a copy in PDF form or print it out. You will need it in the future.

Employment Authorization Document (for Spouses)

If your spouse who intends to work, they must obtain an Employment Authorization Document, or EAD. Without this they cannot even apply for work, and painfully cannot get a SSN. This requires filling out an I-765 Form and submitting the application by mail, along with a cheque (which in the US is referred to as checks) for $380. Make sure your form is filled out exactly right, as these applications can rejected for even minor errors, and the average processing time is 90 days, so it’s a long turnaround time for resubmission. Some handy tips (although please consult the I-765 handbook to ensure you have the right data – don’t just take my word for it) for particular parts of the form:

  • Question 10: Enter your I-94 number.
  • Question 14: E-3D
  • Question 15: “Spouse of E-3 Visa holder”
  • Question 16: (  a  )  (  17  )  (      )

Pre-Paid Mobile Number

Get yourself a pre-paid SIM card and/or pre-paid phone if you don’t have an unlocked phone. As of June 2013, you can now get data on a pre-paid account in the US (which came as a huge relief when I discovered this!) Your employer will most likely give you a phone and/or SIM card under a corporate contract, but if you’re bringing a dependents with you they will need a phone to make things easier.

Bank Account

You will need to set yourself up with a bank account. If you don’t have your SSN yet you can still set this up, but you will need to supply this to your bank as soon as you can for tax purposes. You will most likely get a checking account, so welcome (or welcome back, if you’re old enough) to having a checkbook. As a courtesy they should provide you with a “void” check which you may need on your first day at your employer for the purposes of getting up your pay deposit. The truth is that your Routing Number (like a BSB) and Account Number are printed on the bottom of the check, and payroll prefer to see the numbers to prevent typos leading to you not getting paid.

Most banks will also give you a debit card with your account which can prove very handy if you don’t have a US credit card – most of time is unobtainable in the first few months due to your lack of credit history.

Transferring Money Abroad

Once you have a US bank account established, you can begin to transfer funds across. The easiest way is via a bank transfer, although there are other options like travel money cards, etc. If you are planning on moving more than AUD$5,000 across, I would recommend a company such as HiFX who will charge no fee for a large transaction and will give very competitive rates against the USD (they make their money by transferring it at a time where they can make the most from changing FX rate by analysing the market). It will usually take 7-10 days to arrive into your US bank account. Keep an eye on the AUD:USD FX Rate to determine when the best time is to buy.

I recommend keeping some money in Australia for two reasons: firstly for any bills which haven’t arrived yet (e.g. final electricity or gas bills) or any bills in the future (Accountants, credit card annual fees, etc), and secondly because of the appallingly low interest rate in the US – most banks will give you less than 1% interest per annum. If you have considerable savings that you don’t want to bring with you straight away, keep it in Australia.

Post Office Box

Your employer may be fine with you receiving packages, but if not I would recommend you get a Post Office Box. I personally got a UPS box which was a few streets away from my office. You can rent a tiny PO box and still receive packages – they just leave a note in your box. The price isn’t too unreasonable per quarter, and if you are receiving a lot of packages it pays off in the long term. It also provides you with a way to receive packages/letters discreetly if sending them to your eventual place of residence isn’t feasible or preferable.

Drivers License

Depending on which state in the US you are going to be living in, most State laws mandate that new residents must obtain a new license within anywhere from 10 to 30 days. ‘Residents’ are defined are those paying tax / earning an income, so your dependents are excluded for now (as they cannot apply for a drivers license until they obtain an SSN, although this does vary by state and may require a letter from the Social Security Administration). Obtaining a new license requires you to set a written test, followed by an in-car test with a Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) instructor. So much for getting your L & P plates and being done with it! Start reading up on the handbook of your new US State (as an example, here is the Californian handbook). If you’re an experienced driver in Australia most of this will be familiar to you, but there are subtle differences in laws and expected behaviors (and that whole driving on the right side of the road thing).

Health Insurance

A understatement would be to say that health insurance in the US is complicated. There could be a whole post just on this topic, so I’ll distill a few key elements.

There are three main forms of health insurance:

  • HMO. The cheapest plan for your employer and for you, but restricts you to only seeing doctors within the ‘network’ that your insurance provider covers. Often restricted to the state where you live in – out of state coverage is usually limited to emergency room visits only. Lower co-pays (like “gap payments” in Australia). You cannot see a specialist without a referral from your Primary Care Physician (your doctor).
  • PPO. You can see doctors & specialists “in network” and “out of network”, but the latter will cost you more in terms of co-pays. Usually provides national coverage. This is generally the most expensive coverage for your employer to pay but also the most flexible for you.
  • HSA. Provides the flexibility of the PPO in terms of in network/out of network coverage, however you must pay all expenses out of pocket first. The HSA system where you can contribute money pre-tax into the account, and no tax is charged if you use that money for medical expenses. This means a higher out of pocket cost for you, but the pre-tax framework may be of benefit to you. There is a cap on how much you can contribute, but you don’t lose any leftover funds at the end of the year.

I cannot tell you which one is right for you, as it is very much a personal decision based upon your specific needs. Talk to your HR department, friends, colleagues etc to determine the right choice for you. There are also a ton of websites which go into detail about this.

Once you make a decision as to which plan you want, you cannot change it again until the next “Open Enrollment” period (which is traditionally once a year), or if you have a “Qualifying Event” such as marriage, divorce, birth/adoption of a child, etc. You usually get 30 days from your employment start date to lock it in.

Also ensure that you have the right level of coverage for your dependents, as every employer will treat this differently. Some will pay 100% of the premium for your whole family, some may be 100% for you and 75% for your spouse, or some other combination. You may need to seek additional coverage if your family isn’t fully covered.

Accountant/CPA

The Tax system in the US is really hard to follow. For example, in California you have to pay state income tax as well as federal income tax. When you start your job, there will be many forms for you to fill out, part of which discusses your “withholding status” – this is to do with your family situation (if you have a spouse, kids, etc) and how much money your employer should be taking out pre-tax based upon how much money your household is earning and which tax brackets are applicable to you. I strongly recommend obtaining the counsel of a CPA prior to filling out these forms so you can get proper advice – if you end up specifying too low of a withholding status, you will owe the Internal Revenue Service (IRS, akin to the ATO) money when you file your tax return. I would recommend that a CPA does your tax return; the few hundred dollars you may spend with that will save you potential headaches by doing it yourself.

Buying A Car

Despite the often negative perception that Craigslist gets, it is actually a great place to find cheap used cars. I bought my car from Craiglist, as well as several of my friends who live in the US. Buying used cars privately is generally a lot cheaper than going through a dealer, but perhaps a little more risky. Ensure that you check the car thoroughly when you take it for a test drive. Websites like this and this provide more information about what to check for when inspecting a vehicle.

When you purchase a car and formally change the title over, ensure that you take this to your state’s DMV within 5 to 10 days (state laws will vary; California law states that when a car is sold that the DMV must be notified within 5 days). Some states will also charge a sales tax with the purchase, payable to the DMV.

There is no cooling off period with buying a vehicle – all sales are final. Your only recourse is through the courts if you believe you were sold a lemon or were sold something where the seller was intentionally misleading. Make sure you’re careful with your purchase.

Renting A Place To Live

Once again Craigslist comes in handy here, as well as websites like Trulia, to assist with searching for a place to live. If you’re relocating to the San Francisco Bay Area or to Manhattan, be prepared to pay a lot more than what you’re used to. I ended up paying about 25% more per month for a similarly sized place that I had in Sydney. In Manhattan the prices are astronomical; consider living in Brooklyn or across the Hudson River in New Jersey.

Trying to find a place to live in the US is very similar to the Sydney to Melbourne; you keep an eye out for places you like and the inspection times, turn up at the specified time and find 20 other people looking as well. Come well prepared; photocopies of references, rental histories, the page of your employment contract which specifies your salary, etc. You will be at a disadvantage because you have no US rental history, so you need to work harder to show yourself to be the best tenant for the landlord. In addition to the standard “First & Last” payments (first month’s rent up front, and the last month’s rent up front as a bond), you may have to pony up an additional month if the landlord likes you but is paranoid about your lack of local history. Don’t be extorted however; good landlords are looking for good people as well as a stable source of income. You have to sell them on how good you are as well, not just being grateful for a potential tenancy opportunity.

If you’re looking for a share house environment, Craigslist is also a good place to start.

Non-Health Insurance

Car insurance is a mandatory requirement in most states in the US. Shop around to find a good real. Every car insurance company will want evidence of your driving record going back at least 6 years. If you cannot provide it will you will still get insurance, but at a much higher price. If you are a good driver (little or no infringements, and no serious accidents/misconduct) and can prove it, insurance will be a lot cheaper.

Contents insurance is extremely cheap compared to Australia, and if you bundle it into your Car insurance premium you will save on both.

Your United States Life

Credit Score

You need to be aware that your Credit Score is a valuable asset in your life. If it’s too low, a lot of service providers may charge you more and insist on deposits or up front payments, and it will also be harder for you to secure loans later. The maximum score is 850. You should aim to keep your score above 600 at least. Here are some ways you can do this:

  1. Pay your bills on time! If you do nothing else, do this. Companies will burn you hard if you’re even a day late in paying. Some companies now offer late payment forgiveness, but don’t get into that situation. This includes paying your landlord. If someone you pay has your SSN, they can affect your Credit Score. Set up direct debits for all of your bills where possible, and keep on top of your recurring payments to ensure you never miss a due date.
  2. Keep your credit card debt under control – if you cannot pay off the balance every month, ensure you don’t get too over your head for too long.
  3. Don’t apply for too many credit cards and other services.

More information can be found on the NASDAQ website, or you can just Google it.

Store Club Memberships

What were fairly useless in Australia can pay off dividends here. Joining up to the clubs of your local supermarket, drug store, etc can yield you savings with specials, discounts, 2-for-1’s, etc (example: the cereal I like is normally $5 each, but with a Safeway Club card a special was offering it at 5 boxes for $10). You also earn rewards points for your purchases, which is real money for taking money off a later purchase.

The downside of this is that these companies start to get a pretty good idea of your spending habits and behaviours, but I personally take the reward of lower cost over the risk of spam.

Coupons

As a kid I remember “Shop-A-Docket”, where you got semi-useful coupons printed on the back of your supermarket shopping receipt. It didn’t seem to last the distance and to my mind died off a long time ago.

Americans love their coupons – almost every time I go to any kind of chain store people are paying with a combination of coupons and cash. If you have the patience to collect them, they may prove useful to you. Undoubtedly you will receive a ton of it in your mailbox at home anyway.

There’s also Groupon and several other similar websites which offer substantial savings off various goods and services.

Costco

For a a $55 per year fee, you get access to an incredible warehouse of goods in bulk. When you’re first setting up your new home, this place is invaluable. And over time it’s still a great place to shop. If you like massive containers of sauce or 20 rolls of paper towels in one box, this is the place to go. They even sell garage doors, hot water systems, and holidays. I was excited to go my first time, and I was not disappointed.

The Imperial System

Say goodbye to the metric system. You’ll need to start learning your conversions for inches, feet, yards, miles, pints and gallons pretty quickly. Don’t even get me started on Fahrenheit.

Your Emergency Plan

At the beginning of this post I talked about the third downside of the E-3 visa: losing your job means you have 10 days to leave the country. This sucks, but those are the breaks of this opportunity. Most decent employers if they have to terminate you (provided it isn’t because you’ve done something very wrong) will give you some notice before formally letting you go (and filing the paperwork with the USCIS), however you still need to plan what to do next.

The key to having a plan for this is networking. This should be a basic part of your career plan anyway, to establish networks with people in your companies. If the worst happens, reach out to your connections quickly. If you’re lucky, you may find someone who will take over the sponsorship of your Visa. You may have to take a pay cut and an adverse change in conditions, but it can get on your feet again and provide you time to find something more permanent.

The Final Piece of Advice

Enjoy yourself! Hopefully moving to the US is a positive career move for you, but despite the wackiness of guns and government shutdowns, the United States of America is a pretty amazing place to live. Enjoy seeing shows as they air, not waiting weeks for them to arrive on Australian TV at 11:30pm. Enjoy cheap movie tickets ($10.75 at my local big cinema), cheap gigs and seeing bands who rarely or never perform in Australia. Make the most of your time in the US.

Useful Resources

Ernest Semerda’s advice on moving to the Bay Area.

Advance.org’s article about the E-3 Visa.

Have I Missed Something?

I hope this guide provides useful to you. If I have missed anything you believe I need to clarify or add anything, please let me know.

Posted in General Topics Tagged with: , , , ,

The Johnny Carson Principle

On Monday, February 18th 2013, I did something interesting.

I tendered my resignation from Deutsche Bank. And even more unlike me, I did it with no job to go to.

This wasn’t a rash decision, but something I’ve been thinking about over the last few months. Ultimately it boiled down to a few important things.

Overall happiness. I haven’t found a lot of joy in my job recently, and that unhappiness began to leak into life outside of work which isn’t sustainable or acceptable to me in the long term.

Internal opportunity. Or lack there of; unfortunately due to both the ongoing crisis effecting the financial industry, combined with my relative isolation from the US/UK/Europe where most of the important roles are, there were no job opportunities in the short term or even on the horizon.

Career growth. I’ve been at Deutsche Bank for 8 years. That is a very reasonable commitment of time and effort to learn and grow, but I have lofty ambitions which will not be fulfilled by staying still.

Role entropy. While you are always learning (as I have mentioned previously), after being a Network Manager for 4 years I feel that I’ve learnt all I can within the confines of my remit.

Creative asphyxia. For better or worse, my job was largely not about creating new ideas and standards, but to be on the assembly line and fulfil pre-fabricated requests and initiatives. I’m a creative person and I want to get back into a place where I can make a real difference.

Succession. I hired someone in February 2012 who was always intended to be my successor, whether it was 6 months, 12 months, or 5 years after he started. I felt with everything else, and his outstanding performance to date, that it was time to step aside.

Leading by example. Whether you try to or not, you lead by example. Your team will pick up behaviours and attitudes from you, good or bad. I didn’t want my frustrations and grievances to affect them in the long term. My team deserves better than that.

But there’s also one other important element to my decision: in my 8 years I’ve always been regarded as a high performance, high value employee. Last year the head of IT in Japan called me a “Tier 1 VP”. And I want to be remembered that way; to leave a positive legacy and be held in high regard by peers and superiors.

Johnny Carson, who hosted the United States late night talk show “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson” from 1962 to 1992, was TV royalty. He decision to retire was a major media event, and even at age 66 he was considered to be retiring prematurely. He told his crew, “Everything comes to an end; nothing lasts forever. Thirty years is enough. It’s time to get out while you’re still working on top of your game, while you’re still working well.”

When I gave my resignation letter to my manager, I thought of another Carson quote I heard many years ago. When he was being interviewed by the media after announcing his retirement, he was asked about his motivation to retire now. His response has stuck in my mind.

“I would rather be asked “why are you leaving?”, than be asked “why won’t you leave?”.”

So what’s next? I’ve decided that it is time to follow a long-time dream of mine, and find work in the San Francisco/Silicon Valley area of California. I decided it was time to do something that I really wanted to do, that I feel will bring be better job satisfaction, better challenges, and will ultimately help my career in the long run.

Between now and mid April when I leave Deutsche Bank I will continue my search from Sydney, but my backup plan is to travel to the Bay Area and spend May/June continuing the search in person. I’ve also created a page where you can find my Resume and more information regarding my job search – http://www.stevenplunkett.com/resume/.

This is an exciting new chapter of my life, and the next few months will certainly be interesting. Stay tuned.

Posted in General Topics Tagged with: , ,

Fork in the Road

A situation that affects a lot of those in Information Technology is one where they have to decide which path to follow. Do I stay technical or do I move into management?

This is not a win-lose situation, and there is no right or wrong answer. Like any other choice you make regarding your career, you need to make the choice that will make you the happiest in the long run.

The Lead Up

Unless you got into IT later in your career, the fork in the road should not be something that is faced within the first few years of your career. Those first few years are important for a whole slew of reasons, one of which being you need to determine whether IT is something you’re actually going to enjoy as a long-term/lifetime career.

That fork in the road should be at a time when you’re deciding to dedicate more time to technical (re)training, or if you want to focus your efforts on developing your talents & getting trained on leadership and managerial skills.

Here we’ll explore the paths one can take when faced with that career decision.

The Technical Motorway

Advantages

  • You really love your technology. That feeling of excitement when a new version of operating system is released. That feature long in beta is ready for production use.
  • You love solving problems. You crack that complicated bug and fix a long outstanding problem.
  • You can specialise. Depending on the field and the companies you want to work for, you can become a lifetime Network Engineer, DBA, Storage Engineer, etc.
  • Technology doesn’t talk back. The idea of having to manage staff, having those difficult conversations with them, and the prospect of firing someone is a complete turn off.

Disadvantages

  • Never-ending learning curve. You’ll always be on the back foot of staying up to date and keeping your skills fresh and marketable.
  • Obsolescence. Similar to the above, one day your field may be an easy target of outsourcing or be made redundant altogether. How many tape operators do you see any more?
  • Locked in the engine room. Being in IT can often be thankless enough, and made all that much harder when you’re an unknown for those who can help with your career in the future.
  • Remuneration. You’ll have to realise under most circumstances, your ability to keep increasing your salary will eventually plateau and will largely be boosted by indexing only.
  • Ageism. It will be harder to find a new technical job if you’re suddenly out of work in your fifties, looking at another ten to fifteen years of work life before you can retire. It isn’t impossible, but be prepared for some difficult sells.

The Management Highway

Advantages

  • You enjoy a sense of responsibility. You like being in charge of a team and a set of technical functions.
  • You enjoy keeping a toe in the water. You enjoy being around technology, but you’re rather manage those who are full-time technical.
  • More exposure. You’ll work a lot more with your customers, vendors and your management, which will help raise your profile and reputation.
  • Career prospects. Start managing a team of 1 to 5 people. If you do that well, you’ll have a better chance of securing a managerial role for a team of 5 to 20. A few years after that, 20 to 50 with managers underneath you, and so on.

Disadvantages

  • The buck stops with you. While you share in your team’s glory, you also take the heat when things go wrong.
  • Too many cooks. Be careful when your company is looking to reduce the amount of managers. If you’re still in the middle management phase of your career, you may be in the firing line.
  • Politics. A reality of the workplace; you’ll have to decide who to placate and who to make unhappy, which battles you want to fight and those you will surrender to.
  • Difficult conversations. Managing is easy when your team do their job and there are no problems, but as a manager you need to be prepared to deliver bad news; whether it’s about performance, remuneration, or even simple yes/no requests.

The Hybrid Overpass

I’ve written previously about the differences between managers and leaders, but it’s important to state that you can be a leader without being a ‘manager’, in the sense of having people reporting to you directly. Just in the same way that junior and senior staff can be defined differently apart from just their age or tenure, there are those who wish to remain technically focused but who also display and demonstrate leadership qualities.

Moreover, there are plenty of companies who employ a more flat organisational structure (also known as a horizontal structure). Apart from a lot of small businesses who need to have managers who still roll up their sleeves to get the technical work done, giants like Google also employ such flat structures. For these companies, these structures rely very heavily on open, frequent communication between everyone, and enable those who wish to take on more responsibility to do so. These are the companies who rely on the leaders (little l) rather than the Leaders (big L; those with direct reports in the traditional hierarchy).

Advantages

  • The best of both worlds. If you’re a passionate fan of technology but want also wear the leader hat, this is for you.
  • You’re one of the guys and girls. In a group of technical staff, you may be treated better by your peers if you’re in the trenches with them as well as handling interference with the Managers above.

Disadvantages

  • Jack of all trades, master of none. You will have less opportunity to specialise in your preferred discipline(s) of choice.
  • Future employment. It may be harder for you to move to another company where such a hybrid organisation doesn’t exist, especially if you’re aiming to move into Management exclusively; you may be considered as inexperienced with managing people because of the lack of the “solid line” reporting model that you’ve been working under.
  • Workload. You’ll have to manage technical work as well as some of the leadership and management duties, such as performance management, vendor management, financials (raising purchase orders and reconciling invoices), etc.

 

No matter the path you wish to take, it is a decision that needs to be made with careful consideration. Talk to your boss about it, discuss it with a mentor or trusted friends, and take the time to figure out which is the best way to achieve the changes you want. And even if you decide to stay on the technical path, you need to plan how you’re going to keep yourself energised and your skills polished & up to date.

If you have any stories to share along these lines, I’d love to hear them.

Posted in Management, Technology

Managers Versus Leaders

It would be fair to say that all of us at one time or another have had problems with our boss, whether it was when you started your career or if you are a manager yourself. There are things that he or she does that irk, irritate or even anger you. Hopefully there were also times where you were glad they were there to help you and to give advice. And perhaps you’ve been lucky enough to have a boss that you’ve looked up to.

Every boss is different and has different styles, even if they had read the all same self-help material or been to the same management courses. You’ll never encounter the same ones twice, but there is a way to define the type of boss you have, or the type of boss you are (or can be).

Even before I had people reporting to me, I understood the distinction between those who are ‘Managers’, and those who are ‘Leaders’.

Setting Tasks and Objectives

Managers are no-nonsense: they will set you a task with a deadline and expect little to no discussion on the matter. They use authority as their primary driver to get things done.

Leaders will collaborate: they will discuss the task with you with the required deadline and will expect your co-operation, but are open to discussion if you believe the task will take longer or is more complicated than expected. They use goodwill and an open dialogue to agree to the ‘what’ and the ‘when’.

Supervision

It isn’t called micro-management for nothing. The Manager will be the proverbial (and sometimes literal) person over your shoulder, checking to make sure that every intricate detail of a task or project is being met.

The Leader will trust that you’re getting on with the job unless you ask for clarification or assistance. Of course this a relationship built on trust, and you need to ensure that you don’t let your Leader down by delivering late without prior discussion, or delivering something half-baked.

Accountability

A Leader says “we”, a Manager says “I” or “you”, depending on what suits. Moreover, the Leader will give or share the credit, a Manager will take the credit.

Iron Fist or Firm Handshake?

A Manager will use their position of authority ensure compliance. They are often the “do as I say, not as I do” people. A Leader will lead by example and get you to follow them willingly, not just because they are your boss.

It’s important to realise that whether people are conscious of it or not, we often emulate our superiors.

Mentoring and Development

A Manager wants the most they can get out of you right now without looking to the long-term. A Leader will see your potential and work with you to develop it. They want not only the most out of you, but the best as well, and will develop ways to help you achieve this.

 

I’ll admit that the above shows to ends of the spectrum; there is definitely room between these two extremes to incorporate leadership qualities in a Manager. It’s also important to note that you can be a Leader without being a Manager, and when hiring from within it’s those who show those leadership qualities who will most often be giving the opportunities to step up.

Which one are you?

Posted in Management

Those Who Set the Standard

Early in my career in IT, and even prior to that when I was still in high school, I found myself deeply curious about the history of the Internet. This lead me down a path of research and wonder as I discovered not just how the Internet came about but the key people and organisations responsible for what we take for granted everyday.

I will avoid rehashing the entire of history of how the ‘Internet’ came about – there are great sources such as this which go into sufficient detail, but the modern age of the Internet started with ARPANET transitioning to TCP/IP, which recently celebrated its thirtieth anniversary January 1st. This transition was planned and documented in a system of collaborative memoranda called “Request for Comments”, or RFCs. In this instance, RFC801 documented the this particular transition plan.

RFC801 was written by Jon Postel. Most people who have no idea who Jon Postel is, but he was incredibly important in both the architecture of the modern Internet, as well as its ongoing operation and governance until his death in 1998. He also created Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP), RFC788, which most E-Mail systems use to send email. His obituary was written by Vint Cerf and was published as part of RFC2468.

Vinton (Vint) Cerf is presently better known for his role as Chief Internet Evangelist at Google, however is more importantly (with Bob Kahn), the co-creator of Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) and Internet Protocol (IP) suite in 1973 which is the foundation of the Internet as it exists today. Vint now looks to the future, is working with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) to develop an interstellar Internet.

This of course only scratches the surface. You can extend this further and look at Paul Mockrapetris with the Domain Name System (DNS) in 1983, and of course Tim Berners-Lee who in 1989 created (with others) Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) as well as Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP), which became what we know as the World Wide Web today.

There are also the organisations which govern many of the Internet standards and resources which are used globally:

Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN): setup in 1998, this private organisation is responsible for IPv4 and IPv6 address management, as well as governance of the top-level domain space (e.g. .com, .net, .info), and the operation of DNS root zone and root servers.

Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA): Operated by ICANN, IANA is the interface to vendors, Internet Service Providers and enterprises for the allocation of IP addressing space, Autonomous System Numbers (used primarily for BGP routing), official TCP & UDP port numbers (usually ports 0-1023), time zones, and other Internet-associated symbols and numbers.

Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF): An open standards organisation, the IETF develop and/or maintain Internet standards such as TCP/IP, SMTP, MPLS. Most RFCs are published by IETF members, and almost all IETF standards are published as RFCs.

World Wide Web Consortium (W3C): Founded by Tim Berners-Lee, this consortium comprising of member organisations and full-time W3C staff develop and maintain World Wide Web standards.

Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE): Perhaps the most obscure to the uninitiated but perhaps the most important, in brief the IEEE develop and maintain standards around communications, and light and power systems. Anything from the power cord with your kettle, to ethernet & fibre cabling to WiFi specifications are vetted and approved by the IEEE. (Maybe they can one day convince the world to use one type of power plug and one universal voltage!) IEEE produces 30% of the world’s literature in the electrical and electronics engineering and computer science fields.

I found all of this information incredible to learn as a teenager and still love exploring these organisation’s websites now. I had a summer intern work for me a few years ago and I made him go and read up on several RFCs to do with networking, which afterwards he told me was a worthwhile exercise.

You may not hear names Cerf, Kahn, Mockrapetris, Postel and Berners-Lee the same you do with Edison, Tesla, Bell and Da Vinci, but the men and women who have developed the standards on which we all rely on should be lauded for their commitment, ingenuity and imagination. After all, in today’s disposable and quick-to-obsolete world, it’s hard to imagine that the foundation of the Internet still runs reliably on a 30 year old standard.

Posted in Technology

Learning Is For Life

Several years ago, I got into a particular argument that I still think about from time to time.

It was a project meeting and I had recently taken over the team that I manage now. During the meeting I had a battle of words I had a run in with the project manager around the timeline, which got a little heated before the topic was moved on. Afterwards this project manager took me aside and wanted to continue this battle of words in private.

Given this person was known for being a bully toward younger and less experienced people within the department, I decided to not just cop it on the chin and to rather engage him in a proper conversation about the behaviours on both sides.  The conversation soon spun out of control, to the point where he said “I don’t need to change my style or learn anything different here. I’m in the right.” I replied, “so you think you’ve learned all that you need to know?”, to which I got a terse “Yes” in response.

This situation highlighted two matters to me, both at the time and years after the event. Firstly, I should have had my emotions in check that led up to that heated discussion and let it go at the time to bring it up for later discussion (which I believe I have since learned from). Secondly, how much it saddens me to see people who believe that they have learnt all they need to learn, or perhaps more depressingly that they have nothing to improve on.

Whether you’re 8 or 80, you never stop learning. Or perhaps more to the point, you should never stop learning. Those at the height of their particular field, whether it’s Information Technology, sports, medicine, et. al. never stop training, studying, or looking at ways to improve themselves and the quality of their work. In IT this is especially relevant, given the high rate of technology obsolescence. My HTML, CSS and Javascript skills were great in 2000; not so much now. Your skills with IPX were valuable in the 1990’s, but now they’re either a novelty or a way to get yourself some cash on the weekend by diagnosing an ancient NetWare system for a friend unfortunate enough to have such a system in their environment. It’s also why most certifications require you to recertify every several years to you can keep up with the latest standards and features (such as the CCIE).

1. Know what you don’t know.

With almost everything in life (including life itself), you will begin being unconsciously unaware. With knowledge, skills and behaviours, you want to work up from this starting position to being subconsciously aware – where it becomes second nature to you, like driving a car. This article from Aleph Synergy goes into more detail. This article from the Harvard Business Journal also has some useful insights.

2. Be open.

Always be open to improving and learning new things. Your quiver will never become full.

2. Understand relevance.

How long will this skill be useful for? Can you integrate this knowledge into something broader or more contemporary, or do should you focus your attention on a skill more relevant to your current job and potential future employment?

3. Continue to polish.

Ensure that you take the opportunity to review and improve your knowledge, skills and behaviours. As you continue to grow and mature you will find better or easier ways of doing things.

4. Accept that you will never know it all.

As the world continues to get more connected, undoubtedly you will find someone who knows how to do something better than you. And that’s fine. Embrace it, and ask for advice or to swap notes. They may learn something from you too.

5. Never stop.

In May 2012, 97 year old Allan Stewart became the world’s oldest graduate, receiving his Master of Clinical Science from Southern Cross University. That was is fourth degree; the first he received in 1936. Allan shows us that there is never a time when you shouldn’t continue to learn and broaden your knowledge and skills.

Posted in Management Tagged with: ,

Employment: Happiness over time

I’m sure many of us can relate.

Via The Daily Snooze

Posted in General Topics

Introduction

A long time user of the Internet and the World Wide Web, I’ve found that only in the past few years have weblogs moved from being largely a casual indulgence of unedited opinion to sources of genuinely thoughtful and informative content.

I’ve decided to create a professional weblog to document my thoughts around both technology and management styles & behaviours. This has partly come about due to the fact that I’ve been using an internal company collaborative website to provide opinion and feedback and have received positive response in return. I’ve also created a professional twitter account which I will use to post links I find of interest. While I may link to articles from here, I do not intend to spam my readers with nothing but URLs to content elsewhere.

It should also go without saying that any original content and opinions expressed here are my own and does not represent my employer (past or present) or anyone else unless explicitly stated.

I also encourage comments and debate with my posts. If you feel passionate about a point I’ve raised, in agreement or disagreement, comment with your thoughts (just keep it on topic). The world needs more debate and collaboration.

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